Before we begin this crash course in Guided By Voices— an attempt to initiate the newcomers and remind the buzzed stalwarts of all that has come before— we must first note that GBV albums are often comprised of many short, songs with surrealistic titles and lyrics, all of which add up to something whole, sturdy, and lit-up with an enchanted quality. It is in this manner that we will organize this guide into succinct, sometimes abstract bursts, complete with non-sequitor titles and questionable usefulness.

History’s Swollen Dream Catcher
We’re told by our elders, books, and movies that Rock & Roll is a transcendent genre, that it will move us to behave in ways both unusual and brave, but then we are confused when we attend the Sufjan Stevens concert and don’t come anywhere close to losing our minds. Like the kind friend who guides you during a bewildering psyilocybin mushroom trip, Guided by Voices concerts are safe spaces to stop worrying about everything except being thrilled in the present moment. Audience and performers alike act the fool, and in this way, the fool is set free.

Obligatory Stats Run-Down-Police
1983. Bob Pollard, a father and elementary school teacher, starts Guided By Voices in Dayton, OH with friends and his brother Jimmy. Tobin Sprout is invited to join the band as a second songwriter. Stage fright and family obligations on Pollard’s part prevent any significant touring so the band releases many albums in quick succession. At age 36, seven albums deep, the world suddenly takes notice. The band signs to Matador Records and begins to tour. Their live show becomes infamous for being wild, on-stage drinking festivals, sometimes ending in a slurred burn-out. This stretch of good fortune heads in a generally upward direction until 2004 when Pollard decides to break up the band. For half a decade he releases albums under his own name, a trio called Boston Spaceships, and an aggressively weird project called Circus Devils, until 2010 when he decides that not only is GBV reuniting, but the precise lineup that produced/toured their two most legendary albums (“Bee Thousand” and “Alien Lanes”) will record new songs.

Wild West Journalist Zoo Keeper
With over 30 years of history and 22 proper albums, the usual plot points that music writers often overlay onto a band’s career to strengthen their review’s merit break down or collapse when applied to Guided By Voices. The GBV story is not a straight line and doesn’t follow a “Behind The Music” story arc, so when reviewers haven’t done their homework, it’s always painfully clear (even in the brief history printed above, to tell the story condensed like that does require some severe omissions and fact bending—the band’s story is more like 12 episodes of “Behind The Music” stacked on top of each other with half of them playing backwards). Take this quote from a recent review of their latest album: “Cool Planet is especially noteworthy for being the group’s most consistently polished affair since 2001’s glossy, Rob Schnapf-produced Isolation Drills.” What should be evident to anyone listening to “Cool Planet” is that it’s far from sounding polished, and what anyone more than a casual fan will tell you is that the three albums that followed “Isolation Drills” were far better candidates for being awarded the “polished” adjective than CP (“Cool Planet” sounds kind of marvelously unfussed over, actually). It’s in this way that their sheer output is a sort of built-in self-defense mechanism against lazy journalism.

My Brother Vs. Joan Jett
Like anyone who’s had more to drink than they ought to, Pollard sometimes runs his mouth at GBV concerts, using the spaces between songs to say all manner of crazy shit. While embarrassing stage banter bootleg collections are seen as a blemish by most bands unlucky enough to receive one (think KISS or Venom), Pollard took a page from Elvis Presley and officially released his own shit-show stage banter album, calling it “Relaxation of the Asshole.” Sample content: “Rolling Stone just published the top 100 guitar players of all time, and they included Joan Jett. How could you fucking put Joan Jett in the top 100 guitar players of all time? Ahead of Pete Townsend! Rolling Stone sucks! They’ve got both guitar players from Radiohead on there. What?! They’ve never played a good fucking riff in their life! My brother’s a better guitar player than Joan Jett!” (audience roars) The album received both a 0.0 and 10.0 on

Allo Guvnr
Should an American band’s singer be able to use a put-on British accent and still come off as authentic and down-to-earth? No, they shouldn’t, but, somehow, Robert Pollard handily does this. Pollard explains in a 1994 interview: “I used to sound like Michael Stipe and, to me, that sounded a little bit too Southern and I didn’t want that, so I used a British accent. That’s how I learned to sing – from the first British wave – when I was a kid. If I try another way, it sounds too hick or something” In the hands of other bands there is SO much about Guided By Voices that might come off as unbearably pretentious, but there is something so innocent and genuine about the band’s collective personality that your bull-shit detector never buzzes with suspicion. For lack of a better answer, or time to stir the pot for a few pages in an attempt to figure this out, we will chalk this up to “Midwestern Charm.”

J Mascis Does a 180
In Northampton, MA 2004 (the night before the band announced they were quitting) this reporter attended a Guided By Voices concert at a venue called Pearl Street. During a particularly long stretch of stage banter, Pollard began talking about how great J Mascis (guitarist/singer of Dinosaur Jr.) was and how thankful he was that he came to the show. When the crowd realized that J was standing nearby, they began to encourage Mascis to approach the stage to be lauded by Pollard in person. Pollard’s praise-spiel was long, and Mascis made his way through the crowd slowly. Then, just as he got close enough to where Pollard might be able to spot him, his monologue took a turn for the self-aggrandizing. “You know who’s better than Dinosaur Jr.?” Pollard asked, “Guided by fucking Voices!” The audience went crazy, and J Mascis turned around without hesitation and walked to the back of the club with a stunned look on his face while the band launched into “Game of Pricks.”

