Twenty years ago this Valentine’s Day, one of the all-time classic indie rock albums was released into the world. Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was a landmark for the band and its genre. Gorgeous yet unkempt, accessible yet insular, graceful yet slipshod, the album played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of Pavement and the face of indie rock going forward. It is a masterpiece, a record that continues to glimmer with unique brilliance two decades after its release.
For Pavement, already an underground sensation thanks to 1992 debut Slanted And Enchanted, this album marked a massive leap in terms of fidelity and style. Sonically, they traded the static-laden home recordings of their early days for studio work with outside engineers. Crooked Rain was hardly a polished record, but it sounded bright and clear compared to what came before it. Stephen Malkmus’ lyrics continued to be an inscrutable collage of scattered phraseology, ironic commentary on the music industry, and inside jokes interspersed with brief glimpses of relatable human sentiment; in the single “Gold Soundz,” the apparently soul-baring lyric “So drunk in the August sun/ And you’re the kind of girl I like/ Because you’re empty, and I’m empty” exists alongside nonsensical banter like “Did you remember in December/ That I won’t eat you when I’m gone.” But Pavement’s music underwent a substantial makeover on Crooked Rain. The band largely left behind the post-punk framework of Slanted in favor of an easygoing classic rock influence, establishing a template they’d work from for the rest of their storied career.
Although Crooked Rain never climbed above #121 on the U.S. album chart, it was by far the most visible release yet for the young New York label Matador Records, generating radio and MTV airplay for a scene that existed almost completely underground. That’s partially because it boasted the most accessible music to ever emerge from that scene. The songs bursted with undeniable melodies couched in off-kilter delivery, be they vocal hooks tweaked by squawks and whimpers or effortlessly slinky guitar leads that shined and careened like casually waved sparklers. The chorus from lead single “Cut Your Hair” is indicative, pasting the album’s most indelible melody into wordless falsetto mewling. It sounded unlike much of the leading alternative radio staples of the day, but it did reference some of them by name when Malkmus playfully dissed Stone Temple Pilots and the Smashing Pumpkins in the closing bars of the country-tinged “Range Life.” The album-closing guitar epic “Fillmore Jive” declares the end of the rock and roll era and ends on an unfinished sentence.
Such exploits didn’t rocket Pavement to the forefront of the commercial alternative explosion that dominated the early ’90s in the wake of Nirvana; a year after Crooked Rain‘s release, the band was pelted with rocks and mud at Lollapalooza’s West Virginia tour stop and had to end its set early. But the album did (ahem) cement Pavement’s fervent fan base, a cult that grew steadily until their breakup at the end of the ’90s and blossomed exponentially in the 2000s when bands and critics alike began rampantly name-checking the group as a formative power in the underground. Furthermore, Crooked Rain paved the way for Matador’s rise into a fertile middle ground between the mainstream and the underground and, in a larger sense, guitar-based indie rock’s evolution into a commercial force in the new millennium. It’s hard to imagine bands as disparate as Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, and the Shins ascending to legitimate rock stardom without Crooked Rain laying the groundwork a decade earlier — firstly by unapologetically blending punk and classic rock influences, secondly by nudging the cloistered indie underground out into the mainstream spotlight without making the leap to a major.
Its place in music history aside, Crooked Rain remains an incredible collection of songs, a document of a singular band at the peak of its powers confidently carving out new territory. The music feels effervescent and alive in a way that belies the disjointed way the record was assembled. The lyrics stick with you, even the ones that read like complete nonsense. It is an unforgettable album and one well worth remembering. So today, with the assistance of the members of Pavement and other key figures in the record’s creation, we do just that. Below, those closest to the action tell the story of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.
A SPECIAL NEW BAND
STEPHEN MALKMUS, VOCALS/GUITAR: I think we were confident. At that time, it didn’t seem like there was much going on. I think we were just sort of young and invincible-feeling. You don’t even know what it really means. No one was around telling us that much stuff, so we were just on our own. It felt like we had our own niche and our own take on things that was based around friends and Dave Berman [of Silver Jews]. What was coming out around that time was Superchunk and other stuff in that genre — major label Sonic Youth — and we were probably feeling like we were on top of the world. “We can do this. This is the new thing, this is our thing.” But we were also a little bit of underdogs, being new. We always felt like a little bit of underdogs, being from Stockton. Within the New York rock and roll scene of the time, it was mostly bands like Surgery and Cop Shoot Cop, which are bands I really like, and I like the people in the bands — and Unsane — but we were not like that. Ostensibly, we were a New York band because we lived there at that point, but we were on a totally different trip. So that was kind of liberating or confidence-building in a certain way. Then, when people liked us — like Sean from Surgery said, “I like Pavement” — that was really great. It just takes a couple people to say they like you. Not only a critic or a label, but like Michael from the Dustdevils; he would say, “Pavement is fucking amazing.” That gives you a lot of confidence. So we had some good feedback from certain people. I think you need that. I read this article about Smog in The Quietus, and it said that Jim O’Rourke was the only guy who said “I actually like what you’re doing,” like, ever, and that made him feel more confident to be Smog and go wherever he wanted to go. So I think we had some of that, too.
GERARD COSLOY, MATADOR RECORDS: Slanted was a very healthy seller. This was back in the day when things like the CMJ chart actually had some kind of an impact. But I think it was either a Top 5 or Top 2 Pazz & Jop poll finisher, you know. It finished very, very high in most of the critics charts that year. Slanted was — I wouldn’t call it a mainstream record necessarily, but in terms of critical acclaim, it did as well as any indie record of that era could have possibly done. So yeah, going into Crooked Rain I think there was a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver something that met that standard. And I think, to the band’s credit, and certainly to Stephen’s credit, I don’t think that really entered the mindset at all. I mean, Stephen’s one of these guys, when he’s writing and teaching songs to everybody else and figuring out what he wants to do, I don’t think he really spends a lot of time thinking about what something might sell, what could be an appropriate song for the radio. I think he just makes a record that he’s going to like, and I kind of think that was all he was doing with Crooked. From our perspective, if he was feeling any kind of pressure to make a record that would live up to Slanted, I didn’t notice it.
JIM GREER, SPIN/GUIDED BY VOICES: I think Slanted And Enchanted raised expectations for them to do something really special… I was just like, “This band is important.” I can’t really say why I felt that way except it ticked all my boxes. For whatever reason, it sounded new and exciting. To me, they were taking things from various sources — from Sonic Youth, obviously the Fall, but also even New Order and some of the more melodic stuff — and just putting it all together. And that lo-fi aesthetic, it felt really new at the time. And I didn’t realize it at the time — it sounds tossed off, and it’s just not. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult it was to achieve that type of sound that they seemed to do so effortlessly. I realized it later in Guided By Voices, when we were doing the same thing and we would sort of muck around with it to try to make it sound better, quote-unquote “better,” and how that completely changed the sound and the dynamic, and not always for the better.
