555: Guided By Voices: “The Official Ironmen’s Rally Song”

Guest Author: Guided by Voices’ James Greer:

The fifth song on the album Under The Bushes, Under The Stars was originally intended for a concept album called The Power of Suck. That album was scrapped at some point for unimportant reasons (many Guided By Voices albums have been proposed and scrapped throughout the course of the band’s long history). Robert “Bob” Pollard, our singer/songwriter/gang leader, called “Official Ironmen” our “We Are The Champions,” though I never got that sense from the song but I’m just reporting what he said about the song, since his lyrics tend towards the oblique. One of the things people either love or hate about Bob’s lyrics is that you can interpret them any which way, and if you happen to be in Bob’s presence and are inclined to test your exegetical prowess, you will most likely receive a vigorous nod (repeated three times for effect) and a vehement affirmation that your interpretation is, in fact, correct. Which is as sure as sign as any that it is not correct. Also that you are most likely drunk. And that he certainly is.

We recorded the song in Memphis at Easley Studios. In fact it was one of only a handful of songs we recorded there before Bob got sick of being in the studio (I could be wrong, but I think we were there only three or four days), and decided he had to drive back to Dayton to watch his son Bryan‘s basketball game (in the long list of excuses people have given for cutting short a studio session, that may well be unique). We had spent a good part of the month of January 1995 rehearsing not just that song but a bunch of others, most of which were never recorded and now exist only as freely-circulated quasi-bootleg boombox demos (just Bob and guitar) or badly-dubbed versions of stuff we recorded with Steve Albini in Chicago over two days at the end of January (at least one of which ended up on UTBUTS). Bob left Easley so precipitously that we had nothing but very rough, almost unlistenable board mixes. I persuaded him later that spring to go into Refraze Studios in Dayton and at least mix a few of the songs for inclusion on what was then called… uh… I don’t remember.

Partly this was a selfish move: on the board mixes my bass parts were inaudible. A good example of an unmixed Easley song can be found on the EP we released after UTBUTS, in September 1996, called Sunfish Holy Breakfast. The song is “Cocksoldiers and Their Post-War Stubble” and even though my bass line is pretty much note-for-note the melody to the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” I do not think anyone will ever know. Well, anyone who doesn’t read this, anyway. The unmixed song were lumps of midrange – on a graphic equalizer the shape was not unlike the shape of Ohio, or perhaps a large round hill. In general, in graphic EQ terms, you want your song to look like a gently sloping valley. It therefore fell to me at Refraze to reshape the songs, and by so doing achieve at least some kind of separation between the different instruments. I don’t know if I did all that great a job, but I did my best.

The guitar solo in the break is by Tripp Lamkins of the late, great Memphis band The Grifters, with whom we had toured a great deal the year before, and members of whom would more than occasionally drop by the studio in Memphis. Though Bob, as usual during this period of the band, was the principal guitarist on the recorded versions of most everything we did, his confidence in his rock guitar solo ability was not great, and since Tripp was there, and was a great musician, Bob asked him to put down a solo, and he did, and it is (I think) suitably wonderful.

Matador picked the (re)mixed song as the first single off the record, which was eventually finished only after we came back from what seemed like a hellishly long (but was in fact only about a month) late summer European tour. Bob wrote most of what would become UTBUTS during the tour while the rest of us were asleep. We were already playing out a few of the new songs on the disastrous tour that fall with Urge Overkill that pretty much killed my interest in being in any kind of band ever again (I’ve since changed my mind, which I may have occasion to regret). The other songs (besides “Official Ironmen” and” Big Boring Wedding,” “Sheetkickers,” “Redmen and Their Wives,” and some others that ended up on at least the bonus UTBUTS tracks) we were playing regularly were “Office Of Hearts,” Burning Flag Birthday Suit,” “Rhine Jive Click,” and I forget what else.

I’ve always been fond of “Official Ironmen,” but it’s far from my favorite Guided By Voices song. This is probably due to the fact that whenever I hear it, I think mainly of how much work it was a) convincing Bob to mix the song and b) mixing it. Like everything else connected to Guided By Voices, actually playing the song, whether live or in the studio, was an unmitigated pleasure.

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