Their first TV appearance after reuniting in 2010 found the band performing “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” on the David Letterman program, where bassist Greg Demos’ stage moves combined with a slick surface caused him to unceremoniously fall on his ass, letting a bad note ring out for a few seconds, before getting back up to finish the song. The band didn’t re-record the take and it aired as-is on TV with Letterman imploring Demos not to call the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding the incident. Like the happy accidents the band leaves in their recordings, or the unintended meaning you pull out of a particularly abstract GBV lyric, this television ass-plant is a beautiful metaphor for the spirit of the band itself.

He Built His Own Encyclopedia, & Now He Sleeps Inside The Pages
One element of the band that flummoxes critics and casual fans is the sheer output that Pollard achieves. People ask, “Why so many songs?” But isn’t “why not?” just as valid of a query? Surely we can learn something from a man pushing himself to find his limits and releasing more songs and albums than anyone else in history, can’t we? One time this reporter visited a record store in Providence, RI and the little plastic white thingy that demarcated the GBV section had a drawing of Pollard wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “Quality Control” on it, typed out underneath a red circle with a diagonal line through it (like the Ghosbusters logo), and this political cartoon in an unlikely location did bring up a fair point, but one could make the argument that a ceaseless output yielding a steady flow of amazing stand-out songs is just as valid of a method as releasing one amazing album every 3 years or so, no? It’s a big world. We have room for both methods. The fact that people willingly watch network television nightly handily demolishes any complaints against Pollard’s release schedule; that garbage airs every night without ever ceasing. (Note: this reporter has whittled the 6 GBV reunion albums down to a 26 track compilation playlist, that he cannot stop listening to, if you’re curious).

Drums For Sale
The “so-called classic lineup” (Pollard’s description) initially called for Kevin Fennell on drums, Pollard’s ex-brother-in-law and GBV drummer from 1987 – 1996. His original dismissal from the band was under less than glamorous circumstances in 1996 (getting arrested for shoplifting a bottle of wine and missing a concert), but his recent dismissal in 2013 even more so (trying to sell his drum kit on eBay for $55,000 and a livid Pollard firing him for it). While Fennell’s drumming definitely lent the perfect feel to the early ramshackle style of the band, there is little arguing that a big part of what makes the best songs from “Cool Planet” so exciting is the propulsive, ecstatic drumming of Kevin March, who was brought back into the fold upon Fennell’s exit. In fact, this reporter finds the title track of “Cool Planet” to be one of the most exciting pieces of music GBV has ever recorded and all of those reckless, rolling drum fills go a long, long way after five albums of fairly basic time keeping.

The Press Secretary That Loved The Occult
In Abe Lincoln’s White House, during the rise of the Spiritualism movement in America, Mary Todd Lincoln was permitted to hold seances attempting to contact her recently deceased son Willie. Some historians insist Lincoln himself attended these seances. This is the strongest public presidential connection to the occult on record. Fast forward 152 years. Press Secretary Jay Carney begins to accidentally name Guided By Voices band members when trying to name current senators, conducts an interview about his adoration for the band, and even walks out for his last White House press briefing to the GBV song “Motor Away.” This is remarkable for several reasons including the band’s connection to the occult (just think about that band name, just look at that album cover, for starters) and how odd it is that a powerful White House official is a devoted fan to such an extant that he can’t stop talking about them in public. I submit here, the most detailed, out-there, occultish essay ever penned about Guided by Voices (which was published in October 2013, but taken down by its mysterious author – this is a cached version) and encourage you to read its wild conjecturing and to keep in mind that the same band that inspired this kind of writing and analysis also possessed the waking imagination of a man who, for four years, was in charge of telling America the official-“What’s Up.”

Obsession Assessment
# of GBV/Pollard songs that mention the ‘moon’: 38

# of GBV/Pollard songs that mention ‘space’ : 38

# of GBV/Pollard songs that mention ‘flying’ or ‘fly: 79

# of GBV/Pollard songs that mention ‘spirit’: 18

# of GBV/Pollard songs that mention ‘soul’: 63

The Record Store Dream & The High School Yearbook Method
“In my dream was an unattended record store with racks and rows full of record sleeves by imaginary or dreamt rock bands. Needless to say, I was very disappointed when I awoke [and discovered] that it wasn’t real. Now it sort of is. At least slightly more real than the dream.” – Robert Pollard

“I’ve gone as far as cutting out pictures of kids from high school [yearbooks] and making these covers for a compilation album. I did this not too long ago – giving the kids [band] names, titles for songs – and I was inspired to write a song for that by looking at the ‘band’. Is that insane or what?” – Robert Pollard

During the final Boston show of GBV Mach 1, in 2004, Pollard came out on stage to gigantic applause, removed the microphone from the stand, and spoke to the audience, “They said it couldn’t happen / they said we had no choices / this is the ballad / of Guided by Voices” They proceeded to start the show with this song.

In Summation
“I’m Brian Wilson in reverse.” – Robert Pollard, 2004

Guided By Voices play The Paradise on Saturday, July 12, 2014.