Robert Pollard


Things not seen:
American Splendor

Robert Pollard has written an estimated ten thousand songs, both on his own and with his band, Guided by Voices. It’s difficult to imagine what ten thousand songs might look like, or how a person could carry all that music around for so long. It would take a person with courage and fortitude, I think, and the ability to kick one’s leg straight up on a downbeat while swinging a microphone cable in Roger Daltrey–sized arcs. It would take a person who has been focused on songcraft for twenty-plus years—a person capable of generating pure, devastating pop music at the rate most American men shed skin cells. Robert Pollard is that person, crammed to the heart with song.

Guided by Voices emerged like a bottled message out of the slick sea of early-nineties post-rock with an intricate and deceptively fragile record called Bee Thousand (Scat Records, 1994), recorded entirely on a four track, which sounded like the brilliant, faded home demos of a forgotten British psychedelic band from 1968. Though it was generally received as a debut, the band had actually been holed up in Dayton, Ohio, since the early eighties, and had already recorded six albums in isolation from the cultural whims of the world. Listening to Bee Thousand, then, was like uncovering an artifact from a remote, hinterland village, a land ruled by superstition and witchcraft—startling and enlightening, and maybe a little terrifying. Most importantly, though, the album managed to rock, effortlessly—despite (or maybe because of) the prohibitively crude nature of the recordings and the endless queue of perfectly executed hooks.

In the years since, Pollard has released well over a dozen more records. He’s been so willfully prolific that, for a while, it seemed as though he would simply go on releasing songs forever, without interruption, maybe into the grave, but this past May he announced that the new Guided by Voices album, Half-Smiles of the Decomposed, would be the band’s last. It is an incredibly diverse and heavily textured swan song—easily the band’s best record since 1996’s Under the Bushes, Under the Stars—in short, a wild, passionate suicide note from one of the all-time greatest rock acts in Western history.

—Matthew Derby


THE BELIEVER: So, your decision to pull the plug on Guided by Voices has a personal, emotional core?

ROBERT POLLARD: Even though I really like the new album, I really like the way it sounds, I feel like Guided by Voices, as a band, as an entity, has maybe gotten a little bit old hat, you know? Like, “Okay, time to make another record.” “How does it compare with the last record?” “How does it compare with Bee Thousand?” And everybody’s a little… I’m not saying my band is complacent—I’m saying that I’ve become a little complacent. I don’t think I’m being innovative enough in the studio, or as experimental, and that’s really why I’ve made the decision—I want to get back to that. It got to the point where I was delegating roles for everyone in the band, asking for them to contribute ideas instead of coming up with ideas myself. Instead of taking an active role in the studio, playing guitar or whatever, I’d say “Okay, Doug, you’re better than I am, so why don’t you play this part?” I wanted to challenge myself, and I realized it was up to me to end the band and see how I might stand on my own as Robert Pollard and not as Guided by Voices.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Matthew Derby is the author of Super Flat Times. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

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