Scott Kannburg AKA Spiral Stairs and Gary Young in 1992  Photo: Gail Butsensky / Courtesy of Spiral Stairs Archive
Scott Kannburg AKA Spiral Stairs and Gary Young in 1992  (Photo: Gail Butsensky / Courtesy of Spiral Stairs Archive)

Spiral Stairs Celebrating 50th Birthday with Old Friend Stephen Malkmus

Spiral Stairs Celebrating 50th Birthday with Old Friend Stephen Malkmus

It's time for the San Francisco Bay Area to lay claim to Pavement. Technically, the kings of shambolic indie rock are from Stockton, where founders Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kanneberg, AKA Spiral Stairs, grew up. But they seem to do everything special up here, near the San Francisco Bay. For example, when Kanneberg celebrates his 50th birthday with a two-night concert this weekend, he'll host it at the Chapel in San Francisco -- not at Stockton's Bob Hope Theater -- and that's despite the fact that he lives in Mexico.

Like Malkmus, Kanneberg has been making music since Pavement broke up in 1999. He played in the Preston School of Industry until 2004. Now, he records as Spiral Stairs and has a new album, Doris and the Daggers, coming out next year. But for his birthday shows, Kanneberg will be joining Malkmus and his band the Jicks on stage, and it's a given they'll be playing some Pavement favorites. It could even be considered a preview of possible Pavement shows to come, as Kanneberg says he is working to reunite the band for the 25th anniversary of the release of Wowee Zowee.

I talked with Kanneberg earlier this week, as he was getting ready to go out dancing with his wife. Technical difficulties aside -- his Mexican cell phone reception was a little frustrating -- we had a fun discussion about the early days of Pavement, how the Bay Area influenced that, and his longtime friendship with Malkmus.

Edited for length and clarity.

Spiral Stairs playing live in 2009
Spiral Stairs playing live in 2009

Sorry I'm late calling you, I had to finish a story about Berkeley Amoeba getting approved for a marijuana dispensary license -- looks like they'll be installing one in the store on Telegraph.

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I saw something today about that. Doesn't that stuff happen on that street already? Why do you have to go to Amoeba to get it?

I miss that store. That was where I first really started buying records. I'd come over from Stockton to that shop and later, San Francisco. But it was so great because you'd find every record you wanted, even before they started re-issuing everything. It was the place to go to find hard-to-find records, and now it will be the place to go for hard-to-find pot. [Laughs]

You used to work at a record store in Stockton, right?

I worked at a couple. I worked at what used to be called Record Factory, and then I worked at a used shop called Replay Records, which was right around the time Pavement started. It was cool. It was an amazing little shop where I found some great records over time.

It had a KISS pinball machine in the back, so all I did was play pinball. The guy who owned the shop was a huge KISS fan and had tons of memorabilia all over the store, which was cool; I loved those early KISS records. It made for a great vibe. But not a lot of people came in.

Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg and Mark Ibold of the band Pavement perform during day three of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2010
Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg and Mark Ibold of the band Pavement perform during day three of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2010 (Photo: Karl Walter/Getty Images)

In the Pavement documentary, Slow Century, you talked about how while you were working at the store, you discovered bands that you brought to Malkmus, who in turn introduced you to groups he found while at college on the East Coast. What were some of those bands?

[Malkmus] worked at a college radio station in Virginia, so he heard Can for the first time, and probably even the Clean and those great New Zealand bands. He'd come back with these records and I had some Captain Beefheart records or some... I don't know what else, but Captain Beefheart is enough. But basically that's how we found our initial influences that made us want to start a band.

Do you two still turn each other onto music?

Occasionally, but not in a while. I think our last conversation about music was when I was driving around in the car with him and we were listening to Taylor Swift because his kids were, and we couldn't believe that she had written the song. "Whoever wrote that song was a pretty good songwriter!" [Laughs]

You initially had the Clean headlining your birthday shows, but I understand that they had to cancel because of a sick family member?

[The band's founders] Hamish and David (Kilgour) -- they're brothers -- are with their mom, who I guess is 90. She fell really ill and she's the only relative they have left, so they wanted to be there and sort things out. It's too bad, but they said they'll come back. Maybe they'll do my 51st birthday.

Speaking of Flying Nun bands, you wrote "Box Elder," right?

Well, I wrote half of it. I don't when it was, but we both kind of took whatever we had at the time and put it together. It was something that I had initially written, but he wrote the lyrics.

So is he the one that put the Verlaines' "Death of a Maiden" melody over the chorus?

[Laughs] Yes, he did do that. It's surprising that he never got in trouble for that.

You're going to be joining the Jicks on stage for a few songs this weekend, right? Any idea what you'll be doing?

We're going to do a bunch of Pavement songs, maybe some Preston School of Industry songs, some Spiral songs, some cover songs. He told me he had some surprises for me, so I'm like, "Oh shit."

I saw a video of you joining the Jicks on stage a few years back to play "Stereo." Did you practice for these guest appearances?

I didn't practice at all for that. I was actually up in the balcony on my fourth shot of tequila and I hear, "Where's Scott?" He told me to come up and play this song and I was like, "Oh great." [Laughs]

But I think we'll probably go over songs at sound check to make sure that it all sounds good, because a lot of people are coming out for this. It's got to be good.

What is it like when you play together now?

I don't know; we haven't played with him since that one song. I mean 2010 was great, when we did the Pavement reunion. It was magic.

I went and hung out with him at his house recently. We're still the same dudes, but we have kids and wives now, and we're a little older. We're 50! [Laughs]

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks play Oct. 1 and 2 at the Chapel in San Francisco. For more information, visit the Chapel's website.

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Correction: It was previously reported in this story that Gary Young did not reunite with Pavement in Stockton when they played there in 2010, when he in fact did join the group for an encore.

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