Robert Pollard performing at SXSW 2006
|Robert Ellsworth Pollard, Jr.|
|Born||October 31, 1957|
|Origin||Dayton, Ohio, U.S.|
Fading Captain Series/Luna
Robert Ellsworth Pollard Jr. (born October 31, 1957) is an American musician and singer-songwriter who is the leader and creative force behind indie rock group Guided by Voices. In addition to his work with Guided by Voices, he continues to have a prolific solo career with 22 solo albums released so far.
With more than 2,000 songs registered to his name with BMI, Pollard is among the most prolific songwriters of his time. In 2006, Paste magazine listed him as the 78th greatest living songwriter. In 2007, he was nominated for the Shortlist Music Prize.
Pollard was born in Dayton, Ohio, where he has lived all his life. During most of his childhood and adolescence, sports were his main interest. When Pollard began to show interest in music during high school, his father tried to discourage this. Pollard attended Northridge High School in the Dayton suburb of Northridge, followed by Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio. In April 2010, along with his brother Jimmy, Pollard was inducted into the Northridge High School Hall of Fame for excellence in football, baseball, and basketball.
As a teenager Pollard was in a heavy metal cover band called Anacrusis, and went to arena shows which he likens to those featured in the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Pollard has said that much of the inspiration for his songwriting has come from time spent hanging out with his high school friends from Dayton, a group he calls "The Monument Club". Pollard said of his teenage years:
Growing up, I didn't really have any musical talent. I could always sing, but that's it. So I started hanging around with all these weirdoes from Northridge who could play guitar. And I would just watch them, 'Wow, I've got to learn how to do that.' That song 'Hank's Little Fingers' (on Devil Between My Toes) - Hank (Davidson) is the guy that inspired me to play the guitar. He had a deformed hand with these little bitty fingers.
After graduating from high school in 1975, Pollard bought a guitar with his graduation money. In college, he began singing in rock bands. He eventually abandoned athletics, realizing that he wasn't quick enough to be a professional basketball player, but also that his character was too independent to be obedient to the athletic program. "I was sick of people snapping their fingers and expecting me to move." When he heard the news, Pollard's father withdrew his financial support, forcing his son to get a job washing dishes. Towards the end of his senior year at Wright State University, Pollard married Kim Dowler, a home-town girl he had been dating for seven years. Dowler did not go to college herself, but started working right out of high school.
After Pollard's college graduation, Dowler supported him for a little while, but he then got a job as a school teacher. It was a job with a lot of vacation time and this meant Pollard was able to pursue his music. But the job rubbed off on him, and Pollard has stated that his years as a teacher inspired songs such as "Gold Star For Robot Boy," "Teenage FBI" and "Non-Absorbing". Pollard has worked at all levels of primary school, from elementary school to middle school to high school. He found the most difficult assignment to be teaching physical science to junior high schoolers. Eventually he settled on teaching fourth graders.
He said of his teaching years: "I never went to the teachers' lounge. But the teachers liked me. In elementary school, there aren't a lot of male teachers, so they liked the fact I was around. They'd say, 'Why don't you come down and hang out with us in the teachers' lounge?' But I would go off and take a nap to try to get rid of my hangover. I had 14 years of that."
Pollard started playing music in local cover bands in Dayton, and got involved in a songwriters' guild, but he longed to be the leader of a band. In 1981, he began playing original songs with fellow Northridge High School alums Kevin Fennell and Mitch Mitchell. For two years they recorded in the basement of Pollard's house, and played out under a variety of names (including Instant Lovelies, Acid Ranch and Coyote Call). Then in 1983 Pollard eventually dubbed the project "Guided By Voices". At the time he was working part-time as an elementary school teacher.
In total, Guided by Voices released 16 full-length original albums between 1987 and 2004, as well as a large number of EPs and compilations. Although known as a lo-fi band that relied on home recordings, in later years the group relied more on professional recording studios and worked with producers such as Ric Ocasek.
Initially, Guided By Voices was a band in name only, its members being a revolving cast of musicians, most of whom Pollard kicked out of the band at one time or another. "In the early days of Guided by Voices, when no one was listening, I was impatient," Pollard wrote in 2005. "I used to tire of people in the band very quickly. I had physical altercations with them. I even resorted to bullshit tactics, like telling the band I was quitting and we were breaking up, then forming again a month later with new members."
To finance the band's early recordings, Pollard, his brother, and their manager obtained a loan from the Dayton Public Schools credit union. Between 1986 and 1992, they released six records in this way, recording, printing and distributing them at their own expense. These records got very little response, and although the pressings ran only to between 300 and 1,000 copies of each, the producers were left with many copies on their hands. In 1992, bowing to the lack of support from family and friends, and to the pressure of unpaid debt, Pollard broke up Guided By Voices after releasing Propeller, which he felt was their best album to date. He then committed to teaching school full-time.
However, "Propeller" impressed the indie label Scat Records, who signed the band to a recording contract. The result was that Guided By Voices got back together in 1993, and played a show that year at the New Music Seminar in New York City - the band's first live date in almost six years. With the release of "Vampire on Titus" (1993), the band was finally able to perform live around the U.S.A.
In August 2004, the band released Half Smiles of the Decomposed, which would be their last album. In 2004, on New Year's Eve, Guided by Voices performed their last show at The Metro in Chicago. In 2010 the main 1990s line-up reunited for Matador Records' 21st birthday. A full tour followed and the band remained together until September 2014.
Guided by Voices released its first album in seven years on January 1, 2012, Let's Go Eat the Factory. On January 3, the band appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote the LP. They released their second post-reunion album, Class Clown Spots a UFO, on June 11. A third album, The Bears for Lunch, came out on November 13. The fourth post-reunion album (and twentieth Guided by Voices album), English Little League, was released on April 30, 2013. Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet followed in February and May 2014, respectively. In September 2014, the band announced they were disbanding once again and cancelled all remaining dates on their tour.
Pollard began releasing solo records in 1996, alongside regular releases from Guided by Voices. These albums were typically recorded with a small group consisting of current or former Guided by Voices members, and they were generally considered to informally be part of the Guided by Voices canon, as that band would regularly perform selections from the solo releases in concert.
After the dissolution of Guided by Voices in 2004, Robert Pollard launched his official solo career with the release of From a Compound Eye in February 2006. Pollard's recent studio work has eschewed the live-band format, instead relying on the multi-instrumental talents of Todd Tobias, who produced several Guided by Voices albums. In 2006, Pollard resumed touring with a new band informally dubbed "The Ascended Masters", which featured Tommy Keene on lead guitar and keyboards, Dave Phillips on guitar, Jon Wurster on drums, and Jason Narducy on bass, but subsequent to the cancellation of some 2006 dates due to a leg injury, Pollard announced his retirement from touring. Despite this, Pollard performed two shows in support of his new albums. The first show was on November 30, 2007 in Chicago at The Metro. The second was on December 1, 2007 in Newport, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) at the Southgate House. After releasing Superman Was a Rocker in January, he announced that he would be leaving Merge Records to form Guided by Voices, Inc., his own record label that will produce his entire musical library.
Pollard has also issued recordings under a variety of other band names and in collaboration with former GBV colleagues and other musicians. In 2008, he formed a new band, Boston Spaceships, comprising Pollard, John Moen of The Decemberists and Perhapst, and Chris Slusarenko, who played in the final incarnation of Guided by Voices. The band's first album, Brown Submarine, was released on September 16, 2008, on Guided by Voices, Inc., and was followed by a tour in the fall of that year. A follow-up, The Planets Are Blasted, was released on February 17, 2009, with another album Zero to 99 released in October 2009. Our Cubehouse Still Rocks was released in September 2010. Boston Spaceships released their fifth and final album Let It Beard on August 2, 2011
Solo studio albums:
During the mid-90s, in addition to GbV albums appearing annually, Pollard's prolificacy typically was vented onto innumerable singles, EPs, compilations and other side releases. However, once signed to a major label and constrained to the expectation of producing only a single album per 18 months, Pollard began the self-financed and released Fading Captain Series, a series of releases both under his own name, and a wide variety of pseudonyms. In addition to solo and archival releases, Pollard began collaborating with fellow musicians and friends by mail via a process dubbed "postal rock" - Pollard would receive completed musical backing tracks, and add his own lyrics and vocals. Albums under the Airport 5, Circus Devils, and Go Back Snowball monikers, among others were produced in this fashion.
