When Guided by Voices blew up in 1994 they arrived with a full-fledged mythology. Here was a band full of middle-aged guys that had been playing together in obscurity for a decade, who had a half-dozen albums and several EPs under its name, with a distinct aesthetic both sonically and visually, and who embraced classic rock star abandon in a way that was modest and outlandish, tongue-in-cheek yet still pretty god-damned earnest. If they came around today people would probably say they were classic rock cosplayers, only with the songs and stage presence to back that up, and that’s always been a large part of their appeal for their fan base—which is (now) similarly middle-aged, similarly middle class, and with similar rock star fantasies. Guided by Voices makes albums that brought the best of classic rock and underground rock together, simultaneously channeling the Stones, the Who, Wire, Pere Ubu, college radio and AM pop, often all together in a single song.
One of the things that helped create that legend was Banks Tarver’s documentary short Watch Me Jumpstart. This 40-minute film beautifully depicts the essence of the band and the long-gestating rock star dreams that inspired its leader Robert Pollard, capturing the moment when they started to get national acclaim after years of plowing through, unloved and undiscovered, in Dayton, Ohio. Finished in 1995, and airing sporadically in film festivals and local screenings before being released officially by Matador Records in 1998, Watch Me Jumpstart was a pivotal piece of building GBV’s fanatic following, and you can now watch it for free on YouTube. Matador uploaded it to their channel today in connection to the upcoming 25th anniversary reissue of the brilliant album Alien Lanes. If you’re a GBV fan, you’re probably already watching it again.
The Alien Lanes is part of a new line of reissues from Matador, called Revisionist History, which will focus on some of the best and most beloved albums from the label’s history. In addition to Guided by Voices, expect reissues of Yo La Tengo’s Electro-Pura, Chavez’s Gone Glimmering, Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, Bailter Space’s overlooked classic Wammo, and the prog-pop majesty of Mary Timony’s Mountains.
You can watch Watch Me Jumpstart below, and underneath that you can find a statement Matador released from Robert Pollard about Alien Lanes.
We were fearless at the time we recorded Alien Lanes. That’s why it bristles with insane energy and confidence. We were still riding the high accolades of Bee Thousand and probably should have succumbed to the critical pressure of a worthy follow-up. Instead we had, in our megalomaniacal view, mastered the instant gratification machine known as the 4-track and began recording song after song with titles like “Cuddling Bozo’s Octopus,” “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” “Pimple Zoo” and “After the Quake (Let’s Bake a Cake).”
The door had been opened for us to throw out as many weird ass ideas as we were capable of and we did. We even thought we were starting to look cooler and decided cool enough to have the entire back cover be a photograph of us in the basement looking pseudo intellectually laid back and stoned with long hair, stars and stripe gym shoes and a box of Tide in the background.
Our friend Kim thought the album was too bombastic. Too frenetic and difficult to digest. I agreed. We were proud to be putting out our first album on Matador and cock strutted accordingly. It cost us $10 to make. It’s worth a million. I personally think it’s better than B-1000 (but not by much). There are two different camps of GBV fans to argue and debate.
God bless 1995 and open hearted record labels like Matador (and Scat before them) for allowing bands like us, with the preferred limited resources, to remove the constraints and pre-conceived notions of the more industry-minded constituents who would have much preferred we destroy the cassette master of Alien Lanes in the better interest of sound manufacturing and what’s more agriculturally consumable. It’s better to leave the farm than to continue plodding through the cow shit.