Guided by songs

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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."

Guided by Voices' contract with TVT Records allows Pollard to indulge in as many side projects as he wants, whether they be solo albums or Guided by Voices albums recorded under pseudonyms, such as the recent releases by the Fading Captain Series. Fading Captain is a project Pollard began earlier this year to release whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Although only in existence for a few months, it has already kicked out three albums: Kid Marine, an EP by GbV alter-ego Lexo & the Leapers, and an album by NightWalker, which Pollard says consists of "psychedelic ramblings I recorded from '84 to '93."

Since almost all of the recordings Pollard appears on involve whatever musicians he happens to be playing with at the time, and since Guided by Voices has essentially become a solo vehicle for him, it doesn't make much sense that he would separate Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices into separate projects. But for Pollard, the arrangement is perfectly logical, a way to play ball with the music industry but never become a slave to it.

"With a Robert Pollard record, there aren't any obligations to do anything, really," he says. "I mean, I can do whatever I want without anybody telling me, 'That's not what we paid for.'" He laughs. "And it's mainly the degree of professionalism, you know? Robert Pollard albums are kind of like what Guided by Voices records used to be like. I can leave mistakes in, and I can do lo-fi--I can do whatever I want. Guided by Voices is kind of like this big professional entity now. Robert Pollard is not. Until someone wants to give me the kind of money Guided by Voices is given. I had entertained a notion of every band, every pseudonym that I come up with, I entertained a notion of getting those bands signed. Get separate advances and everything, keep doing that." He laughs. "I don't think that's allowed, though.

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain