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Lo-Fi Revisited: Robert Pollard

Lo-fi legend Pollard from Guided by Voices speaks to us about when he was first making music.

When did you start making music? Who inspired you musically?
I started making up songs and singing them a cappella into a cheap little reel to reel tape recorder when I was nine or ten, 1967 or 8.  I learned how to play guitar in college, 1976.  That's when I first started forming bands and making music.  At first, the inspiration came from British invasion and American bubblegum, later heavy metal and prog rock and then ultimately, post punk.  From the Beatles and the Who to Wire.  Eventually, I started getting into Lou Reed, Big Star, Suicide, Cleveland shit like the Mirrors, Styrenes, Electric Eels, Pere Ubu.  As you can see, pretty much everything.

Were you musically trained or did you teach yourself and learn as you went along?
I taught myself from watching older guys sitting around and jamming acoustically.  I just wanted to get good enough to write songs and that's really about as far as I ever got.

What was the set-up for your early recordings?
Well for early GBV, at first it was just live field recordings in the basement.  A Radio Shack condenser mic into my stereo.  Shortly after we started experimenting with four & eight track machines.  We tried at times (unsuccessfully) to go into "professional" studios.

How did you balance making music and having a career as a teacher and a family?
I managed somehow but a lot of people fairly close to me weren't very supportive.  They thought it was irresponsible wasting money and time on an endeavour that was obviously leading nowhere.  All that changed in 1993 or 94 when I was able to quit teaching and began to make a (better) living for my family and myself.  I could then, in most people's eyes, legitimately devote more time to music and it became easier to manage.  Before that I had too many irons in the fire: music, family, teaching, coaching, playing, partying...

You must have recorded over 5000 songs now – what compels you to make music?
An inexplicable force whether angelic or demonic that does not allow me to stop.  Of course, all forces are from within.  You are the captain of your own ship.  That ship, for me used to be Guided By Voices.  Now it's the Boston Spaceships.  I'm the captain of more than one ship.

Are you aware of the legacy GBV left behind?
It just never fully sinks in to the degree that some people tell me.  I guess it has to with the lack of commercial success.  Although I personally don't care now (I did for a brief period of time) that seems to be the benchmark for a lot of people I grew up with and I guess it's always going to be in the back of my mind.  I am very proud of a general conception amongst certain peers that I've done some pretty good music albeit too much of it.

What do you make of the new generation of DIY lo-fi bands making music in their bedrooms who cite Guided By Voices as inspiration? Which of the current bands do you like and listen to?
I like things working in cycles and it seems there aren't too many more musical frontiers.  I always said lo-fi was the ultimate punk expression and the final frontier, so to me it makes sense to keep exploring it.  The new lo-fi bands seem to be embracing the noise aspect and are a bit more abrasive with volume.  I will be honest and tell you I don't know much about what's going on other than the few things I've heard like Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit.  I'd like to hear more.  I just don't stretch out the tentacles very often or far.

What do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
Three more releases.  My new solo album "Elephant Jokes" in August, Boston Spaceships "Zero to 99" album in October and Suitcase 3 in November.  Suitcase 3 is a 100 song, 4 CD set of bottom notch newly found older material.  If you can call it material.  Actually, there are about 10 or 11 outtakes from "Elephant Jokes" and a couple other surprises.
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