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Scott Kannberg in a turtle neck.

Preston School of Industry:
Breaking through the Pavement

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

 

Lazy-i: July 23, 2002


Preston School of Industry
w/Wilco
Monday, July 29
Sokol Auditorium

8 p.m.
$20

Despite all the hype for the Wilco concert in Omaha July 29, there are some people (like me, for instance) who are headed to the Sokol Auditorium just to see the opening band.

Preston School of Industry is the new project by Pavement co-founder and guitarist Scott Kannberg, a.k.a. Spiral Stairs. Yes, PSOI sounds a lot like Pavement, but maybe that's because Kannberg wrote a number that band's better songs.

Kannberg (or Stairs?) said PSOI had just returned from a successful tour with Wilco in Europe when Jeff Tweedy called and asked if they'd go back on the road with them in the U.S. Unfortunately, Wilco casts a long shadow, and most local media don't seem to know or care who PSOI is (or, after they figure it out, don't know who Pavement was).

"I figured we'd get buried under all the Wilco press, but that hopefully there would be a little mention of us on the end of their write-ups," Kannberg said from his hotel room the morning after playing for 2,000 Wilco fans in Indianapolis. "I heard a lot of people last night say 'Oh, that's right. That's the guy from Pavement.' It's just the way it's gonna be."

 

 

 

In fact, it's the way it's been since Preston School of Industry released their remarkable debut, All This Sounds Gas on Matador Records last fall. Their release coincided with the debut by the other Pavement cofounder, Stephen Malkmus. Unfortunately, Malkmus was a few weeks quicker on the draw and got all the "whatever happened to Pavement" press, and as a result, Kannberg's record was covered as an afterthought, if at all. It's a shame, because his CD blows Malkmus' cute little novelty record out of the water, thanks to its soaring melodies and epic guitar lines that counter the grounded, unpretentious vocals -- i.e., everything that was right about Pavement circa 1994's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

So with Malkmus' debut also released on Matador, was there a sense of competition between the two former Pavers? Not according to Kannberg. "Certain things come out of each record to different people," he said, very politically. "I like Steve's record. It sounds like Steve."

And what about the rest of Pavement? Kannberg, who says he doesn't mind fielding all the Pavement questions ("It's part of my history and I'm proud of it"), talks as if a reunion is unlikely.

"I talk to Steve every once in a while to work out Pavement stuff," he said. "I saw Mark (Ibold) in New York at one of our shows. I see Gary (Young) every once in a while and have gone to his house to go through Slanted and Enchanted tapes (a 10-year anniversary edition of that landmark album is slated this year). The other guys were friends of friends who kind of got together to record and play live. For the time we were together, we'd be friends, then not see each other for six months."


Here's some more of what Mr. Stairs had to say about Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted, low-fi, the indie scene and PSOI during our brief interview::

 

PSOI -- All This Sounds Gas


"Pavement was fast and frenzied and I would always get pushed back to the end of the recording session. So it would be like 'OK Scott, got any songs?'"


 

Scott Kannberg b/w warm-up jacket


"I heard a lot of people last night say 'Oh, that's right. That's the guy from Pavement.' It's just the way it's gonna be."


 

So what's going on? How was the show last night in Indianapolis?

Just watching the British Open. Looks like Tiger's imploding. The show was good. It was kind of nerve-wracking for me for the first few songs. We hadn't played for a month or so, and there was a lot of people there, too. It went all right.

So are you getting tired of all the Pavement questions yet?

Not really, not really at all. It's part of my history and I'm proud of it.

Does it take away from what you're trying to do with Preston?

Not really. It's part of the story and needs to be explained. Down the line it might become a problem, especially after I have a few albums out and people are still wanting to know about Pavement.

I guess you have to look at it as an advantage over other bands just getting started. You have that name recognition, sort of like a politician running for office.

Yeah, I'm gonna use that.

Critics have always said Pavement's life was like watching a youngster grow up -- the rough-and-tumble beginnings, the experimental phase, then more adult-oriented melodies. Did you feel that the band had to "mature"?

I don't think we ever felt pressure, it just kind of came that way. We started thinking about records from a career sense. When you look at R.E.M. or The Replacements, you see this progression. That was what we were trying to do. We were kind of getting older, listening to different things.

I suppose the challenge was making every record different?

Coming up with new ideas was kind of the hard part.

Pavement's now considered one of the '90s landmark bands. How do you want that band to be remembered in rock history?

