Life Lessons from Robert Pollard

Wisdom from the man who brought you Guided By Voices
by Robert Pollard, from Magnet
May-June 2005
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Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh.


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Touring is something you get used to. It can be difficult and grueling, especially for a band like us that drank a lot and played three-hour shows, but I learned to enjoy it. I learned to relax during the long drives and make better use of the hurry-up-and-wait aspect of load-ins and sound checks (like, not attend them). By the end of the tour, I’m more than ready to go home. After a couple of weeks at home, I’m anxious to go back on tour.

Writing is easy. It’s an ongoing process, like eating, breathing, or sleeping. It shouldn’t be painful or difficult. It’s a report on the state of the soul and, like the soul, should be continuously evolving. It does so through inspiration. From people, books, film, music. When inspiration is lacking, you get writer’s block.

Three-way phone conversations can blow me.

Real friends come to see you play even if they don’t like your music anymore.

Everything seeks perfection but never achieves it. Imperfection is better. Try it. It’s easier to attain.

Anger is a twisted form of courage. It wishes to obliterate fear.

In the early days of Guided By Voices, when no one was listening, I was impatient. I used to tire of people in the band very quickly. I had physical altercations with them. I even resorted to bullshit tactics, like telling the band I was quitting and we were breaking up, then forming again a month later with new members. I have learned to allow people to exist, grow, and find out who they are in the band, to give them all the time they need. As long as they are enthusiastic about the music, they can do whatever they want.

Lo-fi is like any genre. If you have the songs, the attitude, and the vision, it’s going to be inspiring. If you don’t, it’s going to be lifeless. Lo-fi was the last truly charming and inspirational movement, the perfect extension of punk. Not only did you not have to know how to play, you didn’t even have to worry whether it sounded good by contemporary production standards.

Sing, scream, whistle, drink, and have a good time every night.

True culture and the enhancement of life are being devoured by technological progress.

We are all gods. You can never underestimate the creative potential of a human being. Nor the destructive potential.

When you’re touring, there’s a time warp. A week seems like a month. It’s always good to go home, where time decelerates back to the point of predictability.

When you’re depressed, hard work is the cure. The next time you get depressed, go out in the backyard and dig a six-foot hole. But don’t jump in it just yet.

Life is a series of mistakes. You have to learn from them, and you can’t dwell on them or condemn yourself. The biggest mistake I made was cheating on my wife while I was on the road. I didn’t do that for six years but finally succumbed, and it cost me everything, including my happiness. But you have to pick up the pieces and move on. You get more than one chance in life, but you have to learn from your mistakes.

If you write a song and your mom thinks it’s good, shit-can it immediately.

The goal of competition—be it in war, sports, education, politics, etc.—is energy theft. The winner feels elevation, having stolen his opponent’s energy, and the loser feels empty and dejected, having lost it. We are born into a hierarchy of energy theft.

After a while, marriage becomes almost like a brother/sister, son/mother relationship, and if your interests in life don’t converge, there are conflicts and a growing apart—even animosity. You still love each other and have the mutual bond of your children, but there’s no shared spark or passion for other things. It becomes very frustrating.

Cheap coffeepots piss me off.

I’ve never considered myself to be a runaway success at anything I’ve done, including parenthood. But I’ve at least allowed my children to pursue their own interests without too much interference, and I think they both turned out pretty good.

Of all members in a rock band, the drummer succumbs most frequently to the urge to remove his shirt.

You can take 10 people from various ethnicities, backgrounds, professions, whatever, who don’t give a single shit about one another, put them together, get them drunk, and by the end of the night, they’re all either hugging or punching each other. What else does that besides religion?

My good friend Billy Dixon was my center in football from 7th grade through 12th grade. One day during practice, our head coach yelled, “If anybody sees anybody standing around with his thumb up his ass doing nothing, run over and knock him on his ass.” Five minutes later, Coach was standing on the sidelines drinking a cup of coffee. Billy ran over and knocked him on his ass. I learned that day that, for the most part, we’re all just standing around with our thumbs up our asses.

Reprinted from the alternative music magazine Magnet (Jan./Feb. 2005). Subscriptions: $14.95/yr. (6 issues) from 1218 Chestnut St., Suite 508, Philadelphia, PA 19107; www.magnetmagazine.com.


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