“This is ‘GAME OF PRICKS!’”
Robert Pollard spit out the title of one of his best-known songs before guitarist Mitch Mitchell sliced into the first chords of it, keeping up the lightning-quick live show pace that the band Guided By Voices is known for. This is at the 2011 Oyafestivalen show in Oslo, Norway, and although from the Midwest, the guys have no problem with feeling right at home. The band’s lead, Robert Pollard, has a tendency to announce the title of each of his songs. This is something that might seem unnecessary for most musical acts, but Pollard has around two thousand tracks credited to his name. It’s not surprising if we can’t keep up, and he doesn’t hold that against us.
“Shit yeah, it’s cool.”
Guided By Voices is indeed a schizophrenic band. They are hard to pin down and hard to label, and that makes them remarkable. Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, the band is mostly the project of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Robert Pollard. Pollard founded GBV in 1983 with some friends, playing mostly for beers and kicks. Over the years, members came and went, but Pollard has been at the core of the group for decades.
One could call Guided By Voices experimental indie-rock, or post-punk lo-fi buzz, or a number of other things. The band pioneered rock music’s dirty, “lo-fi” sound of the early 90’s along with groups like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. GBV is characterized by curt, hole-punches of punk tunes held together by strong pop sensibilities reminiscent of British Invasion outfits like The Who. Over the decades, they’ve opened to cleaner sounds, but the ethos remains the same.
Pollard has enough diversity as a songwriter to be able to write surreal, abstract lyrics that come together for the sake of the sound, but then also produce songs that have amazing lyrical clarity and vision. The band’s (arguably) best album, the heralded indie milestone Bee Thousand, is hard-hitting and pensive at the same time.
Robert Pollard is a performer who likes his audience. Although well into his fifties, fans can still find Pollard gleefully dancing around the stage like some adolescent rogue, complete with heel clicks and scissors kicks. He puts on no airs, playing fan favorites at every show. This isn’t hard to do, considering that a GBV set list often swells to over 40 tracks long. Although he’s a very accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Pollard is seldom seen playing an instrument during a show. He’s been known to say that he’d rather have his hands free so he can fuck around more.
Guided By Voices has been through many reincarnations and lineups, and Pollard has put out work as a solo artist, and through several other creative ventures. In the past year, Pollard announced that Guided By Voices would be reuniting again, and this time with an entirely new lineup. One of those members is guitarist Bobby Bare Jr., who definitely shares the same strange sense of humor as his bandmate. I got to chat with Bare Jr. about how it feels to be backing Robert Pollard as a member of such a unique band.
Smile Politely: You’ve opened for Guided By Voices on previous tours, and now you’ve been added to their official roster as a member. How does it feel to be a part of this long-standing force of music?
Bobby Bare Jr.: It’s an honor above any of my rock and roll expectations — and I have huge rock and roll expectations. I have been a huge fan since the 90’s. I saw them go on after Nashville Pussy at SXSW and it was my first time to see either band. While watching Nashville Pussy I remember thinking to myself, “How in the fuck is GBV gonna follow an insane metal band with a 6 foot 7 inch tall lady with mongo boobs who blows fire?!” But then GBV came out and destroyed them. (And I LOVE Nashville Pussy.) It was amazing.
SP: What can we expect from this new reincarnation of GBV?
Bare Jr.: I have no I idea, other than the crowds for the first two shows have gone nuts.
SP: Do you have a favorite Guided By Voices album/song?
Bare Jr.: Sorry to not be such a lo-fi purist, but I listened to Do The Collapse more than any other album. I even ripped off the album cover layout for my second Bare Jr. album Brainwasher.
SP: What is it like to work with Robert Pollard?
Bare Jr.: He LOVES rock and roll more than anyone I know. There is not one band I ask him about that he is not aware of, and doesn’t know some of their songs by name – even bands he HATES. I get emotional at rehearsals because I am so amazed that he is right there singing along and getting excited by the band. Also, he hears every mistake and nuance that we are sometimes unaware of, because he played almost all the parts. He is the best teacher of songs. [For example,] I learned all the songs and then had to re-learn them because he showed me a way to slide an “A” chord that I had never imagined or played.
SP: Robert Pollard, throughout all of his different incarnations, has amassed one of the biggest catalogues in music. The band’s latest release is Please Be Honest, which came out on April 22nd. Pollard also put out an album under his own name in March, and both albums are available on his website. For this tour, is the focus more on the newest releases, or will you also be pulling from past works?
Bare Jr: With 50 songs in the set, both are possible. You WILL get at least a regular show’s worth of “hits” as well as tons of new songs. I have only heard great responses from fans about the set lists.
SP: GBV turns over tracks at breakneck speed. How are you getting used to playing sets with 40+ songs?
Bare Jr: I have never played other people’s music, but I love Bob and his songs so much, I shut down my life for a month before the first rehearsal so I could take on the task. I learned half the songs on my own – the older songs I was most familiar with. Then, I flew to Dayton to learn the rest of the songs with Bob and Nick [Mitchell], and then to NYC where I played with Kevin [March] and Mark [Shue] for 2 days. When I got back to Nashville, I just spent night and day running the songs over and over. The first rehearsal back in Dayton was scary, but it was also a blast. Now I just wanna learn more GBV songs!
SP: How about the equally tireless stage presence the band is known for?
Bare Jr.: I am loving the long shows, but I have to stay really focused on how much I can drink — I don’t wanna be the guy who has to stop the show to pee.
Come on in — The Club Is Open.
Guided By Voices is playing at The Accord tonight, Tuesday May 3rd, at 8 pm. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.