Pavement's Bob Nastanovich on reunion tours, the Fall and dealing with inner-band conflicts
Pavement is among the most influential rock bands of the '90s, despite not quite becoming a household name, and you can hear the band's influence in virtually all underground rock since then, from the slightly off-center rhythms, the jagged but melodic guitar riffs and the fascinatingly obtuse lyrics. Taking some cues from the decidedly unconventional pop stylings of the Fall, Pavement charted a path across five albums of constant reinvention from the ultra-lo-fi classic, Slanted and Enchanted, to its swan song, Terror Twilight.
After calling it quits in 1999, Pavement's stature in the rock underground increased. Ten years later, Pavement announced it would be doing shows again and 2010, it embarked on its first tour in over a decade, a jaunt which includes a date at the Ogden Theatre tomorrow evening, Thursday, September 9 with Jenny and Johnny.
We had a chance to speak with percussionist and music connoisseur Bob Nastanovich about the band's beginnings, his role in the band beyond the music and how the Fall and Pavement came to play the same festival.
Westword (Tom Murphy): What took you to UVA, and how did you meet Stephen Malkmus and David Berman?
Bob Nastanovich: I grew up predominantly in Richmond, Virginia. I've been very close friends with Steve West since the ninth grade. We went to a small private high school called Trinity. The first live show that Steve West played in his life was with a cover band called the Cellars on my parents' back porch.
When it came time to apply for college I got into Virginia and was thrilled with that. I went there on my eighteenth birthday, and I was probably too immature to go to college. I was an irresponsible student, and somehow, I survived and graduated after four years and four summers.
One of the highlights was being a DJ at the college station there, which really was an excellent station. The DJs had free reign to play whatever they wanted to play. A lot of the rock DJs became my best friends. In the cases of Stephen Malkmus and David Berman, lifelong friends. James McNew, who plays in Yo La Tengo, was a DJ there. John Beers, from Happy Flowers, a Homestead band, was a DJ there.
We had a really talented group of people who were into record collecting and traveling the mid-Atlantic region, even New York, to see bands. So we became a pretty close-knit group and I just hit it off really well with Berman and Malkmus.
Ww: As one of two drummers in Pavement, how would you say your role in the rhythm section differs from that of Steve West, and how is your style different from his?
BN: I'm sort of a drummer. I just play a floor tom and a snare. I can't play a kick drum. I'm more of a percussionist. Steve West is what I would call a proper rock and roll drummer. He plays a full kit, and he's been playing for a long time. He works really hard at it and takes it really seriously and does a very good job.
There are about a dozen songs we play that I also play drums on. Those songs have more of a tribal drum feel to them or just have a stronger drum sound, and our sound man does a good job of mixing us.
I think Steve West's drum kit always is and should be louder than mine. I play maracas, tambourines and other noise makers. I use a sampler we use in a couple of songs, and I have a Nord synthesizer, which I play on a few songs.
I do mostly the harsher vocal bits that, in most cases, Stephen would have sung on an album, but over the course of a tour, they would make his voice ragged, so he donated those parts to me.
Ww: I read somewhere that you played on some music by Tall Dwarfs. How did that come about, and what was it like working with Chris Knox?
BN: We toured with him and Alec Bathgate two or three times. I think two times we went to New Zealand, and I hit it off with Chris really well. He's a mischievous fellow with a brilliant sense of humor. [He's] a very entertaining guy and a great storyteller.
Scott Kannberg also played on a couple of numbers on a couple of their recordings. [He] is a huge Tall Dwarfs fan. He invited us over to his house one day where he has a nice little studio and told us to do whatever we wanted to do, and we ended up making it on to a couple of songs -- which was a real thrill.
Unfortunately, due to his health, we were only in New Zealand, this time, for three days, and we only played Auckland. It was the first show of this reunion tour, and we didn't get to see him. He wasn't well enough to get out. But I saw several of his friends that I knew from going down there in the '90s. They said he'd made some progress.
He's a very famous guy in New Zealand. He's kind of a famous movie critic. He's kind of like, without wanting to insult Chris, he's sort of the Roger Ebert of New Zealand. There are a lot of wonderful people there, but he's at the top of the list.
Ww: Whenever I've read accounts about Pavement, it seems like you're the one who has the difficult conversations or calls for it to happen when things need to be discussed. Is that an accurate perception, and if it is, in some sense how did you end up falling into that role within the band?
BN: I think so. In regard to Pavement, I like to make things happen. I don't think there's any need for us to present ourselves in a wishy-washy manner. So if there's a difficult subject, I'm willing to tackle it, open things up for discussion. We've really got nothing to hide. I think I'm probably just the biggest talker.
Ww: What is it about Gang of Four that really left an impression on you?
BN: When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, one of my dear friends in high school, with whom I went record shopping all the time, was a guy named Norty Hord. He passed away of a brain tumor when he was 21.
Our friendship was mainly built on mainly turning each other on to records, and Gang of Four's Entertainment! was his favorite record. I remember we spent many days driving around listening to Entertainment!. It got to the point that, when I was fifteen or sixteen, I knew every word on most Gang of Four records, and that comes from hearing them repeatedly in Norty's car.
To this day, certainly Entertainment!, I know all of the words for that record. The sound of it was so exciting to me. I listened to Echo & The Bunnymen a lot then, as well. Later, I got into Wire. But Andy Gill's brittle guitar style appealed to me from a young age.
Ww: Did Pavement ever get to play with the Fall, or have any of you met Mark E. Smith, despite his semi-public expression of disdain for Pavement?
BN: The ATP [All Tomorrow's Parties] we curated in England, we asked them to play. It's a three day thing, and they played on a different day than us. I actually didn't say a word to any of them, myself. I've heard that Mark E. Smith is a nasty person and that he doesn't like Pavement, and I certainly didn't want to incur his wrath. I don't need to get chewed out by a miserable, old Mancunian [laughs]. Life's hard enough. But I watched them play for about fifteen or twenty minutes.
I saw the Fall in 1986 at the 930 Club in DC. It was a fantastic show, and that was the peak of my Fall fandom. It was kind of a college thing for me. They were great. But you know when you see a band do an amazing show and you're sort of apprehensive about seeing them again, so they don't sully the previous performance? Before we ever toured with Sonic Youth, I had seen them play about six shows, and some of those shows were really special, like seeing the Minutemen or early Replacements shows.
That's why I'm worried about reunion shows in general. A lot of people have fond memories of their favorite Pavement shows, and you don't want people to go, "Yeah, they came back and did it, but they're not as good as they used to be." I'm sure for a lot of people who saw us this year it was nostalgic for some people, but it didn't do the same thing it did for them when they were nineteen or 24.
A lot of people have come forth and said we were a lot better. Unless you're a jerk or aggressive with your opinions, you're not going to come forth and say, "Oh yeah, you guys used to be a lot better, but it's really cool that you did this." Some people really feel that way and that's just the way it is.
I saw a Superchunk show in Barcelona, and they were better than I had ever seen them before. I thought they were better than they were. A lot of your enjoyment of live shows has to do with your mood. You used to be able to go see four great bands for seven bucks. But now...we try to keep our prices reasonable, but forty bucks is a lot of money.
It's crazy to me, but who knows? It's all in good fun. I was apprehensive going into it from a physical standpoint because it's exhausting. So far so good. These U.S. shows are important, and we want to entertain the people who come to see us and pay for overpriced beer.
If you pay forty bucks for a show, you should be able to bring in a cooler. By Pavement standards we've been playing pretty well this year and the crowd's have been fantastic.