Pavement Talks Deepest B-Sides, New Rarities Collection: 'We Tried to Keep it Mysterious'

Pavement 2015
Courtesy of Spiral Stairs Archives

Pavement

Pavement embodied '90s nonchalance, but the indie rockers' deep catalog of non-album tracks betrays their famously lackadaisical aura. For years, fans disputed the mere existence of certain songs and sought out bootlegs and live recordings for just a morsel of these rarities. What they found (if they could find it) were deep stashes of tracks that matched the albums in both quality and quantity -- enough to fill out a solid career for a bizarro version of the band.

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Most of Pavement's loose cuts have been collected and released with a previous series of deluxe CD reissues, but until now, many of these non-album gems had never been on vinyl. Almost 13 years after the Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe reissue, the band is readying The Secret History Vol. 1, a vinyl collection of all the stray songs from the Slanted and Enchanted period, due Aug. 11 on Matador Records. The record is the first in a new series focusing only on Pavement's non-album output, with each volume matching a corresponding LP. The Secret History Vol. 1 includes favorites like "Greenlander" and "Frontwards" and two John Peel Sessions, which show Pavement at their strangest, playing brand new songs that disappeared instantly and improvising wacky jams that made little sense.

With The Secret History Vol. 1 fast approaching, guitarist/vocalist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg talked with Billboard about the band's newly official Facebook page, his inspirations, and how these supposed slackers ended up recording so much.  

For a while, your Internet presence was full of these fake pages and fan pages and people were trying to figure out if you actually existed online. What motivated you to start using the Facebook page and start talking to fans?

When we were doing the reunion tour, we did a website and stuff, but with everything with Pavement, it's like when you try to do something kind of cool, it always gets done kind of half-assed, you know? So everybody just lost interest in that website. Then the Facebook, [other] people had control of it, like fans had Facebook pages and stuff. We tried to get [our official page] back around the reunion tour. But whoever had the page wouldn't give it up, so we were just like, "Well, whatever." It wasn't because we didn't want to. 

The reason why now, it's just Matador asked us, "Hey, we don't really have anything for you online and if we could get that page back, would you guys want to do it?" The timing was right and these new vinyl releases are going to be coming out so let's have some fun.

Was it a superfan squatting on the page or was it some random person?

We don't know! I think it was just some random person who accumulated a bunch of pages for money. They wanted a lot of money or something. It was kind of a time when Facebook wasn't as powerful. We were like, "Well, no way."

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I'm a relatively young Pavement listener, and the Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe release allowed a lot of us to discover the b-sides alongside the proper albums without a huge differentiation. Do you think the next generation will see these tracks differently with this new stand alone release? 

Yeah, I think so, that's the idea! We did release [the songs] already, but it was never really released on vinyl in the deluxe kind of way. That was the main reason, but I think you're right.

When I was a fan of bands -- like let's just say I was a fan of the Stranglers. I came way late to the Stranglers kind of music because they were in the 70s and early 80s and I started getting into them [in the] late 80s. They had the proper records, but then they would put out these compilations of tracks or just b-sides or whatever. It was so cool being a fan, it's like you're discovering something new. So maybe that's what the new fans will be doing, that's what I hope. [I hope] they'll find something new with us. And the old timers will always be crotchety because they heard it first [laughs]. But they're lucky to have those earlier records on vinyl.

I remember older Pavement fans talking about bootlegs or whatever while we had this booklet that tells you where these songs came from and stuff. I think part of the fun of listening to Pavement is finding the non-album songs to be really strong and sometimes better than what you heard on the album.

I used to do that all the time with bands -- let's say early R.E.M. records. I used to collect all the singles and the b-sides were just as good. You'd stick them on a mixtape and you'd go, "Wow, these songs could be its own record!" So that's kind of the idea behind it. It's almost like a mixtape, giving people that opportunity to take it and do whatever they want with it.

Speaking of mixtapes, when these tracks were released on Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe, they were grouped by each EP straight through with the live sets after. Here, they're a little re-sequenced. How did you go about rethinking the order?

It was both Matador going looking at what was going to fit on the record and how it fits together on the vinyl, but also the kind of the way the songs sound together. What's the first song? "Greenlander"? I can't remember… 

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On the Secret History, it's "Sue Me Jack." "Greenlander" is actually the last song of the EP tracks.

