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Pavement was an American indie rock band that formed in Stockton, California in 1989. The group mainly consisted of Stephen Malkmus (vocals and guitar), Scott Kannberg (guitar and vocals), Mark Ibold (bass), Steve West (drums) and Bob Nastanovich (percussion and vocals). Initially conceived as a recording project, the band at first avoided press or live performances, while attracting considerable underground attention with their early releases. Gradually evolving into a more polished band, Pavement recorded five full length albums and nine EPs over the course of their decade-long career, though they disbanded with some acrimony in 1999 as the members moved on to other projects. In 2010, they undertook a well-received reunion tour.
Though only briefly brushing the mainstream with the single "Cut Your Hair" in 1994, Pavement was a successful indie rock band. Rather than signing with a major label as many of their 1980s forebears had done, they remained signed to independent labels throughout their career and have often been described as one of the most influential bands to emerge from the American underground in the '90s. Some prominent music critics, such as Robert Christgau and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, went so far as to call them the best band of the 1990s. In their career, they also achieved a significant cult following.
Pavement formed in Stockton, California in 1989 as a studio project of guitarists and vocalists Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, known originally only as "S.M." and "Spiral Stairs". Their debut EPs were extremely lo-fi releases titled Slay Tracks (1933-1969), Demolition Plot J-7, and Perfect Sound Forever. They were recorded at Louder Than You Think, the home studio of Stockton local and former hippie Gary Young who also played drums on the recordings. Upon first hearing the duo's songs, Young was quoted as saying, "this Malkmus idiot is a complete songwriting genius." After the release of Slay Tracks, a new drummer, Jason Turner, was drafted to replace Young both live and in the studio. However, after just one tour and a handful of recording sessions, when it became apparent Turner and Malkmus did not get along well, Turner was ousted and Young reinstated.
Pavement's most obvious influence during this time was English rock band The Fall, although Kannberg stated in a 1992 interview that he preferred The Replacements. The Fall's Mark E. Smith has claimed that Pavement were a "rip-off" of his band and that they didn't "have an original idea in their heads", although other members of The Fall have been more positive about the band.
Around 1992 Pavement became a full-time band, with the addition of bassist Mark Ibold, who had been one of the band's earliest fans, and extra percussionist Bob Nastanovich to help Young keep time. Their debut album, Slanted and Enchanted, was released commercially in 1992 after copies had been circulated on cassette tape for nearly a year. Though the percussive influence of The Fall was still pervasive, as was that of English post-punk band Swell Maps, many of the songs also exhibited a strong sense of melody. Later the same year, the band released the EP Watery, Domestic, which represented a balance between their earlier and later styles.
During the Slanted & Enchanted tour Gary Young's eccentric behaviour included his handing out cabbage and mashed potatoes to fans at the door of the venue, doing handstands, drunkenly falling off his drum stool, and running around the venue and stage while the rest of the band was playing. At the conclusion of a 1993 tour of Australia, Japan, and Europe, the group held a meeting in a hotel room in Copenhagen during which Malkmus, Kannberg and Ibold remained silent while Nastanovich (Young's best friend at the time) argued with the drummer and informed him that his antics were unnecessary. Young ultimately agreed to leave the band. He was replaced by Steve West (a fellow museum security guard at the Whitney Museum of American Art along with Malkmus and David Berman). West's debut performance was at a Drag City festival in Chicago, 1993. Additionally, in 1993 the band contributed to the AIDS-Benefit Album No Alternative produced by the Red Hot Organization with their song "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence".
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released in 1994. The record was more indebted to the classic rock tradition than their debut. The single "Cut Your Hair" was the band's closest brush with the mainstream, and briefly enjoyed airplay on alternative rock radio and MTV. Pavement performed the song on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The video also aired on "Career Day", a season five episode of Beavis and Butt-head, who termed it "buttwipe music."
The lyrics from another single from the album, "Range Life", criticized alternative rock stars The Smashing Pumpkins and the Stone Temple Pilots. Malkmus has insisted over the years that the line is meant to be light-hearted and is sung from the point of view of the aging hippie character in the song. Later live versions of the track had the singer substituting "The Spice Girls", "The Counting Crows", or others for "Stone Temple Pilots". In response Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan threatened to drop his band from their slot headlining the 1994 Lollapalooza Festival if Pavement was allowed to play. Corgan and Malkmus would trade barbs through the press for several years afterwards.
