By Alan Brostoff
Guided By Voices, a Dayton, Ohio rock band formed in the early '80s, are well-known for their garage rock leanings and prolific output. Principal songwriter Robert Pollard is the driving force behind the band, bringing a strong creative work ethic. Pollard himself has put out over 20 solo albums.
Many bands would be overjoyed by producing only three albums during their music career, but with the release of Mirrored Aztec, Pollard and Guided By Voices are celebrating their 30th album release. And, as we find out from Pollard, there is still more to come this year.
GOLDMINE: Many bands make fans wait years between releases. Mirrored Aztec is the bands second release in 2020, and 30 in the band’s history. What drives you and the band to continue to make music?
ROBERT POLLARD: Yeah, and we’ve got another one coming out in November. It’s perpetual motion. There’s never a break in the action. Past, present and future come together. The thrill and love of making records is what drives us. They’ve got the demos for the one after the next and we just finished an EP under the name Cub Scout Bowling Pins.
GM: Can you explain the idea behind the artwork on the album?
RP: I was talking to a fan at a bar in Dayton, and he showed me some of his girlfriend’s art. Her name is Courtney Latta. Well, one particular piece caught my eye. It was the one which became the cover for Mirrored Aztec. I thought it matched the title perfectly. She did it with colored permanent markers. It’s really striking, and Joe Patterson came up with the lettering which is really cool, too.
GM: On July 17 the band played a full concert to an empty hall and streamed it for your fans. Was there a big difference in how the band played versus playing before a crowd?
RP: It was a little strange trying to perform without an audience. The interaction between a rock band and its audience is very important, but during these times you take what you can get. We had fun, it sounded good and from the feedback I’ve gotten, everyone dug it.
GM: Do you remember where you were the first time you heard one of your songs play on the radio?
RP: I don’t remember exactly. I think I was in a bar and a song came on. Probably ‘93 or ‘94. I didn’t recognize it and someone pointed it out. Like “Hey man, that’s your song on the radio.” It might have been “Motor Away” or something. It was kind of weird. I remember hearing “Hold On Hope” in a CVS store on some contemporary adult station. It came on right after a Kenny G song and I just covered my face and slinked out to my car.
RP: I’m not involved at all. It’s all Scat and Matador.
GM: If someone is going to discover Guided By Voices, which record should they start with and why?
RP: If it’s a more adventurous person, they should probably go with Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. For most beginners, I would recommend Isolation Drills or Do The Collapse. They’re big production jobs and probably easier on the ear. I would tell most people to just buy our most recent record.
GM: When you are writing songs, how do you decide if something is for Guided By Voices or a solo project?
RP: There’s really no difference to me except now, everything is pretty much Guided By Voices. It’s the brand name that seems to click with everyone. Also the new lineup is so talented and enthusiastic I just want them to be involved with everything. I call the EP we just finished Cub Scout Bowling Pins because we incorporated an entirely different process of writing where everyone was involved. On Guided By Voices records, I pretty much write everything.
GM: How has Covid-19 impacted the band?
RP: Well, we can’t tour. We can’t play in front of an audience, so we just have to come up with other ideas like the live streaming thing we just did and the weekly super-fan club subscription, Hot Freaks. It’s a subscription for a year with videos, outtakes, interviews and assorted rarities. We just keep cranking out records, too.
GM: Do you have a record collection?
RP: With all due respect, that’s the funniest question anyone’s ever asked me. I’ve been collecting LPs and 45s since I was 8 or 9 years old. I’m sick. If it’s a great album I’ll buy it every time I see it. I’ve got 8 copies of In the Court of the Crimson King.
GM: What are your favorite record stores to visit?
RP: End of An Ear in Austin, Crossroads in Portland, Blue Arrow in Cleveland, the Academy stores in New York and Brooklyn. The list goes on and on and I apologize for leaving other great stores out. It’s just that there are so many great record stores.
GM: Are there any records that you are looking for?
RP: Nothing that comes to mind. But I’m always looking for something to surprise me. A promo or sealed copy of something great. A cool 45 that I didn’t know existed.
GM: Who would you like to write or perform a song with?
RP: There are so many people I respect, but I don’t really work that way. Occasionally I collaborate on a record, but we don’t actually sit down and write together. I performed “Baba O’Riley” with Pearl Jam in a big-ass arena. That was a rush.
GM: When you made the decision to leave teaching and become a full-time musician, did you think that you would still be doing this in 2020?
RP: No. I hoped but didn’t know if it was possible. I was going to do my damnedest to make it possible.
GM: Where is the best place to go for people to order Mirrored Aztec?
RP: You can buy it at your local record store, or get it directly from us at Rockathon Records: www.rockathonrecords.com