“I’m sort of a perpetual motion machine,” says Robert Pollard, and if such a device can indeed be created, it would probably look a lot like the former Guided By Voices lead singer and guitarist. Pollard detailed his current slate of projects, which include:
- a book of collages on Fantagraphics
- a periodical series
- an upcoming Steven Soderbergh musical
- two albums with his new band, Boston Spaceships, with Tommy Keene on guitar, including their debut, Brown Submarine, released on Pollard’s label, GBV, Inc. in September
It’s enough to make your head spin.
Pollard’s not a prolific tourer, though, which is why it’s important that you get your tickets early for his show next Thursday, October 9, at the Highdive. Doors open at 8 p.m., The High Strung open at 9, and tickets are only $15. With the exception of Champaign, it’s strictly a big-city tour, so it’s a tremendous opportunity to see a legend of indie rock without wasting time and gas traveling.
It’s his first club tour in more than two years, and as he says, “It’s an extensive tour for me, one month. I hear about Pearl Jam touring for two years or Foo Fighters touring for two years, and I don’t see how they do it. A month is all I can take.” As long as they’re out, though, the Boston Spaceships are going to give people their money’s worth, which means a two-and-a-half hour show sure to include new cuts and GBV staples, as well.
Formed in 1983, Guided By Voices burst out of Dayton, Ohio, onto the national scene in the early ‘90s, with irresistible lo-fi melodies, delightfully out-there lyrics and even better song titles, like “Tractor Rape Chain” and “Some Drilling Implied”. GBV built a following based on critical adoration and relentlessly releasing new material. “It’s good to keep yourself busy. I’ve been accused of putting out too much and diluting the product or ‘genius’, but that’s my modus operandi,” Pollard insisted. “People have complained that they can’t keep tabs on everything that I put out, but my fan base, they like that.”
Pollard had been a fourth-grade teacher in the Dayton school system during the band’s formative years. “When Guided By Voices signed, I was 36 years old, and I quit teaching after 14 years, which would have been in 1993 or 1994,” he said. “People were concerned about me at the time, I had a job, family, benefits, and they were pretty apprehensive that I would give that up. My thought was that I could always go back to teaching if I needed to. Once it became a possibility, I knew I’d be kicking myself in the ass if I didn’t give it a shot. Teaching was nice, but not as nice as being able to work out of my house and make albums.”
Guided By Voices disbanded in 2004, but Pollard, who had been releasing solo material while the band was still intact, continued his frenzied pace. He doesn’t have much interest in settling down and conforming to other people’s expectations. “What people used to call my stupid shit, I get paid for it now,” he explains. “Guided By Voices didn’t sell ourselves, even there were so many people telling us to. We couldn’t kill it, it was too much fun, and it’s hard to find something like that. It’s my job, I get to have fun, and so many people are miserable with mundane work that they pretty much have to do. It’s difficult to make yourself do that.”
Pollard has never lived outside his native Dayton, although he’s aware of its shortcomings. “I think about it [moving away] all the time, every day, but I just can’t do it,” he explains. “I don’t know where I would go. I think about moving to New York, but I don’t think I could handle New York. Austin is a cool town but I don’t know, it’d still be a hassle. I’ve moved six times in five years, and the thought of moving makes me sick. My son and grandson live in Portland, but that’s sort of the hipster thing to do, everybody’s moving to Portland. I bought a new house and we’ve lived here three years, and I’m getting pretty settled.”
Dayton has served others well, though, and Pollard has a theory about that. “It’s a cradle of invention,” he says. “The cash register, the flip top can, the automatic starter, the airplane were all invented here. It fosters creativity because there’s nothing to do and it forces you to come up with new things.”
Pollard is no stranger to Champaign-Urbana. “A group of my friends and I live in Louisville, Chicago, and we call ourselves the Traveling Dandies,” he notes, “and we meet some weekend somewhere and we sit around in bars in drink, and we did that one weekend in Champaign.”
Despite his frenetic level of activity with his recording and visual projects, he still couldn’t hide his enthusiasm about the possibility of the Soderbergh project. “Steven Soderbergh is working on a project called Cleo that is the story of Cleopatra,” he said. “I’ve known Steven for a while, he approached me when he was working on Full Frontal, and he used a song in that to a degree. He told me he had a movie shooting in a small town in Ohio using non-professional actors [which became Bubble], and I said, ‘here’s some songs that I’ve written.’ There are two full band songs, but you can barely hear it, like when they’re in the bar scene. It took very little time.
“The new project is a musical, Jim Greer is working on it to fit the script. He wants to use 16 to 17 songs from my past catalog and rearrange some of the lyrics. The songs are ready to go, they’re getting the musicians and choreography set up. Shooting is supposed to be starting in May. It’s an idea that he brought up earlier, and then there was a gestation period of two or three years, and now he’s doing it. It’s kind of a crazy project. Catherine Zeta-Jones is playing Cleopatra. I’m not holding my breath that it’s going to happen, but it’s exciting. I’m supposed to sing one of the parts in voiceover, I don’t know what to expect. I’ve been doing songs for commercials and TV shows, and then to do all the songs for a Hollywood blockbuster is crazy. I really don’t want to think about it, I’m just going to let it happen. In the meantime, I’m making collages.”
Robert Pollard is a dynamo, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Don’t miss the chance to see him while he’s this close to home.
Here’s a video for the classic GBV track, “I Am A Scientist”: