Bob Pollard has been criticized for releasing seemingly every scrap of the massive amount of non-Guided By Voices material emanating from his hyper-creative being. The guy does crap entire albums after morning coffee, but what sometimes gets lost when slamming Pollards prolific urges is that most of the stuff found on his flurry of platters is pretty goodand sometimes great. Motel Of Fools, a mini-LP, is the soundtrack to a nonexistent film; a collection of numbing noise, tape tricks, found sounds, and some trademark pomp-rock, it isnt always listenable in a traditionally direct way, but its never less than interesting. Amidst the clamor are crazy gems like a cappella opener In The House Of Queen Charles Augustus, the melodic Harrison Adams (which concludes with snippets of drunken party conversation) and Red Ink Superman, featuring Pollard repeatedly intoning the now rather ominous line, Well even the score in World War IV. The latter, which holds its own with most GBV tracks, is the creepiest moment on an effort full of them.
Better in terms of melodic tunes is Mist King Urth, Pollards second collaboration (the first under the Lifeguards banner) with GBV guitarist Doug Gillard. More sonically varied, if perhaps not quite as consistently engaging, than 1999s excellent Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department, Mist King Urth travels an impressive path through classic rock, punk and prog stylings. Pollard most often cedes the spotlight to Gillard, morphing into the Lifeguards version of Roger Daltrey to Gillards Pete Townshend rather than playing both roles as he would in GBV. Gillards rough-edged tunes and guitar lines shine, as he easily ranges from the scorching Buzzcocks thrash of Shorter Virgins to the Yes/Emerson Lake And Palmer moves of First Of An Early Go-Getter. Typical of Pollards largesse is the closing, catchy Red Whips And Miracles, which ends with a wordless, roughly six-minute, piano-laden stretch that allows the wizardly Gillard freedom to roam. Mist King Urth is a fine example of just how well these guys know what the otherand the listenerwants to hear.
Rivaling Motel Of Fools on the weirdness scale is Beard Of Lightning, which, technically, is only half of a new record. With the bands permission, Pollard took Phantom Tollbooths 1988 farewell album, Power Toy (youre not alone if you havent heard it), and wrote different lyrics and recorded fresh vocals. The music, definitely of the era but not distractingly so, behind Pollards typically wacked-out words is a heavy stew of jazz, metal and prog. While too many of the tracks devolve into boring, aimless noodling, there are definitely cool things going on: the poppy-by-comparison Mascara Snakes, the tense Iceland Continuations, the mostly acoustic A Good Looking Death. Beard Of Lightning, a curiously worthwhile effort, could open up an entire cottage industry for Pollardjust think of how many records would be improved by his presence.
MAGNET talked to Pollard as he was killing time before watching some basketball.
Ill bet youre surprised MAGNET would want an interview with you.
Yeah, thereve been a few, havent there? I like MAGNET.
And MAGNET likes you.
They used to like us better. They dont like us as much as they used to.
Why do you say that?
I dont know, because they put people like the Flaming Lips in there instead. No, Im just kidding. But we havent made the cover in a while. At one point, I think we made the cover like four times.
Well, maybe when the new GBV record comes out, youll be back on there.
They had Tom Petty on the cover of that one issue. Thats kind of point of pride with my mom, that Ive been on the same cover as Tom Petty.
So she equates you as being as successful as Tom Petty if you were on the same cover?
Oh, no, no. [Laughs] I really dont think she knows who Tom Petty is.
I read Motel Of Fools described as different from any record youve done. Do you agree with that?
Its different, but Ive done this kind of thing in the past where I sprinkle in these tapes of phone messages and people at parties when we get together with the Monument Club. So I just wanted to make the record appear to be a soundtrack. We also did movie posters with it, too. Theres a line from (1994s) Alien Lanes (Ex-Supermodel) where I say, I write music for soundtracks now. But I never got to do that. I never got to fulfill my ambition of doing that.
Theres still time, right?
Hopefully. [Laughs] But since no one contacts me to do soundtracks, I thought Id do one on my own. So its slightly different in that respect.
Did you have a plot in mind?
Sort of. For one thing, I didnt have enough songs. [Laughs] So I thought Id put all this filler on it. Thats why we priced it as a mini-album. Its 32 minutes long or something like that. Someone told me once that in order for it to be an album, it has to be 30 minutes long. So its really an album, but since there are only seven songs on it, I decided to call it a mini-album. Its an EP, but its slightly conceptual. You enter the Motel Of Fools and you see all of these strange characters and fuck-ups.
I wanted to ask you about Red Ink Superman, because the lyric Well even the score in World War IV is kind of eerie.
Its a scary lyric, isnt it? When I wrote the song, I had the lyrics and everything and at the end, that line just kind of popped into my head. I thought, Thats fucking ridiculous, so I didnt put it on there. This was way before the war with Iraq and everything; well, there was talk, anyway. But then I thought, Ill put it on there, what the fuck. I decided to sing it in the studio and see how it came out. Thats the best thing we do live, that part, right now. At the end, I sing, Well even the score in World War IV, and its kind of kicking ass and the crowd seems to be getting into it, especially with whats going on. That lyric definitely implies that were going to lose this one.
I bring that lyric up only because youre not what might be a called a topical songwriter. Have you ever been tempted to write songs that deal with some sort of political or social issue?
Ive been tempted, but I like to steer away from that. I dont like to be too obvious or too politically minded. But Ive been tempted. (1999s solo) Kid Marine was in that direction. [Laughs] No, Kid Marine was actually about one drunken guy I know, the guy on the cover.
So you really know that guy?
Yeah, his name is Jeff Davis. Now we call him Kid Marine, though. We see him and go, Hey, Kid.
Does he like that?
I think he likes it a little bit. From that record, people say, What is that, is that a fucking movie? Where are those pictures from? The guy let me go through his photo album; actually, his wife did. I was like, This is fucking nuts. There are some better pictures than what we used, so Im thinking about Kid Marine 2 maybe.
Whats he doing these days that you could write about?
Hes divorced, I think. I know hes separated at least, and hes all bummed out and shit. Hes worse off than he was, so thats a good reason for Kid Marine 2, I think.
When you started working with Doug, how long did it take you to realize that he was a guy you wanted to keep around?
I wanted Doug to be a guitarist in my band when I heard Death of Samantha in the early 80s, before anyone ever gave a shit about Guided By Voices. I thought Doug was the best guitar player back then. I thought he was the driving force behind Death of Samantha, so I thought one day Id like to have him in my band. When the opportunity came, I pounced on it.
Once you started playing with him, did it sound exactly like you thought?
Yeah. I started out in a heavy metal band with a guy who could really play guitar, and I thought the only thing missing from Guided By Voices was a lead guitarist. In the early days, I would bring people in just to play leads, like Greg Demos and Steve Wilbur. I would emulate the lead with my mouth. We call it melody smoke. Thats what Greg Demos calls it: Blow me some melody smoke. Ill do it with my mouth, and hell emulate it. Once I got Doug in the band, that wasnt necessary anymore. For a lot of the hardcore four-track GBV fans, people who dig the minimalist thing that we did at the time, kind of just banging out power chords, that was disappointing to some of them but not to me.
Doug really is an amazing player.
He knows every song, man. He knows, like, Three Blind Mice and Happy Birthday. All of them.
He doesnt seem to go for the flash like other guitarists, but you know he could if he wanted to.
Yeah, he holds back. But on the Lifeguards record, he lets go a couple of times. I think his music is amazing on it. I like the fact that its somewhat proggy. I had these excess lyrics lying around, and I thought this was the perfect vehicle for some of the crazier shit.
One of the songs, Shorter Virgins, almost sounds like the Buzzcocks.
I know. That albums all over the place, and thats what I like about it. You come out of this big, long, six-minute Rush-sounding song and you go into this Buzzcockian song.
On Red Whips And Miracles, theres that long instrumental coda that you dont do anything with.
I cut half of that song. It was twice that long. Doug has a tendency to keep going, so I had to cut it down. We were talking about editing out the middle part of the song, but I told Doug it was fine.
I found it interesting because you just let it go and didnt put any more vocals on top of it.
Thats all I had, man. [Laughs]
On these collaborations where people send you the music, do you suggest what type of tunes they should write, or do they have free reign?
I give them free reign, but they kind of know what I like. They gear the music to the type of lyrics that I write. I worked with Toby Sprout on two (Airport 5) records, and I did the (Go Back Snowball) record with Mac McCaughan. They pretty much know what I like.
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