Music: Smiling Bob

Robert Pollard's first post-Guided by Voices tour finds him a happy man

Feb 8, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Couch potato? Fat chance. Robert Pollard wasted no time putting out his first solo effort, the 26-song From a Compound Eye.

Late in 2004, Robert Pollard was a man with a plan. Having announced that Guided by Voices, the legendary Indie Rock collective he had helmed for two decades, would be dismantled with the release of Half Smiles of the Decomposed and the tour to support it, he was having the time of his life with the end of his band. The final shows were running to three-plus hours and were being ecstatically received; their appearance at the Southgate House in late October found them in fine, drunken form and they teeteringly accepted a Newport proclamation making the date "Guided by Voices Day."

Even then, Pollard was already well ahead of the curve on his future. Long before GBV's final show at The Metro in Chicago on New Year's Eve, before the tour that culminated in that glorious four-hour spectacle had even begun, Pollard had already completed a double-length album that he felt was too good to relegate to his limited-edition Fading Captain series. As certain as he was that Half Smiles of the Decomposed was GBV's final album, he was equally certain that this recently completed disc would be his first post-GBV solo effort, and he was tentatively looking for a late winter/early spring release.

But 2005 came and went without Pollard's solo venture showing up on the release sheets. Late in the year, it was finally announced that the album, now titled From a Compound Eye, would be released early in 2006 and not on longtime GBV label Matador but on respected indie Merge. With the late January release of Compound Eye and the subsequent tour to support it (featuring no less than Superchunk's Jon Wurster on drums and cult Power Pop icon Tommy Keene on guitar and keyboards in Pollard's backing band), the questions surrounding its long delay can finally be resolved.

"I was going to sign with Matador again, and we were talking about a marketing plan for a 48-year-old drunk," says Pollard with a laugh from his Dayton home.

"I wanted to put out two albums a year and they said, 'OK, we can do that but we need to do it a different way.' They had kind of an idea about a way we could do that — which I don't want to go into detail about — and at first I thought it was kind of cool, then later I disagreed, and they still wanted me to go through with it. I felt like they were sidestepping From a Compound Eye to go into the next idea they had. I just didn't feel the love."

Matador has long contended with Pollard's almost pathologically prolific nature, feeling that his numerous Fading Captain releases and side project collaborations diluted the appeal of his simultaneously released GBV albums. Although they begrudgingly accepted Pollard's voluminous release schedule, they encouraged him to curtail it.

"They never were too crazy about all the output," says Pollard. "They were always trying to figure out a way to get me to stop me doing that, and I can't. There's the criticism that I don't edit myself well and I flood the market, but that's what I do. I can't write songs and say, 'Well, I can't record them,' or 'I've got to stop writing songs,' when I feel them."

And Pollard is quick to note that although his labels might have been put off by his relentless recording ethic, his fan base has most certainly not been.

"I've heard fans say, 'This is a piece of shit,' but they don't complain that I put that piece of shit out," says Pollard. "On to the next piece of shit."

With Matador out of the running, Pollard suggested to his manager that Merge Records would be a good fit; Pollard and Merge founder/Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan had collaborated on the Go Back Snowball side project. Although the label was not looking to expand its roster, they really liked Compound Eye and signed Pollard to a two-record deal. In typical Pollard fashion, he fulfilled the contract almost as quickly as he had signed it, giving Merge both the double-length Compound Eye and its follow-up, Normal Happiness, which could see release this fall.

Just as typically, that's not the half of it. In the year after GBV folded its tents — a year that saw the release of James Greer's GBV biography — Pollard came to terms with life beyond the band and experienced "a creative splurge." As a result, he has completed three collaboration projects (an album with Keene under the banner of The Keene Brothers, another with former GBVer Chris Slusarenko, featuring members of Quasi and Mudhoney and an oddball boombox demo project with GBV producer Todd Tobias called Psycho and the Birds) and is in the midst of assembling his third post-GBV solo album, a work he's calling Hello Forever.

Although Pollard would like to think his new solo status will help alleviate the pressure of trying to come up with the next Bee Thousand, he knows that it comes with its own level of expectation. He realizes that the Fading Captain series will necessarily have to become a little edgier and a bit more risky now that the mainstream work will be coming out under his own name. Given the transitional nature of From a Compound Eye and Pollard's fixation with The Who over the years, it's tempting to think of his first solo foray as his Quadrophenia. As usual, Pollard has much grander designs.

"No, it's my Jesus Christ Superstar," he says with a laugh. "It's my Rocky Horror Picture Show. Times two. I guess."

ROBERT POLLARD and his band play The Southgate House on Saturday.