Looking Beyond The Indie Scene

"I've had a lot of time to do creative things," Robert Pollard says of his time off the road. (By Brennan Cavanaugh)
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 27, 2006

When founder and frontman Robert Pollard retired Guided by Voices after a New Year's Eve show at Chicago's Metro in 2004, fans pretty much knew it was only a name that was being retired. After all, in the preceding 20 years, the hyper-peripatetic Pollard released 20 albums, 30 side projects, numerous B-sides, EPs and singles, and even an album consisting of nothing but his intoxicated stage banter.

As for anyone expecting insights or revelations into the GBV breakup from Pollard's just-released 26-track solo album, "From a Compound Eye" on Merge Records, they'll probably be disappointed since the album was finished six months before the band's final show.

The songs "were written over such a broad period of time," Pollard said from his lifelong home in Dayton, Ohio. In fact, "From a Compound Eye" is "dated now to me because I've been listening to it for a year and half," he says.

"The reason I put out the record, and also the reason I disbanded the group, is I came up with this collection of 11 new songs and 15 old songs that I'd found from the mid-'70s on up to now." After a basement flood threatened his fabled suitcases of demo cassettes, Pollard began digitizing them. "I found all these really cool song ideas that for some reason or other I'd left off of albums before," he says. "Going back, I found that some of them were better than the songs I chose at the time for whatever project I was involved in."

Feeling that the songs weren't attached to any particular incarnation of GBV, Pollard says he "decided it had to be a solo record. And it turned out so good and I liked it so much, I didn't want to relegate it to Fading Captain [his own boutique label]. This is actually my eighth solo album, or something like that, but I decided it should be the first official record as Robert Pollard on a label that's behind me to push it out to the world instead of the Fading Captain series, where we usually put out 3,000 CDs. I felt like it was too important a record for the Fading Captain series, so I decided it was a good time to break up the band."

According to Pollard, "It allowed me to kind of completely break everything down and start over. Some people say, 'I'm gonna break up the band' and then have another band with a different name, and I thought about that, too, but I thought, basically I've been the mainstay in GBV so it's not too much different. It just allowed me to say, 'That's that, wrap it up, take a look at it, see what it's worth and start a new phase.' It's helped me creatively; it's opened up the floodgates for a lot of ideas.

"And I don't have to live up to the expectations of what, another GBV album? Was it as good or as bad as the last one, does it stand up to 'Bee Thousand'? I just wanted to shed that."

"From a Compound Eye" is a collaboration between Pollard and multi-instrumentalist/producer Todd Tobias, who had been with GBV since 2001's "Isolation Drills" and partners with Pollard in the psychedelic/prog Circus Devils, another Pollard side project.

"He's become my partner, and I can't even imagine working without him now," Pollard says of Tobias. "I think it's come from working with him for four or five years now. He has this amazing and intuitive grasp of my music so I can go in there and do what I need to do and let him take over without even supervising. It's always amazing -- 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed what he sends me -- so there's this cohesiveness and the fact that we work together as a team now, and that's all we need. That's why I call the album 'From a Compound Eye' -- it's all over the place, kind of sees in every direction."

Of course, Pollard's reputation as an uber-collaborator is substantial, but he seems eager to temper that aspect of his work a bit. "I'm kinda gonna draw the line there because I've found my niche now, and I'm not interested in doing these collaborative things. I've gotten to where I just want to work with Todd and to do my thing with Merge."

Except . . .

"I'm getting ready to do a project with Tommy Keene [the Bethesda-bred indie rocker now playing in Pollard's band] as the Keene Brothers. And there's this other project I just finished with Todd, called Psycho and the Birds, and it's my more spontaneous thing . . . and I just finished something with [late-era GBV bassist] Chris Slusarenko; we called ourselves the Takeovers."

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