Photo shoot for the Guided By Voices album ‘Sandbox,’ 1987. (Courtesy: Robert Pollard)
Robert Pollard, majordomo for Guided By Voices and a host of other projects, isn’t just a prolific songwriter, with over 2,000 published tunes; he’s also one of the best. Pollard’s greatest songs are up there with the finest rock-n-roll ever committed to wax. I’m convinced the Dayton, Ohio, native will one day be called a “national treasure,” but for now, he’s a cult artist with a fanatical following that gobbles up everything he produces—which includes over 100 albums. But it was a long road to respectability and success for Pollard. It would be years before very many people heard Guided By Voices, and along the way, nearly everyone close to him said he should quit fooling around with this music thing.
One of Bob’s early, pre-Guided By Voices undertakings was dubbed Acid Ranch, an endeavor that also included future GBV members Mitch Mitchell and Bob’s younger brother, Jimmy. The trio recorded stealthily in Bob’s basement studio, which he named “the Snakepit.” They had the freedom to do whatever they wanted—both musically and otherwise—and shit did get wild.
Acid Ranch is a key element in Robert Pollard’s development as a songwriter, but it hasn’t been recounted in much detail. That’s about to change with the upcoming biography, Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices. Dangerous Minds is happy to have the Acid Ranch section of the book to share with you.
“The most interesting, spontaneously creative, and psychotic, moronic thing we did, we labeled Acid Ranch,” Bob recalls. “You know, secretly. In the lab.” It was the secret part that allowed them to experiment so freely. “Acid Ranch was fearless and ridiculous, because we knew no one would ever hear any of it.”
Recording sessions in the Snakepit circa 1981–1982 were extemporaneous, marathon affairs accompanied by copious amounts of beer, pot, and coke. “We’d go to the point of semi-exhaustion.”
They turned on all the amps, started the tape rolling, and recorded everything—song, interview, or fart. The plan was total creativity, and beyond that there were no further rules. Bob experimented with vocal delivery, falsetto, harmonies, wordplay, and accents ranging from British to a carnival barker’s brassy tone.
Jimmy Pollard (left) and Bob Pollard (right), 1982. (Courtesy: Robert Pollard)
They got the name Acid Ranch from Spahn Ranch, the Manson’s Family’s hideout, but it was also a play on acid rain. It was only one of the band names Bob and Mitch—and Jimmy once he was back home—recorded under, but it was a favorite. (They were Mailbox when a drum machine was included. “Mailbox was a little bit more refined,” Bob says. “We were influenced by the Smiths and shit.”)
They played whatever was at hand: someone would bang out a rhythm on the clothes dryer or a plastic bucket, Bob played an acoustic guitar or Mitch played bass, they warbled a cappella barbershop harmonies, or even used squeaking squeeze toys—as in the song “Mongoose Orgasm,” a frantic blood relative to the Residents’ Duck Stab and Pink Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict.”
Before he took over the hosting duties of The Daily Show in 1999, comedian Jon Stewart had his very own late-night talk show, The Jon Stewart Show, which aired weeknights on MTV. The short-lived program lasted just two seasons (1993-1995) but despite its failure to garner high ratings, Stewart would achieve much fanfare among the MTV clientele. Besides launching Stewart’s career as a TV host, The Jon Stewart Show boasted an impressive list of musical guests, many getting exposure to a mainstream audience for the first time. Memorable performances include those by Quicksand, Killing Joke, Slayer, Body Count, The Breeders, Marilyn Manson, Sunny Day Real Estate, Bad Religion, Rocket from the Crypt, Naughty by Nature, Danzig, Warren Zevon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Notorious BIG, Redd Kross, and many more.
The sixty-fourth episode of The Jon Stewart Show saw appearances by celebrity guests Anthony LaPaglia, Lisa Rinna, Matt Borlenghi and featured the television debut of lo-fi indie rock heroes Guided by Voices. The performance, which aired on March 30th in 1995, contained three numbers from GBV’s seminal album Alien Lanes, which would be released later that week on Matador. Almost as noteworthy as Guided by Voices’ relentless musical output of simplistic rock ballads (under two minutes), was their celebrated pastime of bigtime boozing. Their alcoholic aspirations were even pursued on live television performances, as vocalist Robert Pollard can be seen throughout the first half gripping a red Solo cup—the sign of a pro (see also Bannon, Steve) just moments away from full-blown inebriation.