MALKMUS: Slanted was sort of a one-off couple of weeks of really being into the Fall and coming over on Christmas vacation and making Slanted And Enchanted and not really expecting anything. When we signed to Matador, we got really positive feedback and were in Spin magazine with a review. It was really well-received. In England, the label Big Cat did a really good job of pushing us into the fray. We were bigger and had more attention than we thought we would. I didn’t want to do that again. I couldn’t do it, anyway, because it was based around Gary [Young, Pavement's original drummer]‘s studio and the stuff that he had in the first place. Slanted And Enchanted was made with specific amps, and I couldn’t get back to that. Watery, Domestic was the last thing we did there.
COSLOY: The Fall thing in retrospect feels overstated. I’m as guilty of that as anybody, because the very first time I listened to Pavement I was thinking of the Fall and Swell Maps. And then when I met those guys I found out they weren’t in fact super-crazy, drooling, over-the-top Fall fans. I mean, it was certainly something they liked, but it was part of a whole bunch of things they liked. One of the first times I ever hung out with Stephen and Bob, they were more interested in My Bloody Valentine and Nikki Sudden. So the whole idea that the Fall is the Pavement foundation — I mean, it’s a brick in the foundation, but it’s not the entire foundation. I think it’s fair to say that Crooked Rain has got more of a classic-rock West Coast feel to it than Slanted, even though it wasn’t recorded on the West Coast.
SCOTT KANNBERG, GUITAR/VOCALS (aka SPIRAL STAIRS): It’s less of an English post-punk kind of sound, more of a classic-rock California sound, I think. Even though recorded in New York, I think the vibe of the record is a little more California. I mean obviously the lyrics and stuff have to do with California still. But then with New York as well. There’s definitely a change in songwriting.
MARK IBOLD, BASS: I think the overall take on [Crooked Rain] by the music press was [that it was our] most accessible record because the songs sounded poppier or whatever. But I don’t think things changed that much. I think the songs came across as sounding poppier or more polished and different from the first album mostly because it was a totally different recording experience. Having a different drummer changed things, but to me the songwriting changed from record to record throughout the whole Pavement lifespan. That’s because Stephen really didn’t want to repeat himself. I know that was something we were always very aware of. We never wanted to make another record that just sounded like the previous record. I think that he was pretty good about that. It reflected a bit of what he was listening to at the time, so that might be one of the reasons the album came out sounding differently.
MALKMUS: I was thinking some kind of classic rock, like the Eagles, and riffs that were — I mean, Dinosaur had some of that in it, but I really wanted to put it more in people’s faces that the soft rock ’70s sound could be mined and played off. Also, some of the lyrics were commentary about music about music and that kind of music — that classic-rock Doobie Brothers rich guy archetype myths. I would play around with those when I was doing that kind of music. That was maybe a safety route for us as we were getting more attention, to kind of deflate it or play off it with a knowingness. [I was] kind of feeling a little absurd that we got that much attention. Or just fear — fear of success. Or just fear. But, at the same time, having faith in our chops, and my chops as a songwriter.
GREER: I mean, all bands wanted to be heard or something, but these guys didn’t seem to care whether anyone heard them, whether their songs were listenable in a conventional sense. And that’s pretty standard for coming out of the punk scene, but these guys were more — basically, these are songs that could be more accessible, but they weren’t interested in making them more accessible.
KANNBERG: Gary [Young] had just bought this house in the country. It’s kind of a weird story: The house that he bought, about a week before they were supposed to move in, whoever had the house before him tried to get insurance money and put a bomb in the house. And started a big fire, part of the house was destroyed. So he basically got a brand new house from insurance money from whoever lived there before trying to burn it down. So he put a studio out in the garage. So we waited and waited for him to get his studio together, and we finally couldn’t wait any longer because we had bought tickets for everyone to come out there. And yeah, everybody just came out and basically we kind of practiced for the next tour, and Steve came with a bunch of new songs that he’d been writing. He was pretty fucking prolific around that time. He wrote “Unfair” and “Gold Soundz” and the classic songs from that record. We’re just sitting in my parents’ house, jamming around to and he’s like, “You like this one? You like this one?” And I’m like, “Yeah I guess that one will do.” But we just kind of jammed the songs out a little bit.
IBOLD: It was the first album I worked on with the band, and at that point, people had been pretty psyched about Slanted And Enchanted. I was pretty excited. That was the overall vibe — we were psyched about making a follow up to it and to try and better it. We knew a couple of the songs were really good.
KANNBERG: Then the whole thing with Gary went on, and we didn’t really get anything done. We tried to record a couple of songs at Gary’s, these new songs. It wasn’t like we were going to make a new record, but we just wanted to record these new songs. And then we went on tour, and that’s kind of when the whole Gary thing imploded.
MALKMUS: At first, [Gary] had a studio in his garage in real Stockton, and then he moved to this town called Linden and he got a new board. And he said it was going to be great, but it was a digital, newer board, and I liked the old one, which was an old MCI, which is what he had when we did Slanted And Enchanted. But he said, “This place is going to be great. We should work there.” I don’t know why, but I went out there — I lived in New York at the time — and I don’t know if it was during Christmas or what, but I jammed with Gary and Scott and showed them the songs. I think I stayed at Gary’s house. He had a crash-pad/waterbed thing. We did some stuff and then we went on tour after that. And that’s when Gary quit the band. So that stuff was just dead, and so I had to get a new drummer and find the Mach 2 of Pavement because he wasn’t in it anymore.
HAND ME THE DRUMSTICK
BOB NASTANOVICH, AUXILIARY PERCUSSION: Gary quit. Gary was fed up with a lot of things. He was paranoid that he wasn’t getting paid fairly, and he was touring, which is stressful and arduous anyway. The extreme, thrifty manner that we toured at that time — one hotel room, all piling into a van, insane tour schedules — was fun. But we were in our mid-20s and Gary was 40-something and didn’t take good care of himself, so Gary wanted health insurance, which was a preposterous idea. I understand it now — I don’t have health insurance from work now and I can understand why you’d want it now. But the idea of having health insurance as a 25-year-old guy in a band seemed like a farfetched idea. He was also always confused about the music media because up until the mid-’80s, there wasn’t a whole lot of music media. Then fanzines started to become bigger and become actual publications and there was a lot of coverage of Pavement and a lot of people interested in Pavement, so Gary thought that that must translate into dollars. It really didn’t. I always thought it was interesting that Rolling Stone has two or three Pavement records in the top 500 best albums of all time. And it has to be the two or three worst-selling records on that list. I always felt Pavement records sold really well and always played shows that were fairly priced and I always felt that I got fairly paid. But Gary thought that we should be cashing in our chips and that we should be taking advantage of the fact that Nevermind by Nirvana happened and that there was this huge switch in the industry in the early ’90s to grab a hold of bands like Pavement in that genre and offer them millions of dollars to sign a contract.
IBOLD: The Nirvana thing was a big deal at the time because it was a smaller band who became huge in a short period of time. We considered them not necessarily our peers — we weren’t friends with them or anything — but we did go and see their shows at a couple of the clubs that we had played in. There was kind of an excitement about that, I think. Not that we thought we were going to be a Nirvana-type band, because their music was way different from ours.
