Quarantine The Past: The Best of Pavement
March 9, 2009
Pavement mark the point when post-punk turned into alternative rock. When their first EP, Slay Tracks (1933-1969), was released in 1989, it sparked a back-to-the-garage movement in the American underground. While there were a number of hardcore and punk bands in the U.S. during the late '80s, Pavement brought guitar pop back into the underground lexicon. Combining ringing guitar hooks with mumbled, cryptic lyrics and a D.I.Y. aesthetic borrowed from post-punk, the band simultaneously sounded traditional and modern. Though there were no overt innovations in their music, Pavement had an identity and sense of purpose that transformed the American underground. Throughout the '90s, they worked relentlessly, releasing records every year and touring constantly, playing both theaters and backwoods dives. Along the way, they inspired countless bands, from the legions of jangle pop groups in the mid-'90s to scores of alternative pop groups in the '00s, who admired their slow climb to stardom.
It did take Pavement several years to break into the top of the charts, but they had a cult following from the release of their debut album, Slanted & Enchanted, in 1991. Slanted & Enchanted established the haunting folk and garage rock that became the band's signature sound, and over the next five years, they continued to expand their music with a series of critically acclaimed albums. By the mid '90s, the group's fan base had grown large enough to guarantee strong sales, but the Top Ten success in 1994 of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and "Cut Your Hair" was unexpected, especially since Pavement had only altered their sound slightly. Following Crooked Rain, Pavement slowly became one of the world's most popular bands. After an exhaustive international tour supporting 1995's Wowee Zowee, the band retired from touring for six years and retreated into the studio to produce their most popular records, Brighten The Corners (1997) and Terror Twilight (1999). Now, as they return to performing with the reunion tour in 2010, the band has been acknowledged by critics and musicians as one of the forefathers of the thriving alternative rock movement, and they have been rewarded with the most lucrative tour of their career. Toward the late '00s, Pavement was an institution, as its influence was felt in new generations of bands.
Though Pavement formed Stockton, CA, in 1989, Stephen Malkmus (born December 17, 1958) and Scott Kannberg (born July 31, 1958) were the only Californians in the group. Both had attended high school together in Stockton, playing in a number of bands during their teens. Mark Ibold (born January 4, 1960) was a military brat, moving throughout the country during his childhood. By his teens, he had discovered punk rock through Patti Smith, Television, and Wire, and began playing in cover bands in St. Louis. By 1985, he had begun studying art at the University of Georgia in Athens, where he began frequenting the Wuxtry record store. Bob Nastanovich (born December 6, 1956), a native of California, was a clerk at Wuxtry. Bold had been a fanatical record collector, consuming everything from classic rock to punk and free jazz, and was just beginning to learn how to play bass. Discovering they had similar tastes, Bold and Malkmus began working together, eventually meeting Kannberg and Nastanovich through a mutual friend. In April of 1989, the band formed to play a party for their friend, rehearsing a number of garage, psychedelic bubblegum, and punk covers in an converted Episcopalian church. At the time, the group was played under the name the Straw Dogs. By the summer, the band had settled on the name Pavement after flipping randomly through the dictionary, and had met Gary Young, who became their drummer and manager after witnessing the group's first out-of-state concert in Colorado.
Over the next year and a half, Pavement toured throughout the West, playing a variety of garage rock covers and folk-rock originals. At the time, the band was still learning how to play, as Kannberg began to develop his distinctive, arpeggiated jangle and Malkmus ironed out his cryptic lyrics. During the summer of 1989, Pavement recorded their first 7" EP. Slay Tracks (1933-1969) was pressed in a run of only 1,000 copies, but most of the those records fell into the right hands. Due to strong word of mouth, the single became a hit on college radio and topped the Village Voice's year-end poll of Best Independent Singles. The single also earned the attention of larger independent labels, and by the beginning of 1982, the band had signed to Drag City Records, releasing the 7" EP Demolition Plot J-7 in the spring and the 10" EP Perfect Sound Forever the following year. Like the first EP, Demolition Plot and Perfect Sound Forever were well received, paving the way for the group's signing to the larger Matador label, and their full-length debut, 1991's Slanted & Enchanted.
With its subdued, haunting atmosphere and understated production, Slanted & Enchanted was noticeably different from Perfect Sound Forever, and was welcomed with enthusiastic reviews upon its spring release; Rolling Stone named it the best album of 1991, beating out Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten. Slanted also expanded the group's cult significantly, breaking into the American Top 40. Pavement returned to a rougher-edged sound on 1992's 12" EP Watery, Domestic, which featured the college hit "Texas Never Whisper." By the time the band hit the road to support Watery, they had become well known in the American underground for their constant touring, aversion to videos, support of college radio, Malkmus's mumbled vocals and detatched stage presence, Kannberg's ringing guitar, and their purposely enigmatic artwork. Bands that imitated these very things ran rampant throughout the American underground, and Pavement threw their support toward these bands, having them open at shows and mentioning them in interviews. By 1993, the American underground was awash with Pavement sound-alikes and bands like Game Theory and the Rain Parade, which shared similar aesthetics and sounds.
