By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
For much of the band's existence, there wasn't enough of a reason to choose Guided by Voices over real jobs and families. After Guided by Voices released its first EP, Forever Since Breakfast, in 1986 on the tiny I Wanna Records, the group ceased to exist as a live entity, preferring to convene occasionally in Pollard's basement, dubbed "The Snakepit," to play or record. GbV put out its debut album, Devil Between My Toes, the next year, beginning a series of albums the group recorded by itself and released on labels that ranged from small to virtually nonexistent. Sandbox came and went later in 1987, followed by 1989's Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia, 1990's Same Place the Fly Got Smashed, and 1992's Propeller. (Devil Between My Toes, Sandbox, Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia, and Same Place the Fly Got Smashed, along with a rarities disc--King Shit and the Golden Boys--were re-released by Cleveland's Scat Records in 1995 as the simply titled Box.)
It wasn't until Scat Records released GbV's sixth album, 1993's Vampire on Titus--named for the street where Pollard still lives--that the band finally got some attention. The positive reviews the disc received led to the New Music Seminar performance that made all those years of recording albums for only themselves to hear finally worth it. The band wasn't much richer, but that wasn't important. With the arrival of Vampire on Titus and 1994's Bee Thousand--thought by many critics and fans to be the group's masterpiece--people started to care about Guided by Voices, buy their records, come to their shows. That's all that the band ever wanted anyway.
"We did six albums before anybody ever heard of us," Pollard recalls. "Did 'em on our own and kept 'em to ourselves. It was mainly out of a lack of confidence, because of what people told us. It was like, 'Hey, what is this shit?' We got to the point where we kind of believed it. And then some other people who really knew what they were talking about, more influential people, persuaded us otherwise, so we came out of the basement after all those years.
"Some of my friends, some of the people around Dayton, some of my family members, they thought we--and I, in particular--were being a little irresponsible by carrying on, putting money into this thing that was going nowhere," he continues. "Every time we put a record out, it cost us this big bunch of money that we'd take a loan out on. And after that, we'd say, 'Well, we really can't afford to do this. It's kind of silly.' But it was too much fun, so we couldn't stop doing it. There was never any interest from labels at all, even though some of our first records got some pretty good reviews. We just figured, hey, whatever, we'll just do it for ourselves. And then it still happened."
After signing with Matador, Guided by Voices made the most of its new notoriety, trying to make a dent in the backlog of songs Pollard had collected over the years. In five years, the band has released six albums (including 1995's Alien Lanes, 1996's Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, and 1997's Mag Earwhig!) and countless EPs and singles, as well as enough tracks on compilations to fill another couple of full-lengths. And that isn't even including Pollard's trio of solo albums: 1996's Not in My Airforce, last year's Waved Out, and Kid Marine.
Matador was never happy with the wealth of product Guided by Voices turned out each year, urging Pollard to take a vacation and stop writing songs. They felt record buyers would be confused when they looked in the Guided by Voices section of a record bin and saw a dozen titles to choose from. Pollard, however, thought that since there was already so much to choose from, it didn't matter if he wanted to add a few more each year. He couldn't just sit home and not write songs; it had become part of his daily routine since he quit being a teacher. Each morning, he would sit at his dining-room table with a pot of coffee and a notebook, coming up with lists of song titles, sometimes writing several songs' worth of lyrics. "I have to stay busy to stay happy," he says. "There's no sense in writing 15 songs and having them say we can't put them out for a year."
Looking back on his band's lengthy catalog, Pollard hedges a bit when asked to name his favorites. "Each record you put out, you think it's your best one, or you don't want to put it out," he says. But it doesn't take him long to single out a few: Devil Between My Toes ("the most diversified record we did") and Vampire on Titus ("the first one that we got to make after people kind of discovered us").
"And I really like Kid Marine," Pollard adds. "I like the darker, more personal records. Those are my favorite records, those kind of records that a lot of people don't really understand. They're kind of noisy records and, I think, lyrically a lot better. Kid Marine is my favorite, because it has the best lyrics, I think. All 15 songs started out as poems that I wrote. I was thinking about working on a book of poetry, but I decided I didn't want to do that, so I took the best 15 poems and actually sequenced them like a lyric sheet. And then I simply went though and wrote the music to all of them. It was already sequenced before I even put the music to it. It came together really quickly and easy, and to me, it's just a little bit more poetic."