NASTANOVICH: It was sort of the end of the line for Gary. He wasn’t a fresh-faced kid anymore and he wanted to make some money. The rest of us didn’t want to get ripped off, but we also just wanted to enjoy the experience on our own terms and do things tastefully and be in control spiritually as much as possible. We didn’t want to sacrifice. We weren’t as interested as he was in greed. So he got really fed up with that, and fed up with the fact that he was putting his life on the line to work with a bunch of kids that somehow were successful but he couldn’t really understand how. He quit the band and he kind of let those guys off the hook because I think they were going to have to fire him because his behavior had gotten really preposterous. He was scary to tour with at times. He was pretty out of control. There’s a lot of stress related with being with and taking care of somebody who is that out of their mind. It was stressful and he had a lot of tension. He deemed that his tension was a valuable asset to Pavement. I think to some extent he was right, but it definitely crossed over the line into making people uncomfortable.
CHRIS LOMBARDI, MATADOR RECORDS: The time with Gary was kind of intense for those guys because he was so unpredictable and kind of a mess. I think that as the band was growing, they needed to have some sort of stability in the operation, and he was just — I don’t know if they ever anticipated this growing as fast and as large as it did.
MALKMUS: Anyway, what happened then was I found a new drummer who was a friend of Bob Nastanovich’s who went to the same high school as Bob in Richmond, Virginia. He lived in New York, and that was Steve West. He had become our friend through mutual friends. He wasn’t an initial part of our clique, which was only three people: me, David Berman, and Bob. I think Steve got a job at the Whitney Museum where David and I worked. Then I was like, “Well, Steve can give it a go.” So I started jamming with Steve, and he had a loft on South 5th Street in Brooklyn, and he could play drums in there at the right time of day. And I started coaching him. And then it’s like, OK, he was the drummer. It was decided. And his coronation was to play on that album.
STEVE WEST, DRUMS: [Malkmus'] girlfriend and mine — we all hung out together. Gary was having problems, and it was an unwritten thing that if Gary quit or something happened, I would be eligible. I remember [Malkmus] telling me a couple of times to put my drumsticks in the oven to keep them warm, because there was such a give-and-take with Gary. [Malkmus] tried to record Crooked Rain with Gary, and Gary just couldn’t get it together enough. Then they went on tour and Gary quit. Then that eventually ended with me joining the group.
NASTANOVICH: I always thought of Pavement as Gary being as significant as anybody else. There’s nothing auxiliary about his role. He represented sort of a bygone era. Gary was born in ’53 and was 10 years older than all of us. His whole musical experience and his whole life was radically different than the rest of us. I felt like he was the significant piece that made Pavement unique, along with Stephen’s songwriting. I was pretty apprehensive about our ability to not only carry on but also to stand out and feel like we were original. I always [appreciated] the blend of Gary with a bunch of indie rock guys who were sort of trying to be hip to what’s going on, and living in places like New York, and trying — at that time because we were in our twenties — trying to keep our fingers on the pulse. Gary was what separated us. It was definitely a huge change.
WEST: Bob and I had been friends since high school, so I knew Bob really well. I think that everyone but Scott knew me as a person. Stephen and I worked together, I saw Mark when I went to the shows, so they both know who I was. Scott I had met maybe only once. He was probably the most apprehensive because he didn’t know me as a person. I think he trusted Stephen, though, and Stephen was at the helm, and chose me to take over after Gary.
KANNBERG: It was still Pavement, we just had a different drummer. And Westy knew Bob from school and Steve from working with him, so it was still a big family.
COSLOY: I think it was a pretty big change. No disrespect to Gary, who we all really like a lot, but there were certain things Steve could do as a drummer that I’m not sure Gary could have done. I definitely feel as if Steve West and Stephen Malkmus were much more on the same page where things were going to go — when the songs were being written, when the songs were being recorded. I don’t want to put words in Stephen’s mouth, but there was a sense that musically he may have been a little hamstrung by Gary. I think there were non-musical factors as well. Again, I feel like there was a tremendous amount of love and affection for Gary, but in terms of reliability and touring the world year-round, I think they felt a lot more comfortable with Steve West in the fold. I think it made a big difference. I think the live shows, while they were never in a million years going to be Eagles-esque in terms of proficiency and slickness — not that that would have been a good thing necessarily — I think they did become a much more professional live band. There were certainly people at the time who were not happy about it — by that I mean fans. I know there were fans who definitely felt that Gary added a tremendous amount of personality and charm to the band and I can’t argue with that, because he did. But ultimately, they not only survived without him, but they thrived.
MALKMUS: With Steve in the drum kit, the tempos, and the idea of Pavement as a slower band, that was set. It’s good to play slow like that. Usually people are asking you to play slower in the studio. I think what he did was actually really cool because there’s a groove there that’s not “of” a band that he managed to get with his natural drumming. Some songs, even in the future on Wowee Zowee, I would play drums on some of the faster ones and ones that were more punky. Any concept of punky went out of the band with Steve because he never experienced punk and wasn’t that way. I wouldn’t blame the whole demarcation on him, but that’s one thing that changed. Before that, there were different influences on the very early stuff. More DIY sounding. We did go to better studios and were going for a fatter sound, but you can’t really do that once you leave a lo-fi studio because everything’s going to be mid-fi at the very least. There’s not so many reverb triggers and producers involved. We never used any really official producers until Nigel [Godrich]. So think that kept the freaks running the show. The freaks were running the show in Pavement, which is cool.
NASTANOVICH: In a lot of ways, it was like a totally different band aside from Stephen’s songwriting and his vocals and his lyrics. Because Gary recorded pretty much everything we’d recorded up until then so not only did we lose our drummer and a huge personality and an amazing live performer, but we also lost our studio engineer and our studio. I kind of thought that, in that intervening year between Slanted and Crooked Rain when we were pretty busy, I wondered if Pavement would carry on. Fortunately, Stephen and Steve West were becoming really good friends. I don’t know how much of that actually had to do with the fact that Steve West was eventually going to join Pavement. They lived in the same neighborhood and Steve West had grown up with me and we were all mutual friends. Over time, Stephen started fleshing out stuff with Steve West, and he became sort of an obvious choice to be in the band. It felt completely different. It was really difficult for me because I didn’t really see why I should even be in the band without Gary.
MALKMUS: It’s always an existential question for Bob, being in a band, and he [feels like], “I’m not a musician, and I never planned on doing this.” But he is a musician. He is in Pavement and he was a great drummer and a great live presence and a beloved part of the whole thing. He’s totally indispensable to what Pavement was. He’s not featured that much on albums, but as part of the live show. Many of our favorite memories from bands are seeing them live and what feeling you got from the people — the smile on Mark’s face or the tribal freakout of Bob. Even if you thought I was a dick or lethargic, he was always there and he always gave 1000 percent, every show. I don’t think we would have gone on that long without him.
IT’S A BRAND NEW ERA
KANNBERG: I moved out to New York for about a month. Malkmus lived over in Brooklyn, Mark was in Manhattan at the time, and Bob came to town. So everybody was in different areas. We would just kind of get together every day for a few weeks and meet around noon then record into the wee hours of the night. The mood was really good because we were a touring band and we were young, we were pretty into the whole experience. It was still very new to us, we were still learning how to play our instruments, learning how to record… The mood was cool. Everybody was happy and excited. It was a little weird because of the whole Gary thing, but once we started touring and made the record with Westy we all got over it pretty quick.
