Archive for Thursday, October 7, 1999

PAVEMENT FINDS FOOTING IN INDIE WORLD

October 7, 1999

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The California rock band is touring to promote its news album, "Terror Twilight."

Pavement, critical darlings of lo-fi indie rock, isn't worried about the deliberately slow-paced ascent of its career.

Eschewing mainstream success and the trappings of fame, the Stockton, Calif., quintet has followed its own path, attaining legendary status and a rabid following of fans, musicians and critics.

"We've evolved pretty slowly," drummer Steve West said in a recent phone interview from Houston. "I guess that's why we still have energy. It's exciting to us. We're not like huge musicians with big egos. We're much better off just doing our thing. We're real comfortable with what we're doing and with the people we work with."

Formed 10 years ago, Pavement signed to independent label Matador Records in the early '90s, releasing several EPs and singles. 1992's full-length "Slanted and Enchanted" gained the band critical praise but didn't sell many copies. 1994's "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" fared better and even contained a minor hit single, "Cut Your Hair." 1995's "Wowee Zowee" fell prey to critical and commercial backlash, but the group was offered a lucrative opening spot on the fifth Lollapallooza. They were greeted with arm's-folded indifference by meager audiences.

"I think it was kind of tough for the rest of the guys in the band," West said. "The first few shows, to play and not have any response from the crowd, very little response. Empty bleachers and things like that. I've been in bands in Virginia, before Pavement, where I go play in a club and there would be one or two people there. That's what it reminded me of. So it wasn't as big a shock to me as I think it was for some of them.

"After we kind of got in the groove and realized that's what Lollapallooza is all about. It's about the two headliners. Then, we had fun. We played with a lot of great bands and we were very lucky to do it. We just tour in two mini-vans and at Lollapalooza they carried our equipment. We played 30 shows and were played handsomely for it. We played with Jesus Lizard, Beck, Sonic Youth, Cypress Hill, and Hole was there too so it was very colorful and fun."

1997's "Brighten the Corners" marked a comeback of sorts for the band, who began to have a small but devoted group of fans around the world.

Breaking free

Released in June, "Terror Twilight" was a modern masterpiece of sophisticated production and sparkling pop magic, marking a giant leap forward for the band. Perfecting the band's amalgamation of idiosyncratic melodies and singer-heartthrob Stephan Malkmus' fractured post-ironic lyrics, the album was Pavement's most mature, fully realized work to date.

Typical of the group's sensiblility, the first single -- a delicate, swirling love song -- was titled "Spit On a Stranger." The CD was released to the best reviews of the band's career and tons of college radio airplay.

West talked about the preliminary work that went into the album, difficult for a band whose members all live in different cities.

"We practiced in two or three locations. In Portland and Virginia we got together and practiced a lot -- because we hadn't been around each other for probably a year. So we spent a month and a half just becoming a band again. When you've been doing it as long as we have, it's a healthy thing to rejuvenate enthusiasm and your own self-originality, so that when you do get together you can bring something new to the palette.

"We went up to New York and recorded for a couple of weeks and then took that to London and finished off the vocals, the guitar, bass and mixed it there."

Behind the boards was Nigel Godrich, alternative's producer du jour and the sonic mastermind behind Beck's "Mutations" and Radiohead's "Ok Computer." Godrich allegedly turned down U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to work with the lesser-known band.

"Nigel was great," West said, laughing. "He made us do everything we don't normally do like second takes and stuff like that. We always try to approach a record from the offset that will make it different. In this case it was getting an actual producer that would come in as a sixth member of the band and kind of let him take the reins more than other producers and engineers or producers that we've worked with. So he had much more say, telling us what he liked and didn't like and giving us suggestions. I think that's what was different about this record."

A link to the Web

Despite offers from several major labels, the band has remained with Matador throughout its career. Would Pavement consider signing with a major label down the road?

"I doubt it seriously," West said. "This record's doing just as well, if not better, than the rest with just them behind it. That's fine with me. When we have dealt with the larger companies it doesn't seem like they understand our mentality. They usually get bands that are willing to put themselves on the Rosie O'Donnell show or something. We just think a little more about things. We don't leap at every opportunity."

The band members are currently on tour to promote "Terror Twilight," and, as usual, they're doing it their own way.

"We've been breaking it up this time, taking a couple of weeks between long tours. So we haven't gotten as sick of it as we normally would in the album touring process."

Pavement's live shows have become highly traded on Web sites, a phenomenon the band encourages.

"There's a lot of bootlegs of European radio shows," West said. "BBC, as well as a lot of live bootlegs. I kind of encourage that, 'cause that's even more of a real feel of the band.

"When we record we've done it pretty quickly all the time. There's always a time limit and a budget. So, the real essence of who we are is really what we play live together and we've done the songs a number of shows and then the songs metamorphose into what Pavement is.

"It's like two different versions to me. If you have a good recording of a live show you get a whole different aspect of what Pavement is about."

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.



INDIE ROCK

Who: Pavement.

When: Wednesday night.

Where: Liberty Hall, 644 Mass.

Tickets: Call 749-1972.

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