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Members include Mark Ibold, bass; Scott Kannberg, guitar; Stephen Malkmus (born in Los Angeles, CA; attended college in Virginia), guitar, vocals; Bob Nastanovich, drums; Steve West (joined group, 1993), drums; Gary Young (born in Marmaroneck, NY; left group, 1993), drums. Addresses: Record company--Matador Records, 676 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, website: http://www.matadorrecords.com.
Pavement was one of independent (indie) rock's biggest success stories--almost against the bandmembers' wills. The California-based group charmed critics and fans alike with their early collections of noisy, intermittently melodic postpunk laced with cryptic, self-conscious lyrics. After achieving fame in the world of independent recording, they were launched into wide popularity with 1994's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Their ambiguity about large-scale popularity intact, the group--fronted by singer-guitarist Stephen Malkmus--faced reality by exploring the phenomenon of rock fandom in their songs. "Supported by tense, entrancing music that touches on everything from giddy pop and fake jazz to woozy country rock and sinister sonic tightropes," observed Jason Cohen in Rolling Stone, "Malkmus stares down rock mythology with a look that's part skeptical squint and part unforced smile. He's constantly careening between cynicism and sincerity, sarcasm and earnestness." After releasing their final album, Terror Twilight, the band broke up in 1999.
"Pavement was originally a pathetic effort by us to do something to escape the terminal boredom we were experiencing in Stockton," Malkmus told Melody Maker, referring to the rough recordings he and his friend Scott Kannberg put together in their northern California hometown. The two had played together in a band in the early 1980s, and eventually Malkmus went off to college in Virginia. When he came home for a break, he and Kannberg decided to record a single. The studio they chose, Louder Than You Think, was run by engineer-drummer Gary Young, a hard-living 40ish progressive-rock fan who urged them to let him play drums on the songs.
The result was a 7-inch record called Slay Tracks (1933-1969), an opaque and, according to David Sprague of New York Newsday, "unabashedly sloppy" mini-collection that Kannberg released on a label he called Treble Kicker in 1989. Malkmus returned to school before Slay Tracks was issued, but the positive response it generated in the indie universe--and the fact that British cult heroes the Wedding Present recorded a version of one song from it--forced him to think of Pavement as something other than a lark.
Early Underground Buzz
Next came Demolition Plot J-7 and Perfect Sound Forever, which appeared in 1990 and 1991, respectively, on the Drag City label. These releases increased the "buzz" in the music underground about this mysterious band, while Malkmus and Kannberg had only heightened the mystique by referring to themselves as "S. M." and "Spiral Stairs" in the seemingly coded liner notes that accompanied their records. Along with Young, bassist Mark Ibold, and second drummer Bob Nastanovich, Pavement embarked on what Sprague called "startlingly unrehearsed live shows" characterized by what might charitably be called extremely loose renditions of their songs and--more notoriously--Young's drunken theatrics.
Young not only grabbed the spotlight during gigs, he also grabbed fans before them, greeting them outside and welcoming them to the show. While his energy was infectious, his prodigious consumption of alcohol was ultimately disruptive. "With Young behind the kit (or often on top of it), Pavement could potentially be really bad," wrote Spin's Jim Greer, "and you got a sense watching the band interact onstage that the rest of them found that idea kind of cool." Yet Malkmus swore to Rolling Stone that the band did not have this attitude. "We've gotten these labels, that we're a slacker rock band and that we don't give a shit about our live show," he said. "I can't remember a time that that's ever been the case. Usually, we're really trying hard as we can to be entertaining."
Among other pursuits, Pavement's early creations inspired myriad games of "spot-the-influence" among critics and fans. Many heard the imprint of British experimentalists like the Fall in Malkmus's obscurantist lingo and detected more than a hint of New York postpunk giants Sonic Youth in the group's dissonant guitars and "lo-fi" sound. But Pavement also clearly adored melodic pop, as indicated by the fragments of melody that periodically floated up from the murk. "I've always liked Cheap Trick and Prince and ELO as much as the Fall," Malkmus insisted to New York Newsday's Sprague. Lauren Spencer of Spin proclaimed that Perfect Sound "bubbles over with more ideas than on the last three Sonic Youth albums combined," and concluded, "Listening to Pavement is like trying to listen to three radio stations at once: One is playing Simon and Garfunkel, one is playing the Bobby Fuller Four, and the third one's just static."
