Rock'n'roll runs deep through Robert Pollard's veins. Indeed, the 43-year-old front man of Dayton, Ohio-based underground icons Guided by Voices has been singlehandedly trying to resurrect the glory
Rock'n'roll runs deep through Robert Pollard's veins. Indeed, the 43-year-old front man of Dayton, Ohio-based underground icons Guided by Voices has been singlehandedly trying to resurrect the glory days of rock radio for more than 15 years. His band's new album, "Isolation Drills," might give him his best shot yet.
"Isolation Drills," due April 3, is GBV's second set for TVT after a long, productive tenure with Matador. And while its predecessor, 1999's Ric Ocasek-produced "Do The Collapse," brought the band to a greater level of visibility than ever before, its slick studio polish at times obscured the stripped-down rock power and oddball narratives GBV fans have come to call holy.
Luckily for devotees, both are back in full force on "Isolation Drills," which was produced by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith) and recorded at New York's Loho Music. Pollard, who was a fourth-grade teacher in the Dayton public schools until 1994, admits with a laugh that "it's weird for the 12th album to be the one where the band matures." But his uncharacteristically introspective lyrics provide an intriguing, seldom-seen glimpse at the men behind the music.
The new album's recurring theme of separation was inspired by the yearlong tour in support of "Do The Collapse," the longest the band had ever undertaken. While the trek helped the album sell 38,000 copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan, it exacted a heavy emotional toll on Pollard and his revolving-door cast of bandmates. (The current lineup finds Pollard joined by guitarists Doug Gillard and Nate Farley, bassist Tim Tobias, and drummer John McCann, who replaced Jim MacPherson after "Isolation Drills" was completed.)
Pollard drove back to Dayton alone after the tour wrapped, scribbling out lyrics far removed from the abstract vignettes that frequent such previous classics as 1994's "Bee Thousand" and 1995's "Alien Lanes."
While setting the weighty words to his signature melodies (best heard on first single "Glad Girls"), Pollard realized that he had written an album "about what we do on a daily basis and what we do to remedy the situation when we feel isolated or separated: We play rock, we write, and we drink."
Along the way, Pollard imagines himself as muse for hire ("Skills Like This"), wrestles with bittersweet memories ("The Brides Have Hit Glass"), daydreams of familiar surroundings ("Twilight Campfighter"), and slays unseen foes with pure rock'n'roll ("The Enemy"). Elliott Smith adds keyboard touches to three tunes, while a string quartet arranged by Dave Soldier complements tracks like the album closer "Privately."
For Schnapf, it's these tales that set GBV apart from modern rock's rank and file. "Lots of people can write melodic music, but what really separates those people from the greats is words," he says. "Bob can write about robots [as he did on "Gold Star for Robot Boy" on "Bee Thousand"], but on this album, there's very little that is tongue-in-cheek."
In the first of many promotions aimed at GBV's hardcore fan base, "Chasing Heather Crazy" will be issued as a 7-inch vinyl single, backed by the non-album cut "On With the Show." The former track is also available as a download via the band's Web site (gbv.com).
TVT product manager Joe Goldberg stresses that the marketing plan "is really about connecting with the fans." On March 20, the label teamed with Spin magazine for "Isolation Drills" listening parties in New York and Los Angeles. Pollard hosted the New York event, also cybercast on Spin.com. On the day of the album's release, GBV will do its first-ever in-store performance at Amoeba Records in San Francisco, one of the band's strongest markets.
Fans will also revel in what TVT calls its GBV "bootleg" site, an online community where the label will begin posting a new, previously unreleased download each week, beginning April 3. The site will also host exclusive videoclips, a tour diary, and more. The site is accessible only via a special hyperlink bundled with the first CD pressing of "Isolation Drills."
Given GBV's penchant for beer-soaked, endurance-test live performances, getting the band in front of an audience is another key to the fortunes of "Isolation Drills." Despite the extremes of their last round of touring, Pollard and company hit the road for a North American club tour months before street date, often playing the new set's songs in sequence. The band will return to many of the same markets through the spring, with support from fellow indie favorites Creeper Lagoon and Spoon.
A tireless songwriter, Pollard emptied his vaults last year when he released "Suitcase," a four-disc boxed set sporting 100 songs written over a 25-year period. Like most of the artist's side projects, it was released by the band's Rockathon label and distributed by Indianapolis-based Luna Music. "I tell my fans, "The shittier the song is, the better you like it,' " Pollard says, grinning. "I like you guys!"
Pollard already has two other projects in the can. Set for release in July under his "Fading Captain" series is "Choreographed Man Of War," featuring Pollard backed by MacPherson on drums and former GBV bassist Greg Demos. Pollard also recorded an album as Airport Five with ex-GBV guitarist Tobin Sprout. That set is due in August.
Pollard says he can't exactly picture himself still packing clubs at age 55, but he's enjoying every second of GBV's run while it lasts. "You can sit there and talk yourself out of wanting to go to a new level," he says. "But I am proud of Guided by Voices. I'm proud of what it has done and what it still can do.