Stephen Malkmus On Pavement Breakup, Reunion – And MC Hammer
Any indie-rock fan worth their salt is either talking or thinking about Matador’s big “Lost Weekend” in Las Vegas, which starts tomorrow. The lineup is the record label’s equivalent of MLB’s All-Century Team, feature the likes of Pavement, Guided by Voices, Superchunk, Yo La Tengo and oh-so-many more.
The Bad Penny won’t be going – gotta clean out the DVR instead – but in commemoration of the event, Matador’s 21st birthday and the eternal awesomeness of the label, the next few days will see a slew of related archival interviews with artists performing at Mata-pa-looza.
The coverage actually got unintentionally started with the first-ever online publish of two dusty Superchunk interviews (see below). Today it continues with this amusing conversation with Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, with whom I spoke almost 10 years ago for the now-defunct VirginMega.com.
It was December 15, 2000, and Stephen Malkmus had been doing phone interviews all day to beef up attention for his first solo album (well, with the Jicks). Stephen Malkmus was due February 13 on Matador – where else – and he was trying to cram in as many interviews as he could before everyone took off for the holidays.
Later in the day, he tolerated another interview from yours truly. And while he was clearly exhausted, he was a good-enough sport, not getting too grumpy and throwing in some classic Malkmus wit when he found the energy.
Even in 2000, Malkmus had already started addressing the possibility of a Pavement reunion, though they had only disbanded the year before.
“Reunion shows aren’t out of the question,” he said. “The only thing out of the question is new [Pavement] albums with new material.”
According to Matador, Malkmus’ position hasn’t changed; despite a compilation due next year, there are no announced plans for Pavement to record together again. Instead, they’ll continue to focus on their own individual endeavors, which Malkmus addressed nine years ago.
“Whenever bands break up, everyone rushes to be the ‘solo guy.’ So now they can listen to [our solo] albums and decide what they want to do.”
Obviously, Malkmus’ solo career was already well under way at that point. But bandmate Scott Kannberg, who Malkmus clearly didn’t see eye to eye with when Pavement died, was firing up a project of his own. As Malkmus said, Kannberg’s band – which was later revealed as Preston School of Industry – would give him an opportunity to “tell his side” of the story. Their debut, All This Sounds Gas, also dropped in ’01, and also on Matador. Here’s what Malkmus had to say about that, the Pavement breakup and beyond:
“We kind of fizzled out. There was some wishful thinking by some people, but … I said it was over in St. Louis. Like, ‘You were listening, right?’ And then someone might not know, like, ‘I didn’t believe you.’ And I’m like, ‘I might not have said it clearly.’
“It’s hard to break up with people. It’s hard to get a group statement. Scott didn’t want me too much to say it on the Web site for some reason. He’s not the statement kind or something. So that caused some [confusion]. Fans would probably like to know directly from us rather than my interviews, [but he] sorta stonewalled on that. He wouldn’t really make it clear. But I think he’ll have an album out, and he’ll get to tell his side.
“As far as Bob [Nastanovich], he knew, and Mark [Ibold]; I didn’t really get into great contact with the drummer, Steve [West], when I announced it. I didn’t re-announce it, so I felt bad about that. He knew it was over, but I [should have] told him to be ready.”
“It’s not easy. I still see everybody around. It’s hard to share the victories or the defeats. We’re kind of we-do-what-we-do-type people. We had a great time, but it wasn’t like we would sit around and high-five. We didn’t sit around talking about how great we were – or how bad we were. But I knew in my heart it was the right time. Better early than late, like a lot of these bands who will remain nameless. I’m still out there pushing my shit.”
Even though he was worn out from the day’s interviews – and from talking incessantly about Pavement, even though they were no longer around – Malkmus did manage to point out some bright spots amid the collapse:
“The vibe of the band at the end felt melancholy in some ways. But we had great times as a band. I don’t really regret much about it. It felt like a perfect time to end it, because everything was pointing towards it. It’s been 10 years, it’s perfect. The century’s ending. I’ve got these songs that won’t translate as well with this band that’s impossible to get together and organize. Everyone’s settled and they’ve got a great run. They’ve got a little in the bank and stuff.
“I do feel loyal in some ways, but it’s not so bad doing [a solo album] now. It’s like getting divorced after your kids are out of the house or that kind of thing. We could’ve ended it one album earlier, so I’m glad we didn’t. We made [1999’s] Terror Twilight, and it was mellow and good. A couple songs fail here and there, just like a couple do on every record. Overall, I think it’s pretty and will stand up as well as Crooked Rain or something.”
For his own part, the guitarist was feeling confident that Stephen Malkmus would also stand up to his previous works. And for all intents and purposes, it did, netting loads of positive criticism and even half-decent sales (it broke the Billboard top 125 – which is to say, it peaked at #124).
“Maybe I’m feeling better, more free from Pavement as Pavement,” he said about the record, which had just leaked on Napster (yup, this was indeed 2000). “Maybe it allowed me to show more personality. But it didn’t feel any different. I’m just analyzing myself.”
Still, he knew the Pavement comparisons were going to be inevitable, especially as he was just getting his solo career started.
“I knew it was inevitable. I was writing all the tunes and playing all the guitar parts, for the most part. So it’s really hard for me to change up. It’s hard for me to show some other side of me. It’s just refining it, getting it right, because I still feel like that’s how a band should be. Generally, I think [Stephen Malkmus is] pretty relatable to a Pavement album.”
As for the LP, Malkmus also gave us some amusing commentary about one especially poignant studio experience while making it:
“We went to this place called Future Rhythm [in Santa Clara, California – the place still exists]. And it’s really fucked up. MC Hammer records there, but he doesn’t pay his bills and stuff. I saw him come in: He had a really lame posse – I haven’t told anyone about this in interviews, actually – two guys, and they had like 1985 Nike shirts on. Way behind the times for rap guys.
“He was really happy and up,” he continued about Hammer. “He’s got money, he just won’t pay [the bills]. I liked working with him; he said he’s really up, and he wears out other engineers. He has hours and hours of tapes.
“I could make a rap album if I wanted to.”
Other “Matador at 21”-related interviews:
• Liz Phair Was ‘Heartbroken’ Over Missing Exile In Guyville Master Tapes
• Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan And Laura Ballance Open Up About Shutting Up, Running Merge And More
• Superchunk’s Laura Ballance In 1998: ‘The Music Industry Is Nuts Right Now’
• Dead Meadow: Tweaked ‘Kings’