MALKMUS: This guy named Tom Surgal, who made a video for Jon Spencer — he was a jazz drummer, older guy in New York who was a friend of Mark Ibold — he would go to every gig. He hung out at the original Knitting Factory a lot. And he was the one who said, “I know this guy Mark Venezia and he’s doing stuff with Bailter Space in this music room, and he’s got great stuff, and it’s really cheap, and he’s a nice guy, and you should just check that out.” We didn’t really know anybody, so I said I’d go see Mark. It was in this music building on 29th between 8th and 9th. There’s multiple studios there, and he worked at — there was also a secondhand gear place there. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was the place where lots of stuff would go through, and [Venezia] lived in there. And Kurt Ralske was right above it — remember that? Ultra Vivid Scene? That guy was in there, too, and had a studio. I think it was more kind of like Saturday Night Live blues-rock bands or just Juilliard wannabe music stuff. I think it was called Downtime, actually. The building was called Downtime. I don’t know if it’s still a music studio place. It was right around the corner from Madison Square Garden.
KANNBERG: It wasn’t really a studio, it was just kind of a guy’s apartment. He had set it up as a little studio, he had a tape machine and a little booth we could put the drums in. And basically we could play the drums [along with] a guy on guitar and just play the songs that way, and then overdubbed everything. Which was different than with Slanted, because with Slanted we played as a three-piece, and it kind of has more of a band feel. Crooked Rain is basically all overdubs.
WEST: [Venezia] had made kind of a home studio in there and was kind enough to let us play around and oversee what we did when he had a chance. It was a great way for me to come in and try to make a record without any real pressure. We didn’t have any of that. It was such a lo-fi attitude and approach.
MALKMUS: [Venezia] said, “Yeah man, I’ve got the stuff.” And he called it “slammin’.” He said, “This is slammin’. And I can get it.” It was totally basic. Just a tape machine — a good Studer tape machine — and a dummy board where the mics were practically plugged directly into the machine practically. It was just for monitoring, so it didn’t really color it. He got a lot of cool gear from the place that he worked up above. He would come down and say, “This mic preamp was used by the Beatles!” and just plug it in. All that kind of stuff that you love when you’re twentysomething.
WEST: We called him Walleye. That was his nickname from the people at the music store who called him Walleye for some reason.
KANNBERG: No idea what happened to that guy. He was crazy that guy. We went to the studio and he’s like, “Dudes, I’m sorry, my boss just called me and said take $50,000 out of the safe downstairs and go to the harness racing track ’cause I’ve got inside information on this horse, and I want you to bet $50,000 on it.” And we’re sitting there like, OK. And he’s like, “OK guys, I’ll be back in a few hours. Just do what you do, and I’ll be back.” And he comes back, and he’s all sweaty, and he’s like, “I put it on the wrong horse!” But stuff like that was going every day. Weird gambling stuff. He was a gambler so I don’t know, maybe he’s still in the gambling world.
MALKMUS: He would run horse bets to the OTB for the guy upstairs, I remember. That was a pretty crazy place, that secondhand gear place. They were moving stuff nonstop, and it was really busy. The Downtime music building was also strange. People were there that were just starting to make it in the New York industry scene. It was funny to be walking in there with such a ramshackle agenda like we had.
KANNBERG: So we would go to [Venezia's] place after he was almost done working and he’d tell us to pick out what we wanted to play on, and he’d bring it up to the apartment. And we’d do this everyday. This is like a two-room place. There was one room to sit in and listen, and that’s where you’d play your guitar or sing, and then you had the drum room. And I think there was a toilet in there as well, but that was about it. It was very claustrophobic. No windows. It was weird. Not a traditional way of making a record like that, that’s for sure. Which we were proud of. We did everything so cheap. We were very cheap back in those days. I can’t remember how much it cost, but it couldn’t have cost much to make that record. I think we spent more on mixing it with Bryce [Goggin] than actually recording it.
MALKMUS: So it was basically just me and Steve [West] doing the rough takes, and Mark [Ibold] would come by sometimes. Scott was there for part of the time. I ran Steve through the drums and then I just built all the songs up from that. Sometimes Scott would add some guitar and Mark played bass on a couple things, but it was mainly me and Steve messing around in there. So we had tapes and we did it. It was really primitive!
KANNBERG: It was just our inner circle. I think we did it without anybody really knowing we were doing it. We had a chance to record, we had a chance to do it when we did it. And luckily all the parts kind of came together and Matador really dug it and it was at a time in music when you could put a record out like that.
MALKMUS: I don’t even think Matador knew what we were doing. There definitely was no “come hear the tracks” thing until the end.
LOMBARDI: They turned it in pretty much when it was done. I don’t think I heard anything beforehand.
COSLOY: It’s not like we got to hear the songs that often before the record was turned in, there wasn’t like a demo process where we weren’t really visiting the studio, Stephen and Scott weren’t sending us sketches of the songs or anything, we got to hear the record before it was EQ-ed and mixed and before it was mastered, but there was relatively little communication with the record label as far as “Here’s the kind of record we’re going to make.”
KANNBERG: There was no pressure or anything from the label, there was no real pressure from our fans. We just kind of did what we did. It almost felt like we were in a bubble.
WEST: Most of the recording was just me and [Malkmus] in a room with a guitar and drums. Then he’d do other guitars over it and work through the bass. Scott would come over and do his songs with me. It wasn’t as if we were all playing at the same time like we did in later albums.
KANNBERG: We just did things, one or two takes. We really weren’t good enough to know if a song was right or not. Thinking of Pavement, we lived with our mistakes. There’s a lot of mistakes on those records that you might not realize, but we just kind of had that whole punk-rock attitude of doing a song and letting it be what it is. That record definitely captures that, there’s a lot of mistakes on there. So yeah, nobody going like, “Oh, that was a great take,” or anything. I think we just did a take and kind of worked with it. We kind of edited around the mistake. You can do that. I mean now you got Pro Tools so you can edit every mistake out.
MALKMUS: It was probably three or four sessions. A few days. You could go in there any time and Mark would just wake up and say he could do it. We’d run the machine ourselves sometimes, but he definitely made the drum sound. He was in charge of the drums because I didn’t really know how to record drums. We really didn’t know whether it had sounded good or not. We had track sheets that were not … we sometimes didn’t even have track sheets. It was totally primitive. We were just running on our confidence of Slanted And Enchanted thinking, “This is easy, you just do it yourself and record and it’s going to be great because it’s lo-fi rock.” There were different influences of course coming, some classic rock influences. And Steve West himself was a slower — he’s groovy. He has an internal groove, but he wasn’t quite as wild as Gary, and there wasn’t as much kinetic, weird energy from him. So that affected the sound.
KANNBERG: I wrote about four or five songs during that period. I wrote “Kennel District,” but that didn’t come out until the next record. “Hit The Plane Down” was just kind of a song I had. It was kind of this riff I’d been playing around with. The lyrics are more kind of nonsense, but I guess — I don’t know. I must have had a reason for it. I was really into the Stranglers records and early DEVO records, and I wanted to make a song that kind of captured that sort of post-punk with synthesizers in it. Yeah, basically that’s where it comes from. It’s nothing about actually shooting a plane down. I was probably reading a book about terrorists or something, I don’t know what it was. That’s where my memory evades me.