Released Slanted and Enchanted
Pavement had yet to record a full-length album, despite having become one of the hottest independent acts in America. They signed to Matador Records and in 1992, at a cost of only around $10,000, released Slanted and Enchanted. Even prior to its release, the LP was acclaimed as one of the year's best, thanks to advance cassettes that had the effect of religious icons on the nation's reviewers.
The authoritative College Music Journal declared Slanted and Enchanted "quite likely the first and last word in American indie rock for 1992," while Entertainment Weekly's Gina Arnold found the collection "brimming with beautiful pop songs, soured a bit by the rhythmic clamor of harder guitar rock"; she awarded it an "A-." Spin named the album the year's best, contending with characteristic abandon that Slanted "renders any and all competition meaningless." And the Village Voice ranked Slanted and Enchanted as the second best of 1992. Pavement's Watery, Domestic EP topped the Voice's list of the year's best EPs.
Despite the accolades, the band tended to evince a certain casualness with respect to its musical career; as Malkmus told Option, "We've actually spent less than 100 hours on Pavement--playing, recording, and practicing. We've had six practices. We don't even play together as a band when we record. Basically I send the guys into the studio and I sit there with a microphone and sing along and I have an idea of where I want them to stop. That's where I put the guitar."
Yet the obvious necessity of treating this enterprise more professionally gradually overtook Pavement's cavalier indie pose; original drummer Young left the band in 1993, exhausted from touring and unsatisfied with his pay. "It made me sad that it couldn't creatively work out with Gary," Malkmus reflected to Sprague. "He really wanted to be a rock star in capital letters, but it was clear that he wasn't emotionally centered enough to handle it." Steve West, a friend of second drummer Nastanovich's, replaced Young. Along with Ibold and Malkmus, he took up residence in New York, while Kannberg continued to live in Stockton, and Nastanovich made his home in Louisville, Kentucky, so he could attend his beloved horse races. Rolling Stone explained, "Geography has made it difficult for Pavement to be well rehearsed."
1993 saw the release of Westing (By Musket and Sextant), a Drag City CD compilation containing all of Pavement's pre-Slanted releases. "You could argue that this noise-for-noise's sake approach is going nowhere," wrote Spin reviewer Simon Reynolds, "but it's going there in terrific style, and that's more than enough for me." The group also contributed selections to the high-profile alternative rock collections Born to Choose and No Alternative. Their song for the latter pays skewed tribute to rock giants R.E.M., enumerating the cuts on that group's sophomore album, Reckoning.
Infiltrated the Mainstream
Expectations were so high after Slanted that Pavement's next full-length release appeared amid a flurry of hype and a full-scale promotional effort by Matador. The band filmed a video, submitted to a press junket, and, in a virtually unprecedented move for a group still occupying the fringe of American culture, appeared on television's Tonight Show With Jay Leno. The new album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, bowled over critics; Rolling Stone's Matt Diehl called it "stunning," and Joe Levy of the Village Voice heartily admired Pavement's "invigorating noise and, crucially, melodies--and their ability to transform both into warmth at will."
Malkmus told New York Newsday's Sprague, "I guess there was more of a decision to just make songs instead of a noisy, indie-signifying record" and expressed to Melody Maker his hope that people wouldn't "think this record is too bratty in a wrong way, or too know-it-all, when it was the only thing we could do." In any event, Crooked Rain devoted much of its content to the phenomenon of rock music as "career"--Malkmus sings the word into a mantra-like mush, which more than one listener has misconstrued as "Korea," on the single "Cut Your Hair"--exploring the ambivalence and the magic of relating to music not as a professional but as a fan.
Pavement's rise in popularity led to international tours. Drummer West commented in Musician, "Everywhere we went, from Prague, Vienna, to New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, we always had at least four or five hundred people out to see us, even in the smallest places.... That wouldn't have happened five years ago. For the Replacements, or even R.E.M. in '83 or '84, when they were at our level, to go to Prague, or even to fly to Australia would have been impossible."
Even after fame hit, though, Pavement remained remarkably independent. Kannberg continued to manage the group from a spare bedroom in his San Francisco apartment, and the members did their own roadie work. In the spring of 1995, the band released Wowee Zowee. Although many critics and fans speculated before the album's release that the much-anticipated new album might elevate the band to real mainstream success, Musician's Nathan Brackett noted, "Lack of pretense and the do-it-yourself aesthetic are the order of business in any Pavement enterprise."
