A Brief Interview With Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard

It feels a lot like the mid-1990s lately: Superchunk just released the glorious Majesty Shredding, its first album in nine years. Pavement is on the front page of the New York Times Arts section, finishing a yearlong victory lap of renewed adoration. And, next week, Guided By Voices kicks off its own reunion tour at the Palladium Showroom. It’s not just any reunion—this run of shows brings back together the band’s 1993-96 lineup, the group responsible for most of the GBV legend, courtesy of albums like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes and the booze-soaked, cigarette-stained shows that supported them. That lineup: Kevin Fennell on drums, Greg Demos on bass, guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, and, of course, singer Robert Pollard.

GBV’s reappearance has not, thus far, been greeted with the open arms of Pavement and Superchunk’s respective returns, possibly because, in a way, the band never really went away. Yes, the name has been out of use since 2004, but since then Pollard has released 10 full-lengths under his own name (including this year’s Moses on a Snail) and another handful with his new band, Boston Spaceships (most recently, the absolutely essential Our Cubehouse Still Rocks), not to mention tons of other side projects and rabbit holes. And all of them, due to Pollard’s presence, are reminiscent — some more than others — of Guided By Voices.

That’s not to say this isn’t a big deal. It is. GBV has only been gone for a few years, but this lineup — capable of great heights and epic, drunken falls — has been out of business for more than 15. It’s worth a Wednesday night, and then some. Watch them jumpstart.

To take of the nuts and bolts of how all this came to be, here is a short e-mail Q&A with Pollard.

Q: How long did this reunion take to come together? Was it specifically spurred on by the Matador thing, or had you thought about it independently?
A: It’s a very recent development and it was prompted by the decision to play the Matador anniversary. We decided it might be a good time to embark on the dreaded reunion tour. I said I wouldn’t do one, but now I’m very excited about it. We’ll let it play out for a while — maybe a year and then never again.

Q: Did you ever think you’d be touring with these guys again? Not GBV — these specific guys.
A: No. I think it’s very special to get the exact five-person line-up after 16 years.  I bet that doesn’t happen very often.

Q: How much has changed between the last time you played with them and now? Did everyone just fall back into their old roles within the band?
A: Well, it was a little rusty at first. Not bad though and the general excitement and enthusiasm make up for any kinks. We’re 16 years older and we were sort of old by rock standards even then, but there will still be some sparks.

Q: What’s changed for you from then until now? Is it harder to do things live? Has your approach changed?
A: I like to perform still. I’m not going to be jumping around like a monkey, like I did back in the day. I’m going to take a slightly more mature approach. There will be energy but I’m not going to be running around like Mick Jagger or something.

Q: What’s your favorite album from this lineup? Or song?
A: My favorite album is everybody’s favorite: Bee Thousand. And the song is everybody’s favorite: “Game of Pricks.” We may do it two or three times.

Q: This is being called the “classic” lineup, which is true, I guess. How would you rank the other GBV eras?
A: Equally good. I like them all. I like what I’m doing right now, especially with Boston Spaceships.

Q: Do you ever regret giving up the GBV name? Those Boston Spaceships records are great, but it doesn’t seem like they get as much support, even though it’s essentially what GBV was: you and a killer band and great songs.
A: No.  You’re right, they don’t and that’s a shame, but it’s understandable, because we were at the peak of our freshness as Guided By Voices.  It’s when people began to hear us and see us. They were fascinated by the mystery and the story of perseverance.  That sounds trite but it’s true.  There were also quite a few good songs on those early records.

Q: If you ever do another specific GBV era tour, I’d vote for Isolation Drills. Sorry. That wasn’t a question.
A: We talked about it, but it didn’t happen and probably won’t. Thank you.

Photo via WikiCommons.