MALKMUS: There’s one song on there, called “Heaven Is A Truck,” that was not recorded with Mark [Venezia]. That was recorded at another place. We did a song for No Alternative, which was a compilation benefit for HIV, and we had some extra time, and we did that song there and added it to the album. Also, the intro to “Fillmore Jive” was taken from Gary’s studio. That was something where I was doing a Frogs pastiche and we added that onto the beginning of that. It was really crazy.
KANNBERG: “Fillmore Jive,” that’s actually two songs put together. I think one was actually recorded at Gary’s studio, the very end part. And the beginning part was recorded at Mark’s. And those were kind of put together with Band-Aids. It’s amazing that the record actually sounds good.
GO BACK TO THOSE GOLD SOUNDZ
WEST: We mixed the whole album at a different studio with Bryce Goggin, who brought that sense of professionalism and brought it to another level and pared down a lot of the stuff — there were way too many tracks, and he weeded through everything to find the gems.
MALKMUS: The key of the whole album as far as I’m concerned was mixing it. I can’t remember the name of the place. This might have been Chavez, Matt Sweeney, or somebody told me that this guy Bryce Goggin worked there. It was the studio where Teenage Fanclub recorded Bandwagonesque with Don Fleming. Elliott Sharp would work there. It was a small place on 14th and 6th, and somehow we got to go in there for $50 an hour. That’s all we really cared about, that it was cheap. And it turned out to have a really neat board. It was kind of a vintage-style place, but not as expensive as Sear Sound or something like that. It was sort of like Sear Sound on a budget. Two kind of old-school guys owned it. So $50 an hour, and we didn’t even know who the engineer was going to be, but it turned out that either he knew who we were or it was just luck.
BRYCE GOGGIN, MIXING ENGINEER: Baby Monster was originally a studio that was originally at 645 Broadway, about two or three blocks away from the old Knitting Factory. I think I had done about 10 Elliot Sharp records and worked with David Shea and Zeena Parkins and John Zorn and Mark Ribot. Mostly more downtown avant garde music for the previous four or five years. I had also done work with Swans and acts that were still playing at CBGB at that time. I would have to say that I didn’t do too much classical music and I didn’t do too much straight-ahead commercial rock. Most of the stuff I was doing was on the fringe of pop music and very experimental. A guy like David Shea or John or Elliot, they’re bringing in hieroglyphics for people to play off of.
LOMBARDI: I think at the time Bryce was supposed to be — he was scheduled to work with Chavez, and I believe he was working on the Chavez record when he got the call to work on the Pavement record. I don’t understand how it could’ve happened so quickly, but I do believe that Bryce shit-canned the Chavez guys to go work on the Pavement record because he knew that was the choice record.
MALKMUS: We thought we were going to mix it, but [Goggin] basically took it over — started rerecording the snare drum through the studio and completely fucking with it, just EQing things radically, compressing things. I didn’t know what a compressor was. I knew EQ, but I didn’t really know what a compressor was at that time. And reverbs, and just completely made it sound like what it sounds like now.
GOGGIN: All the elements were on tape for me. I think Steve (Malkmus) was a little bit nervous about working out of a big studio with an engineer. It wasn’t a big studio and I wasn’t a big engineer — I was just a staff guy. But I did one day of audition mixing. I can’t remember which track I mixed first, but I guess things went pretty smoothly because he was pretty into it. He was definitely worried about over-processing stuff. He didn’t want things to sound soupy and wet. He also felt it was really important that we didn’t mix a typical, hard-hitting punchy rock record. So he was pretty adamant that we didn’t mix the drums too loud and stuff. There was a lot of organizing to do. They had done a lot of guitar overdubbing and stuff, and we had to make a lot of decisions and composite a lot of guitars to be able to control the mixes because there were just tons of ideas on tape. Beyond that, it was pretty much a typical mix session and the material was super strong and super fun to listen to. I think we were mixing about three songs a day. We did a little bit of recording. I remember some piano and we put some tambourines and percussion on other stuff. For the most part, I think most of the stuff was tracked already from Mark.
MALKMUS: I don’t know what it would have sounded like if [Goggin] didn’t kind of save it because it was pretty raw. I mean, the signals were good, and there were some good sounds on there. Lots of different guitars because I could get guitars up at that studio, and back then I still had the patience to try five or six different guitars and 12-strings or “This one through this amp!” or “Try the Ampeg amp!” We had lots of subtly different sounds on there. Bryce mixed it, and he was much more into bass than I ever was, so it’s very low end-y. We had to cut a lot of it when we mastered it. It was mixed old-fashioned with all five of us on the mixing desk pressing buttons. He would need our help when it got to that point and we would offer input. It was really exciting to see songs like “Range Life” come to be.
GOGGIN: It was kind of a disorganized mess. There were songs with no track sheets and some songs didn’t have structures. I remember on “Cut Your Hair” arguing with Spiral because he thought the hook was too weird and I was pretty adamant that it stay there. Malkmus was there for that. I remember also that there was that one Stone Temple Pilots “elegant bachelors” line [on "Range Life"] that I told them they should leave in and later on they got mad at me because he said they didn’t get on a Lollapalooza tour because of that. So I shaped their career in a negative way.
MALKMUS: [Regarding "Range Life"] I remember we were in the studio and it was the last verse and there was nothing else to sing on there so I was just sort of rambling on and doing something funny, I thought in a way. I hope there’s no hurt feelings. It wasn’t meant to be that big of a deal. I just thought it was kind of — I don’t know, the tape is rolling. kind of like a hip-hop thing at the end when you just call out to your friends or are just playing around in the moment. We just kept it. Some people liked it because it was sort of provocative and a little feisty. I don’t really have a problem with it. There’s nothing in there that’s overt, it’s just passive aggressive I guess. The ’90s was all pass agg. Nirvana — pass agg.
KANNBERG: Bands love admiration, and we got a lot of it. It probably kept us going, it made us want to do another record. And if people didn’t like those records we probably would have quit a long time ago. But we were pretty cocky, too. We knew it was good compared to all the other stuff that was going on at the time. That’s why the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots lyrics stayed in that song, because we kind of wanted to prove that we were … not better than these bands, but we were cocky. I mean everybody’s kind of like that when they’re starting out. You think you do something better than someone else and you get jealous. You see Smashing Pumpkins on TV, and there was probably a little bit of jealously in that, too.
GOGGIN: At the time, my aesthetic and their aesthetic was pretty in sync. I certainly felt like I brought form and clarity to the songs by featuring the vocals a little bit more and featuring the hooks more clearly. I certainly was picking up guitar parts and sampling them and slotting them in in spots where things were inconsistent. It definitely felt like Stephen and I had listened to the same records growing up and we both had an organic aesthetic and enjoyed pop rock, but wanted to challenge everybody in terms of what the content of the music was going to be.
WEST: I know one thing that we did was rerecord snare because it just sounded terrible and completely out of tune when Stephen and I recorded it. I think what he did was he took it in to the studio and soloed that track and rerecorded it so it had more snap or something. He put a speaker underneath and rerecorded it that way. He took the weaknesses and improved them a whole lot.