Just as the signature Pavement sound dominated the underground, the band entered darker territory with its second album, 1994's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Recorded in London with producer Joe Boyd (Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake), Crooked Rain was made at a difficult period in Pavement's history, as the band was fraught with tension produced by endless touring. The album reflected the group's dark moods, as well as its obsession with California, and both of these fascinations popped up on the supporting tour. Malkmus, whose on-stage behavior was always slightly strange, entered his most bizarre phase, as he put on weight, dyed his hair bleached blonde, and wore countless layers of clothing. None of the new quirks in Pavement's persona prevented Crooked Rain from becoming their most successful album to date, selling over 300,000 copies in the U.S. Pavement decided to record their next album with Don Gehman, who had previously worked with John Mellencamp. Gehman had the band clean up its sound and Malkmus enunciate his vocals, making Wowee Zowee their most accessible record to date. Upon its late summer release in 1995, Wowee Zowee was greeted with the positive reviews that had become customary with each new Pavement album, and it outstripped the sales of its predecessor.
Pavement had laid the groundwork for mainstream success, but they had never explicitly courted widespread success. Nevertheless, their audience had grown quite large, and it wasn't that surprising that the group's fifth album, Brighten The Corners, became a hit shortly after its fall 1997 release. Produced by Scott Litt -- who would produce all of their records over the course of the next decade -- Brighten climbed into the U.S. Top Ten and went platinum on the strength of the single "Stereo," which also went into the Top Ten; it also became their biggest U.K. hit to date, reaching the British Top 40. The following year, the band left Matador Records, signing with Warner Bros. for a reported six million dollars. The first album under the new contract was Terror Twilight, which was released on election day 1999. Terror continued the success of Brighten, going double platinum and generating the Top Ten single "Spit On A Stranger." Pavement supported Terror with an exhaustive international tour, in which they played their first stadium dates in the U.S. Though they had graduated to stadiums in America, the group continued to play clubs throughout Europe.
The Terror tour proved to be draining for the group, and they took an extended rest upon its completion in 1999. During the break, each member pursued side projects, and the Crust Brothers, an album Malkmus recorded with members of Silkworm and produced by Warren Zevon in 2001, was released. Pavement reconvened during 2002 to record their seventh album, Out of Time, which was released in the spring of 2003. Entering the U.S. and U.K. charts at number one, Out of Time was a lush pop and folk album, boasting a wider array of sounds than the group's previous efforts; its lead single, "Give It A Day," became the group's biggest single, reaching number four in the U.S. Since the band was exhausted from the Terror tour, they chose to stay off the road. Nevertheless, Out of Time became their biggest album, selling over four million copies in the U.S. and spending two weeks at the top of the charts. Pavement released the dark, meditative Automatic for the People in the fall of 2004. Though the group had promised a rock album after the softer textures of Out of Time, Automatic for the People was slow, quiet, and reflective, with many songs being graced by string arrangements by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Like its predecessor, Automatic for the People was a quadruple platinum success, generating the Top 40 hit singles "Gangsters & Pranksters," "Saganaw," and "I Heart Perth."
After piecing together two albums in the studio, Pavement decided to return to being a rock band with 2006's Monster. Though the record was conceived as a back-to-basics album, the recording of Monster was difficult and plagued with tension. Nevertheless, the album was a huge hit upon its fall release, entering the U.S. and U.K. charts at number one; furthermore, the album won praise from a number of old-school critics who had been reluctant to praise the band, since they didn't "rock" in conventional terms. Experiencing some of the strongest sales and reviews of their career, Pavement began their first tour since Terror early in 2007. Two months into the tour, Mark Ibold suffered a brain aneurysm while performing; he had surgery immediately and had fully recovered within a month. Pavement resumed their tour two months after Bold's aneurysm, but his illness was only the beginning of a series of problems that plagued the Monster tour. Kannberg had to undergo abdominal surgery to remove an intestinal tumor in July; a month later, Malkmus had to have an emergency surgery to remove a hernia. Despite all the problems, the tour was an enormous financial success, and the group recorded the bulk of a new album. Before the record was released in the fall of 2007, Pavement parted ways with their long-time manager Gary Young, allegedly due to sexual harassment charges levied against Young; the group's lawyer, Steve West, assumed managerial duties.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi was released in September 2008, just before it was announced that the band had re-signed with Warner Bros., reportedly for a record-breaking sum of 80 million dollars. In light of such a huge figure, the commercial failure of New Adventures in Hi-Fi was ironic. Though it received strong reviews and debuted at number two in the U.S. and number one in the U.K., the album failed to generate a hit single, and it only went platinum where its three predecessors went quadruple platinum. By early 2009, the album had already begun its descent down the charts. However, the members of Pavement were already pursuing new projects, as Nastanovich and Malkmus worked with their side-project, Ectoslavia, and Kannberg co-wrote songs with Mark Eitzel and worked with a free jazz group, Broken Social Scene.
