Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard: ‘There Are Some Songs I Don’t Even Remember Doing’

With just a few hours till the “Matador at 21” kickoff, here’s another interview from the vaults. Previously unavailable online, this one’s with Robert Pollard of recently reunited legends Guided by Voices, who promise to do it up Vegas-style when they close the extravaganza Sunday night.

Renowned for its abundant catalog and marathon live shows that often exceed three or four hours, anyone familiar with Guided by Voices knows of the band’s capacity to proliferate. Nonetheless, many will be stunned to learn that the 18-year-old group led by Robert Pollard has a third box set poised for release on November 4. In classic GbV style, it features a walloping 142 songs – the wide majority of which are unreleased or rare – plus a bonus DVD. A single-disc best-of collation is due the same day.

Hardcore UFOs: Revelations, Epiphanies and Fast Food in the Western Hemisphere was originally conceived as a Revenant Records project years ago, but Matador picked it up when GbV resigned to the label last year.

“I have so many cassettes full of songs and 8-track recordings that I don’t labor over it when a project like this comes up,” Pollard tells ICE. “There are some songs on here I don’t even remember doing. I was, like, ‘Is that us? What the hell is that?’ And there’s still shitloads of stuff left over.”

The five discs are self-explanatorily titled: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates – The Best of Guided by Voices; Demons and Painkillers – Matador B-Sides, Out-of-Print Singles, Bonus and Compilation Tracks; Delicious Pie & Thank You for Calling – Previously Unreleased Songs and Recordings; Live at the Wheelchair Races – Unreleased Live Recordings 1995-2002; and Forever Since Breakfast.

Even though it contains the fewest number of tracks, Pollard draws attention to the last disc. Dating back to 1986, the seven-track Breakfast EP is the first document the Dayton, OH natives ever released; he estimates that only 500-1000 vinyl copies were pressed, on I Wanna Records, and that it’s been out of print ever since. At press time, a clean copy on eBay had just sold for $175.00.

The DVD embellishes the original, out-of-print “Watch Me Jumpstart” documentary/video compilation by Banks Tarver from 1998 with three additional live performances filmed in Warsaw in June 2002; two extra music videos; an eight-minute film by Tarver titled “Beautiful Plastic”; and an Easter egg. The DVD will be sold separately, as well.

A smattering of essays by Pollard, noted journalist Richard Meltzer and longtime fans fill out the box, which Pollard stitched together with the help of Webmaster Rich Turiel. Twenty-five Willy Wonka-style golden bills featuring a caricature of Pollard were inserted in random pressings of GbV’s most recent album, Earthquake Glue, and can be redeemed for a copy of Hardcore UFOs.

Matador also issues the stand-alone Human Amusements at Hourly Rates: The Best of Guided by Voices, the track list of which diverges from the like-titled disc in the box set. Edging close to the 80-minute mark and brimming with 32 tracks, it’s another apt example of the band’s penchant for profusion.

Last but not least, the Circus Devils – a side affair consisting of Tim Tobias, the GbV bassist who recently left the band, brother Todd and Pollard – issue their third disc, Pinball Mars, October 31 through Pollard’s Fading Captain Series.

Originally published in ICE magazine in November 2003.

In honor of Pollard’s vast trove of material, here are extended, previously unpublished quotes from him during our discussion of Hardcore UFOs:

“I knew a few people at Matador, it was originally something that Revenant was gonna put out. They were just gonna put out a box set of a lot of unreleased stuff. But Matador picked it up, and I’ve been talking with them a lot back and forth about what should be in it.

“We agreed that it should include the first thing we did called ‘Forever Since Breakfast,’ which we released on like, 500 or 1,000 copies on vinyl. It’s the first time it’s been released since the original pressing. They decided that the best-of, they were going to release separately. So you could get the best-of in a slightly different package, with a slightly different song order with some different versions of songs. Or you can get it as part of the box set.

“There’s a disc in the box set that has all the B-sides and out of print singles that Matador put out. So they decided to use different versions for the ones on the box set, like single versions or album versions or whatever. Just so you didn’t have two of the same versions of the same song on the box set. And there’s also a disc of unreleased songs, some of them are basically boom box demos.

“We used to record a lot of stuff in an 8-track studio in the ’80s, and there’s a lot of stuff from that period. And then there’s a live disc, which is actually my favorite thing, because there’s a lot of interesting versions of songs, from like ’93 to now that are drastically different from the album versions. That was compiled by my friend that runs the website, Rich Turiel. And there’s a DVD of all our videos, our documentary and extra live footage and stuff like that.

“So it’s like the definitive box set. And it’s our third box set by now. There was one on Scat Records called Box of our first five self-released albums. I have so many cassettes full of songs and 8-track things, I just don’t labor over it when a project like this comes up. There’s still shitloads of stuff left over. There were some songs on here that I don’t even remember doing. I was like, ‘Is that us?’ ‘What the hell is that?’ Some of it just gets lost in the files. But it’s nice, really nice packaging and I’m really looking forward to it coming out.”

“On 25 of them there’s a golden sticker, like a golden bill with my face on it. ‘In Bob We Trust.’ Like the Willy Wonka contest. So 25 are randomly placed. But no one’s redeemed them, so maybe the sticker’s more collectible than the box set itself. You get a box set called Hardcore UFO’s and it’s signed by the band.

“There’s a lot of really cool photos that were sent in by people. It’s gonna be good for people who don’t know a lot about us. It touches on every phase and every different style that we’ve recorded and the different eras. It’s 32 songs, because it had to be 80 minutes, and 32 songs sounds like a lot for a best-of, but it was hard to cut it down. I had to cut down some of the longer, heavier stuff that we do sometime. So it’s sort of the college hits. The most-requested songs.”

Other “Matador at 21”-related interviews:

• Stephen Malkmus On Pavement Breakup, Reunion – And MC Hammer
• Liz Phair Was ‘Heartbroken’ Over Missing Exile In Guyville Master Tapes
• Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan And Laura Ballance Open Up About Shutting Up, Running Merge And More
• Superchunk’s Laura Ballance In 1998: ‘The Music Industry Is Nuts Right Now’
• Dead Meadow: Tweaked ‘Kings’

Also related:

• Bad Penny MP3s: Best Of 2010, Part III – Superchunk, Lovers, Robert Pollard, Women, More

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