MALKMUS: There was a great Cuban restaurant there. I remember it was a cold New York winter, eating Cuban food and being blown away by how Bryce was changing things. Like the “Silence Kid” intro was not supposed to sound like that. I had an idea of what it was supposed to sound like and where the guitars were supposed to go and he completely did it differently and made it more floppy sounding in a good way. A sort of hiccuping start. And he started his thing and we came in and thought it was cool. Because he wasn’t there for the recording, he didn’t know anything besides what he was hearing for the first time. I really remember it taking shape there. He played piano on “Range Life,” which there was no piano on before. I had an idea to do it, but I didn’t think to hire a piano player. He just happened to play piano well, so it was one of those serendipitous things that make the special fairy dust alive.
GOGGIN: Stephen Malkmus was an amazing artist to work with. He seemed to be prolific and uninhibited at that time. I do remember cutting vocals with him on a couple songs and they were all one-take riffs. He had ideas written down on a page but no clear map yet he was able to deliver an amazing thread off the top of his head. I rarely see people with as much of a grasp and dexterity as that guy had, and it was really very, very exciting to work with him. And to think, everybody in that band was super nice and super fun to hang out with. Obviously, he inspired the creative forces behind what was going on in the studio.
MALKMUS: We mastered it in England at the Townhouse or someplace. Again, really old-school mastering like they don’t do it anymore. That was cool too.
NASTANOVICH: I was in Louisville. A couple of days after it was finished, I remember I picked up Stephen in New York and he came to spend some time in Louisville. The first time I ever actually heard those sessions was on a cassette deck in my car after I picked him up and drove him to Louisville, which is like a 13-hour drive. We listened to it several times. He came up with some ideas as to what he’d like me to do live. In a lot of cases, it was pretty obvious. Basically, I was like, “What if I did this on this song?” We pretty quickly figured out the simple stuff that I was going to add to it.
MALKMUS: Album titles are hard, and I came up with [Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain] somehow. I don’t really know. It’s kind of like “Purple rain, purple rain” in my mind. And it rhymes in a really ridiculous way, a double rhyme. I don’t know. “Crooked rain” is kind of poetic sounding, and then just doubling it with an absurdity double and the veiled Prince reference, at least in my mind. [sings: "Crooked rain, crooked rain."] It just came up at the end. I had lots of other titles, but that one, much like Wig Out At Jagbags, it comes to be seen as the best one. I tend to take some time with the album titles, and it’s always a struggle, but usually it’s worth it to come up with something good.
SO MANY FORTRESSES AND WAYS TO ATTACK
LOMBARDI: I thought we had a hit record! It was one of those things where you get that almost physical feeling — that excitement that runs through you, and that knowledge that you really are going to be part of something exciting you know? Kind of like before you get on a rollercoaster or something like that. You know it’s going to be exciting. It was obviously the most — it was the most commercial thing we had ever worked with, but also one of the best records we had ever heard, so you know, it was just one of those things when you’re in that moment and you recognize it. Like, Wow! This is an unbelievable record this is going to be incredible to work with these guys and be a part of this ride for this next year or two, or three, or four, or five, or whatever it is.
COSLOY: I love that record from start to finish and was absolutely blown away when we first heard it. I don’t remember having any thoughts in terms of “This is what it’s going to sell, this is how it’s gonna be received.” I think there was a good deal of confidence given the fact that Slanted had been so well-received and this record felt as strong, but different, if you put it that way.
LOMBARDI: “Stop Breathin'” was maybe in my head. I remember listening to it on my Walkman headphones walking from my house to the office and being one of those kind of great New York days and sort of visualizing something — maybe what a video would be like or whatever — not that we did one for that song, but you know.
COSLOY: I think the first time I heard “Stop Breathin'” I thought, “This is… completely amazing. This is the best song anyone’s gonna write this year.”
LOMBARDI: It had a life to it. It was different than Slanted. It seemed in some ways more tangible, more real, more physical or something. In that way it was almost easier to grab onto whereas Slanted was more of a [ethereal] record in some ways.
COSLOY: The thing you have to understand is that they already were crossing over to a larger audience, and they were doing it on their own terms. It wasn’t really until Crooked that Matador began to get more involved in sort of bigger rock business machinations to kind of move that process along a little faster, and that stuff was not entirely successful.
GREER: I interviewed those guys and wrote a pretty big feature around the release of that record, just before it came out. We were in New York. Most of the band lived there at the time, so we met at a bar or cafe or whatever. I remember that interview very well. Even though I had known those guys for a while, it was still a difficult interview. [Malkmus] has always been a difficult interview, and when you get them all together it’s even worse. At the time he was smoking so much pot. He was always stoned… They had made a splash obviously with Slanted And Enchanted, but they hadn’t done sort of the full-court press. They hadn’t been subjected to that until Crooked Rain. So it was their first sort of encounter with the mind-numbing onslaught. And back then you didn’t have email interviews, so everything was done in person. Around the release of the record, depending on the lead time, you would do just hours and hours a day of these interviews, and I think that was a new experience for them. It’s not fun for anyone to do. It’s never fun. I don’t mean to imply that they weren’t perfectly cordial, but they were so uninterested in talking about the music. The only time I think Stephen perked up is when I started talking about tennis. He’s very competitive, and I said something like, “I’m probably better able to name the Wimbledon champion of 1979 than some obscure band.” And he’s like, “Who was it?” He loves trivia. So he’s like, “Who was the Wimbledon champion in 1979?” And of course I couldn’t remember.
IBOLD: In America, the music press meant little to us at the time because we never really relied on it for anything. It wasn’t very interesting to us at the time. They seemed kind of backwards and were still focused on bands that were what, by large record companies terms, were “commercial successes.” Stuff that was coming out on labels like Matador or any of the smaller labels in America were only just starting to get some press in magazines like Spin. We didn’t pay much attention to that. To us, the music press that we cared about more was the British press, if I remember correctly. I remember looking at those more. It was just because they had writers who were receptive to smaller artists in the American music scene and they would pick up on it before writers in America would. The first time I was ever interviewed by anybody for a band that I was in was for Melody Maker because they were interested in Pavement way before any American music press was. There were some people from fanzines and stuff that were definitely into it. At the time, the fanzine scene was really the only thing that mattered to us in America as far as the kind of press we would get.
COSLOY: We did a joint-venture agreement with Warner distribution for Crooked Rain in North America. But at the time we did that we were also in a joint-venture agreement with Atlantic Records. And this is all kind of inside baseball, but it’s also very instructive as to what was happening in the music business at the time. Matador was roughly a year into our deal with Atlantic and the guy who brought us into Atlantic — the president of the label, Danny Goldberg — left Atlantic to become president of Warner Bros., which left us in a weird situation because he was our guy. And all of the sudden, we have this massive record, and Pavement were certainly part of the reason why Danny was interested in working with Matador in the first place. It would be the height of exaggeration to say that Danny and Pavement were best friends, but he certainly had met them and appealed to them. And all of the sudden he’s no longer at Atlantic, and Pavement are working on a record-by-record deal and can call their own shots, and the prospect to them, of having the second record come out through the Atlantic system when they don’t even know anybody at Atlantic — that was a little weird. So what ended up happening was we did the record just as a straight Matador record, with no Atlantic logo on the back. And the record is marketed through Warner Music, goes through WEA, but Atlantic doesn’t actually do any promo or marketing of any sort. And that was a very worried situation, it’s kind of an unprecedented situation.
