What Makes These Guided By Voices Superfans Still Love Robert Pollard After 100 Albums?
A fan convention in London, after the release of the band's double-album 'August by Cake', seemed the perfect place to find out.
"Praise be to Bob!"
It's about 4PM on the sunniest day of the year so far. I'm standing inside a south London venue nursing an increasingly tepid pint and watching the second of today's five Guided By Voices tribute acts hop off the stage. Today, at the seventh official EuroHeedfest Guided By Voices Appreciation event, I have heard approximately 50 songs attributed to frontman Robert Pollard, scratching the surface of what will eventually be at least four times that; I have seen all manner of Guided By Voices T-Shirt, faded and lived in with years of love; I've seen your dad raise his glass in the air and chant the most heartfelt "YEAHS" to the ambitiously rakish choruses.
It's a sight. And I'm not sure I've ever witnessed joy quite like this among a single group of roughly 80 people. The band's founder Robert "Bob" Pollard is known and loved for his independent approach to releasing music by those who latch onto his prolific indie-rock, his on-stage charisma and perhaps most of all, the sheer volume of work he has produced since founding Guided By Voices in 1983. On Friday 7 April, Pollard released his 100th studio album, August By Cake. It's played today, between the GBV karaoke, a raffle and the cover band. Everyone I ask already loves it.
So what makes this band and all of Pollard's other projects so special to people? With several fan communities online, databases chronically the amount of songs Pollard has released (roughly 2,500), and the spectacle of the original annual GBV appreciation day in GBV's Dayton, Ohio hometown, I wanted to know what fuels the uninhibited love for this band. We're constantly being told our attention spans are battered and that albums are dead, but what is it like to stay loyal and enthusiastic about one man's output after a hundred – a hundred – albums? I asked. And it turns out that Robert Pollard fans are incredibly nice.
Vanessa Robertson, 56, Legal transcriptionist from London via Memphis
Noisey: How long have you been a GBV fan?
Vanessa: The first time I saw them was in 1994 and I didn't know who they were. They were touring with The Grifters, who I was friends with, and they told me to check out this band that was supporting them. And that's how it started! I was hooked.
How many times have you seen them play since then?
About 47 times now. Usually in the States, but I've seen them in Amsterdam, Brussels, Oslo, Reading, Leicester… Bob has given me shout outs from the stage a bunch of times. In the Paradiso in Amsterdam he saw me at the front and he came down and gave me a hug! Every show is amazing.
What do you think it is about them that makes you stay hooked after a hundred albums?
Bob's lyrics and songs speak to me. I can relate to so many of the feelings the songs have. I even met my husband because of Guided by Voices! We met through The Postal Blowfish mailing list for fans. We played a few of their albums at our wedding!
Alex Wisgard, 28, Journalist/Frontman in Cover Act, Band of Pricks
Noisey: There's a lot of songs to learn being in a GBV cover band…
Alex: The most songs I've ever played at one of these events was in the region of 130. And Paddy Considine sang a set with us before! He's an insanely die-hard Guided By Voices fan. The first time I met him was at the Bowie exhibition at the VNA and we both had the same GBV badge on our bags. It's almost like being in a secret society.
What makes fans so dedicated to GBV?
It never stops! You know, there's a collector's instinct because of the sheer volume of music they've put out. Robert Pollard speaks to the nerd inside all music fans. The way he writes and releases music is like an endless puzzle and everyone builds their own version of the band. It never stops being interesting. Everyone's Guided By Voices is different.
So how long have you been a fan?
Since I was 11. I was really into The Strokes at the time and Guided By Voices were in the video for "Someday "playing Family Feud [below]. I thought if The Strokes liked them they had to be good.
Martin, 49, Teacher from Switzerland
Noisey: How long have you been a Guided By Voices fan?
Martin: Twenty years.
And you travelled over from Switzerland just for Euroheedfest?
Oh yeah. I come every year. You meet people who are totally different from you but have one thing in common. You make friends.
What makes you keep coming back?
You get to hear more than just the hits. You get to hear so many songs from all the albums played by different bands. I always hear songs I've never heard before.
What's so special about Robert Pollard's music?
It's like a universe! A lot of thoughts, a lot of ideas. He uses music from loads of eras like the 60s and 70s and makes it all his own. He's one of the greatest artists. Bob Dylan is just Bob Dylan. Bob Pollard is so much more.
