NEW YORK -- Ric Ocasek, former Cars frontman, solo artist and producer of hit albums by bands such as Weezer and Nada Surf, has been tapped to offer his major-league talents to the production of the next record by Guided By Voices, a band notoriously averse to big-studio recording.
And if you ask Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard, the combination of Ocasek's production style and GBV's raw edge will not be forgotten soon.
"It'll be the last great album of the millennium," he said, half-facetiously, of the next disc planned for Guided By Voices.
Whether or not that proves true, the yet-to-be recorded album almost certainly will continue shifting the notably lo-fi indie act into the realm of glisteningly superior big-studio sonics.
"It's set. I'm going to produce [Guided By Voices'] new album," Ocasek said. He was speaking last Saturday night from outside New York City's West 21st Street club Tramps, where, inside, Pollard was leading the brand-new lineup of Guided By Voices through new songs and old favorites in a sold-out show.
Pollard, whose last GBV album, Mag Earwhig!, also featured higher production techniques than most of his garage-styled work, later confirmed Ocasek's involvement. The band is set to begin recording in August, he said, with a projected release date of February 1999.
"I think it's excellent news. I think it's time for them to have their major-label shot," said Kim Van Atta, a 48-year-old fan who had made a five-hour trip from Upstate New York to catch GBV's Tramps gig.
While waiting for the shot to fire, confirmed band fanatics can sate their taste for all things GBV with Waved Out, the just-released solo album by Pollard, the group's singer, songwriter and lone permanent member.
During his recent show, Pollard displayed his trademark kung-fu kicks and distinctively spastic dance moves, but, true to GBV's newly upgraded sound, he seemed more focused on his emotional, youthful-sounding vocals than on the kind of drunken antics that his stage performances featured on past tours.
More than an hour after Saturday's show, the singer/songwriter stood in front of the club's entrance, talking with friends. When someone suggested a trip to a nearby bar, the notoriously hard-drinking, silver-haired frontman politely declined the offer, suggesting that they adjourn to his hotel room instead.
It had been a few minutes earlier, while Pollard and the rest of the band were still inside, that Ocasek's familiar face -- a ghost from MTV's past -- had emerged from the darkness of Tramps' interior to mingle among the GBV fanatics, club employees and roadies on the sidewalk in front of the club. Ocasek, whose appearance seemingly had not changed since the Cars' '80s heyday, said that he "loved every bit" of GBV's show.
Asked about the direction that he hopes to take the band in, Ocasek joked, "It's gonna be sort-of like a Carpenters thing." He continued, more seriously, "I'd like them to make a great-sounding record that still sounds the way they want it to."
For his part, Pollard said he hopes that the album will be released on Matador, the band's present label. But, he added, "It's all up to Ric. It depends on what he wants."
Pollard and his new lineup (bassist Greg Demos, former Breeders drummer
Jim Macpherson and former Cobra Verde guitarist Doug Gillard, the only
holdover from the band's previous incarnation) played a number of new GBV
songs, including "Surgical Focus," which was introduced as "the anticipated
big hit from our next album." The new songs had more sharply defined guitar
riffs, bigger choruses and more conventional structures than most of GBV's
previous material, suggesting that Pollard and company are continuing their push for more mainstream acceptance.
Pollard expressed similar hopes for at least one of the several tracks that the
band played from his new solo album. "They should play that on the radio,"
Pollard said, to much applause, after he and the band had ripped through an
energetic version of "Subspace Biographies," an uptempo, Ramones-meet-the-Kinks power-pop gem from Waved Out.
But for the most part, Pollard said after the show, his solo albums are
"almost like old-school GBV. I can do anything I want; it's like a gift to me
from my label. Plus, I can play all the instruments ... With Guided By Voices,
it's more like the big rock stuff, which I still love, but I see my solo stuff
as getting more progressively experimental ... I'd like to see it get even
On GBV favorites such as "I am a Scientist," "Hot Freaks" and last year's "Bulldog Skin" (RealAudio excerpt), as well as rarities such as "Liar's Tale," the new band managed to sound both roaringly aggressive and tightly professional; guitarist Gillard showcased considerable chops as he banged out Pete Townshend-style power chords on his black Les Paul and occasionally squeezed out melodic, major-key runs reminiscent of the post-punk axe-slingers in Television.
Bassist Demos somehow managed to play rhythmically precise lines and
lyrical fills while twirling around the stage like a dervish, while drummer
Macpherson demonstrated power and versatility that was only hinted at in his
work with the Breeders.
"I think Bob has got the band now that he always wanted," said Mike Ingenthron, a 25-year-old Manhattan resident.
Pollard confirmed as much: "This is the best lineup we've ever had.
Plus, it's three-quarters Dayton again," he said, referring to his Ohio hometown. "I always wanted Jim Macpherson in the band, and Greg Demos is an incredible bass player."