Fans of both could tell you that these bands have a history together. Guided By Voices and Superchunk have been performing with each other since the mid-'90s. The two nearly toured Australia together during this time period, but Guided By Voices couldn't oblige. From this, a self-titled, now-hard-to-find, split EP was released (Fellaheen, 1996). Over the years, Pollard, McCaughan and their bandmates have shared a friendship and mutual admiration for each other's music. Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster even sat in one night last year for Jon McCann (recuperating from a broken hand) on the night Guided By Voices opened for the "Green Album"-touring Weezer.
The musical partnership between Pollard and McCaughan had its origin on December 31, 2000, in Chapel Hill, N.C., the latter's base of operations. Guided By Voices and Superchunk co-headlined a New Year's Eve bash at the Cat's Cradle, a live music club there.
The two discussed working on a project for Pollard's Fading Captain Series imprint, his method of releasing the large amount of music not wanted by TVT Records for a Guided By Voices LP. Pollard would put his lyrics and vocal melodies over McCaughan's instrumentals. This approach has been the modus operandi for many of the recent Fading Captain Series releases.
Mid-2001 arrived bearing new albums from both Guided By Voices and Superchunk: the poppy, metallic Isolation Drills (TVT, 2001); and the indie, dynamic Here's To Shutting Up (Merge, 2001). Both would yield moderate sales and excellent press. Meanwhile, McCaughan would complete the 12 instrumentals to be given to Pollard. The tape exchange happened in late July 2001, when Guided By Voices and Superchunk found themselves together again. This time it was in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the multi-act Siren Fest held at Coney Island. Pollard, between touring abroad and recording an all-new Guided By Voices LP, gave McCaughan's tape enthusiastic listens.
In a telephone interview last week, Pollard said his challenge was matching the two personalities of his vocals and McCaughan's music. While not the mad, cyclothymic attack that is Circus Devils' Ringworm Interiors (Recordhead/Rockathon, 2001), a Fading Captain Series release from late last year, Calling Zero is diverse.
An American psychedelic '60s Punk Rock organ blares ("Radical Girl"). A piano tink-tinks ("Red Hot Halos"). A drum machine shimmies ("Again The Waterloo"). An electric guitar choogles ("Lifetime For The Mavericks"). An early-electronic keyboard blips and sustains ("Ironrose Worm"). A cupped trumpet cries ("Dumbluck Systems Stormfront"). You'll hear a lot of variation. What coheres these 12 tracks are the familiar vocals. Written mostly in the studio and sung by Pollard, these were done at Cro-Magnon Studios in Pollard's native Dayton, Ohio, by another long-time pal, Ultra Vega's John Shough. The melodies stick each song together, and the record remains united.
In another interview McCaughan said it wasn't difficult to make a record this way. Remember, modern rockers: On the side, he's composing instrumentals and film scores under the work name Portastatic. Sending a tape back and forth wasn't the most organic way to make an album. But it certainly didn't hurt the end result.
When questioned if Pollard and/or Guided By Voices might return the favor and record something for Merge Records, the label run by McCaughan and his bandmate, Laura Balance, he laughs that he'll find a way of "extracting retribution."
This combo works. Pollard is, to paraphrase the March 2001 issue of Vanity Fair, still his usual talking-like-a-truck-driver-and-singing-like-a-Beatle self. McCaughan is just a nimble musician. Go Back Snowball's Calling Zero holds-up well next to anything in your combined Guided By Voices/Superchunk discography. Highlights: Check the anthemic "Never Forget Where You Get Them" and the elegiac "It Is Divine."
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