08th Oct2009

Spiral Stairs: The Interview

by Todd

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During the 90′s Pavement were truly the kings of the alternative world. The announcement that they would reform in 2010 has created a reaction, greater than even they could have expected. All of this coincides with the release of a new solo record by Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg (aka Spiral Stairs) on Matador. We were fortunate to get Scott to talk to us about the Pavement reunion, the possibility of a new Pavement record and our mutual fondness for Australian Rules Football.

TDOA: I really like the new album. When you get solo records from someone who was in a band you loved, you always worry if it’ll be good. I was so happy to hear what a great record you’ve made.

SS: Thanks man, I’m pretty proud of it. I’ve worked pretty hard on it and it took quite a while for it to come to fruituion. I just got back in the country from Australia and finally got to see a finished copy

TDOA: You’re talking about moving to Austrailia aren’t you?

SS: Yeah, I’m getting married to a girl from Australia and we were going to move in the new year, but the Pavement reunion is going to take precedent and push things back. But the plan is to move down to Melborne and take a new step in life.

TDOA: The Pavement reunion isn’t going to push the wedding back is it? Eek!

SS: No, we’re getting married in March and actually the first Pavement shows are going to be in Australia about a week after the wedding.

TDOA: What drew you to Australia?

SS: Pavement toured there a lot back in the old days and then after the first two Preston (Preston School of Industry) records we toured there. I made some really good friends down there, particularly in Melbourne and started going back a lot. It’s a really great cosmopolitan city and is kind of the best of a lot of other cities like Chicago, San Francisco and Paris. And then you’ve got the world’s weirdest sports.

TDOA; I love Australian Rules Football.

SS: Dude, I just got back from the Grand Final. The team my friend was cheering for lost in the last five minutes, it was terrible. Sports there, reminds me of a time when sports were really pure and not corporate.

TDOA: I read an interview where you said that in the past 5 years, you weren’t sure you wanted to make music anymore. Why did you feel that way?

SS: I went through a divorce and after that I just spent a few years feeling like music wasn’t saving me. The woman I was married to was with me for all of the Pavement and Preston years and I didn’t really want to go that way. Music wasn’t really saving me. But then I started figuring things out and listening to music again. It made me want to get back into it and chronicle what I had just been through. I was listening to a lot of old records, where people who were my age were in similar places in their careers. I listened to a lot of Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and Richard Thompson.

TDOA: I’m a big fan of Richard Thompson’s ‘Shoot Out The Lights”….

SS: That was my original intention. I thought, I want to make the Shoot Out The Lights for my generation. I didn’t realize it until I started singing the lyrics. I always do the singing last and I kind of got out this emotional baggage.

TDOA: I think of Pavement and Preston as being pretty light-hearted, but this is pretty dark.

SS: I think you’re right. I don’t think I’d really found my voice before this. In Pavement, I didn’t really care about writing songs. It was more about just being a part of the band. This feels like it’s more “me”.

TDOA: How did songwriting work in Pavement?

SS: We always had a riff and just built around it. Malkmus wrote so much and was a better songwriter towards the end than I was.

TDOA: You’ve been on Matador essentially your entire career. What makes you want to stay with the same label?

SS: They’re just great people and the three main guys are still there after all this time. We feel like we have some hands-on people there who like us. I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t putting out records with them. They’ve always been supportive and would do anything for us.

TDOA: Can you tell me about the genesis of the Ashod Simonian album cover?

SS: Ashod played with Preston and plays on this record. He put an a book of polaroids a couple of years ago called, Real Fun. I asked him to do the cover art and I asked him if we could use the raccoon picture. I wanted a strange cover that would kind of shock people. His book is really great.

TDOA: Is there a deeper message? (laughing) Are we supposed to think that you’re portraying a dead raccoon?

SS: (laughing) It definitely portrays a couple of years of my life where I was boozing it up and partying and it was kind of exhausting. But those days are over!

TDOA: I’m sure you realize interviewers are going to ask about Pavement. Since you’re trying to focus on publicizing a new album, does that frustrate you or do you see it as another mechanism of making people aware of your work?

SS: I think it all goes hand in hand. I knew the Pavement thing would be pretty big, but I didn’t realize it was going to be this big. I don’t’ feel like it’s overshadowing my solo record, but I’m probably not going to be able to tour as much as I would have. That’s ok there’s other ways to publicize the record.

TDOA: Do you feel a simpatico with the members of Preston School of Industry that’s different that the feeling you had with the guys in Pavement?

SS: With Pavement, we basically grew up together. We were five guys who did everything together. Preston was a bunch of guys who helped me out and did a great job.

TDOA: Preston School of Industry and Pavement always had pretty light-hearted videos. How much input did you have in creating that feeling? How do you feel about making videos?

SS: We did one for Cold Change which should be out any day and then we did one for Stolen Pills which Chris from Preston did. He’s a director of photography in L.A.. The Stolen Pills video is pretty good. It has the raccoon in it.

TDOA: Excellent, the raccoon theme continues! You’ve got to have a raccoon on the tour shirt, right?

SS: That’s right, we’ve got to have a shirt! We didn’t make any tour shirts!

TDOA: I saw a couple of shows towards the end of the last Pavement tour and it really looked like you guys weren’t having as much fun as you did during the early tours. Is that fair and how much of it was a result of Stephen’s unhappiness?

SS: We had fun most of the time. It was a lot of work. We were grinders and played anywhere, anytime. We got really good as a band and were able to jam out our songs. We just had fun with what we did. There were some days where people weren’t happy, but overall, people were happy to be in the band.

TDOA: I’ve read a few quotes from members of Pavement, warning that Pavement isn’t reforming, you’re just going to play a few shows. Some bands say this because they want to see how the chemistry is before they commit to anything. Is that the case here or is it impossible to imagine recording a new Pavement record?

SS: I can’t say it’s impossible, but that is what we were thinking. Let’s see how it goes and if we’re having a good time after all this touring then we’ll revisit it. I’d love to record a new Pavement record. I think after all these years and the solo records, it would be interesting to get back together and put together a record.

TDOA: When I interviewed Will Sergeant of Echo and the Bunnymen, he talked about the concerns they had when they recorded a new record and the impact on their legacy. Would you be at all concerned about the impact a new record might have on the legacy of Pavement?

SS: Not really. I bet that the Bunnymen didn’t worry about it the first time they got back together to record. It’s after the 3rd or 4th record that you’d probably worry about something like that. They (the Bunnymen) were my favorite band and they made me want to play music. I haven’t heard the new record, but I hope they’re having a good time.

To pre-order the new Spiral Stairs record, click on the link! The Real Feel

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