Robert Pollard Told Us About Strut Of Kings, The Only New Guided By Voices Album Of 2024

Robert Pollard Told Us About Strut Of Kings, The Only New Guided By Voices Album Of 2024

Last year, Guided By Voices celebrated their 40th anniversary as a band in a way many other groups might have: by playing two triumphant hometown shows opened by an array of beloved peers and disciples. They also marked their 40th year in a way not many other bands would ever attempt: by releasing three new full-length albums within the span of about 10 months. Such uncommonly prolific output has always been standard operating procedure for Robert Pollard and his band, and four decades in, they’re still going strong.

This year, though, GBV will release “just” one new LP. It’s called Strut Of Kings, and they’re announcing it today along with another round of tour dates. Strut Of Kings has everything I want from a Guided By Voices album in their post-lo-fi, post-miniature-songs era. It’s full of big, loud, catchy rock tracks that approach from sidelong angles but impact like classics, narrated by Pollard’s uniquely infectious melodies and surreal, speaking-in-code lyrical excursions. There are tight little pop songs, hip-swinging Camaro jams, and expansive, proggy suites. Fun little guitar flourishes abound, from backwards solos straight out of the ’60s to harmonized leads worthy of Thin Lizzy. And on lead single “Serene King,” out today, Pollard pulls from the public domain, reclaiming the refrain “Everywhere we go, people wanna know/ Who we are, so we tell them” as is his own. Good luck getting it out of your head.

After blasting Strut Of Kings, I shot Uncle Bob some questions about the new album and more. Below, read his responses about the fresh music plus new side project Rip Van Winkle, the 40th anniversary shoes, Ohio State football, and more.

Strut Of Kings rocks! When and how did this album come together, in terms of the writing and recording?

ROBERT POLLARD: It’s just the next one in line, and thank you for the compliment. I think it turned out pretty good. Everyone stepped up and made it solid. The process of writing and recording is pretty much continuous. Close to perpetual. The chemistry allows us to keep it moving and inspires me to come up with more songs, especially if I haven’t done so in 3 or 4 months.

What stands out to you about this record within the GBV catalog?

POLLARD: To tell you the truth, I like unfocused albums, but this one seems more focused. The structures are more cohesive. It also has a nice balance of the genres in rock that I like. Some nice power pop songs but also some fairly crazy stuff. A good balance, emotionally, of heavy and light.

“Serene King,” the lead single out today, uses the common refrain “Everywhere we go, people wanna know/ Who we are, so we tell them.” It’s associated with military regiments and the Boy Scouts, and I’ve heard it as a sports chant at soccer games. How did it make its way into a GBV song?

POLLARD: I’ve used it before, I think on Tremblers And Goggles By Rank. When I wrote it, the entire song came about pretty spontaneously, but it was initiated by the chant. The cheerleaders at my high school used to do it. It’s catchy and probably one of the top all time public domain bits.

You just released an EP under the name Rip Van Winkle. What’s the deal with that band? How did it happen? Are there more Rip Van Winkle albums in the works?

POLLARD: I’d been threatening for a while to do something with some of my friends in Dayton. They’re in a band called Joseph Airport who have released some good records. I said, “Let’s just wing it, use a lot of different instruments and noises and whatever,” and I brought my notebook of new lyrics. We did it all in about four or five hours, with the exception of Ben Penry’s overdubs. He recorded it in his basement. It was originally going to be called Sleep Thieves, but we found the name had already been taken, so I thought Rip Van Winkle, the king of sleep, was the next best thing. The title “The Grand Rapids EP” was created in advance of the recording, and it was gonna have that title even if we came up with an entire album’s worth of material. Put out a full length and still call it “The Grand Rapids EP” — ridiculous. Turned out we stopped after eight songs anyway.

You released three albums last year, and you usually release multiple albums every year. How do you decide which songs go together as an album? Is it just a matter of which songs are written in the same batch — like you keep writing until you have an album’s worth of songs, then start on the next one? Or are there other considerations on how you group them together?

POLLARD: You are exactly right. I work on a batch of songs. We record them. Put out the album and then go on to the next one.

Strut Of Kings is billed as the only new GBV album of 2024. Is that because you’re also doing Rip Van Winkle this year, or are there other factors?

POLLARD: No, I just wanted to give this one a little more time to sink in with the fans. Give them some breathing space. We are, by the way, getting ready to record the next one.