True American Originals
"Pavement are American originals," remarked Levy in an attempt to sum up the band's appeal. "There are debts, to be sure, though Pavement acknowledge them with more mystery, style, and humor than R.E.M. or Sonic Youth ever did." Spin's Greer, meanwhile, insisted that with Crooked Rain, "Pavement has once again proven that the enduring lesson of punk rock was that not everyone could do it."
True to form, although the band had begun to transcend cult status to make a stand in the mainstream rock world, Wowee Zowee kept it firmly in the realm of the underground; the album, embraced by fans, was not well received by critics. Staying out of the mainstream was not necessarily a disappointment to the group; around this time Malkmus indicated to Melody Maker part of the reason for his explorations of rock culture: "On the one hand, music is just songs and there are good melodies and bad melodies, but there is this whole other side to the music world which is really dirty and not very noble, and which is reflected in consumer society."
The group's next album, Brighten the Corners, released in 1997, fared better with the critics, and the band launched a tour of the U.S. and the world, returning to the studio after a hiatus of six months to begin work on what was to become the final Pavement album.
By the time Terror Twilight hit the stores in the summer of 1999, Malkmus and Kannberg were already heavily engaged in solo projects. Terror Twilight got raves in the press, but the writing was already on the wall; at a concert at the end of 1999, Malkmus announced to fans that he was calling it quits. Although the other members of the band and the band's label refused to acknowledge it publicly, Pavement was no more. Matador wowed Pavement fans one last time in 2002 with a double CD, tenth anniversary rerelease of Slanted and Enchanted. Called Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe, the rerelease featured, in addition to the original cuts, many more of the band's best studio and live performances from the early years.
by Simon Glickman and Michael Belfiore
Malkmus and Kannberg performed together in a band in Stockton, CA, early 1980s; with drummer Young, Pavement released debut single, "Slay Tracks (1933-1969)," on own Treble Kicker label, 1989; recruited balance of band; released single "Demolition Plot J-7," Drag City Records, 1990; signed to Matador Records and released debut album, Slanted and Enchanted, 1992; released Watery, Domestic, Matador 1992; appeared on compilations Born to Choose and No Alternative, both 1993; appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, NBC-TV, 1994; released Wowee Zowee, Matador, 1995; released Brighten the Corners, Matador, 1997; released Terror Twilight, Matador, 1999; released Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe, Matador, 2002.
Spin magazine, Album of the Year for Slanted and Enchanted, 1992; Village Voice, Best EP of the Year for Watery, Domestic, 1992.
- Selected discography
- Slay Tracks (1933-1969) Treble Kicker, 1989.
- Demolition Plot J-7 Drag City, 1990.
- Perfect Sound Forever (EP), Drag City, 1991.
- Summer Babe Drag City, 1991.
- Slanted and Enchanted Matador, 1992.
- Trigger Cut Matador, 1992.
- Watery, Domestic (EP), Matador, 1992.
- Westing (By Musket & Sextant) Drag City, 1993.
- (Contributor) Born to Choose Rykodisc, 1993.
- (Contributor) No Alternative Arista, 1993.
- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain Matador, 1994.
- Wowee Zowee Matador, 1995.
- Brighten the Corners Matador, 1997.
- Terror Twilight Matador, 1999.
- Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe Matador, 2002.
May 24, 2005: Band member Stephen Malkmus' solo album, Face the Truth, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_5/index.jsp, May 30, 2005.
- Billboard, January 15, 1994.
- College Music Journal (CMJ), March 27, 1992.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 31, 1993.
- Interview, June 1993; February 1994.
- Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1994.
- Melody Maker, March 7, 1992; November 28, 1992; March 20, 1993; February 12, 1994.
- Musician, January/February 1995.
- New Musical Express (NME), July 4, 1992; August 1, 1992; January 9, 1993; April 3, 1993.
- New York Newsday, February 15, 1994.
- New York Times, December 30, 1992.
- Option, July 1992.
- Request, May 1994.
- Rolling Stone, February 24, 1994; July 14, 1994; November 17, 1994.
- Spin, September 1991; December 1992; June 1993; March 1994; April 1994; July 1994; March 1995.
- Village Voice, March 2, 1993; August 3, 1993; February 22, 1994.
- "Pavement," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 15, 2004).
- "Pavement," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid=155 (January 15, 2004).
- "Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/cd/review.asp?aid=2045017 (January 15, 2004).
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