In August of 2010, Pavement shocked fans and the media with the announcement that Ibold was amicably exiting the group to retire to life on his farm; the remaining members continued on as a three-piece, soon convening in Hawaii to begin preliminary work on their next LP. Replacing Ibold with a drum machine, the sessions resulted in 2010's Quarantine The Past, widely touted as Pavement's most experimental recording in years. A worldwide tour followed, which included an appearance at the London branch of Live 8. That year, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
June 8, 1999
Pavement's extraordinary fifth album is their first recorded on 24 tracks and the first produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead's OK Computer, Beck's Mutations). The result is a spacious, detailed sound bigger than any previous Pavement record. The guitars are crystalline, the highs and lows clearly separated.
"Pavement have evolved from garage-rock pranksters to the most surefire band on the planet." -Rob Sheffield, Details
The varied Terror Twilight layers soaring vocal melodies over Ringo Starr tempo changes, blues jams with the swing of the Groundhogs, and early 70s classic rock tropes from Don McLean to the James Gang. No mere compendium of influences, this album's awareness of rock history lends it epic proportions. One could compare it to Loaded or Abbey Road for its effortless juxtaposition of the ordinary and the bizarre, for placing a warmhearted pop song like "Spit On A Stranger" next to the ominous Black Sabbath-inspired epic "The Hexx." It sounds simple and natural, the work of musicians who listen to records and think.
"Pavement stands as the finest rock band of the '90s." -Robert Christgau, Village Voice
By far their most solid and coherent album to date, Terror Twilight still contains the classic Pavement elements: a countryish, folky roots-rock shamble foundation, cryptic lyrics and the occasional two-second blast of white noise. Bigger production, greater variety, and a higher level of emotional investment elevate this album above its immediate predecessors. Prepare to be blown away.
"Is Pavement the greatest rock band of all time?" -Matt Diehl, Request
Brighten the Corners
February 11, 1997
WORD: Is there a smarter American rock band than Pavement? Hard to imagine. It's been said that literature sacrificed itself back in the 60s so that rock could grow. That's when poetic kids picked up guitars. That's when the rock song turned sneaky, erudite and sublime on occasion, and the novel began overstating the obvious, except in rare instances. From Pavement's earliest four-tracks (see: Westing (By Musket and Sextant) to the phenomenal Brighten the Corners (see: enclosed), they've been writing and recording great, picturesque, spooky, wacked-out, tear-jerking soul music that finesses American experience like nothing else on record, in print, on film, or in art galleries. Take it from an awestruck novelist who's prone to overstating the obvious. Pavement aren't just America's most literate band, they could be its finest living writers, I mean in addition to their songs being wildly catchy and unpretentious and all that.
STORY: Two years ago, Pavement were playing a club in Atlanta. A good friend of mine who adores them attended the show, and brought along a cassette of some music she'd made, hoping to pass it to one of the band members. She'd been having a weirdly obsessive daydream: Pavement would meet her, take the tape, slip it into the deck on their tour bus later, flip out, phone Matador and force them to give her a record deal. Stephen Malkmus or Mark Ibold or Spiral Stairs would produce her first platinum album, fall in love with her, and they'd become a sort of happier Courtney and Kurt to the budding post-grunge generation. Anyway, during one of those classic brief, what-the-fucking-hell Pavement set lists, Stephen Malkmus spotted my friend at the foot of the stage. She held out the tape which he grabbed and shoved into his back pocket. She was ecstatic, rocking out, when, maybe five minutes later, Malkmus executed a tricky chord change, and accidentally fell on his ass. She froze. Pavement kept playing, oblivious. Malkmus got to his feet, reached into his pocket, pulled out the mangled tape, threw it down on the stage and, to the cheers of the audience, gleefully stomped it to smithereens. Thus her little tragedy became a piece of Pavement's magic. She's fine by the way, and can't wait to tell her grandchildren.
QUESTION: Has Steve Malkmus' friendship with Elastica's Justine Frischman and Blur's Damon Albarn saved England from Brit-pop? See Blur's new, very Pavementy single "Beetlebum" (straight in at #1 on the English charts.)
PROOF: Slanted and Enchanted, the most deliriously beautiful debut album of the pomo rock era. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which needs no introduction. Wowee Zowee, a stupidly misunderstood display of tensile strength that's destined to go down in history as Pavement's White Album. Brighten the Corners, the band's most exquisite, sweet, multiplicitous, downright gorgeous album yet -- a record so fine and fresh that it might just single-handedly save rock from trip hop.
