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Guided By Voices: Our 1994 Interview, ‘The Basement Tapes’

Guided By Voices singer Robert Pollard performs on stage at Reading Festival, United Kingdom, 1999. (Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared in the July 1994 issue of Spin. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of their landmark album Bee Thousand, we’re republishing it here.

“We’re rock enthusiasts,” declares Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard on his way to a nearby watering hole. “Just give me a great song, man. That’s all I ask.” Pollard ought to know. He and his Dayton, Ohio-based combo have been cranking out great songs by the barrow-load for close to a decade, most of that time spent in a twilit world of obscurity. They were so underground, in fact, that you couldn’t even see them play.

“Until last summer, for five years we didn’t play live,” says Pollard. “We were like this little songwriting guild that got together and wrote songs.” Membership in the GBV guild, or as Pollard says, the “GBV Army,” has over the years consisted of a transient group of players, roughly 20 in all. In fact, even though this interview takes place in Columbus, Ohio, and the bar we enter has been chosen (by me) more or less at random, the bartender turns out to be a former GBV member.

The lineup for the band’s newest release, Bee Thousand, on Scat Records (LP number 9, release number 14, including EPs and singles, but not, as the band is careful to point out, split singles or pseudonymous releases), would appear to be somewhat more stable. Pollard sings, Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell play guitar, Greg Demos plays bass, Kevin Fennell drums, and Pollard’s brother Jim, a recording-only member due to his second-shift job at General Motors, plays guitar and serves as “spiritual advisor.”

Bee Thousand promises more of the lo-fi splendor GBV thrives on, a crazy mix of ’60s British psychedelic pop, Sebadoh-style experimentation, and massive tape hiss. (The band also insists there is a heavy early-Genesis influence, but is afraid that this information will damage its indie creed. Too late.)

“We record four-track completely out of necessity,” Pollard affirms. “We’ve been talking to people that can maybe give us money to record bigger stuff. And so we will.”

And so they will. Talks are underway with a few labels concerning future GBV releases (“We’re leaning toward Apple,” jokes Pollard), and current plans include a stint on the second stage of Lollapalooza ’94, as well as a summer tour with Scat labelmates Prisonshake and Cobra Verde. It’s a rare few months that doesn’t see the release of another handful of GBV songs.

To what does the ban attribute its remarkable productivity? Does Pollard—chief songwriter, or “High Priest,” as he prefers to be called—come home from his job teaching fourth grate every day and sit there with his guitar writing song after song? “No,” he laughs. “I just shoot foul shots. A hundred a day. That’s the secret.”