Inspiration Drills: On the Influence of Guided by Voices and Robert Pollard

06/08/2011 4:00 AM |

1. Could you talk about what you think has made Guided By Voices such a lasting force? What is it about their songs that, despite their general simplicity, has helped them to stand out and, more importantly, to stand the test of time?

Frank Lyon, Keepaway

There are a few things at work with Guided By Voices that have made them so effective. Bob Pollard is just a natural, for one thing. He’s compelled to work on music voraciously and it seems that will never change. The material seems to generate itself—what’s more, it’s distinct. Guided By Voices explored (what’s now called) “lo-fi” recording techniques way before it was trendy. In that way I think they made history, creating a genre and style out of the means that defined the time. I think their lyrics really captured a particular idea about America, something specific to the mid-80s in the Midwest, a sort of casual dadaism, devoid of any pretense. Guided By Voices illustrated a loose American subjectivity that had not found its rockstars yet: the sort of nerdy, homespun Midwestern party-thinker, seemingly rare, but much more prevalent than you would think if you take the time to venture into our country’s beautiful middle. Also, they kick ass live.

Andrew Savage, Fergus and Geronimo

It is sophisticated songwriting delivered as charmingly naive. Guided By Voices is one of the great bands of that era that isn’t necessarily dated to it. Some groups just don’t age as well, and their appeal gets sort of limited to nostalgia. That seems to be how time judges great bands. If you want to get into songwriting specifics, I think the music is pretty simple but the melodies are actually quite sophisticated. The songs are very lucid in a way that you feel you’re navigating Robert Pollard’s brain as the tune progresses. It’s the quality that people look for in great writing.  


Beth Wawerna, Bird of Youth

I guess I would have to argue that the songs arenít really all that simple. Granted, thereís a tossed-off quality to themóboth musically and in Pollardís deliveryóbut if you listen to whatís happening melodically, I think theyíre pretty complex. I love pop music of all kinds, but Iím most excited by a melody that takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns and dips and dives but still manages to feel singable and anthemic. And thatís something Pollard does really well in his writing. Listening to a GBV song can feel like jumping headlong off a cliffóbut in the best way possible. Thereís a real sense of bravadoóboth in the music and the man himself. That kind of galvanizing spirit is very appealingóand I think itís also a big part of what makes the band timeless.

Luther Russell, Producer (Holly Miranda, Laura Marling, Sean Lennon)
I think Guided By Voices have had a lasting impact because Pollard’s songs connect people in a very profound way. And yes, they may be simple, but as a songwriter myself, I know that putting something “simple” across in a deep and meaningful way is one of the hardest things to do in music, or any art for that matter.

Ezra Feinberg, Citay

GBV have an energy to their music that is unique. They write songs that feel punk, in that they’ve been written in a we-could-give-a-fuck-what-you-think kind of way, and yet the songs are always accessible and welcoming to the listener, they have a warmth, like they’re inviting you in and handing you a beer. Plus their sense of melody, and of course their economy of hooks is still astounding—they can do so much with so little, sound so epic in under a minute. I can’t think of any other band that does that.

Emily Ambruso, Grooms

To a certain extent they’re one of those bands that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes their songs so great. The melodies are great, the lyrics are great, the vocals and guitars are great, but what makes them uniquely great is a bit more nebulous. I think part of it, for me, is Bob’s ability to make weird terms sound eerily emotional, like when he sings “the goldheart mountaintop queen directory” there’s tons of weight behind it, even though I have no idea what he meant by it.

2 Comment

  • Good piece.

    @Ezra Feinberg, Citay

  • @zyxwvut – ‘(I Am a) Tree’ was written by Doug Gillard for his band Gem before he was in GBV. It was actually released and can be found on Youtube with Gillard singing the vocals. It’s a great version. Pollard liked it and redid it for GBV.

    I gotta agree with the people in the piece who argue that GBV’s songs are generally not simple at all. I think lyrically and melodically they are quite sophisticated. Pollard knows how to make a few notes go a long way by choosing them well. I believe (or at least hope) that GBV will go down in rock annals as one of the best bands ever, to the degree that such an objective statement can be made.