Just a year and a half since Dangerous Minds reported on Guided By Voices’ breakup comes the news that the band’s ringleader and lone constant member Bob Pollard has reunited the band yet again—kinda. The group was announced as the headliner of the Sled Island festival in Calgary, Alberta, and various credible outlets have reported that a new GBV album is in the works with Pollard playing every instrument. Which would seem like less of a “reunion” and more of an indication of Pollard’s evident willingness to keep hauling the GBV name out of storage for as long as obsessives are willing to line up to buy yet another GBV album—with the recent release of the fourth installment of the blood-from-a-stone “Suitcase” series of multi-CDsets full of alternate takes and discarded songs only underscoring that point. The move of calling a solo album Guided By Voices might not sit well with those subsets of the band’s fandom that hold that it’s not truly Guided By Voices without early ‘90s guitarist Tobin Sprout or later-era-defining guitarist Doug Gillard, but then this turned up on Twitter:
And the new GBV live line-up is: Robert Pollard with Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar), Kevin March (drums), Nick Mitchell (guitar), Mark Shue (bass)
Bobby Bare, Jr. is a highly noteworthy roots rocker. Kevin March was the drummer of GBV’s previous final lineup. Nick Mitchell is Pollard’s (and March’s) collaborator in the band Ricked Wicky, and Mark Shue was the bassist for The Library Is On Fire, connected to GBV via producer Todd Tobias. This is just the live lineup, and there’s no indication that this will be a creative unit, but whatever shows that ensemble does should probably be pretty goddamn good. Snobbier uberdorks who haven’t gotten over the fact that Guided By Voices is whatever Bob Pollard wants it to be are 100% guaranteed to cry foul about the lack of past members anyway, but this sort of thing has happened before.
In 1997, Pollard jettisoned the band’s entire lineup and replaced them with the arty glam-punk band Cobra Verde, a supergroup with members of Death of Samantha, garage-punks The Reactions, and power-metalists Breaker. That version of the band committed the GBV sacrilege of recording most of the album Mag Earwhig! in an actual multitrack studio, an apostasy that was rewarded when the Gillard-penned single “I Am A Tree,” originally released by his own band Gem, became one of GBV’s most revered fan-favorites. “Guided By Verde” only lasted the one album; ironically, that major GBV lineup shuffle provoked a major shakeup in Cobra Verde, as well. Gillard remained in GBV with Pollard (and quite edifyingly, at that) while CV’s honcho John Petkovic ended up carrying on with an entirely new band, himself.
Anyone following indie rock in the last decade is surely familiar with Florida’s Surfer Blood, if not for their music, then for the dramatic roller-coaster of their career. They came out of the starting gate in 2010 with Astro Coast, a debut so widely acclaimed it landed the college kids in the band a world tour, and a run of opening slots for The Pixies. I saw one of their pre-fame shows, and while the music wasn’t 100% my zone, I totally understand the appeal. Despite the club being dead empty, they put on a show so affable and fun it felt like they could have been playing to a packed house party full of their best friends.
They were riding so high from that impressive beginning that on their tour for their second album, Pythons, they topped the bill over the venerable and respected indie stalwarts …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. But their second album was derailed, both by being less impressive than Astro Coast, and by a nasty and well-publicized domestic battery incident in which their their singer, John Paul Pitts, was the aggressor. After Pitts sought anger-management therapy, the band sought redemption with 2015’s respectable 1000 Palms, but they’ve been derailed again:
Thomas Fekete, Surfer Blood guitarist for 6 years, has been sidelined while undergoing treatment for a very rare and aggressive cancer (a sarcoma). Although Thom has health insurance, which has covered more than six months of chemotherapy, his experienced team of doctors are confident in an alternative treatment plan, that unfortunately is not covered by insurance. As he’s no longer able to tour and make a living, we hope and appreciate if you can help with a donation of any size, and help spread the word by sharing on social media. Thank you so much for the love and support!
A GoFundMe campaign to help Fekete came and went last spring, but there’s still a need for more money (fighting cancer is one of the most damnably expensive goddamn things on this Earth), so the band has contrived a novel fundraising idea. Bands including Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Lou Barlow, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and unsurprisingly, Surfer Blood, have donated unreleased tracks, and each track has been lathe-cut by hand into a single record, each one-of-a-kind and accordingly numbered 1/1. All one of these unique, hand-made records are on eBay right now, through the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. For a lower premium, the band offers a download of all the donated tracks in MP3 format. The minimum donation for that compilation is $10.
As previously reported on Dangerous Minds, Guided By Voices have once again called it a day. Leader Robert Pollard surprisingly agreed to reform the so-called “classic line-up” of GBV for Matador’s 21s birthday party in 2010, which snowballed into a successful reunion tour, a wealth of new and stellar material, as well as continued live dates. They played their final show on September 13th in Toledo. I was there.