Marilene Dawson, Art Teacher and Richard Delaney, Postman from Cork, Ireland
How long have you been fans of Guided By Voices?
Richard: Ah, I've been obsessed with them for years. There's something about Pollard. He just writes amazing hooks and lyrics.
Marilene: It's because of Richard that there was an Irish GBV cover band!
Marilene: Yeah, they were called Voided by Ponces. He gave the singer a Guided by Voices CD years ago and they ended up starting a tribute act.
Richard: They played at this very event a couple of years ago actually.
How much did Richard's interest get you into GBV, Marilene?
Marilene: Totally. I hadn't a clue who they were until I was hearing them all the time because of him. If it wasn't GBV, it was some offshoot of Bob Pollard being played. I couldn't escape it. But now I think they're amazing!
Have a special Guided by Voices song that you share?
Marilene: We both got up and sang 'This Place Has Everything' last year.
Richard: It's only a minute long. But we listened to it a lot when we moved in together.
Marilene: It's really magic.
Trevor Hatton, 42, Solicitor from London
Noisey: There's a real sense of joy around this place today, Trevor.
Trevor: There is. I haven't got a religious bone in my body but I would call this communal worship.
What got you into Guided By Voices, then?
I heard a track of theirs called "Wished I Was A Giant" on a mixtape in 1994. It was so visceral and raw. It knocked me cold. It was the musical equivalent of love at first sight. I bought their entire catalogue pretty much straight away.
And after a hundred albums you still feel the same way?
Oh yeah. Bob sings from the soul. You know, I've seen them play four and a half hour long sets and he's completely off his face but he's still always singing from the depth of his heart. I don't notice that in other bands. So many bands are worried about looking foolish. Pollard just acts like himself on stage and shows his humanity. When he's on stage he's not a rockstar. He's just one of us, playing the role of being a rockstar. People tap into that.
I'm guessing you've seen them live quite a few times.
About 20 times. But it's definitely not enough.
Neil, 32, IT Worker, from Seattle
Noisey: You travelled from the US just for Euroheedfest?
Neil: Well, I'm here for a few weeks but this is the centrepiece, yeah.
That's quite the trip.
Well a lot of people come from around the world to Heedfest in Deyton, Ohio every year. I'm just returning the favour.
How does the UK version compare?
It's pretty similar. The GBV fan community is so open and welcoming and everyone is friends with everybody else.
Someone else could release 100 albums and people would just get bored…
Bob has an ear for melody. He makes collages out of different generations of music, taking the best parts and making it all work. And it changes all the time! A hundred Bruce Springsteen records would be boring.
Kevin Douglas, 54, Pharmacist and Peter Douglas, 47, Postman from Newcastle
How long have you both been fans?
Kevin: Since about 1996.
Peter: He knows them more than me. But I have one of their songs as the ringtone on my phone.
Have you seen them live?
Kevin: I saw them in Oslo in 2011. I travelled to America with some of the people here before too and we met some other fans we knew from online. I landed in New Orleans at 7.30PM and the gig started two hours later. I just arrived in the city and ran to the venue. It was life-affirming
Kevin: It's hard to explain. But I think there's a Guided By Voices song for everyone.
How many Euroheedfests have you come down for?
Kevin: We've been to five out of seven. It's a great event, a really fun day out.
Er, what about you, Peter?
Peter: First time I came down I didn't know Guided By Voices or what to expect. But I keep coming back.
Kevin: You were crowd surfing last year!
Alexander Ringo, Student, and Tim Ringo, Software Developer (and Alex's Dad) from London via Dayton, Ohio
Why are Guided By Voices so special for you?
Tim: I grew up in Dayton, where Guided By Voices started. So when I first heard them it felt like hearing a mix of The Beatles, REM and The Who smashed together…but it's also very Dayton.
How does something sound like Dayton?
Tim: I think you'd only understand the songs about Dayton if you're from there. It's like an in-joke.
Tim: So when I moved here I felt a bit homesick and listening to Guided By Voices and seeing them play was special.
What about you, Alexander?
Alexander: I just came to this last year and had a great time. My and my friend got into the mosh pits.
Are you as obsessed with GBV as your dad?
Alexander: Not really.
Tim: But at least you came back this time. I think it might be an old guy thing.
You can find Eoin on Twitter.