KANNBERG: We weren’t on a major label. The bands that are on a major label, there’s that whole apparatus. Even though Matador did put it out and get it out through a major, I think — I don’t know how to explain it. The thing is, we didn’t want to be like that either. We wanted to be like we were. And we were happy with the pace we were going at. I don’t think we would’ve been a band if we went the Weezer route.
COSLOY: We ended up with the worst of both worlds. While it did have much better sort of chain-level distribution because it went through WEA, the costs and expense of doing so were very high at the same time. We’ve now succeeded in completely alienating — I might be exaggerating a bit — but alienating many of the people at Atlantic, who we have to continue to work with after Danny’s departure, because they were all psyched to get to work with Pavement, and all of the sudden Pavement are saying that they want to disassociate themselves with Atlantic Records. I mean, they had good reasons for doing so, but still. There were people at Atlantic who were definitely hurt by this, and these are people who we needed to continue working with for a little while. And finally, there were people on the indie level — people at record stores, Pavement fans — who are kind of like, “Well, wait a second. The record is coming out through WEA but it’s not on Atlantic and it’s not on Warner Bros. The logos already weren’t on it. What’s Matador trying to hide?” We’ve essentially shot ourselves — we don’t have enough feet to count how many times we shot ourselves in the foot with this entire set up. I mean, shit, looking back on it now, it probably should have been a straight independent release, in which case I think we would have sold just as many, or we should have done it as a full-fledged co-release with whatever major the band could have stomached working with at the time. But it was sort of this weird half-assed thing and it created some friction, it definitely made a lot of the business relationships a little more tense than they needed to be. So that was a rough thing.
LOMBARDI: If I was reflecting on it now, I think I wouldn’t have felt the same at the time. When you’re in the midst of it and things are really feeling aflame like that, there was so much excitement about the band, and then all of the sudden they deliver this record that seems like, to us, insanely commercial. Of course it’s not insanely commercial. It’s a fairly commercial record, but it just sounded like a fucking pop record. It still does, but a great one. It just felt like it was gonna sail. Like, “Oh my god! Here we are. Here’s this incredible record that we’re gonna be a part of.” And it was super exciting at the time to hear something that we helped put on the radio. They made this incredible record that somehow had a Matador logo on it and was being played on commercial radio stations. And that felt kind of… it felt out of place! But it certainly was exciting.
ATTENTION AND FAME, SO CAR-EE-ER!
WEST: That whole album, each song kind of has its own genre and possible commercial side of it. Each song hits a nice sweet spot. But “Cut Your Hair” was definitely the catchiest.
GREER: He could have totally written songs like that for the rest of his life, and I just don’t think it was something that ever interested him.
MALKMUS: I’m not really the single picker. It may be Scott. Scott Kannberg is a good man on the street. He understands Pavement the way a “man on the street” does than me. It could have been him.
COSLOY: I don’t recall there being a tremendous amount of discussion or contention over the choice of single. At the time, it felt pretty obvious.
LOMBARDI: I don’t think we actually consulted with anyone in the radio department. We might have, but I think we knew what it was. I think it was pretty clear. I think it was a question of what seemed like the most radio-friendly track, what was the most upbeat, so…
COSLOY: That was certainly a time where we were trying to up the ante in terms of getting the record into more stores, into bigger stores, the first time that we ever tried to do a commercial radio campaign with “Cut Your Hair,” which was not entirely successful. It was the first time we had made a proper music video with Pavement, in this case, the “Cut Your Hair” video directed by Dan Koretzky, which looking back on it now was a fantastic, very, very funny video, but it certainly did not achieve what we thought it would on MTV, which would be a recurring theme for both Pavement and Matador for many years.
IBOLD: With all of our videos, there wasn’t a lot of communication within the band. There would be a person who would have an idea for a video and that person would either approach one of the band members or the people at Matador and that would be communicated to one or two or all of us, but at different times. We would agree on doing videos but one thing that was pretty much a given was that we weren’t going to spend very much money on them because we couldn’t really afford to. So they all ended up being fly-by-night videos where sometimes you’d be in the middle of shooting them and you’d be going, “Oh my god, this is a joke.” In the end, they’re fun to look at in retrospect because they were all done on such a small budget. The people that were making them were really trying hard and had some great ideas. In the case of the “Cut Your Hair” video, that was Dan Koretzky who directed it. I think that’s one of the best ones of all the ones that we did.
WEST: It was a long day and it was kind of slushy and rainy outside. Actually, it might have been snowing. It was kind of humorous and lo-fi and worked for us because it was kind of tongue-in-cheek. The director was Dan Koretzky at Drag City. We enjoyed having him be involved. The barber was perfect. I think he was actually the barber who owned the place or ran the place.
MALKMUS: We got the Drag City guys in there to do that — Dan and Rian [Murphy]. We were still in touch with them. It was probably a charged thing for them because they were instrumental in starting the Pavement thing. When we did Slanted And Enchanted, it was sort of a big deal because they weren’t even doing CDs yet. We lived in New York and it was sort of a big deal to switch over to New York label Matador for us. It was a big decision for us. But they film comedy. I don’t know who was inspired exactly to do it, but they came up with the idea and it was shot in what I think became the Beauty Bar. It was on 14th Street. It was fast and painless, relatively. That’s all I really remember. Bob was funny drinking the blue shit.
IBOLD: We were all being slightly made fun of, which was fine. I think that was the most together of all the videos that we had. I think that Dan and Rian did a lot of prep work for it and really worked hard on it.
NASTANOVICH: We all went to that barbershop and listened to their what seemed to be extremely corny ideas, and then tried our best to execute them. It’s interesting because some people consider that to be one of the worst videos they’ve ever seen, especially during that era when so many bands were putting so much into their video. Like MTV videos were sort of making and breaking bands at that point. It was such a vital part of the music industry during that era. A lot of bands were investing huge amounts of money in their videos and we just sort of refused to do that… For a music video, the fact that it was so silly and light-hearted of a concept made it seem like it was not that big of a deal. Aside from MTV, who were probably fairly disappointed with the result, I think all of us were fine with it.
OUT ON TOUR (NOT WITH THE SMASHING PUMPKINS)
KANNBERG: We toured a hell of a lot around that time. I think for Crooked Rain we did — Bob likes to say we did 50 shows in 50 days. We toured like in a van and Lincoln Towncar. And we were just a band, you know? We were kids just going, like, “This is fun. Let’s keep doing it.” It didn’t matter about the driving or sleeping on people’s floors, you just did it.
NASTANOVICH: It was exciting. We were getting a lot of opportunities. It was kind of outlandish in a way. We were being interviewed on MTV, we were on The Tonight Show. It was preposterous in a way because we always felt like these underdogs who were suddenly getting an incredible amount of recognition. Things were pretty exciting in ’94, that whole year. We were really busy and did an incredible amount of shows. At one point we did 53 shows in 52 days. We didn’t have to worry as much about having a sick person in the band. All we had to worry about was ourselves getting sick because we were doing so much. It was a fantastic experience. We felt like everything was really on the ups. The most significant thing was that I think all five people in the band and everyone in the crew we worked with felt that it was a good thing that Pavement kept going, because we did have more to offer at that point.
