Robert Pollard and Todd Tobias talk Ataxia.
BY BRIAN STAKER
Circus Devils is one of the
myriad ways Robert Pollard has kept busy since Guided By Voices closed up shop
on the last night of 2004. Psychedelic in the best sense of the word, Ataxia (Ipecac Records), the latest manifestation of the minds of Pollard and
cohorts Todd and Tim Tobias, is their most condensed yet stylistically
comprehensive collection, ranging from the primal, rhythmic urges of “Get Me
Extra” to the sublime harp of the title track. Released digitally at RoberPollard.net
and CircusDevils.com this Halloween, Pollard’s fifty-first birthday and at
retail this week, it’s the perfect accompaniment to whatever goes bump in your
Check the videos for “Get Me
Extra” and “Eye Razors” that follow this interview, too!
BLURT: How did the collaboration process between the
two of you change for the new album?
Robert Pollard: The process is the same with each album. Todd sends me a batch of forty or
fifty instrumentals and I knock it down to an album’s worth. We’ve gotten
really comfortable with this process.
Todd Tobias: The only difference is the amount of material. I sent Bob eighty tracks, and I
can never tell which ones he’ll like; it’s his intuition. And he showed me the
title collage before I submitted tracks.
RP: It takes
less time in the planning and recording process and we get better results. It
really is a symbiotic relationship and it seems to improve with each record.
always exciting for me, because when I hear my songs with his vocals, it’s like
he’s bringing the song to life. That excitement keeps us working together.
BLURT: Why the title Ataxia‘ How does the music depict or discuss any meanings of the
word, including lack of coordination, gross motor skills, and
TT: It was
the title of Bob’s collage, but as a theme it’s not obvious but subtle. It’s
that moment of paralysis on waking when you’re aware but can’t control your
body to get out of bed. The record could be what happens during that
half-dream, half-wakefulness, those hallucinatory moments.
RP: Originally, I chose the title because, as you know, some of Todd’s atmospheres
can be a bit fright-inducing. You know, make you lose control. Ataxia. But
then I like the pun, because it rocks. It “Attacks ya.”
BLURT: How did the Circus Devils’
particular mix of absurd humor and dark foreboding play out in this
RP: It just
always does. It’s the nature of the Circus Devil. He’s prankish. Impish. Funny
and dark. It’s the combination of Tim and Todd’s songs, Todd’s eerie production
and my crazy ass lyrics and ridiculous vocal deliveries.
measure of humor versus darkness is different with each record. The overall
mood here is pushed toward the scary, but with some fun tracks like “Get Me
Extra.” We like to mix things up.
BLURT: How did the videos for “I Razors” and “Get Me
Extra” come about; what was each of your contributions to the making of
RP: I had
nothing to do with them. It’s Todd and his circle of crazy northern Ohioans. I
think it’s in the water up in Akron.
You know, Devo, Bizarros, Tin Huey, Attic Trajedy. Akronites make great videos.
TT: I shoot
them myself, with a friend, Steve Five, from the band The Library’s On Fire.
He’s the actor in all of them.
BLURT: What projects are next on the
agenda for Circus Devils?
albums and videos! The next album in the can is called Gringo. It’s a departure. It’s mostly acoustic. It’s pretty but
it’s still weird.
mostly acoustic guitar, like some spaghetti western, but with the Circus Devils
BLURT: Bob, why is now the time to release the Town of Mirrors book of your collages? From your
considerable body of work, how did you select the images to include?
RP: I have a
fair amount of material now to choose from so I just selected all my
favorite collages and lyrical passages from all my Eat publications and GBV/Robert Pollard/collaboration projects. I
recombined them and grouped them into themes: machines, naked babies, cultures,
women, rooms, landscapes, abstractions, etc.
BLURT: Since Circus Devils is a kind of
psychedelic music, what if any use of psychedelics influenced the work?
TT: We don’t
use mind-altering substances of any kind in conjunction with our work. Personally,
that’s an avenue I’ve not yet explored, and I doubt if I ever
will. Having said that, I believe that having smokes and
listening to the records probably enhances the experience. In case you’re
wondering why I don’t want to use drugs while writing, I haven’t found the need
to use them. I’m easily mesmerized by music while I’m working on it. It’s
like following an elf into the forest. The further I go, the more I want
to keep going and get lost and see what I can find. Sometimes it’s not an
elf, but more like a Sasquatch.
RP: It’s all
natural. It’s toasted.