I don't know. I never really thought about that. We always tried to have fun and not take things so seriously. We always kind of looked at our success as kind of a joke. It was ridiculous for us to play that last show in England to 4,000 people. I just looked around and said, 'What's going on here?' You just make records that are special to you; it's weird to think that they're special to others.

Were you surprised at the critical response to Slanted and Enchanted?

We just did this 10-year anniversary edition of that record, with all these extra tracks. Looking back at it now, and listening to the songs again I was thinking 'Why? Why did you like this so much?' (laughs) It reminds me of Dinosaur Jr. or The Fall or Buffalo Tom. It doesn't seem like a benchmark record.

It was also heralded as one of the records that drove the whole 'low fi' movement.

To us, that record sounded normal, like any other rock record. Maybe it was because it didn't have a big low-end. Our early singles were really low-fi. Slanted wasn't that low-fi. It was recorded on 16-track, it wasn't mastered very well, but to us it sounded good. We were just trying to make a classic rock record.

When your new full-length was released last August, was there a sense of competition between it and Malkmus' CD? Certainly they were compared to each other, and to Pavement records.

It was both unfortunate and fortunate that it came out around the same time as Steve's. I did the record before I even heard his and didn't know when either was suppose to be released. It wasn't competition early on. I like Steve's record. It sounds like Steve.

Matador tells me that, in some ways, it was good to have both records out at the same time, but in some ways it wasn't. When ours came out, it got little press at all because everyone had already done 'The Pavement Story.' Steve had a lot of promotion on his record and I didn't have much. It's started to come around now that we're touring a lot.

I'm sure people come up and say 'I like yours better.' That said, I like yours better.

It makes you feel good. Certain things come out of each record to different people. I really like his record and think he's probably doing what he does best.

When Pavement started in '89, there seemed to be an openness to new music and indie was still pretty underground. Today, indie seems to be the shelter against the universal amusement park of pop music. Is it easier now or back in '89 to get a band off the ground and heard?

I think when I started a label (Amazing Grease back in 2000) it was a lot harder, but I think it's starting to come back around. In the '80s, the indie scene was homegrown and really underground. I think it's getting back to that point where the infrastructure is there -- people helping people out, helping each other figure out what clubs to play at. It's getting easier.

How did you wind up with the opening slot for Wilco? And what's it like?

I met Jeff Tweedy a few times over the years, and Pavement played with Wilco over the years. Domino Records in England tried to put out the Wilco record, and the owner of Domino befriended them. They ended up not doing the record, but Domino pitched us for their European tour. We did it a few months ago and had such a great time together that they called us up to do it again in the United States. It's great, everyone is nice.

We played in Indianapolis a month ago to 75 people, and I think there was something like 2,000 people there last night. We got a nice response.

Doesn't opening for Wilco put you in the same dilemma you had with the Malkmus CD media-wise?

I figured we'd get buried under all the Wilco press, but that hopefully there would be a little mention of us on the end of their write-ups. I heard a lot of people last night say 'Oh, that's right. That's the guy from Pavement.' It's just the way it's gonna be.

Do you ever get the crowd yelling Pavement requests?

They did in Europe. We played a couple Pavement songs that I wrote that we never played live with Pavement. I kind of avoid it. If I do it, I want it to be special. It's fun to play them, but if you played them every night it would be taxing.

How is it different writing for Preston than for Pavement?

Pavement was fast and frenzied and I would always get pushed back to the end of the recording session. So it would be like 'OK Scott, got any songs?' If I did, it would just be riffs and we'd work them out with the drummers and Steve would come in and do his thing. This time, I had demos of everything worked out and came in and recorded. I taught the guys to play different parts. I had full songs worked out, whereas Pavement was 'Work it out in the studio'.

How 'bout the lyrics?

I spend a lot more time with them and try to tell stories. I really got into the John Prine catalog and Springsteen stuff, which I didn't like before. I'm trying to write those kinds of songs.

Do you ever talk to Malkmus or the other guys from Pavement?

I talk to Steve every once in a while to work out Pavement stuff. I saw Mark (Ibold) in New York at one of our shows. I see Gary (Young) every once in a while and have gone to his house to go through Slanted tapes. The other guys were friends of friends who kind of got together to record and play live. For the time we were together, we'd be friends, then not see each other for six months.

What's next, when do you start working on the next CD?

I got a ton of new songs to work on. I'm moving up to Seattle in September and will work on the new record then.


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The above, minus the interview transcript, was published in The Omaha Weekly July 24, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photos by Peter Ellenby © 2001