Pavement (band)

From Academic Kids

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Pavement was one of the key American indie-rock bands of the 1990s, known for its oblique, original style and — at first anyway — for its influential 'lo-fi' recording quality.



The band formed in Stockton, California, in 1989 as a studio project of guitarists and vocalists Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, known originally only as "S.M." and "Spiral Stairs". Their debut EPs Slay Tracks (1933-1969), Demolition Plot J-7, and Perfect Sound Forever were recorded at the studio of drummer Gary Young and consisted of lo-fi songs highly influenced by The Fall. Later a British music magazine would play Mark E. Smith (founding member of The Fall) Pavement's 'Two States', telling him it was an old Fall b-side. He believed them.

Around 1992 Pavement became a full-time band, with the addition of bassist Mark Ibold and extra percussionist Bob Nastanovich; most of their subsequent songs were written by Malkmus, with a consistent minority coming from Kannberg. Their debut album Slanted and Enchanted appeared in this year and became an indie classic, although Pavement remained more or less a cult band despite the enthusiastic reviews. In particular, fractured songs like "Summer Babe" and "Trigger Cut" (both singles) helped make this one of the most abstract early '90s guitar records.

Around this time Pavement began to build a reputation as a formidable, if wayward, live band. Shows in the UK at this time had the band professing their love of Luton Town FC and preparing cucumber sandwiches for the bewildered fans.

After the release of the Watery, Domestic EP, drummer Young, the catalyst for much of the band's eccentric live behaviour, was replaced by Steve West. Leaving behind the lo-fi ethic, they released Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in 1994, a record with much more of a pop tradition than the first album. In particular, the single "Cut Your Hair", is the band's closest brush with the mainstream, briefly became an MTV hit. Another song which earned the band attention was "Range Life" (also a single), not so much for its melodic country feel but for a lyric appearing to bait Pavement's contemporaries the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots. "Range Life" also helped solidify the band's reputation as being somewhat elitist and pretentious.

Perhaps in reaction to this success, or to the harsh treatment they had received on the 1994 Lollapalooza tour, Pavement's next record was the much more varied Wowee Zowee (1995). The album's eighteen tracks covered a bewildering variety of styles from grunge ("Flux=Rad") to country ("Father to a Sister of Thought") to art-noise (countless moments), and the critical press appeared somewhat bemused. In hindsight, however, the record is generally seen as one of their best. In 1996 the band released a EP of no great critical acclaim called Pacific Trim.

1997's Brighten the Corners was a mellower and more focused record in which Kannberg took a rare lead. The album combined the best elements of the preceding two albums, particularly on the catchy singles "Stereo" and "Shady Lane" and the unusually bleak "Fin". The album also sold somewhat better than before, although Pavement were never very commercially successful. Here started the music press calling the band mature, while simultaneously longtime fans saw this as the start of their downfall.

It was at about this time that the band started to fragment, with band members starting to focus more on other musical projects or on raising a family. However the band remained in good spirits and took the time to continue touring.

The break-up was delayed until 1999, with the release of their final album Terror Twilight. Often referred to as the "first Malkmus solo record" (because its eleven songs were all written solely by the enigmatic frontman) the album, brought Pavement's witty and oblique style into the context of folk-rock, and the album is by far their gentlest and most emotionally direct. Although markedly different from the others - its comparitively pristine production was done by Nigel Godrich - it occasionally recalled the band at their best, and ballads like "Major Leagues" and "Spit on a Stranger" rank among the band's best songs.

The band finally split at the end of the decade, largely due to differences between Malkmus and Kannberg, with the former sometimes mocking the latter's more simplistic songs. At a gig in London, Malkmus compared the experience of being in a band to being handcuffed, and it gradually became clear afterwards that this was to be the band's final performance.


Notable influences on the band include the American post-punk band Sonic Youth and the Dunedin Sound indie bands from New Zealand. In 1997 Pavement released a cover of The Clean's Oddity on a tribute album of Clean songs, and Malkmus later released a cover of The Verlaines' Death and the maiden. The clearest and most prevalent influence on the band, however, is the shambolic and acerbic British post-punk of the The Fall, although elements of the Pixies, R.E.M. and Classic Rock can also be heard in the music of Pavement.


Studio Albums

  1. Slanted and Enchanted (1992)
  2. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
  3. Wowee Zowee (1995)
  4. Brighten the Corners (1997)
  5. Terror Twilight (1999)




A huge number of Pavement songs are not to be found on these "official" albums, including not only b-sides but also songs which were released on bootlegs, multi-artist compilations or foreign releases, and songs which were only played live.

Slow Century, a DVD featuring live performances, music videos, and a documentary by film-maker Lance Bangs, was released in 2002 by Matador Records.


Malkmus has gone on to enjoy some success as a solo artist combining his intricate guitar playing with a progressive rock influence and has released three albums, all with Matador Records. The self-titled "Stephen Malkmus" was released in February of 2001 and "Pig Lib" which Malkmus released with his band The Jicks came out in March of 2003. His third solo album, "Face The Truth," was released May 24th, 2005 on Matador.

Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg) went on to form the Preston School of Industry, who best recall Pavement's singular and scruffy approach, with much indulgence of the songwriter's Anglophile tendencies. They have released two albums with Matador Records, "All this Sounds Gas" (August 2001), and "Monsoon" (February 2004).

Fans of the ESPN sports commentary show Pardon The Interruption have suggested that the theme song and commercial outro music thematically reference the song "Cut Your Hair", but actual samples from the song are not used; this is probably intended as a joke as both Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, the show's hosts, are bald.

This web site ( contains a (sometimes incomplete or unreliable) collection of Pavement show set-lists.

Unofficial Pavement fans' mailing list (


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