As with most GBV performances, it was jubilant affair, with rock star poses and an audience so enrapt and caught in the moment you’d swear this was Sunday mass. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many smiling faces that looked to be roughly the same age I was when I first became a fan after hearing Bee Thousand 20 summers ago.
The final set-list.
They played a surprisingly short set and afterwards there were murmurs that what we had just witnessed was their last gig. Days later, two more show were announced and it seemed that it was all just hearsay.
When a band you love breaks up it’s always a bit sad; it feels like a death and all the clichés apply: Nothing lasts forever, at least we still have the music, the memories, blah, blah, blah. Of course, GBV fans have been through this before, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. Guided By Voices made extraordinary music and they managed to bottle the magic all over again, but now—for whatever reasons—it’s over. Thankfully, someone captured the final moment and the entire set is available online. Guitarist Mitch Mitchell is absolutely on fire, and I can’t help but wonder if he knew this would be the last time.
Fans of that great Dayton, OH indie band Guided By Voices have been greeted with a rather startling and not terribly informative goodbye on the band’s tour date page:
Guided By Voices has come to an end. With 4 years of great shows and six killer albums, it was a hell of a comeback run. The remaining shows in the next two months are unfortunately canceled. Our sincere apologies to those that have purchased tickets and made travel plans. Thanks to everyone who has supported GBV.
The band’s classic lineup from the 1993-‘96 era reunited in 2010, and immediately set about becoming as insanely prolific as they were the first time around. 2014 alone saw two full length releases, Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet. The band’s fall tour would have kicked off in Portland, OR next week. Given the number of incarnations the band has been through, though, it hardly seems out of the question that one of the 1998-2005 lineups could be resurrected if Doug Gillard could be tempted away from Nada Surf.
Here’s one of the band’s last songs (unless/until singer Robert Pollard gets a wild hair up his ass to do it again…), “Planet Score” from Motivational Jumpsuit.
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Guided By Voices’ lo-fi indie classic Bee Thousand, and the popular Delaware-based microbrewery Dogfish Head is celebrating with the release of “Beer Thousand.”
Released on June 21, 1994, Bee Thousand was the last album GBV recorded for the Cleveland, OH (later, St. Louis, MO) based indie label Scat Records, before moving on to chug from bigger kegs on Matador Records for Alien Lanes. The album remains one of the band’s most lauded efforts, and was named the greatest indie album of all time by Amazon’s editors in 2009. It’s typical of most of the band’s output at the time, characterized by brilliantly addled little fragments of songs, brief and luminous glimpses of British-invasion inspired pop.
Just as Dogfish Head has always brewed the beers we want to drink instead of bending toward trends and tradition, Guided by Voices has always made the music they want to listen to.
“We’re only making records for ourselves,” GBV frontman Robert Pollard says, “I’m going to put exactly what I want on them.”
To celebrate that independent spirit and the 20th anniversary of the band’s classic album Bee Thousand, Dogfish Head has brewed BEER Thousand. This imperial lager, chosen to echo the copious amounts of lager that fueled GBV’s garage recordings, is brewed with 10 grains and 10 hop varieties, and clocks in at 10% ABV.
10x10x10 = BEER Thousand.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” says Pollard. “But I’ll drink to that.”
10% ABV! Because who needs to remember stuff, really? The beer won’t be released to the public until early autumn, so if you’re in one of the 30 states they sell in, you have that to look forward to. While you wait, enjoy these clips of GBV’s hometown (Dayton by God Ohio) show from the same year as Bee Thousand’s release. Some of this material can be found on GBV vocalist Bob Pollard’s wonderfully-titled DVD The Devil Went Home and Puked
Ohio’s semilegendary art-punk band Death of Samantha surely enjoyed one of the greatest debut gigs in history. In the early 1980s, teenaged clarinetist/guitarist/singer John Petkovic was sporadically employed at a family-style steakhouse called The Ground Round in the cultural dead zone of Parma, Ohio—then and still the New Jersey to Cleveland’s Lower Manhattan. His boss was a wiseass, always snarking at John about when his young, incompetent, only-just-barely-extant band was going to play at the restaurant. When that manager went on vacation, the assistant manager, who had overheard those exchanges and was apparently unable to parse sarcasm, actually booked the band. Per Petkovic, from a recent in-person interview that was totally fun to transcribe because he was munching on goddamn popcorn the whole night:
We didn’t have any songs, we didn’t have a name, but the assistant manager said there was an opening on wing night. So we brought down our amps and a P.A., and it was insane, whose band would do this to play the Ground Round? And at first, we thought people would actually be into it. So we needed a name, for the marquee, where it would usually say “BURGER NIGHT $4.99,” and [drummer] Steve-O mentioned “Death of Samantha.” I didn’t even know it was a Yoko Ono song, but I thought it would be cool, where it says “POPPERS AND ZUCCHINI $2.99” it would also say “MUSIC BY DEATH OF SAMANTHA.” So we set up, and people were coming in asking “what is this music by Death of Samantha, what is that?” and we thought they were asking about us because they were really into it! They were more like appalled! They fuckin’ HATED IT. People started winging baskets of popcorn around, throwing chicken wings at us, people were yelling “these guys suck, this is awful, this is terrible, we came here to eat!” People were refusing to pay, and the waitresses were screaming at us “Stop! They all want their money back!” Anyways, the place cleared out. It was embarrassing, but our bass player Dave James had a zine “Negative Print,” and he wrote about it. People thought it was a joke, but that fanzine was getting around. So people started calling us about shows. We had this credibility because I got fired for all that, so when we got our first real show there was a ton of people there.