Guided By Voices haven’t really released ultra-short songs since the ’90s, but there are multiple generations of power-pop bands writing short songs who cite you as a core influence. Any young acts you are a fan of, GBV-influenced or otherwise?

POLLARD: I’m unfortunately out of touch a little bit. Occasionally though, I will hear something pretty cool. I like Cheap Time.

I attended the first show of the 40th anniversary celebration in Dayton. It was a special night, and I heard the second night was even better. How did you determine the setlists for those shows? Were there any special considerations, or did you treat it the same as any other gig?

POLLARD: We just play what I consider to be the hits. The new ones and the old ones, not too much from the mid period or the classic lineup reunion period. The setlist is comprised of songs I wanna sing. What I think will go over best live and connect with the audience.

Any good stories from that weekend? Any pleasant (or unpleasant) surprises?

POLLARD: I saw some people I haven’t seen in a while. Janet Billig, Scott Marshall. I also really enjoyed all the bands that played. Really good lineups both nights. It was also an opportunity for some older guys I used to coach football with to finally get to check us out. Dinosaur Jr. and Built To Spill were a big treat for me and an honor that they agreed to do it.

A lot of bands doing a 40th anniversary event would be winding down, but you guys are still going full speed ahead with writing, recording, and touring. People still love the shows and the new records. Do you feel like you see an end in sight? How would you know if it was time to hang it up?

POLLARD: I’m slowing it down as we speak. We got a lot of shows this year, but I’m not going to be quite as active in the future as far as the live thing goes, especially club shows. We’ll continue to crank out records.

GBV’s lineup has changed many times over the years. How stable is the current lineup? Do you feel like it’s locked in for the foreseeable future?

POLLARD: I can’t really see any changes in the foreseeable future. We get along really well. We have a good system that allows us to work remotely.

This question is kind of niche for Ohio people. I live in Columbus but wasn’t able to make it to your show here last week. I saw pictures from the show with you wearing a Spoonful Records T-shirt. I know you have a long history with the old regime of Used Kids dating back decades. Do you still do a lot of record shopping in Columbus? What stores in your rotation?

POLLARD: Columbus has a lot of good record stores. I’d say Used Kids is my favorite. But Spoonful, RPM, Lost Weekend, and Elizabeth’s are really good too.

Speaking of Used Kids, one of the former owners, Bela Koe-Krompecher, once told me he believed his tape player mangled the only copy of “Hardcore UFOs.” Is it true that he is the reason the song sounds warped?

POLLARD: He told me that, but I don’t really remember. I thought it was just a drop out on Toby’s 4-track, but Bela’s probably right. Whatever the case may be, yeah, it got pretty mangled.

Between bringing back upperclassmen, recruiting, and the transfer portal, Ohio State football really loaded up for this year. How do you like their chances to (a) beat Michigan again and (b) win a national championship this year?

POLLARD: They had better not lose to Michigan again, especially at home and especially with the talent and the new offensive coordinator they have.

01 “Show Me The Castle”
02 “Dear Onion”
03 “This Will Go On”
04 “Fictional Environment Dream”
05 “Olympus Cock In Radiana”
06 “Caveman Running Naked”
07 “Timing Voice”
08 “Bit Of A Crunch”
09 “Serene King”
10 “Bicycle Garden”

04/26 – Cincinnati, OH @ Madison Theater
04/27 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theater
05/10 – Denver, CO Marquis Theater (SOLD OUT)
05/12 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court Block Party
05/31 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line
06/01 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall (SOLD OUT)
06/07 – Washington, DC @ Atlantis (SOLD OUT)
06/08 – Philadelphia, PA @ Ardmore Music Hall (SOLD OUT)
06/21 – New York, NY
@ Irving Plaza
06/22 – Boston MA @ Royale Theater
07/19 – Indianapolis, IN @ Hi-Fi Annex
07/20 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
08/03 – Athens, OH @ Community Arts Festival
08/09 – Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
08/10 – Woodstock, NY @ Bearsville Theater
08/23 – Kalamazoo, MI @ Bells Beer Garden
08/24 – Milwaukee, WI @ WSME Backyard BBQ
09/06 – Richmond, VA @ The Broadberry
09/27 – San Francisco, CA @ August Hall
09/28 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bellwether
10/25 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk
10/26 – Dallas, TX @ Ferris Wheelers

Strut Of Kings is out 6/28 on GBV Inc. Pre-order it here. Tickets for the newest round of tour dates go on sale here this Friday, 4/19 at 10AM local time.

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