But you know that we started out as some sort of sub-punk band. Well, we all used to listen to the California surf punk a lot, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Butthole Surfers, Bad Religion…. In Europe, punk was already dead when it came to the States, but in the early ’80s, those bands were a major influence for us….We travel a lot. I see and hear a lot of new things and I try to integrate them in our music, do our own thing. In a way, we’re the third generation of American rock music. It all came from the black rhythm and blues and then developed from there. [Stephen Malkmus of Pavement]
It’s just like music when you reckon it up. It’s like listening to Pavement: it’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads. [Mark E. Smith, The Wire, Issue 151]
According to Wikipedia, the California indie darlings were heavily influenced at the time of their first releases by not only the Fall, but also those clunk-clunk deranged post-punkers Swell Maps. As far as the Festive Fifty is concerned, their first entry was Summer Babe (FF 1991 #34), and there are also vestiges of Lou Reed lazily laid over angular guitar and unpredictable drum rhythms. It was the only single they released on Chicago’s Drag City label before moving to Matador. A slightly different mix known as the Winter version (FF 1992 #37) headlined their 1992 LP debut Slanted And Enchanted, an album the band distributed among critics well before its release. It has achieved a level of respect analogous to that given to Nirvana’s Nevermind, yet the two albums explore different aspects of the 90s psyche: however, Pavement never achieved the level of commercial success of their contemporaries. In fact, Malkmus has likened being in a band to being handcuffed to a microphone: a slave to the rhythm, indeed.
The second track, Trigger Cut (FF 1992 #8) lays solid groundwork in melody allied to slashing guitar chords, before the intense mood of In The Mouth A Desert (FF 1992 #35) parades a succession of vivid images over squalling guitar. The Fall connection becomes blatantly evident in the repetitive singspiel of Conduit For Sale! (FF 1992 #47), but all accusations of plagiarism melt away when the lusciously balladic Here (FF 1992 #10 and All-Time FF 2000 #50) plays one of those hooks that never let go over subdued and subtle drumming. It proved Malkus’ gift for lyricism was to be an enduring factor in the band’s legacy.
Gary Young was drummer and producer early in the band’s history, but was proving to be a bugbear to the band due to his erratic behaviour at gigs (in fact, Bob Nastanovich had been drafted in as percussionist to help Young keep time on the recordings). The recording sessions for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain saw his departure and the recruitment of Steve West.
1992 also saw the recording of two Peel sessions: the first (recorded 23 June) featured a heavier, feedback orientated remake of Here with radically altered lyrics and the specially written Circa 1762 (FF 1992 #42), a barely respectful tribute to their homeland, which came close to the same sound being developed by the Wedding Present at the time. The fact that the Weddoes had covered Box Elder, an early EP release by Pavement, was surely no coincidence. This was cemented by a further session on 15 December.
The single released from the new album, Cut Your Hair (FF 1994 #34), heralded the new sound with a poppier feel (rather pre-empting the sound of the Super Furry Animals to my ears) and improved production values, and saw them gain exposure on MTV.
This was not repeated by Gold Soundz (FF 1994 #22), unfortunately, as this is a fine song with an anthemic feel that shares the same mocking attitude towards the music biz as its predecessor.
Another single from the album, Range Life (FF 1994 #14) was the cause of a rift between Malkmus and the Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan. The song was supposed to have been written from the point of view of a seasoned rock and roller, and contained the lyrics:
Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins
Nature kids, I/they don’t have no function
I don’t understand what they mean
And I could really give a fuck.
The Stone Temple Pilots,
They’re elegant bachelors
They’re foxy to me, are they foxy to you?
I will agree there isn’t absolutely nothing
Nothing more than me.
Although obviously meant ironically, as an abnegation of the onerous responsibilities of fame, it jarred with Corgan, who threatened to drop his band from Lollapalooza if Pavement were allowed to play. Notwithstanding, it is a fine parody of laid-back rock that by its conclusion hints that its polemic opinions should not be taken literally.
11 February 1994 saw the recording of a third Peel Session, which retained the band’s distinctive sound but contained elements of experimentation and deconstruction. The final track namechecks various UK locations before disintegrating into mock chaos with a cheeky smile on its face.
This musical direction was pursued on Father To A Sister Of Thought (FF 1995 #40), a piece of alt-country complete with steel guitars, but which refuses to settle down and veers to a piece of stop-start rock at the end. It came from the album Wowee Zowee, which has taken its time to become accepted in the band’s canon.
One could almost assume, Festive Fifty-wise, that the band were a spent force in the mid-nineties, as they had no entries from 1997’s Brighten The Corners in the chart at all: indeed, none whatsoever from 96-98. However, the band came back for one final throw before their (still current) indefinite hiatus with Terror Twilight, where Malkmus dominated the proceedings with a wistful, nostalgic yet subtly biting collection, including …And Carrot Rope (FF 1999 #45), released as a single at the insistence of Domino after heavy play by JP:
and the enigmatic Major Leagues (FF 1999 #31). Following this, they splintered into solo projects and have hinted at a reunion: ‘something small in ten years like the Zeppelin thing sounds good to me’, as Malkmus has opined.
They seem, against all the odds, to have stoutly resisted huge success, yet are loved by a small, fanatically devoted minority. The recent re-release of their first two albums in remastered and greatly expanded editions proves that there is still a market for their off-centre yet tongue in cheek approach to taking beautiful melodies and wrenching them into an area where they patently do not belong.
Pavement, First Peel Session
1. Circa 1762
2. Kentucky Cocktail
3. Secret Knowledge Of Backroads
Pavement, Second Peel Session
1. Rain Ammunitions
2. Drunks With Guns
3. Ed Ames
4. The List Of Dorms
Pavement, Third Peel Session
1. Brink Of The Clouds
2. Tartar, Martyr
3. Pueblo Domain
4. The Sutcliffe Catering Song