The prolific Robert Pollard: ‘I like to write songs,’ he says in first interview in 10 years

Guided By Voices, (front) Bobby Bare Jr., (left to right) Kevin March, Robert Pollard, Doug Gillard and Mark Shue, released its 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank,” on July 1.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

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Guided By Voices, (front) Bobby Bare Jr., (left to right) Kevin March, Robert Pollard, Doug Gillard and Mark Shue, released its 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank,” on July 1.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Guided By Voices leader reflects on the band’s latest release.

Robert Pollard was only 8 years old when he first started making up songs and singing them into a portable tape recorder. More than 50 years later, the daily habit of repeating that task has turned the Daytonian into one of the most prolific and consistent songwriters in rock history.

On July 1, his band Guided By Voices, who will be inducted into the 2022 Dayton Region Walk of Fame in October, released its 36th full-length, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank.” It is album 100-and-something in Pollard’s discography, which includes numerous solo offerings and releases from side projects like Circus Devils, Boston Spaceships and Cash Rivers.

“I like to write songs,” Pollard said without a hint of irony recently at the Trolley Stop in the Oregon District. “I like to make albums so why would I stop?”

This was Pollard’s first in-person interview in a decade. He granted this media exclusive because, as a drummer on recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I’m among the 26 musicians in what the songwriter calls the Fraternal Order of GBV.

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Robert Pollard, who founded Guided By Voices, has released more than 100 albums since the early 1980s, including his band’s just released 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Robert Pollard, who founded Guided By Voices, has released more than 100 albums since the early 1980s, including his band’s just released 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Robert Pollard, who founded Guided By Voices, has released more than 100 albums since the early 1980s, including his band’s just released 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

GBV/NCL

What I call the New Classic Lineup (GBV/NCL) was solidified in 2017. The mighty team is anchored by longtime creative partner Doug Gillard and frequent beatkeeper Kevin March (drums). The powerhouse group also features Mark Shue (bass) and Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar), who both bring strong musical and vocal chops and endless enthusiasm to the proceedings.

“There were so many different lineups,” Pollard said. “They all brought a different personality to the band and they were all cool. I’m fortunate enough to have a band now that really likes what I do. I drive the ship but it’s a democratic ship and we all work hard.”

With seven years together, this version of Guided By Voices has stayed together longer than any since the group formed in the early 1980s. Not only is Pollard far from done, he is clearly energized by his bandmates. “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank,” the 12th LP from the latest lineup and the second album of the year, dropped just four months after the release of “Crystal Nuns Cathedral.” It’s no exaggeration to say they are as strong as any releases in the Pollard discography.

“The chemistry is there,” he said. “We get stronger, and it gets more cohesive all the time. They know what I’m after and they’re after the same thing. It’s gotten to be almost telepathic a little bit.”

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Combined ShapeCaption
Guided By Voices, (left to right) Kevin March, Doug Gillard, Robert Pollard, Mark Shue, and Bobby Bare Jr., released its 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank,” on July 1.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Guided By Voices, (left to right) Kevin March, Doug Gillard, Robert Pollard, Mark Shue, and Bobby Bare Jr., released its 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank,” on July 1.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Guided By Voices, (left to right) Kevin March, Doug Gillard, Robert Pollard, Mark Shue, and Bobby Bare Jr., released its 36th album, “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank,” on July 1.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

From lo-fi to prog

Since the early days of Guided By Voices, there have been fans that enjoy his short, majestically shambolic, hook-filled home-recordings but wished the band would make big studio albums with “proper” songs. Pollard is doing that consistently now. The enthusiasm and musicianship of his band and his trust in producer Travis Harrison has given Pollard the confidence to stretch out as a songwriter.

“Guided By Voices has become a very progressive rock band,” Pollard said. “We’re not lo-fi anymore. We’re not playing fragments of songs. I’m moving into a slightly more progressive area with longer songs. We got kind of typecast as a short song band and I don’t even like short songs anymore.

“I’m getting away from the short songs because I enjoy playing long songs live,” he continued. “The short songs are just bam, bam, bam, but people seem to get into the longer ones more. Long to me is six minutes.”

These aren’t six-minute songs because Pollard is writing extra wordy verses and repeating choruses over and over. These are structured, multi-part songs.

“That kind of thing is happening because I’m starting to write songs the same way I make collages,” Pollard said. “I’ll fill up a side of a tape with song ideas, full songs or whatever and then I’ll put it on a CD, and I’ll mark off sections and time them. They’re all tracks so I can just move them around any way I want. I can take something from one song and exchange it for something else. I just keep moving it around until I’ve got something I like.”

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Remote recording

From there, he sends the boombox demo recordings to his bandmates, who live in different cities. With Gillard and Shue in New York, Bare in Nashville and March in Hoboken, the musicians are accustomed to recording remotely.

“These guys know the technique,” Pollard said. “They know where I’m coming from. What happens is, when I do that, it’s kind of hacked together so it’s not seamless. Travis, our producer, says he launders them, he cleans them up so they can play over the demos.

“Most of them do that at their homes,” he continued. “Then, they get everything to Travis and he puts the tracks together. The final step is they come back to Dayton and I put the vocals on. Travis is very important. That’s another big thing and that’s how we’ve been able to just keep pumping them out.”

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Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard presenting a check for disaster relief to former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in 2019.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard presenting a check for disaster relief to former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in 2019.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

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Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard presenting a check for disaster relief to former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in 2019.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Needmore songs

Pollard slipped me a copy of “La La Land,” the already completed follow-up to “Tremblers and Goggles By Rank.” Against all odds, it may be the best Guided By Voices album of the modern era. It won’t be released until January 2023, so you’ll have to take my word until then.

“It’s unbelievable,” Pollard said. “It’s seriously killer. It’s going to blow your mind. It’s ‘La La Land.’ I got that from a friend who says, ‘I’ll knock you into La La Land.’ This is the album. It’s the one. It will knock you into La La Land. I like it so much that it’s the only release for next year. I want people to take some time with it.”

For those taking notes, Pollard is already writing material for the album after that. It’s no mistake he named his publishing company Needmore Songs. Needmore is the name of the major street by his old house in Northridge, but it was also an early and insightful admission by Pollard that he is a songwriter with a never-ending desire to create.

“I’ve already got demos for the next one after it because I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I couldn’t stop myself so there might be another one next year, but I’ll spread them out. We’ll put another one out in September or October. I just can’t stop.”

More info: www.guidedbyvoices.com.

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at donthrasher100@gmail.com.

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