2006_11_arts_pollard.jpgMaybe it was recording and releasing four albums in the late 80s and early 90s while playing no shows. Perhaps it was signing to 1995's hottest indie label, Matador, as a 37 year-old Dayton inhabitant who refused to move to New York or another major media center. Or the fact that, despite commonly held opinion that prohibits giving fans too much of what labels think they want, Robert Pollard has been self-releasing LPs, EPs and singles in addition to his "normal" releases for over a decade.

Leave it to Pollard, then, to flaunt convention even with his high profile releases. Normal Happiness, released last month on Merge, is his second release on that label in less than a year. Completely different from last January's double album prog attack From A Compound Eye, Normal Happiness consists of sixteen short and sparkling pop jewels, each taking advantage of Pollard's ability to create captivating songs via melodies that live happily outside the mainstream.

Robert Pollard plays Bowery Ballroom tonight, you can buy tickets here.

This interview is being conducted via email, yet popular belief holds that you don't do "computer stuff". What's the deal? Is this really you typing?
I occasionally do computer stuff through my girlfriend Sarah's email address and I also order things on half.com and E-bay. These are my words. I will have Sarah type them.

As he has on previous albums, producer Todd Tobias plays a key role on Normal Happiness. Clearly, you are happy with what the collaboration has produced on previous albums such as Fiction Man and From A Compound Eye. Would you ever consider using your current live band in the studio, or do you prefer to keep the recording process and the live performance experience separate?
Right now I think the combinations have been very successful, by my standards anyway. It's hard to top Todd's creative energy in every aspect of the recording process. He's a very talented musician, but so are the guys in the live line-up so doing a studio album with them is not entirely out of the question.

Normal Happiness is a collection of twisted, two-minute pop gems. Are these songs that you wrote over time, saving them for a specific album? Or did you write these songs after deciding to make Normal Happiness?
I wrote a total of 47 songs and it just so happened that my favorite ones happened to be the poppier ones and that tone or attitude carried over into the recording process itself. I didn't feel the final product was overly "sappy" so I decided to call it "Normal Happiness". Not too heavy and not light.

Guided By Voices was always a Robert Pollard vehicle, but retiring a respected, proven brand name can be risky. As a solo artist, do you feel that you've got something to prove?
I don't think I have anything to prove other than the fact that I'm not going away. I'm going to continue to attempt to make interesting albums and improve my songwriting craft.

The shows with your new band The Ascended Masters are focused and tight, rarely teetering on the edge as many GBV shows did. Is this the result of a new band finding its voice, or a feel that was intended from the start?
It's the result of a totally different combination of personalities. A certain amount of "sloppiness" had come to be accepted or tolerated from GBV line-ups. I think we drank a bit more and I was the primary role model. The new line-up don't necessarily follow my lead quite as enthusiastically. At least not as consistantly.

New York City has always been a special place for you - GBV played one of its first shows outside of Dayton here (as well as three of its final shows ever), longtime GBV label Matador is here, and you even considered moving here. So... are NYC shows special, or a major pain in the butt?
I have considered moving to NYC. I love it and I've spent almost a month at a time during various recording projects (TVT years). I'm usually ready to leave after that amount of time though. I'm kind of a suburban boy. I like to be close to the city but not too close. NYC is about a 10 hr. drive, a 1 1/2 hr. flight so I come there often. The crowds are fantastic and I consider it to be my home as far as playing live is concerned. New York and maybe Chicago or D.C..

The From A Compound Eye Tour this past spring saw several songs from GBV's 1997 classic Mag Earwhig! performed live, some of which hadn't been performed in years. Are there similar surprises in store for this tour?
2006 will be the 10th anniversary of "Under the Bushes Under the Stars", so we'll play 3 or 4 songs from that album that we've never ever played live. We're also playing 7 songs from my next album.

Over the past two years you've been auctioning off loads of rare GBV vinyl, CDs, posters, etc on eBay. Is it refreshing to unload so much of your past?
Well, other people deserve to have some of the extra stuff I have. It also helps pay the bills, you know. I'm starting to sell my collages the way other artists sell their art.

2006 has seen a double LP of prog-rock, a collection of short pop tunes (From A Compound Eye and Normal Happiness respectively, both on Merge), an album with Tommy Keene as The Keene Brothers (Blues and Boogie Shoes), a collaboration with former GBV bassist Chris Slusarenko (The Takeovers) and more; a typical year for Robert Pollard. What's coming up in 2007?
A double CD "Best Of" Fading Captain Series wrap up, a double album by the Circus Devils "Sgt. Disco", another Take Overs album called "Bad Football", a second comedy album (LP only) "Asshole 2 - Meet the King", an LP only Acid Ranch album called "The Great Houdini wasn't so Great" and my next solo album "Silverfish Trivia". What would you expect?

If GBV can at all be considered a poppier, lo-fi, American Genesis, are you a poppier, lo-fi, American Phil Collins?
No, I'm more a Peter Gabriel

You are the only pitcher in Wright State history to throw a no-hitter. You grew up with a basketball hoop outside. Which indie rockers, past or present, would you want on your basketball team?
My brother Jim, a couple of guys from Polvo, Ron House and Mike Hummell. We'll throw Thurston Moore in there and tell him to get his hands up.

You are notorious for being brutally honest in your assesments of contemporaries (a certain mop-haired, Omaha songwriter, for example); is there an artist you have heard recently that you you've truly enjoyed?
When I go off on someone at a show it's usually half out of jest or because of who they're dating. You also have to sell more records than I do. I like the High Strung, Sea Change, Starling Electric, and Kings of Leon.

You release many of your projects on your own Fading Captain Series label. Is self-released music becoming more ubiquitous? Necessary? If so, is this a good thing?
I wouldn't say it's becoming more ubiquitous or even more necessary but I would say it's a good thing.

Interview conducted by Conrad Richard.