The next album, Wowee Zowee, recorded in Memphis and released April 11, 1995, covered a wide range of styles including punk, country and balladry across its 18 tracks, which often avoided conventional song structures. On the Slow Century DVD, Malkmus attributed his odd choice of singles to his pot smoking, stating that "I was smoking a lot of grass back then but to me they sounded like hits." Although Malkmus has said in recent interviews that the album is the last "classic Pavement record," Kannberg has voiced regrets about Wowee Zowee. "We made some mistakes on that record... we were kind of pressured into putting out a record a little faster than we were ready to. I mean, I'm totally into the record. It's just if we had another six months to think about it, it would've been much different."
During the tour for the album, Nastanovich stated on the Slow Century DVD, the band would often not work out a setlist before shows, opting for drug and alcohol fueled jams over hit singles. Some of these shows were held during the 1995 Lollapallooza festival, where the incoherent performances received a hostile reaction from many audiences. Footage from Slow Century shows the band being pelted with mud and rocks. The band then left the stage immediately and dubbed themselves "The Band That Ruined Lollapallooza."
Wowee Zowee was followed up by the EP Pacific Trim, which was recorded with only Malkmus and drummers Nastanovich and Steve West. Their studio time was originally reserved for a Silver Jews recording, but frontman David Berman walked out in frustration and the trio decided not to waste prepaid recording time.
Brighten the Corners was released in 1997; produced by Mitch Easter it is a shorter, more conventional record than the previous album. Malkmus said on the Slow Century DVD that the album was an attempt to show audiences that Pavement had more mainstream and classic rock influences than it had previously portrayed. The album contained two of the band's best known singles in "Stereo" and "Shady Lane". It was the only Pavement album to include a lyric sheet except Slanted and Enchanted and sold better than its predecessors. Despite increased success, the band continued to fragment, with its members focusing more on other musical projects or on raising families.
In 1999, the band began work on its final album, Terror Twilight. Bob Nastanovich came up with the title, and has revealed the meaning of it in several interviews: "Twilight Terror is the short span between sunset and dusk; this is considered the most dangerous time in traffic, because half of the people switch on the headlights, and the other half doesn't. It's when most accidents happen." During an interview on the Slow Century documentary DVD, he said that the band was having trouble coming up with names for the record until he put forth Terror Twilight. One of the final contenders was Farewell Horizontal (also the name of a 1989 science fiction novel by K. W. Jeter), and Nastanovich said, "There was no way I was going to be on the Farewell Horizontal tour for the next year."
The band originally planned to self-produce Terror Twilight, renting out Jackpot! Studios in Portland, Oregon. The group stalled though, with Malkmus, Ibold, Nastanovich and Jackpot! employee and future Jicks bassist Joanna Bolme usually opting to play Scrabble over getting any sort of work accomplished. Kannberg was especially frustrated over the sessions, particularly at Malkmus' refusal to include any of Kannberg's songs on the album. Fan favorite "For Sale: The Preston School of Industry" and one other song penned by the guitarist were briefly worked on during the sessions, but eventually abandoned. At the end of the initial two week session, very little had been accomplished and it was decided that a producer should be brought in to assist them.
Nigel Godrich, best known for his work with Radiohead and Beck, was hired to produce the album. The group first attempted to record in Sonic Youth's lower Manhattan studio, which Godrich took a dislike to as it was within ear-shot of several practice spaces, and also set up more like a home studio. Godrich eventually convinced the band to move to a more "proper" 24-track studio, where he had previously worked on albums by the Beastie Boys and R.E.M. Though the producer took an immediate shine to Malkmus, Kannberg and Nastanovich were wary of him. Nastanovich believes that though Godrich "took on a pretty substantial challenge and did a good job," that he "focused his attention on Stephen" and produced them "in a way that just sort of had more disregard for the rest of us." Nastanovich also later recalled an awkward incident where it became apparent that the producer didn't know the auxiliary percussionist's name. Kannberg, still disillusioned over his songs being rejected by Malkmus, said of Terror Twilight: "It was not fun to do that record from the very beginning. It was the hardest record to make."
