In 2010, the “classic” mid-’90s lineup of Guided By Voices followed the example of so many bands of its era by re-forming and launching a lengthy and lucrative reunion tour. But unlike most of its indie-rock peers, GBV parlayed the shows into a new album, Let’s Go Eat The Factory, which will be released on January 17. While the band’s founder and chief songwriter Robert Pollard went on to record slicker-sounding GBV albums with other musicians once this lineup dissolved after 1996’s Under The Bushes Under The Stars, Factory is cut from the same lo-fi, hastily assembled cloth of classics like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. It’s a willfully shambolic record that veers from buzzers like “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” and the Tobin Spout-sung “Waves” to spiky one-minute throwaways like “How I Met My Mother.” The A.V. Club recently corresponded with Pollard via email, and he told us about how Factory came together and whether he’ll ever team up with Sprout to form the ’90s rock version of Simon And Garfunkel.
The A.V. Club: At what point did you decide to make an album with this lineup of Guided By Voices, as opposed to just doing the reunion tour?
Robert Pollard: It was basically after the reunion tour. I was sitting in a bar in Chicago with Toby, and we just kind of became inspired to do one. We started coming up with titles and art ideas immediately.
AVC: Did you write the songs for Let’s Go Eat The Factory with this band in mind, or were they simply the latest batch you had written?
RP: The notion of doing another album with this particular lineup influenced what types of songs I wanted to write. I wanted to take a less serious, more pop-oriented approach. A kind of back-to-basics angle. Shorter, simpler songs. Whimsical subject matter.
AVC: To your ears, does this particular lineup of GBV have a unique sound that’s distinguishable from your other work?
RP: Yeah, I used to not think so, but now I’ve been convinced that there definitely seems to be a unique chemistry characterized by everyone’s individual approach and style. It sort of comes through when you hear it and one can identify it, for the most part, with this particular lineup. If you’ve listened to enough of the material from the early to mid-’90s, even before that, you can kind of discern that it’s those guys again.
AVC: The album has the lo-fi quality of those mid-’90s GBV records, as opposed to your more recent work. Did you make the album under similar conditions?
RP: We recorded the songs that I had written for the album up at Toby’s house in Leland, Michigan, this little isolated town up on the pinky finger of the mitten. We recorded it big in the room and then fixed and fucked things up in the mixes. We recorded some stuff extemporaneously at Greg [Demos] and Mitch [Mitchell]’s houses. We switched instruments occasionally to give it the old lo-fi feel of semi-ineptitude. We wanted that “we don’t really give a fuck but yes we do” attitude or approach.
AVC: How did recording at Sprout’s house compare to making those GBV records 15 years ago? You’re all older and wiser now. Did you fall back into your old habits, or was it a different experience?
RP: It was different in the respect that we approached it the same as we would going into a studio and working with a producer. We rehearsed the songs, which were learned from demos, and we went in fairly well prepared. In the early ’90s we recorded the songs on a four-track as the band was learning them. They had no knowledge of what the songs were going to be.
GBV: How exactly did you “fuck things up” on the record?
RP: By doing things to the songs on overdubs and in mixes to make them sound differently from what we had originally intended. To make them, in our opinions, sound more interesting and some people’s opinions less interesting. It depends on who you talk to, and I don’t want to elaborate on the reasons as to why we would do that.
AVC: Guided By Voices is just one name that you’ve recorded under, and yet it’s a name that has a lot of expectations tied to it for fans and critics. Did any of that enter your mind as you prepared to put out this record, that it might be perceived differently than a “normal” Robert Pollard record?
RP: I worried a bit that the public might perceive it as a half-assed, thrown-together piece of shit, even though I don’t think it is. I think that reckless approach or lack of patience is what endeared a lot of people to us in the first place. The point is to keep it in motion. Get it down and move on.
AVC: That’s a perfect summation for your whole career. Was the reunion tour an opportunity to look back and survey your body of work?
RP: “Keep It In Motion,” by the way, is a song on our next album due out in May. I think it does maybe sum up my output. No, the reunion tour was simply that. I really don’t look back except occasionally pulling out a record that I haven’t heard in a while to see if it stands the test of time.
AVC: Going into the reunion tour, I’m sure you had preconceptions about what it was going to be like. How did the actual experience compare with your expectations?
RP: It was much more exciting than I thought it would be. The audiences were larger and more appreciative than I had expected.
AVC: For many years, you were a real road warrior. Aside from the reunion shows, you haven’t played out as much. Do you still enjoy performing?
RP: Yeah, but it will never be more exciting than the first time I stepped onstage with a heavy-metal covers band I was in in 1975 or ’76 called Anacrusis. It’s been downhill ever since.
AVC: GBV shows are known for offering a real “rock ’n’ roll” type experience. Do you still feel pressure to live up to a certain image at this point?
RP: I don’t really think about that. I just know particularly with this lineup and the songs that we have, that after a couple hours of pre-show preparation and loosening of the joints that we’re going get onstage and have a good time and hopefully lead by example.
AVC: People have called this the “classic” lineup. Do you see it as a classic lineup?
RP: Well, I think it’s more the “classic-era lineup” of who was in the band when we were first exposed to a larger audience, and so I think because we were fresh in the minds, eyes, and ears of the general public, they tend to identify with the personality of that lineup and the songs from that era.
AVC: The ’00s version of the band is obviously a lot different from the mid-’90s GBV. Are they almost like different bands in your mind?
RP: All of the lineups were different, and I adjusted my songwriting approach to match the personality of each one. For example, being aware of Doug Gillard’s lead guitar talent, I wrote songs that left room for lead guitar breaks.
AVC: You and Tobin Sprout still have a great artistic rapport. You’ve worked with a lot of different collaborators over the years. What would you say is unique about the chemistry you and Sprout have?
RP: I think it’s just a matter of knowing and working with someone for so many years and becoming comfortable to the point that artistic and musical interests and personalities tend to mesh. You see that in bands like The Beatles, XTC, and Wire—where if you’re not really familiar with their work, it’s difficult to tell who’s doing what.
AVC: I remember reading an interview you did a long time ago where you talked about doing a Simon & Garfunkel-type tour or album with Sprout once you guys got a little older. Is that still something you’d like to do?
RP: I doubt it. It’s really hard for me to grow up. I still like to rock.