Column: [Can't Make A Living] – Perseverance Pt.3: Bob’s The Teacher
- Marc Woodworth quoting Robert Griffin in 33 1/3 No. 38: Bee Thousand
Once upon a time it was nearly impossible to make a commercially viable album without using a proper recording studio and that meant money. Yes, a band like the Rolling Stones could rent a villa in the south of France and park their mobile recording truck outside to make Exile on Main St (1972). John Lennon recorded Imagine (1971) in his “home studio” at Tittenhurst Park, UK (which was a fully staffed and equipped facility). Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes (1975) were recorded in a house famously known as Big Pink, but the original recordings (done on minimal but professional equipment and intended only as demos) were later “cleaned up” with overdubs added in a studio.
It seems musicians wanted to make records at home, but it required lots of money and star power. Then in 1979, all that changed when TASCAM debuted their latest gadget: the Portastudio 144. An affordable and compact “all-in-one” four-track recording studio, this device allowed musicians (or anyone) to make pretty decent recordings at home (or anywhere).
The first notable album made on a Portastudio was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska (1982), which validated the emerging DIY “home recording” scene. Add to this mix a new breed of American post-punk bands who embraced the low cost, “lo-fi” four-track sound, plus all the affordable “project studios” cropping up as a result of new and cheap prosumer recording equipment and you might understand how a rock-obsessed middle-school teacher from Dayton, Ohio got the idea to start making and releasing his own records.
Formed in 1983, GUIDED BY VOICES is still considered one of the most exciting indie rock bands in music history. The “early period” GBV records were all lo-fi, limited edition, hand-made affairs self-financed by leader/frontman, Robert Pollard. All the members of the band held down various day jobs and as the job demands changed and members quit, Pollard would add new members and soldier on.
Although rare then, early GBV is the very model of an indie rock band in this day and age. But by 1992, Pollard had enough.
Meant to be the last GBV album, Propeller (1992) represented a turning point for Pollard. This fifth GBV album was meant to be a last hurrah, a great and final farewell to music, which after nine years amounted to obscurity and mounting debt.
Of course, history would show that Propeller was actually the beginning of GBV as most of us know it. Propeller was the album that allowed GBV to finally discover their audience, which at first consisted of touring indie musicians like REM and SONIC YOUTH who rolled through the Dayton club scene (part of the “college rock” circuit).
Not long after its release, Propeller garnered GBV some of their first major press coverage and brought them to the attention of Scat Records (part of Matador Records) who offered them a recording deal.
This taste of success was enough to sustain Pollard and company for a few more years, allowing the band to record Bee Thousand (1994) on Matador Records. Considered by many critics to be their seminal work, Bee Thousand allowed Robert Pollard and the remaining band to finally quit their day jobs.
GBV were on their way to becoming legends.
Next Up >> Perseverance Part 4: The Weird World of Jandek