Just Try Keeping Up With the Godfather of Indie Rock
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the man behind the band that influenced all your favorite acts is still innovating.
By Chris Dickens
A band perhaps achieves official cult status when someone as prominent as the White House press secretary uses his last day at the podium to plug it as the “greatest rock ’n’ roll band of the modern era” in front of a roomful of journalists who turn and ask each other who in the world he’s talking about.
Guided by Voices, arguably the most influential indie-rock band of all time, called it quits last September after three decades, 22 albums and a whole lot of famously piss-drunk tours. It’s not the first time they’ve broken up, but after this last four-year run — during which they produced six of those albums between tours — it’s likely the last. The news, received just before a scheduled fall U.S. tour, sparked a flurry of online elegies to a band whose history of lo-fi, four-tracked albums have been a major influence on bands like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, the Strokes, and Girls.
… a sound that seemed to arise like a swamp-thing out of the leftover static of early ’90s MTV-geared pop and rock.
In the 1990s, Guided by Voices entirely changed the way many people thought about music. Jason Narducy (Split Single), who played bass and sang backing vocals for GBV frontman Robert Pollard from 2006–2008, says of his first listen to the album Alien Lanes: “There were tape dropouts, vastly different drum sounds in each song (when you could hear the drums), out of tune guitars, and AM radio quality EQ. … [T]he arrangements were odd, often sounding like unfinished songs.”
Both albums are on Guided by Voices Inc./Fire Records. I Sell the Circus came out Feb. 2; Faulty Superheroes was released April 28.
Plenty of bands had put out home-recorded albums on inexpensive tape machines, but the makeshift qualities on GBV’s recordings sounded more like creative choices than forced constraints. And though GBV had their own years of trying to go mainstream with more polished studio recordings, the poppy melodies and oddball lyrics Pollard wrote always worked best with a sound that seemed to arise like a swamp-thing out of the leftover static of early ’90s MTV-geared pop and rock. It was the sound of the era’s identity crisis, patched together like a Frankenstein monster: The thing was alive, with its messy guitars and its fourth-grade-teacher frontman, whose lyrics poured out like some kind of never-ending found-poem. “Like most things genius,” Narducy adds, “it takes time to grasp what one is hearing/experiencing.”
Pollard is famously prolific, so one might have predicted that right on the heels of the breakup announcement came news that “the godfather of indie rock” had formed a new band, Ricked Wicky, and that their first album was already written and recorded. Add to this that literally before I could finish this article, Pollard also announced a new solo record, and you get the idea.
Ricked Wicky is made up partly of musicians he’s worked with over the years: longtime collaborator and producer Todd Tobias and drummer Kevin March. The one new guy is Nick Mitchell, who’s spent decades playing blues, prog-rock and classic rock around Pollard’s native Dayton, Ohio. What comes through on this album is more cohesive and hard-rocking than most of Pollard’s solo work, with melodies as interesting — though far less poppy — than Guided by Voices’ catchiest choruses, and at other moments more musically experimental than either.
If you’re already a fan, that’s a great reason to give both albums a listen. Otherwise, they’re good ones to end on after you’ve taken in GBV’s Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. Of course, by the time you’ve caught up with Ricked Wicky and Pollard’s now-21 solo albums, he’ll have another new band and three new albums, and you may have missed him doing his signature scissor-kick on a stage in your town. Which is part of what makes being a fan so fun. See if you can keep up.