- Dennis Cooper
Pacific Trim 7"/CD5
February 27, 1996
This limited-edition (of 5,000) EP contains brand-new Pavement songs recorded at Easley Studios in Memphis. The CD5 has three songs, the 7" has four. It's your call.
"Father to a Sister of Thought"
June 27, 1995
The second single from "Wowee Zowee" features the whispery pedal-steel ballad "Father To A Sister of Thought" backed with two non-album tracks. "Kris Kraft" is a lolloping bass-driven romper, the kind of song you might have heard at your mother's sock-hop if you grew up in Czechoslovakia. "Mussle Rock In The Midst of Transition" is a singalong teen anthem with the singalong chorus part removed.
"Rattled By the Rush"
March 30, 1995
"Rattled By the Rush" is a rousing and extremely slow guitar anthem (from "Wowee Zowee") that both sends up and revels in the roasting juices of rock history from Nat "King" Cole to Honor Role. With two unreleased tracks on the 7", three on the CD. From the "Wowee Zowee," "Rattled By The Rush" contains two non-album tracks.
April 11, 1995
The 3rd (or 4th) album by Pavement is a thoughtful and challenging work, certain to thrill & confound the hundreds of thousands of rock fans previously enraptured by "Crooked Rain" and "Slanted & Enchanted." Recorded at Easley County Jail, Memphis, Pavement speak out for the first time since their incarceration. Here, as Pavement wait to be judged, we hear the human side of these musicians and public figures as they respond to some of the more than three dozen letters they have received. Here at last Pavement talk about their innocence, their ex-wives and their children. They discuss their feelings about the media, justice, religion and racism. American icons long before the events of '94 brought them notoriety and an invitation to "The Tonight Show," this is your chance to hear Pavement's very personal message.
June 19, 1994
Second single from "Crooked Rain" includes non-LP tracks "Kneeling Bus," "Strings of Nashville" and "Exit Theory (Edit)" (all songs on both formats: 7", CD5).
"Cut Your Hair"
January 7, 1994
The surprise hit "Cut Your Hair" (yes, the one with the gorilla outfit) from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, with non-LP b-sides "Camera" and "Stare" (all songs on all formats: 7", 12", and CD5).
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
February 14, 1994
The record was made on the 8th floor of some New York squat, 1992. There was a battered engineer and a white label tape machine in the corner. They left it running and sometimes they played it back and sometimes they liked it and kept it to present to their elders: The Knights of the Turntable, who spent the better part of 120 Minutes deciphering their gauzy phantom power parables.
Watery, Domestic EP
November 25, 1992
There's not much point in writing a real Pavement bio. Either you know the story or you believe what you read in Melody Maker, it makes no difference to us. So here's four songs recorded at Louder Than You, and, in lieu of any additional grandstanding, answers to questions we're usually asked about Pavement.
Q: What's the deal with Gary?
A: Like Galileo, Tesla or LaRouche in their time, Gary Young is frequently misunderstood in his. The tone of this question is so offensive and presumptuous there's no way we can really answer it.
Q: Have Pavement signed to a major label?
A: Why do you care? Why are you so obsessed with something that has so little to do with what the band sounds like? And suppose they do sign with a major, does that automatically mean they're successful? Or a failure?
Q: Why are these answers so defensive?
A: I'm sorry, I've been having a difficult time lately. Things seem to be falling apart in my personal life. I can't seem to stay focused on my job and I tend to last out at those around me.
Q: Will Pavement be touring the USA soon?
A: How the fuck should I know? What do I look like, Mr. fucking-know-it-all? Maybe Pavement are tired, maybe they feel like doing something other than entertaining the likes of you. Or maybe not, ask thier booking agent or somebody.
Q: Do Pavement need a manager?
A: Do you need a punch in the nose?
There are many other questions, but most of them involve spelling and math and I'm not so hot at either.
August 14, 1992
The hit from Slanted plus two unreleased tunes.
Slanted and Enchanted
April 20, 1992
1902, Formed in Stockton, CA... 1989 "Slay Tracks" debut 7" impressed a large gang of tastemakers, among 'em Leeds' Wedding Present who went on to cover "Box Elder"... 1990 "Demolition Plot J-7" 7" EP topped critic and barber polls, was heard by millions in a popular Christian Slater star vehicle... 1991 "Perfect Sound Forever" 10" and subsequent East Coast tour solidified Pavement's rep as a hard band to reach on the telephone... 1992 "Slanted & Enchanted" CD is purchased by many Volvo owners... 1993 gig at Jerry Brown inaugural ball goes "smashingly well" according to Melody Maker journalist... Everything beyond that is hazy; there is too much phlegm and dust on the crystal ball, please call back later.