In December 2006, Pollard announced that the Fading Captain Series was being concluded with the release of Crickets: Best of the Fading Captain Series 1999-2007, a 50-song "best of" collection spanning from 1999 through 2007.
The bands that used to release works in the Fading Captain Series now release records on other labels, such as The Takeovers' Bad Football coming out on Off Records and the Circus Devils Sgt. Disco coming out on Ipecac Records. In addition the Pollard albums Kid Marine, Motel of Fools and Fiction Man were all released in the Fading Captain Series although Pollard's other solo albums were not.
Acid Ranch: (archival recordings featuring Robert Pollard, Kevin Fennell and Mitch Mitchell)
Go Back Snowball: (Robert Pollard and Mac McCaughan)
Hazzard Hotrods: (Recording of informal 1990 performance by Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, and Kevin Fennell)
Howling Wolf Orchestra: (Pollard and various GbV members)
Keene Brothers: (Robert Pollard and Tommy Keene)
Lexo and the Leapers: (Robert Pollard backed by The Tasties)
Lifeguards (Robert Pollard and Doug Gillard)
The Moping Swans (Robert Pollard, Greg Demos, Jim MacPherson and Tony Conley)
Nightwalker (pseudonym for archival GbV recordings)
Psycho and the Birds: (Todd Tobias supplementing Pollard solo demos)
The Takeovers: (Robert Pollard and Chris Slusarenko)
Ricked Wicky: (Kevin March, Nick Mitchell, Robert Pollard, Todd Tobias)
Teenage Guitar: (Robert Pollard playing all instruments)
Boston Spaceships: (Robert Pollard, Chris Slusarenko, John Moen)
When Pollard announced that the Fading Captain Series was being concluded he also announced that he was starting up a new record label, then called Record Company Records but later re-titled as Prom is Coming, which is named after a song off his first solo album Not in My Airforce. The first (and thus far only) release on Prom is Coming was Silverfish Trivia.
In spring 2007, Pollard began a singles collection called the Happy Jack Rock Records Single Series in which one 7" record was released per month for 12 months starting June 22, 2007. All the records featured an A-side from Pollard's dueling Merge releases that year (Standard Gargoyle Decisions and Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love) and a non-album B-side. 1,000 of each 7" was pressed.
Pollard's album Superman Was a Rocker was the first LP released on Happy Jack Rock Records (although the vinyl version of Circus Devils' Sgt. Disco had been released on the same label in 2007). Pollard continues to release 7" records on the label. June 2009 will see the first release from a new Happy Jack project Cosmos, a collaboration with Richard Davies titled Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks.
In 2008, Pollard announced the forming of yet another new label Guided By Voices Inc. The first album release on Guided by Voices Inc. was Robert Pollard Is Off To Business, preceded by the 12" EP Weatherman And Skin Goddess. Pollard's first two Boston Spaceships releases have been on Guided by Voices Inc.
In the fall of 2003 Pollard released EAT, a literary magazine consisting of original poems and collages by Pollard. As of December 2011 EAT is on its eighth issue. Pollard's collage art is featured on many Guided by Voices albums (notable exceptions being the two released on TVT Records).
Robert Pollard's collages were collected and published in Town of Mirrors: The Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard. Town of Mirrors features roughly 150 collages, 20 of which were created specifically for the book's release.
Pollard had two children with Kim Dowler. He wrote a song about each: "Your Name is Wild" about his daughter Erika and "My Son Cool" being about his son Bryan. However, the success of Guided By Voices in the mid 1990s led to the breakdown of their marriage. In 2007 Pollard married Sarah Zade. The couple currently lives in Dayton, Ohio.
"I've never considered myself to be a runaway success at anything I've done, including parenthood," Pollard wrote in 2005. "But I've at least allowed my children to pursue their own interests without too much interference, and I think they both turned out pretty good."
Pollard and his brother Jim were inducted into The Northridge athletic hall of fame class of 2010, to acknowledge them as 'outstanding contributors to athletics at Northridge High School,'