From their beginnings as inciters of suburbanite riots, DoS went on to become a pretty big deal in the ‘80s midwestern rock subterra. The trio added lead guitarist Doug Gillard, and after the requisite handful of locally-pressed singles, they hooked up with Homestead Records—home to heavy hitters like Nick Cave, Big Black and Sonic Youth—for the albums Strungout on Jargon, the particularly brilliant Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants, and Come All Ye Faithless, and the essential E.P. Laughing In The Face Of A Dead Man. (All are out of print now, so prepare to dig deep.) The band convincingly and compellingly crossbred post-punk defiance and hardcore sneer with the fearless glam strut of Roxy Music, the exploratory meanderings of Television, and uncommonly literate lyrics. Concerts were a showcase for a preposterous low-budget-Tubes showmanship that emphasized Petkovic’s brutal wit and unstoppable mouth, and Steve-O’s flair for the ridiculous—the chubby, muttonchopped drummer was often ceremoniously borne to the stage in a coffin, from which he would emerge dressed as Vegas Elvis. The band would then launch into 40 some odd minutes of a beautifully shambolic rock that didn’t care what genre it was purloining at any given moment, and mocked you if you DID care. They were fucking magnificent.
Also, they inspired one of my favorite useless Robert Christgau reviews ever—here, in a review of the Wailing Ultimate compilation, he posits an imaginary conversation between John Petkovic and his mom:
As long as you don’t take the hooks too literally—believe me, there aren’t many more where they come from—this is a pretty fair introduction to garage postnihilism, a surprisingly palatable mix of musical and sociological interest. Just like the grooveful laborers on a reggae or hardcore compilation, Gerry’s kids hold together for the kind of continuous listen most local/label samplers can’t sustain. In fact, only their fans and their mothers could tell most of these fourteen bands apart without a scorecard, and I’m not so sure about their mothers. Mrs. Petkovic: “I liked that song you did about the well.” John P.: “How could that be ours, mama? A girl sings it.” Mrs. P.: “Isn’t Samantha a girl?” John P.: “Ma, we’re called Death of Samantha—Death of Samantha.” Mrs. P.: “Oh Johnny, she’s not really dead. That’s just, what do you call it, poetic license, right?” B+
But by the dawn of the ‘90s, just as bands like DoS were starting to get taken more seriously by bigger labels, if not yet radio, the familiar pressures of a lot of work in exchange for going nowhere pulled the band apart. A few years later, Gillard, Petkovic and later member Dave Swanson (now of Chamber Strings) reunited in Cobra Verde, and all three served time in Guided By Voices, though Gillard had the longest and most edifying tenure in that band. Gillard later joined up with Nada Surf, and Petkovic formed Sweet Apple with J. Mascis. But now seems to be the time for bands of that era to reunite, and the bug bit DoS practically at random. Petkovic again:
I had to go buy a pack of cigarettes, and Dave James was working over there—we’d been working like 1,000 feet from each other for ten years and never seen each other—and I saw some guy smoking, I thought I’d try to bum one off of him, and it was Dave. Doug had been in town the week before, and we talked about doing something musically again, and I told Dave the Beachland [concert club] kept bugging us to do a DoS show, and I didn’t think it made any sense, but Dave said “Sure it does, I’d do it.”
