Gearing up for what will be his last tour with the band that won him his unlikely fame, Robert Pollard is in a reflective mood. He's calling from the house he's just bought in his native Dayton, Ohio, and the experience of moving all of his many things, his most obscure demo tapes, the memorabilia that serves as every GBV fan's own Holy Grail, has gotten him thinking.
"I've invented my own realm in music," he says with very little ego. "I started having recurring dreams about being the only person in this big record store in Cincinnati, and there would be racks of 45s and albums on the wall, fictitious records I'd made up in my dream. When I'd wake up and it wasn't there, I'd feel really frustrated. So I decided I'd just start making this shit up in reality, making album covers, writing songs, inventing pseudonyms and fictitious band names. When we were actually discovered, back in 1993, I had a stack of maybe 100 album covers that I'd designed, and I threw them all away because I was afraid someone would discover them and think I was completely out of my mind."
The laugh that accompanies this story is tinged with no little regret. Earlier this year, Pollard announced that Half Smiles of the Decomposed, Guided by Voices' 16th album, would also be their last, and that the loveably shambolic touring unit they'd become over the years would finally be retired.
"I wish I hadn't thrown that shit away," he rues. "I didn't realize that our hardcore fans really love the obscure stuff better. The crazier, the goofier, the... worse that it is, the better they seem to like it. I wish I'd kept that stuff, because it's going for a lot of money on eBay."
Like former GBV guitarist Tobin Sprout, Pollard has recently been making cash on the auction site, selling off prized GBV memorabilia like copies of the original run of their 1992 breakthrough album Propeller, each with its own individual, handmade sleeve.
"It had one of the covers I designed, I signed it and everything. I was asking $800 for it but I ended up getting $6,200," he marvels. "I got $115 for a copy of Sandbox [GBV's second LP], and I was kinda disappointed. To be disappointed about getting $115 for one record is ridiculous. It gives me a little bit of a sense of job security--if things don't go too well for me in the future, it's good to know there's going to be at least a thousand people who'll spend that kind of money on the shit that I do."
Don't mistake cynicism in Pollard's idle career-projection. As a rock fan, Bob's been the obsessive himself, and knows the exquisite pleasure of owning your favorite band's catalog in every available color of vinyl. But that same fandom Bob's grateful for also precipitated GBV's split.
"I've been trying to end it for a long time, since Propeller," he reveals. "The name was so established, it was difficult to progress, to take new directions. I was getting sick of it. I want to be able to put it to bed, and maybe return to it in 10 years and see if it really did mean anything."