Endurance Like the Liberty Bell

Robert Pollard

The last post I wrote was about Crack-Up, a Fleet Foxes album that came out six years after the one before it. I mentioned that I applauded lead singer Robin Pecknold for making a decision to quit music for a while and returning with a renewed sense of himself. That approach allowed him to create what I think is his best album.

Looking for the opposite approach to a six-year hiatus? Check out Robert Pollard.

Robert Pollard is the lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter of a band called Guided By Voices. Pollard releases a lot of music. That’s actually a gross understatement. Guided By Voices’ debut album was released in 1987. Since that time, the band has released about 45 albums, and each album averages about 15-20 songs. So let’s say Guided By Voices has released over 800 songs on studio albums since 1987. But that’s not all! Pollard also releases music under his own name. Robert Pollard the solo act has released roughly 25 albums since the mid-1990s. Those albums average around 15-20 songs, as well. So let’s say Robert Pollard has released about 400 songs as Robert Pollard and about 800 as Guided By Voices. That’s 1,200 songs just on the studio albums alone. Then there’s all the EPs, the non-album singles, and the endless list of bands with which Pollard plays on a regular basis. It’s staggering to think about.

Unsurprisingly, Pollard isn’t really a meticulous guy. A lot of his songs are under 2 minutes long. On the most famous Guided By Voices album, Bee Thousand, six of the songs are under a minute-and-a-half. It’s probably more accurate to call Pollard’s songs ideas. They’re just musical ideas, and he presents them to his audience for as long as he feels like they’re interesting.

And he doesn’t necessarily seem to care how well he presents his ideas. On the first Bee Thousand song, “Hardcore UFO’s,” the guitarist stops playing for about 10 seconds, and it’s definitely an accident. Maybe he dropped his pick or something, but there are ten seconds where there should be guitar and instead you just hear drums and tape hiss, until the guitarist resumes playing and the band pushes on to the end of the song. I don’t know many bands that would release a take like that, but for Pollard it was good enough.

It’s hard not to respect a musician who places such little importance on presentation. I hope it doesn’t sound like I think Pollard is a lazy songwriter, because the fact is I think the opposite. I think Pollard is so confident in his songwriting skills, and so passionate about the idea of making music, that he simply doesn’t care about the imperfections in song structure and musicianship that most other people care about. The ideas are what he wants to present to people.

One of the coolest things about music is that both Pecknold and Pollard entertain me to no end. Two guys with seemingly opposite approaches to songwriting achieve essentially the same result. Their songs stick in my head and make me happy that I have the ability to hear.

Both these guys clearly love making music. Pollard clearly loves making music or else he wouldn’t write 1,200 songs. Pecknold clearly loves making music or else he wouldn’t put so much effort and time into each one of his slightly fewer than 1,200 songs.

I think the takeaway from Pollard and Pecknold is just that: the only pre-requisite for making good music, or good anything really, is to truly like doing it.

Process be damned.

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