And that why-the-hell-not approach has led the band to not just a welcome reactivation, but to the most interesting album of its career. In rehearsing for their comeback show, DoS held their final practice at a recording studio. The engineer suggested running a recording of the practice, and the band said why the hell not. Those recordings are now the 2XLP If Memory Serves Us Well. Its liner notes contain reminiscences from Byron Coley, Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and GBV’s Bob Pollard, and though it offers no new songs, it reveals their transformation over time in other ways. The band has become looser, and far more free. Two and a half decades spent in touring bands have definitely done wonders for Petkovic and Gillard’s guitar playing (and Doug was a hotshot to begin with), and James and Steve-O as a rhythm section have found a very deep pocket, giving the two guitarists a hell of a lot of room to explore the spaces around one another. There were always some lengthier explorations mixed in with Death of Samantha’s general spikiness, but it feels like they’re engaging more with that sort of thing now, and they’re a ton better at it.
Death of Samantha had an NYC show scheduled in 1990, but their breakup came before it happened. Their next show, fittingly, is at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Thursday, May 29. Here are some tastes of what you might expect to see and hear.
The author of this piece would like to thank Boy George for releasing a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Death of Samantha” in time to make web searches for this story kind of irritating to sift through. That being said, his version actually IS kind of awesome.
Ohio rock god Robert Pollard is primarily known for two things: writing roughly one rock ditty per day and consuming appalling amounts of brewski during every Guided by Voices gig. Not as well known is that Pollard was once an ass-kicking baseball hurler for Wright State University in his hometown of Dayton—indeed, one time he threw a no-hitter, made the newspapers and everything!
The date was presumably May 11, 1978, the opponents Indiana Central. The score was 9-1. It was the first no-hitter in the history of the Wright State baseball program.
Magnet Magazine‘s Matt Hickey caught up with Pollard and ran him through a brief no-hitter catechism. Amusingly, Pollard (quite credibly) claims that he didn’t realize he had a no-hitter going until his teammates mobbed him after the final strikeout. Furthermore, his dad recently tabulated Pollard’s finest pitching performances stretching back to childhood, apparently he had 12 no-hitters over the years! We’ll want to get a fact-check on that pronto!
Magnet also found time to mention that GBV has a record coming out on February 18 called Motivational Jumpsuit.
I’ve known for years that Pollard is a closet jock. Pollard and I have friends in common, most notably his former bandmate and current Cobra Verde frontman John Petkovic. I can’t believe that this interview is still online (enjoy the ridiculous 1998-ish HTML!), but here’s a lengthy sports-obsessed interview with Pollard and Petkovic conducted by “Chin Music” (whatever that is). Based on the references to Marquis Grissom and Paul Assenmacher, I’d put this interview right after the 1997 season, but I could be wrong.
Robert Pollard: So the singer’s the pitcher?
Chin Music: Yeah, like Johnny Rotten, or even Mick Jagger.
RP: Well I did have a live arm. In college I had a 95 mph fastball.
CM: (incredulously) Oh c’mon! 95 mph? Oh, cut it out.
RP: Really, I could throw a football 70 yards. A baseball 95 miles an hour. Honestly, my dad thought I had a golden arm. He used to milk it down every night like (in crusty old Burgess Meredith voice) “You got the golden arm…” (much laughs all around) That’s why he was so disappointed when I went into rock. He was like “Ya’ bleeeww it!...Ya’ had a golden arm, but YA’ BLEW IT!!!”
(big laughter action)
CM: ...But did you have a breaking ball?
RP: Seriously, I did throw 95 miles an hour in my senior year in high school, and in my summer of Legion ball I popped a tendon in my elbow, but I still continued to pitch in college, for Wright State in Dayton. I threw a no-hitter at Wright State. I never threw as hard, I bet I threw only 85-88. I used to warm up before games—my brother used to catch me, he’s five years younger than me—and I warmed up with a croquet ball.
CM: (laughs) That’s a mean thing to do to a little brother!
It goes on from there at some length.
A cursory search of the Internet yielded this obscure GBV song about baseball, appropriately titled “Look, It’s Baseball”:
GBVDB.com, one of the single most informative Guided By Voices fan sites online, has now been operating for ten years. In celebration, they’ve posted a GBV concert from the band’s Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes period, recorded at the still-extant Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge MA.
The band played alot of songs off the yet to be released Alien Lanes album that Bob mentions was going to be released in January 1995 on Matador. Alien Lanes didn’t end up getting released until 4/4/95. This show also confirms that the 11/2/94 show that was previously thought to be CBGB’s in NY was actually Providence, RI as Bob says “We were in Rhode Island last night. In Providence” during the 11/3/94 show. This show was recorded by Michael Train on a Sony D7 handheld DAT and a Sony external mic. The show was later put on CD using the D7 analog outs into a Marantz CD reecorder. These AAC files were ripped from the CD and are the current best source for this show.