Robert Pollard on How He Named His Hundredth Record
From high school teacher in Dayton, Ohio, to power-pop star in…well, Dayton, Ohio, Guided by Voices front man Robert Pollard has been churning out pump-your-fist-and-spill-your-beer records with various projects since the early ’80s. Friday (April 7) marks the arrival of Pollard’s hundredth release, Guided by Voice’s stunner of a double album, August by Cake.
Although Pollard has released double albums with side and solo projects in the past (with Circus Devils, Boston Spaceships, etc.) this is GBV’s first such record, and the first to feature tracks by all members: drummer Kevin March, guitarists Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare, Jr. and bassist Mark Shue. To celebrate its release, Pollard answered a few questions from TIDAL (by hand, after his wife printed them out).
Why did you decide to have all the band members write their own songs for this record?
It wasn’t originally going to be a double album. I had sent seventeen demos to the band to learn and that was going to be it. But then I recorded six more songs by myself at Cyberteknics in Dayton and I liked them all so that made it twenty-three songs, which went over the optimum time length for a single album and not long enough for a double album. I think in terms of LP, obviously, so I asked each member of the band to write and record two songs apiece to flesh it out and they did. I was very happy with the songs they brought to the album.
The three albums you made with Ricked Wicky, directly before the 2016 Guided by Voices reunion, are some of the strongest of your discography. Did that band just serve as a ramp-up to the return of GBV or is there a future for it?
Well, at the time there was no Guided by Voices. Ricked Wicky was my band and we may have toured and continued making albums, but with the success, at least artistically in my mind, of Please Be Honest, I decided to bring back Guided by Voices as a band, which meant there was no longer a need for Ricked Wicky as a vehicle for my songs.
In 2016, it was amazing to see GBV’s set lists stretch far beyond just GBV songs, representing all of your side projects over the years. Can we expect more deep cuts, oddities and surprises at the 2017 shows?
We will have released a double album by that point, so the set will consist of a lot of songs from that. Probably close to twenty songs. We’re out to support August by Cake. But we’ve thrown in several old songs that we haven’t played in a while. We have fifty-five songs in the set and there are only about twenty left from when we began touring last year. It’s mostly old GBV and new GBV. Not much middle period stuff. Three or four ESP Ohio songs. Some of my solo stuff.
Some GBV albums seem to operate around loose themes. Did anything specifically inspire the song cycle of August by Cake?
No. It’s just a collection of songs that I think provides enough diversity to pull off a seventy-minute album. If there’s any loose theme at all it might be sort of a big show, big top, three-ring circus thing. You know, life, rock & roll, the entertainment industry all as some kind of big circus.
Ever since Doug Gillard rejoined GBV, it seems the band regained a kind of power. Will this lineup continue making music with you?
I really don’t see this lineup changing. It doesn’t really need to, at least at this point. The chemistry is great and we’re having a lot of fun. We feel very productive.
What was going in your life while you were working on August by Cake? What were you listening to?
Please Be Honest and a lot of 1970s stuff. Prog and post punk. Some power pop.
Looking back on one hundred records, do you think any of them didn’t get the attention they deserved? Which?
I think the one that I expected more attention with was [2006 solo record] From a Compound Eye. I really thought that record would step it up to a new level. People I talk to love that album. But I’ve always had trouble breaking through to a larger audience. I’m mostly to blame because I’m not very enthusiastic about playing the dog and pony, but I’m also not sure that Merge really got behind it either. I don’t know. It’s hard to assess.
The video for “5° on the Inside” features the inner-workings of Rockathon Records quite a bit. What’s the structure of the operation like? Do you have a lot of hands-on influence on how the business runs?
[It runs] very smoothly. Efficiently. And it all works with complete trust. I bring the ideas on a consistent basis and [the teams makes] it happen. It’s Utopian.
What inspired the title of August by Cake? It’s a powerful choice of words and an interesting choice of month.
It’s ABC. Simple. Save room for cake. Actually, [GBV bassist] Mark Shue spotted it in my notebook and thought it was good. Silly but a good title.
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