Interview: Robert Pollard

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robert-pollard


“Long before I could play an instrument,” Robert Pollard begins, “I made fake album covers.” The love of the music came first, and then art, he tells me—but before the former manifested itself into the early 80s formation of one of indie rock’s most influential and longest lasting outfits, the singer toiled away in the creation of imaginary LP covers for non-existent bands.

Aside from a several year stretch as a fourth grade teacher in his home of Dayton, OH, however, playing music has dominated the last few decades of Pollard’s life. Guided By Voices thrived for 21 years, Pollard the only member surviving a litany of lineup changes. After the group called in quits in 2004, Pollard continued creating music at a mind-boggling pace. In 2006 alone, the singer issued eight full length records under various names.

In October of this year, Pollard turns 53. The month also marks the return of Guided By Voices. The band will help celebrate the 21st anniversary of its long time label, Matador, by playing the first live show since its electrifying conclusion a half-dozen years ago.

In the meantime, however, Pollard’s art life is also set to come full circle. Later this month, New York gallery The 45 Space is hosting The Public Hi-Fi Balloon, a celebration of Pollard’s on-going collage work, including 60 of the aforementioned fake album sleeves, part of what Pollard calls his “imaginary record store.”

“It’s inspired by a recurring dream I used to have when I was in high school and college,” he explains. “In my dream was an unattended record store with racks and rows full of record sleeves by imaginary or dreamt rock bands. Needless to say, I was very disappointed when I awoke [and discovered] that it wasn’t real. Now it sort of is. At least slightly more real than the dream.”

He also draws upon a time long before those high school fever dreams, however. As many survivors of 20th century pop-culture will no doubt attest, inspiration arrived in sequential art well before music assumed the dominant role.

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“I was into Marvel and D.C.,” Pollard answers excitedly at the obligatory comic book question. “My favorites were Spider-man, Batman, Captain America and Daredevil. When I was about 11 or 12, we started a club in our neighborhood offered through Marvel Comics called The Merry Marvel Marching Society. That period definitely has an influence on my art, especially the fonts and onomatopoeia. The eye-catching colors and opticals of that period. Zap! Wow! Pow! All that stuff. Along with all the blatant smoking and drinking advertising in magazines from that era.”

And while music has since, at least conceptually, served to influence his artistic leanings, with many of his pieces morphing into covers for Guided By Voices and subsequent projects, Pollard insists there’s not too much in the way of crossover. “They’re mostly independent of one another,” he tells me. “One can inspire the other and vice versa. I have groups of songs and stacks of collage imagery and I just mix and match until I have what I want. Sometimes it comes together more easily and faster than at other times. That’s the best stuff. “

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And what of those stacks and stacks of imaginary albums? Will they ever take on musical lives on their own? “Some of it looks pretty fucking cool,” says Pollard. “You sometimes want it to be real. I think some of the 45 sleeves will have to see fruition. The bands become real. Like Pinnochio.”

In the meantime—for two days at least—we’ll always have New York. “It’s going to be pretty far out,” the singer insists. “Pretty fucking ridiculous.”

–Brian Heater