Guided by songs

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"[Capitol] had suggested we get a good producer and make the record that quote-unquote we were always capable of making," says Pollard, who has also just released his own solo album, Kid Marino. "So we did. We decided to do that, and then, you know, the shit kind of hit the fan at Capitol. There was complete overhaul there, with new people and a new president. And the new president said he didn't hear it. He listened to the record that we made, and he said he didn't hear it." He laughs bitterly, and you can almost here him shaking his head over the phone. "So...we were back to the drawing board as to what we should do. We figured we should open the door for some other people, and see what they had to offer."

Since they spent more time and money recording Do the Collapse than ever before, Pollard and the band weren't willing to return to Matador, or any independent label for that matter. Pollard felt that Guided by Voices had gone as far as it could on independent record labels, and as he entered his 40s, he wanted more security for his wife and two teenage children. It was his lone option: Pollard quit his teaching job five years ago because, as he says, he was "about ready to have a nervous breakdown, trying to balance both professions." Making music was his only way to make a living now.

But the move to a major label wasn't just about money. In fact, it was hardly about the cash at all; Pollard and his family have lived modestly in the same house in Dayton for the past 16 years and probably won't ever move, even if the band suddenly became a financial success. The jump to TVT was simply about the music, nothing more. With Ocasek's help, Guided by Voices has finally captured the sound Pollard had nearly given up trying to find inside a studio. Pollard had become so frustrated with recording studios that he had exiled himself on a four-track in his basement, coming out of hiding on occasion to cut tracks with Steve Albini and The Breeders' Kim Deal. He is proud of Do the Collapse and wants people outside of the band's devoted cult following to hear the record. And if some of GbV's fans slip on Ocasek's slick production, well, that's not Pollard's problem.

"I think people who are into our more jagged, experimental, four-track thing are kind of upset with it," Pollard admits. "To me, it's still the same songs, man. It just sounds better. It sounds like big, room-filling, overdriven-guitar, power rock. That's what I've always wanted to do. We've always had difficulty doing that. And now, we've hooked up with people who know how to get that sound, and I'm happy about it, really. That's what we sound like live, you know? Live, we've always been that. That's the point, I think. It doesn't matter whether it's recorded into a boom box or in a 48-track studio. You have to have good songs or it doesn't matter."

Do the Collapse certainly has enough good songs to matter; Pollard's love for The Who, Cheap Trick, and early R.E.M. come through louder and clearer than ever before. Although much has been made of Ocasek's involvement, his influence can be heard in only one song, "Much Better Mr. Buckles," which should carry a Rivers Cuomo co-writing credit. Apart from that, Ocasek is only on board to save Pollard from his other love--static. He does his job well: Despite what Capitol Records believes, almost all of Do the Collapse would sound right at home on the radio, especially the leadoff track, "Teenage FBI," all seesawing synths and overcharged power chords. It's a more accessible version of Pollard's earlier gems, getting friendly with radio without stooping to kiss its ass. The rest of the album follows suit--from the chugging "Zoo Pie" and the kiddie-folk of "Dragons Awake" to the Kinky "Picture Me Big Time" and the Flaming Lips of "Wormhole"--which is the biggest hurdle in the way of Pollard's recent quest for a radio hit. With his typically eccentric lyrics, Do the Collapse is too quirky to be a hit. And it's too catchy not to be.

It's been the same for Guided by Voices since the beginning. The songs have always been there; there just weren't enough people around to hear them, and too few of the people who did hear the songs really got it. They were put off by the lack of production, the songs that consisted of little more than a verse and a chorus before disappearing as quickly as they emerged. The band that performed those songs in one of its rare concerts was one of the best, most fearless rock-and-roll bands this country has produced in two decades. But no one was paying attention.

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain