Best Of '99: GBV's Robert Pollard Gets Abstract On Kid Marine'

Guided By Voices mastermind's second solo LP is filled with impressionistic lyrics.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Thursday, April 1.]

Most artists release new albums every two years or so, but Guided By Voices mastermind Robert Pollard said he couldn't bear to wait so long.

So, Pollard said, when the frustration of waiting for the latest GBV album to emerge got to him last year, he locked himself in a basement studio for a week to bang out his second solo album, the lyrically impressionistic Kid Marine.

"I simply had to do something," said Pollard, the only remaining original member of the pioneering Dayton, Ohio-based lo-fi act GBV. "I just wanted to put something out that would not interfere with the GBV schedule. This gives me a chance to write new stuff and get it out there immediately."

The 15-track album, which features Pollard's brother Jim and former GBV cohort Tobin Sprout, is in keeping with GBV's late-'60s garage rock-inspired vibe.

On a number of Kid Marine tracks, however, Pollard breaks from his signature style of grouping nearly 20 two-minute-or-fewer songs per album. The opening cut, the droning, multi-part "Submarine Teams" (RealAudio

excerpt), is, for Pollard, of nearly epic length; it clocks in

at just a shade under five minutes.

The change is felt not only in the song's breadth, Pollard said, but in the way he compiled such lyrics as "Fine mussels and selected brains/ The trimmings of slim victory/ Over the smelly waters," from "Submarine Teams," one of many tracks on the album whose lyrics are obtuse and seemingly random.

"On my solo stuff I can do whatever I want; there are totally no rules," Pollard said. "I think it's lyrically better than a lot of my other stuff. It reads like poetry because of this new approach I have of starting with my poems."

Pollard said former Cars leader Ric Ocasek, who produced the still-unreleased next GBV album, spurred him to dip into his books of poetry for inspiration.

"If something was really good, I wanted to put music to it, it needed

music to it and that makes it better," Pollard said. "I just chose my

favorite 15 lyrics or poems and sequenced the lyrics first before I started

writing music ... and I just kept it that way"


excerpt of interview).

Although he wrote them, Pollard said even he's not sure what such songs as "Submarine Teams" are about. He said he views the cartoonish images of marine biology and sports metaphors as just "a cool way to start the record ... because you can look at it line-by-line and just try to figure out what it's about. I'm still trying to figure out what it's about."

Kid Marine was released as a joint venture between Dayton-based Rockathon and Indianapolis, Indiana's Recordhead labels.

Rockathon began as the merchandising arm for GBV. "I started out as a big fan [of GBV] and I had the luck of getting to know Bob hanging around Dayton and he said he had these songs and would we be interested in putting them out?" Rockathon's Matt Davis said. "I said, 'Hell, yeah,' in about five seconds."

Davis, 28, said he was confident in Pollard's new direction and thrilled to have witnessed the recording process. "There are a lot of die-hard GBV fans out there," Davis said, "who have everything Bob's ever done. So he tries not to follow the same formula every time, because he's one of the most prolific songwriters in world. With this one, I was willing to do it without hearing anything; it's called faith."

The album, which features such songs as the swaying '70s arena-pop of "The Big Make Over" and Who-like classic rock of "Snatch Candy"


excerpt), is the first in what Pollard and Davis said would be a series of "Fading Captain" releases.

"I was originally going to credit it to Lexo and the Leapers," Pollard said. "I guess it seems conceptual, but it's not intentional." Part of the album's conceit, he said, was borrowing a friend's photographs of some American Legion members outside their hall smoking cigarettes while raising the U.S. flag. Thus Kid Marine refers to "a guy who put in time serving his country and is now interested in marine biology," he suggested cryptically.

"I thought if I could pull six or seven pictures it would make it seem thematic and conceptual," Pollard said. "I'm into the art of deception and deceiving myself. You can read the lyrics and look at the cover and come up with something, your own interpretation that makes sense of it."

Pollard said he already has a dozen songs ready for another "Fading Captain" album, tentatively titled Rise of the Ants.