Malkmus wrote the entirety of the record, and the recording of the music only featured minor contributions from the rest of the band. The group released one last EP, titled Major Leagues. It features three Malkmus songs, two original Spiral Stairs songs and two covers, "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen and "The Classical" by The Fall.
Pavement embarked on a six month world tour in support of the album, during which time relationships within the group frayed, especially between Malkmus and the other members of the band. Steve West later recalled times on the tour bus where Malkmus would put his coat over his head, refuse to speak to anyone, and call himself "The Little Bitch". Critics noted that their setlist had started to include a number of their early songs, much like a band playing their greatest hits on a farewell tour. Malkmus's attitude continued to deteriorate as the tour wore on, finally coming to a head during their slot at the 1999 Coachella Festival. During the concert, Malkmus refused (or was possibly unable, due to illness) to sing, effectively turning their set into a mostly instrumental one. Nastanovich called a band meeting after the show, and Malkmus finally confided to his bandmates: "I just don't want to do this anymore."
The group's final concert together was at Brixton Academy in London on November 20, 1999. During the concert, Malkmus had a pair of handcuffs attached to his microphone stand, and at one point told that audience, "These symbolize what it's like being in a band all these years." After the concert, he confirmed to people at the after-party that Pavement was now done "for the foreseeable future." About two weeks later, a spokesperson for Domino records told NME: "Pavement are retiring for the forseeable future to: 1. Start families 2. Sail around the world 3. Get into the computer industry 4. Dance 5. Get some attention."
In the summer of 2000, Malkmus called Kannberg and told him, "You need to change the website to say we aren't a band anymore. People keep asking me if we're breaking up and you know we're not a band anymore, right?" Kannberg told Malkmus that he needed to call the other members of the band to inform them that the band was finally breaking up, but Malkmus refused and Kannberg was left with the task of informing them. Steve West later admitted that he never received any official call about the breakup from anyone in the band, and discovered that Pavement had dissolved via the internet. Nastanovich later commented that "There was too much exhaustion for heavy emotion."
In 2002, Slow Century, a documentary by Lance Bangs coupled with all of the band's music videos, was released as a 2 DVD set. Included was extensive footage, both professionally shot and taped by fans on camcorders, from the band's earliest shows in 1989 forward. The three final songs from the band's final concert ("Stop Breathin'", "Conduit for Sale" and "Here") are presented at the end of the documentary. Also on the DVD is a hidden easter egg clip from the same show, wherein Malkmus talks about how the handcuffs attached to his microphone stand "represent what it's like being in a band all these years." A bonus disc with a complete concert in Seattle, Washington, from the early part of the Terror Twilight tour was included on the second disc, as well as several songs from their penultimate show.
2004 saw the publication of Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement, a biography on the band written by Rob Jovanovic. Reviews for the book were mixed, with some saying that it contained much of the same information as the Slow Century DVD and expanded very little on it, while others called it a "fond retrospection".
There was frequent speculation about the possibility of a Pavement reunion. In a 2006 Pitchfork Media interview, Scott Kannberg discussed the possibility of a reunion for the band's 20th anniversary in 2009. In a 2008 Entertainment Weekly article, Kannberg echoed the possibility of a 2009 reunion, and mentioned Matador Records' 20th anniversary. Mark Ibold was amenable to the idea; Malkmus, however, stated: "something small in 10 years like the Zeppelin thing sounds good to me."
On September 15, 2009, Brooklyn Vegan reported that Pavement were scheduled to perform multiple benefit show dates in New York City's Central Park from September 21, 2010. Official statements by the band, label, venue and promoter were released on September 17, 2009 confirming the reunion. The announcement included one concert in Central Park and the promise of a tour, but said that the reunion may only be a one-off event. It said, "Please be advised this tour is not a prelude to additional jaunts and/or a permanent reunion." Tickets for the first Central Park concert sold out in two minutes, leading to the announcement of three more shows at the same venue.
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