A dozen years ago, Robert Pollard closed the book on influential Dayton, Ohio Indie Rock juggernaut Guided By Voices after the release of the melancholy epic Half Smiles of the Decomposed. Then, in 2010, Pollard unexpectedly revived the ’93-’96 version of the band, resulting in a six-album run that rivaled the best output that Pollard ever produced with any iteration of GBV.
That string of success likely increased fan consternation when Pollard rehung GBV’s jersey in the rafters of his Dayton home/archive in the midst of a 2014 tour and canceled the remaining dates.
As it happened, it made perfect sense to the only one whose opinion counts in such matters.
“It was tired, collectively,” Pollard says. “I don’t know why, and I’m not blaming anyone specifically, but we seemed to be going through the motions toward the end. I couldn’t see it progressing, getting any better or going any further, so I decided it was time to wrap it up.”
After Pollard’s version of a break, he began work on a solo album with Dayton guitarist Nick Mitchell, his duo partner in Ricked Wicky, one of many Pollard side projects.
The pair concocted Of Course You Are Robert Pollard, which was released by U.K. label Fire Records.
Pollard then retreated to Dayton’s Cyberteknics studio alone and began laying down the tracks that would ultimately comprise his next new album, Please Be Honest.
But instead of releasing those relatively lo-fi recordings under his own name or one of his various band identities, Pollard chose to tag it as a Guided By Voices album, even though he wrote all the songs and played every instrument himself.
The idea to stamp the new album with the GBV seal of approval occurred before Pollard entered the studio.
“I decided before I recorded it that if what I was able to record wasn’t worthy of the good name, the brand name of Guided By Voices, I would just release it under the (name) Teenage Guitar,” Pollard says. “But I assessed that it was worthy and more. Not that the playing was technically at the level of the full band lineup, but the ideas were very interesting, and with the help of Phil Mehaffey at Cyberteknics, I was able to pull it off with enough good songs and the amount of diversity it needed. He had stations set up with a set of headphones at each station and I just moved around and did things very quickly. I was very well prepared and had every track of every song mapped out.”
Pollard’s marching orders for himself on Please Be Honest were simply to push his creative envelope in ways he never had before, a fairly tall order for an artist with a immense catalog that defies most attempts to document it.
“I just wanted to challenge or test myself,” Pollard says. “I’ve done it to a lesser extent before, but never an entire album. The biggest concern was drums. I can’t really play drums. I did the kick separate from the rest of the kit. I used a drum machine on a couple of songs. I didn’t really have a band, so I thought, ‘Why not just try to do it myself?’ ”
The creative process began with the song that kicks off Please Be Honest, the soaring “My Zodiac Companion,” and finished with Pollard considering how to best present the album live.
By that point, Pollard was swimming in uncharted waters as far as the live translation of the new album was concerned.
“I didn’t have any plans to continue as Guided By Voices until I recorded Please Be Honest,” he says. “I felt that if I could pull that record off by myself it would re-energize Guided By Voices as an entity, and then I could give it new blood with a new lineup. I wanted to be able to support a new album, not just play old stuff. The material from Please Be Honest are my favorite songs that we play live.”
The new live iteration of GBV is a veritable murderer’s row of amazing musicians, including longtime beatkeeper Kevin March and the aforementioned Nick Mitchell, who may be on the verge of becoming Pollard’s go-to guy for just about anything. Bassist Mark Shue came to Pollard’s attention when he played with ex-GBV guitarist Doug Gillard.
But perhaps the most exciting addition to the GBV family this time around is Bobby Bare Jr., whose four-decade career has included singing with his father, Country icon Bobby Bare, a couple of well-regarded bands (Bare Jr. and Young Criminals Starvation League) and a string of great solo albums.
“Bobby opened for Guided By Voices on one of our final tours a couple years ago,” Pollard says. “I really dug him, we became friends, and when I decided to assemble the new lineup, he seemed like the logical choice. The chemistry was already there. And he, like Nick, as well as Kevin and Mark, can sing very well. There’s an added dimension of good harmonies, sometimes even three-part. Mark is perfection on his instrument and even though he’s like 16 or 17 years younger than anyone else in the band, he fits in very well. He’s enthusiastic and hilarious. It’s good to have young blood. The vampire needs it.”
Pollard insists he didn’t take it easy on the neophyte GBV members when assembling the set list for the band’s current live circuit.
It’s a typically broad-ranging and representative collection of songs, translated by what may go down as one of the best versions of Guided By Voices to take the stage.
“I chose, in my opinion, my best songs without regard to any degree of difficulty,” Pollard says. “These guys can play and sing and I knew they would be able to meet the challenge. We do 51 or 52 songs. We do about two-thirds of Please Be Honest and about one-third of Of Course You Are Robert Pollard. We play 10 or 12 songs from the classic-lineup era — ’93-’98 — and a few songs from the TVT (Records) years, a couple from the return-to-Matador years, five or six from my solo albums, three Boston Spaceships songs, five or six Ricked Wicky songs, and if people stick around long enough, we’ll do (The Who classic and GBV live staple) ‘Baba O’Reilly.’ ”
GUIDED BY VOICES plays a free show Friday on Fountain Square with The Ready Stance. More info: myfountainsquare.com.