Doug Gillard’s goal since he picked up a guitar more than a generation ago was simple. “I just wanted to make records,” Gillard said while calling from his Brooklyn home. Well, the Guided by Voices guitarist joined the right band since there is probably no act as prolific as the quirky, lo-fi act, who have released 33 albums in 30 years.
“If I could put out an album a month, that would be no problem,” GBV singer-songwriter Robert Pollard said. The sonic output delivered by Pollard and company, at least one if not two albums a year, is staggering. Pollard, 63, remains creative and energetic. It’s not surprising that “Earth Man Blues,” an odds and sods collection that dropped in late April just four months after GBV’s last album, “Styles We Paid For,” was released.
“Earth Man Blues,” which is the group’s fourth album in 14 months, is a perfect representation of what the act is about since Pollard easily veers from melodic gems to the wonderfully weird. The album is a reminder that the tag “alternative,” which arrived as a rock music adjective during the ’90s, is usually a misnomer. Are monsters of rock such as Pearl Jam, Green Day and Weezer really alternative? Of course not.
“An alternative to what?” Melvins vocalist-guitarist Buzz Osborne said after digesting the question. “I guess Green Day is an alternative to punk rock.” However, the strange but hook-laden GBV is a true alternative. Such ’90s indie-rock heroes as GBV and Pavement were certainly a different flavor from Alanis Morissette and Everclear, who were part of the alt charts during the Clinton era.
Part of Pollard’s appeal is that he is fiercely independent. The cerebral and oft-inebriated bard, who has lived in Dayton, Ohio, his entire life, doesn’t care about anything but making music, touring and consuming an unimaginable quantity of beer. During a show on the “Alien Lanes” tour in 1995, Pollard kept tossing beer bottles over his shoulder, which shattered. During the encore, guitarist Mitch Mitchell tackled bassist Jim Greer, who sliced his wrist on a shard of glass.
“Do you think I should go to the hospital or just grab another beer?” Greer asked while hanging backstage post-show and leaning toward the latter option. Such is life with GBV. After catching the masters of lo-fi at the Whiskey in Los Angeles, I told Pollard that I saw him perform in three different time zones. “Can I use that for a song title?” Pollard said. “I saw you in three different time zones.”
Pollard has come up with some of the most creative song titles in rock history. “Asphyxiated Circle,” “Table at Fool’s Tooth” and “Optical Hopscotch” are some of the loopy song monikers with just as inscrutable lyrics. I once asked Pollard what “Bright Paper Werewolves” was about since I couldn’t break the code after several spins. “It’s about people who buy scratch lottery tickets,” Pollard revealed.
“C’mon polluted eyeballs / Stop scouting out the field / Jump up bright paper werewolves / And everybody everywhere / Anyone can scratch / And anyone can win / So bring out another batch.” Now it all makes sense. “The Disconnected Citizen,” “Sunshine Girl Hello” and “How Can a Plumb Be Perfected” are some of the catchy headscratchers from “Earth Man Blues.”
It’s mind-boggling how Pollard continues to be inspired in such a fashion after releasing so many albums. “Ideas just keep coming his way,” Gillard said. “It amazes all of us.” “Don’t Stop Now,” a gorgeous track from GBV’s “Under the Bushes, Under the Stars,” comes to mind.
“Earth Man Blues” is one of GBV’s finest albums, which is surprising since it’s comprised of unfinished cuts, outtakes and rejected songs. The well is endless for Pollard, who is incomparable. Pollard, who threw a no-hitter as a pitcher for a Division 1 school (Wright State University), quit baseball and became an elementary school teacher while crafting music on the side.
When Pollard’s basement tapes leaked out during the early ‘90s, he was offered an opportunity to make indie rock. Nearly 40 musicians were part of GBV during its initial decade, with Pollard the lone constant. It’s gone full circle for Guided by Voices, which hardly played live during its early years.
Gillard hopes GBV will hit the road at some point in 2021 and make what would be its Spokane debut. There was a GBV date at the Knitting Factory in 2014, but it was canceled. “Of course, we all miss playing out,” Gillard said. “When we get back to playing, you’ll know what to expect.”
GBV lives in the moment. Its setlists change every night, and the band obviously has much to draw from since their canon is ocean deep. Until GBV tours, immerse yourself in Guided by Voices tunes, which are inspired by Mersey Beat, British invasion rock and power pop. It doesn’t get any better than the band’s brilliant “Alien Lanes.” “Bee Thousand” and “Mag Earwhig” are on a similar level. And “Earth Man Blues” is on the next tier.
“The great thing about this band is that after all of these years, it still is producing strong, new material,” Gillard said. “Bob could just play old favorites, but I don’t think that will ever happen. A decade from now, he’ll still be making new music. There’s not many people like Bob, a benevolent leader, who is an amazing songwriter. You have to appreciate someone like him since he’s so uncommon.”
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