KANNBERG: We were touring around in a tiny little van, sleeping on people’s floors. We weren’t a big band. Driving eight hours a day to get to the next gig — it was pretty rough.
WEST: I think it was a five-week tour within the U.S. and Canada. We rented a Vantastic van, which is a professional touring van and it was nice on the inside with a video game thing inside. And then we had another car that we’d rent and we travelled in two vehicles and we just went every day. I remember we woke up in Albuquerque at 5 a.m. and flew to LA and the two guys in the crew drove the vehicles in LA. We went on the Jay Leno show and sat around there all day freaking out, playing the Jay Leno show, then went into LA and played two shows there — one at eight o’clock and one at ten o’clock, an underage show and an overage show. Something like that. Then the next day we went to San Francisco to play there. It was all pretty go, go, go.
KANNBERG: [We toured] a year, more than a year off and on. Europe a few times, America, Japan, Australia, we went everywhere. Whoever wanted us we would play. We even did this show where we played in Australia and we flew from Australia back to L.A., L.A. to London, London to Copenhagen, got in a van and drove for about eight hours to the middle of nowhere in Sweden to play this festival where we played at like 2 in the morning and it was sunny out. It was just incredible how we could do those things to like, 500 people. Those were the kind of things we agreed to. Then you drink, drink, and drink, and your body can take it cause you’re young. We drank a lot.
GREER: They were so into Scrabble. That was the only thing they cared about on tour. Later I was in Guided By Voices, and I toured with them a bit. I can just remember them calling around, like, “We’re having a Scrabble tournament! You wanna come down?” I’m like, “Jesus, no thanks, but that sounds like fun.” “Thurston’s gonna referee!” I don’t care. It’s still Scrabble.
NASTANOVICH: There were a bunch of us in school that would always play games and Scrabble was always our game. Scrabble was such a good travel game, with the set where the tiles would lock into the groove so you don’t have to worry about them falling all over the place. Especially when we started bus touring, which was a whole new level, Scrabble was really the most-played game in Pavement’s story. You spend a lot of time in the backstage room and it’s good to have a pastime. That’s all it was. And Stephen’s really good at it because he’s really wordy and I think he likes to look at words and think about words. Mark actually got very competitive. It was just fun and a fun way to kill time on tour.
WEST: I think around the middle of that American tour, we would get news about the “Cut Your Hair” video getting played or being played on radio or the “Gold Soundz” song being played on radio, and so that was the big thing. If you got something played on the major market radios in the big cities, you we realized, “Oh, we could actually go to the next level.” Which never really happened. We got to it and kind of teetered on the edge for a while. There was that possibility and that kind of excitement.
LOMBARDI: We had never really had a record on the radio. We definitely hadn’t, and I remember going out to Los Angeles and having our rental car, and — hell, it might’ve even been a convertible — and hearing the song. And you know, we were with our publicist Spencer Gates, and we were driving around and hearing that on the world’s famous KROQ it was one of those moments where you’re always gonna remember that. Like, I remember the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on — what was it? Not DCN but the other big Massachusetts Boston station out of Framingham. It was like, “Oh my god, they’re playing THIS song on the radio?” It’s just so crazy. Hearing “Cut Your Hair” was intense.
KANNBERG: It was at that time when Nirvana had hits and they kind of made everything change. The landscape changed a little bit, but not for long, because a lot of really bad bands got big because of the changing landscape. And we were kind of in there for a little bit, but I think because we were so quirky and we didn’t completely play the game like everybody else did, we kind of got lost a little bit around that time.
GOODNIGHT TO THE ROCK AND ROLL ERA
NASTANOVICH: We definitely expanded our horizons a lot in 1994 as a band. A lot of things really changed and we grew a lot that year in every way. I think that the reason why is that those songs and that recording aesthetic and everything about that record must have been pretty decent. It definitely expanded our audience. There was definitely more widespread acceptance. It was a lot easier to grasp than a lot of the stuff that Pavement had done before. And I was fine with it. I know there was a lot of people who thought, “Oh, Pavement’s not like a really cool, obscure, underground band anymore.” I remember there was a backlash that was basically like, “Oh, now frat boys like them,” and language like that was being used as a negative. It didn’t faze me and didn’t discourage me. I felt like we were doing what we were supposed to be doing and I was happy that the songs were good enough. The fact that younger people or even older people listen to it and want to sound like that is the highest compliments to me.
IBOLD: I would say that Crooked Rain is the most consistent [Pavement album]. None of the Pavement records are really party music, but you could play it at your house with people over and you wouldn’t really feel like you have to skip over a song. Like how you listen to music differently when you’re with other people and you want them to like the music. I feel like that record could play all the way through and it wouldn’t ruffle any feathers. Not because it’s boring but because all the songs are pretty good and they’re equally good, I think.
WEST: The thing about Pavement is the touch-and-go with success. To me, and I think all of us in the band, our success — and I think we knew it at the time — was that in 20 years, somebody would call us on the phone and ask us about it. It may not get us a few thousand dollars in royalties, but people will be interested in it and we’ll make a little money, but the most important thing is that we do what’s right and feels good. I think everyone was in the band because of that reason because they understood what we were trying to accomplish. A quick road to monetary success wasn’t our path and I think it’s panned out. I would have much rather had it this way than be Hootie And The Blowfish or something that just had a massive hit but doesn’t have as much trickle-down interest as we have had.
GREER: It’s a hugely influential record. Whatever indie rock means anymore — which, I’m not sure it ever really meant anything; it has fractured and splintered in so many ways. But in that specific sort of guitar-oriented, song-oriented part of indie rock, I think it’s hugely influential. I hear it all the time. That’s a very wide-ranging record. I mean, “Range Life” is almost an alt-country song in an ironic way. The irony is something that hasn’t kept. I find that indie rock bands these days are a little bit more sincere in general and a little bit more craft-oriented. Because you can be, they’re less shambolic in general. That aesthetic is really hard to reproduce in a Pro Tools environment, weirdly. It’s easier to do on tape. It’s almost a natural result of recording to tape. So it’s a bit harder to do. But in terms of the guitar sounds and the songwriting style, the approach to songwriting, all that stuff, I think you hear that everywhere these days. I think that Steve’s particular melodic gifts and his unconventional structuring and his sort of non-linear lyrics, the oblique lyrics, song titles — definitely all that stuff is hugely influential.
LOMBARDI: It’s an instantly playable record that really resonates with people who were born or brought up around a particular time. And that band represented a certain thing, a certain time, a certain feeling, a certain attitude, certainly a time-change or a sea-change in music or commercial music and that was self-important in that way. And you know, they were kind of the antiheroes, or the heroes.
COSLOY: There was very little about the record that felt like a come-down after Slanted, but that was a hard record to follow-up. That was a record that occupied such a big place in so many people’s hearts, it would have been very, very easy to fuck it up. I’m forever grateful that they did anything but fuck it up. I mean, I think there are a lot of people who would argue that Crooked Rain is the best Pavement record, and I’m not so sure they’re wrong.