Guided By Voices
Don’t Stop Now
by Kevin J. Elliott

If you’re unfamiliar with the history and cultural impact of Guided By Voices, than there’s likely a part of your soul missing. Even the most jaded or oblivious music fan would be hard pressed not to find a life-changing nugget among Robert Pollard’s vast collection of songs. And for those in the know, the man’s discography is a thing to obsess over and has created a fanbase on par in its fanaticism with that of the Dead’s heads. Even after Pollard decided to shutter Guided By Voices in 2004, he continued to be the most prolific songwriter in all of rock, manning numerous side-projects, full-fledged bands and solo albums at an unfathomable clip. But despite the bounty of quality records released since the ceremonial end of GBV, many considered the period between 1993 and 1996 as being the band’s hey days. Along with Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell on guitar, Greg Demos on bass, and Kevin Fennell on drums, Pollard penned Guided By Voices’ holy trinity in Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. Those three albums arguably have yet to be replicated in terms of their myriad idiosyncrasies and immeasurable pop moments. As such, it was only a matter of time before Pollard decided it was high time to revisit those past glories and take the “classic” line-up on the road. After all, the want for ’90s nostalgia has never been greater.

At first, it was just an exercise in giving the people what they wanted and providing those who never experienced the personnel responsible for those records a chance to witness perhaps the greatest live band in indie rock of the past 20 years. Pollard claimed that once the tour ended the Guided By Voices name would be put back in the closet, and he would get back to his steady schedule of releases. But finding an intangible chemistry and camaraderie, Pollard decided a new Guided By Voices album wouldn’t be such a bad idea, and once the band reconvened to record what is now Let’s Go Eat the Factory (due out next month), it was as if the 16 years since Under the Bushes, Under the Stars had been erased. Right from the start of “Laundry and Lasers” and onto the driving anthems of “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” and “We Won’t Apologize for the Human Race,” it’s apparent that Pollard and company have returned to the lo-fi halcyon days of old. Let’s Go is a cut-and-paste return to form featuring Sprout’s maudlin pop foil, Mitchell’s chugging riffs, and a handful of late-night acoustic drinking laments for good measure. In many ways, Let’s Go is the band’s most democratic sounding record ever. The magic took hold so much that in speaking with Pollard via e-mail, he confessed that they have already begun recording the next two albums for release next year. So what started as a simple celebrated reunion has now become more or less a continuation of what made Guided By Voices such a revelation back when the world first tuned in to Bee Thousand.

When the reunion tour started, you had no intentions of releasing a proper Guided By Voices record, correct? What changed your mind?

Robert Pollard: We decided to do a new album chiefly at the persistent behest of Kevin and Mitch. I had no intention to do so, but the whole tour went very well and the chemistry seemed to be there again.

I’ve always assumed (judging from the Suitcase series) that you are a musician who always holds songs in reserve for times like these. Is Let’s Eat the Factory constructed from older songs or is it all fresh?

RP: There are bits and pieces of old songs that were elaborated or fleshed out—I always do that. Bee Thousand was comprised almost entirely of that process of thinking and working, and some of it was brand new. My writing process is constant and ongoing, and I store ideas until I’m ready to put a record together.

I feel a real team effort on this album. Was there more participation in the songwriting and production from Mitch, Greg and Kevin than in the past? To me, “Imperial Racehorse” and “Big Hat and Toy Show” have the raw feel of Propeller and Vampire on Titus to them.

RP: Yeah, I allow everyone to bring ideas. I encourage it. If I disagree with an idea, we’ll discuss it and make alterations. I still pretty much dictate the direction of the record overall, but I’d say there’s a touch more democracy with these guys. We’ve known each other for a long time.

What was the process for recording this album? Was it all done in Dayton with a producer other than Todd Tobias?

RP: Most of it was done up at Toby’s house in Leland, Michigan. Some was done at Mitch’s and Greg’s—the less worked out, spontaneous stuff, where we would just drink till we were comfortable and then let it roll.

There truly is a vintage feel to the record. Did you do anything intentionally as it was done in the past to try and capture the atmosphere of those older records I mentioned?

RP: That’s probably due to the fact that we recorded it ourselves and it was the same chemistry and combination of players as in the mid-80s to mid-90s.

You’ve never moved from Dayton. Is there still inspiration there? What has changed in the city during the last 15 years since the classic era ended?

RP: The inspiration is more from a geographical standpoint. I’m just very familiar with its contours and a lot of the consistency in creative output has to do with the fact that I’m very comfortable living here.

You’re recording and touring schedule is pretty non-stop. Is there ever a time when you become burnt-out and just want to stop making records? Do you ever imagine yourself doing something else for a career?

RP: No, I don’t even know how to do anything else.

The tour has been a big success, and this album is highly anticipated, so looking back over the years, and all the different members who have been a part of GBV, is this the ultimate line-up for you?

RP: It’s a different line-up and it’s with guys that I grew up with. I wouldn’t say it’s the ultimate line-up. They’re very good and very supportive of my vision for Guided By Voices, but I think all of the line-ups were.

Do you think you’ll all be going back out on the road again, touring these new songs?

RP: I think we probably will, if the interest is still there. I’d like to hear these songs live.

There are rumors that there’s already a follow-up recorded. Is Guided By Voices becoming a prolific band again something you’d like to keep secret?

RP: No, it’s no secret. We’re prolific. We don’t fuck around. We have the second album (Class Clown Spots a UFO) finished and will begin working on the third soon.

I always have to ask you, since in those classic years your interviews always attracted me to bands I knew nothing about—from early Genesis to Wire—what do you listen to these days? Is there anything new that inspires you?

RP: I found some albums and singles by an ’80s band called The Crystallized Movements that are great. We played Oslo recently and I was able to find an album and an EP by The Homosexuals, which was a fantastic lo-fi art punk band in the late ’70s. I think they’re still doing stuff. There’s a boxset and CD reissues of their early stuff available. I’ve been really digging the ’71–’73 period Thin Lizzy with Eric Bell. They were a three-piece, and the playing and songwriting is mind-blowing.