Ah, "Sue Me Jack," that's right! Well, when we started looking at it, we wanted it to kind of flow together like a record. If you just stick the b-sides on there together like they were, it works but it doesn't really, and it didn't really work in this case. You want it to be a good listening experience because it's vinyl. You're going to listen to it one side at a time; you can't really just go and switch forward [like with] mp3s or streaming.

Pavement was prolific around Slanted and Enchanted with those releases before and after sandwiching it. Was it more about releasing stuff as you wrote it or did you hold on to a bunch of tracks at a time?

When we recorded them, we recorded everything right away so we have these songs. Going back to the mixtape thing, I would get two cassette players and I would mix songs together and go, "Ok, well, this is what I think would be a great album," and I'd send it to Steve. And he'd come back to me and say, "Well, that song to me is more like a b-side and maybe [we'll] do a single [or] an EP with these songs," you know? We would have all these different ideas of what we wanted to do with them. Even before, we didn't know we were gonna be on Matador, so we had all these songs and we were like, "Well, that will be a K Records single!" or "That will be a Sub Pop single!" We were just envisioning these songs being on all these cool labels, and then Matador liked us the best so… [laughs]

When you look at those early EPs, they're mysterious with your nickname  and the initials and the designs were those collages and photos and drawings. With a release like this, are you worried that a really young fan won't experience that sort of thrill [of] digging up all the weird quirks of a band? You mentioned R.E.M. and they were similar with all the releases and the large catalog of singles and stuff.

I'm not worried, I think the proper records are there and this is just a way to keep it out there and make it available for fans to experience in a non-digital way. We did that for CDs, we put out everything we kind of had on the CDs, and people still can go dig and find the original records. It'd be cool if you could; there's probably still a lot out there.

Pavement seemed unconcerned about legacy yet here you are with a sort of lost album; that reminds me of classic rock or cult bands like the Smiths and even R.E.M. and bands like that. 

That's where we were coming from; those were our influences. We wanted to be like those bands and they were the example. And hopefully bands after us, we've laid a good example for them and they will do the same thing.

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Each of the albums have a lot of extra stuff as well. How did the band stay so active, even if each album's creative process and sounds seemed very different?

I don't know, it's a good question! It was just a time when creative juices were flowing. When we used to record, there was never -- except for the very last record -- there was never really any schedule. We would say to Matador, "Hey, we're thinking of doing another record." They wouldn't even say like, "Oh, here's some money," we would pay for it ourselves. So we would go to a studio and just kind of go, "Alright, let's just stay here for a week and see what happens," and we would just play music for seven days, get it all recorded. Sometimes we'd be jamming and making up songs; most of the times Steve would have really great ideas for the songs or I'd have a few songs and we would just work on it. Sometimes we had songs that we'd play live that we'd kind of worked on, and then went to the studio and did it. So it was prolific, but you're right, every record was a different situation. But we had complete control over it so it kind of freed us up to have fun with it.

The Peel Sessions tracks on Secret History really stand out because it seems like you guys walked in there with some new material, threw it down and then just basically never messed with it again.

Yeah, I don't know, that was interesting. I think Steve really wanted to just try to screw around and try to make up something really weird and out there and we just kind of sat there and jammed and made up these songs that we never ever played again, you're right. I forgot about that!

Were the all songs written in the studio for the sessions or was there stuff that you guys already had?

The original John Peel Sessions, I think some of those songs we had played live. But then as you go on, like the third Peel Sessions get weirder and those were just all improvisation right in the studio. 

I think we were just bored playing the same songs and it was just like, "Let's just fuck around!" When you do those Peel Sessions, they were in the old kind of dungeon BBC studios. I remember getting claustrophobic in there and I don't think I had a very good time [with] the first one. I think I got kind of sick; maybe that's why those songs sound so crazy.

That was a big thing for an up and coming band and for you guys to go in there and play stuff that people hadn't heard and couldn't identify, it's funny. A lot of things of Pavement seem to come from just being bored.

Yeah, there's always a simple answer! [laughs]

Pavement fans like to argue over lyrics and, especially before the reissues, the existence of certain tracks and if it's all just screwing around.

We tried to keep it mysterious, though. We definitely thought about it, there was definitely some thought put into it. But it wasn't that big of a deal, you know? Just having fun.

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