Guided by songs

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Becoming lo-fidelity all-stars was never Pollard's intention. The band he formed in the early '80s with bassist Mitch Mitchell and drummer Kevin Fennell was a sloppy outfit drunk on rock and roll and an endless parade of beer. Mitchell had played with Pollard earlier in a band called Anacrusis, as well as Coyote Call, which also featured Fennell. The three would continue to play together off and on until Pollard replaced Mitchell and Fennell before 1997's Mag Earwhig! Others drifted in and out of the lineup over the years, including Pollard's brother Jim and his songwriting partner for more than a decade, Tobin Sprout. According to Pollard's count, around 50 people have, at one time or another, been a member of Guided by Voices.

"I wanted to call everybody and go down to the football field and take a picture," Pollard says, laughing. "I bet we have enough for a football team. When I separate my records into categories in my record collection, there's a Guided by Voices section, and I put everything related in there, and it's just huge. It's insane. The Breeders are in there, Cobra Verde. All the people that have been associated with us have all been in bands, so that record collection is huge."

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.

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain