I had been waiting around for about a half an hour, hoping I might have a chance to talk to the fine young gentlemen of Pavement, but little did I know that drummer Steve West would invite me into their dressing room where he, guitarist Spiral Stairs and (for a few moments) Mark Ibold and Bob Nastanovich would hold court and allow veritable pearls of wisdom to issue forth. Yahoo! During the course of the interview, Silkworm was sound checking, so there may be words missing due to the clamor outside. We begin with Steve West ranting about something, most likely the band's lodgings for that evening. Photos courtesy of Matador Records.
Steve: The reservation is tonight for the place, but it better be close by. We're leaving tomorrow at 8:30, all right?
Spiral: He's got this on tape.
SW: Tomorrow at 8:30 so we can get to the movie. I don't know why we have to go to this damn movie.
Okay, first things first. Name, age, rank, serial number, everything required by the Geneva Convention.
SW: West, and I'm 29. Just turned, so I'm on the younger side of 29 and I bang the shit out of drums and get angry at people and very friendly.
SS: Spiral Stairs, 29, approaching ...
SS: The age when my hair is going to start falling out.
SW: Wow. Coming to terms.
SS: I play guitar and I love the military.
Everybody loves the military.
SW: When there's a war.
It's all about America, that's all I'm saying. Now, it's four albums into your career, if you count that Drag City thing, so it's kind of hard to ask questions that haven't been asked.
One of the main things that I was curious about, you take "Here" off the first album, "AT & T" off "Wowee Zowee," most of the stuff on "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain," you take any of these songs and they have really beautiful melodies which you turn around and mess up with noise. Why?
SW: I didn't hear the last part. I'm sorry.
You have really beautiful melodies in songs and you turn around and mess them up with distortion and noise and effects pedals.
SW: Well, we do that because it makes it more interesting for us. If we write these songs with just the melody and everything, I think it would be boring. Yeah. Hey, we're doing an interview here, Mark.
Mark: Hey, what should we do for food?
SW: I don't know.
SS: Yeah, so I understand what you're saying. In the early days, we tried consciously to do that. We'd get a melody and bury it underneath everything, all those guitars, like the Jesus and Mary Chain or something, just do it in that style. It's kind of strange, the way a lot of that is in these later records.
It seems like your sound has been getting less and less noisy, almost like a process of maturation.
SS: Yeah, to a certain extent. The records we're listening to are more maybe pop-oriented, you know, in that vein of music. We're trying to build, to go from bare minimums to expand it out to get a new sound. We don't know what that is yet, but we're trying new sounds. Every time we record a song, we try something new.
One of the things I always liked about your music was this sense of playfulness about it. It's not like you're trying to play a joke on people, it's just fun.
SS: It's because we have fun doing it and that comes across. I mean, I hope it comes across. I think music should be that way, it should be fun, it should be humorous sometimes. We have serious songs too, but we get a bad rap sometimes for being those wacky guys from Pavement, but that's more because of our live personas.
Especially after that Fiz interview.
SS: Yeah, that's right. That was a long time ago.
Where was that? Pixieland?
What was that like, hanging around and sitting on these little dwarves and stuff? Do you think that kind of captures the music in some ways?
SS: A little bit. It's like a place we used to go when we were kids and we haven't been there since we were kids, so we were more in awe of that. I wasn't thinking about music then. I guess you can think of us like that. We're like fairies. Steve West is really into fairies.
SW: Oh yeah. I used to ride one in to New York City every day from Staten Island.
SW: You ever ridden the Staten Island Ferry? It's the only one that's not ...
Here we go with the puns.
SS: The what? The puns?
SW: Oh, I'm sorry. Were you guys talking about different kinds of ferries?
We were talking about Pixieland.
Fiz interviewed the band at Pixieland.
SW: Oh yeah. I wasn't involved with that there. I'm innocent, I'm innocent!
You weren't there, you have an alibi.
So what was it like to have the Wedding Present cover "Box Elder"?
SS: I don't know. It was kind of cool because we had just done that single and we had no idea who that band was or if anybody had even heard of us, so it was kind of weird for us. We were like, "Whoa, this is ..." ... whatever. You know? They did an all right job, I guess. We were pretty isolated when we first started. It was more for, like, our friends and stuff than anyone else. We just said, "Let's put this out." We never thought anybody would like it. Now, here we are in this really beautiful dressing room.
SW: Extra-large party!
Do you think people analyze your music too much?
SS: Yeah, I think they do.
SW: They analyze it way too much.
There's a piece in Tuba Frenzy and the line that stuck out most for me was, "How does one rock after Pavement?"
SS: Very easily.
SW: That's way too much.
SS: Go to a Jesus Lizard concert.
SW: Silkworm. Go see Silkworm.
SS: They very definitely analyze it too much. I mean, I can see really being a fan of a band and thinking they're important and stuff, but I really don't analyze their lyrics and what type of people they are. That's just going too far. If you enjoy it, if you get, like, "Wow, what's that guy saying?", you know, that's, you know, but don't ...
SW: If you come to me with that shit, I'll knock your fucking block off! You better ax that from that. I don't want to see that in print. That's off the record. No, I'm joking.
SS: I thought you were part of this interview.
SW: I am.
He's throwing in his four cents.
SW: I just bring them in and hand them over to the Berg.
This is something that has alternately bugged me and intrigued me. The sense I've always gotten from the band is that half the lyrics ... uh oh, I'm on tape now. The sense I've always gotten is that the lyrics are playful as much as they are anything else.
SW: That's true.
And yet all these people seem to sit around, and spend days and hours and weeks and months, writing these long, drawn-out, in-depth articles about the band in which they try to figure out whether Pavement is the decline or rise of Western Civilization.
SW: I figure that those people are of a certain amount of people in the world that just have a lot of time on their hands and instead of sitting around on the couch and watching TV, or doing something worthwhile, they decide to exercise their noggins and figure out a puzzle which, the puzzle, there's no real patented answer. The words are there for melody and for fun, as well as to get whatever personal meaning you can get out of it, and whoever wrote it. It's not all one thing where there's one spot that you can figure out and go, "Hey, I found the treasure!"
So it's like they're trying to solve a Zen question or something.
SW: Right. It's impossible. That was good.
Now, what's the purpose of this tape recorder?
SW: Can you repeat that again please?
What's the purpose of this tape recorder thing?
SW: It's very important to get a few minutes of the backstage, pre-show spirit going and I'm actually going to take this tape and send it to my loved one back home so that she knows what's going on on tour while I'm rocking around the world.
SS: Steve West, the demented version of what happens on tour. Hey West, did you get that last night? "By the way, what's your name?"
SW: I didn't get that on tape.
SS: What's your name?
MI: Are you familiar with this neighborhood?
MI: Is there a fish taco place or something like that?
[Here, I gave Mark directions to Rubio's. We resume with more precise stuff.]
MI: Just fish tacos?
You can get fish tacos, burritos, chips, nachos.
SW: Could you bring me a cheeseburger and a chicken burrito?
SS: Why don't we just all go? If you wait a little bit, I'll go with you.
Bob: Can I come in?
SS: Come on in.
SW: State your name and purpose.
BN: I felt lonely out there. My name's Carl Sandoval.
SS: Hey Carl, how you doing? It's good to see you back.
SW: One more question, then we have to get on to this other interview.
In one word, describe the raison d'etre of Pavement.
SW: The what?
What is the band's reason to be in one word?
SS: One word, what is the reason of Pavement? Children. The children is the answer.
SW: Maybe even better would be kids. There's many answers because you have kids who are young and you're making music that's about music and about life for those kids to listen to. I'm planning on having kids and I have to support them somehow, so if I sell some records to some kids, I can have some kids.
You can't beat that.
SW: Yeah. If you like goats, too, that's another name for kids.
Well if you're into that sort of thing.
SW: So maybe the goats, that's Satanic. That's another Satanic reference for those guys who are trying to figure out and analyze things.
Okay. So now Pavement will be branded as a bunch of indie-rock Satanists?
SW: There you go.
Sort of like Mephiskapheles, only with less of a horn section.
SW: There you go. You can start it. Lots more accurate and a Moog.
Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.
SW: Yeah, I hope it wasn't too crazy. We're a little dizzy, we haven't really slept in three days.
Hey, that's okay.
SW: No problems.
SS: Thanks. It's weird to talk to someone who actually knows a lot about your band. We haven't talked to someone who personally knows much about the band.
Actually, I have all four of the albums sitting in my bag. I was sitting at my office earlier, regaling everyone with "Box Elder" at 2,700 decibels and people were screaming "Turn that shit off!" Well, thanks for the time.
SS: Okay, no problem.