Scott Kannberg Revisits Pavement’s Final Album for Massive Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal Reissue
And pulls back the curtain on his new Spiral Stairs album, coming this summerPhoto courtesy of Matador Records Music Features Pavement
It’s hard to believe that over the past two decades, the band Pavement have only existed in reunions. Since their official breakup in 1999, their influence still lingers in indie rock, like floating grains of flour after a bag has been abruptly dropped on the floor. But with a massive reissue of the band’s swan song being released on longtime label Matador Records this Friday titled Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal, and their second reunion tour since their first in 2010 scheduled for the summer—not to mention a late-period b-side “Harness Your Hopes” becoming a bonafide viral hit thanks to TikTok—the band seem to be just as fresh and relevant as they were in their heyday.
This new reissue is a treat for longtime fans, as it not only includes the remastered original album, but also live recordings and b-sides from around that time. The 45-song set includes lead songwriter Stephen Malkmus’ unheard home demos, as well as shelved practice recordings from an aborted session at Sonic Youth’s Echo Canyon studio in New York City. For the vinyl version of the reissue, the band have also decided to use the original sequence that producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck) had suggested upon the album’s completion. This new track order opens the album in a different way, offering a fresh perspective after all of these years. Combined with all of this never-before-heard material, Farewell Horizontal provides a new angle into this historically underrated masterwork in the band’s catalog.
Catching up with Pavement guitarist and vocalist Scott Kannberg—aka Spiral Stairs—to talk about the reissue over the phone, he explains how the secret history of Terror Twilight was finally unearthed, and how his perceptions of the ending of the band and their lasting legacy have changed over the years.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Paste: Can you tell me about how the whole Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal boxset came together?
Scott Kannberg: Basically, you know about all the other reissues we’ve done with Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain?
Paste: Of course.
Kannberg: So we were always thinking that one day we’ll get to Terror Twilight. I guess that was around the late 2000s. We were thinking about it to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Terror Twilight. We put it all together and realized that before all of our other projects, we had tons of b-sides, radio sessions and stuff like that. We realized we didn’t really have any of that stuff [for Terror Twilight]. For the b-sides, we used things that we had already recorded for Brighten The Corners and we use that on the Brighten The Corners reissue. So there wasn’t a lot there. I think there was enough to put something out, but Matador pulled the plug on it and said, “We can’t just put a bunch of live songs on there again, people need something good.”
We just shelved it, because we were about to go on our first reunion tour and didn’t really think about it at all until maybe four or five years ago, we started talking about it again. Then when we did this, we redid our deal with Matador. That was the first thing that came up. And so Jesper [Eklow, of Endless Boogie], who has helped with the reissue projects, is good friends with Steve [Malkmus] and talked to Steve. We knew he had some demos, but he didn’t want to give them up. But Jesper talked him into hearing the demos. No one even heard them, even when we were trying to do the record. He didn’t even let us hear demos then! So he got Stephen to agree. Around the same time, we had these tapes of our rehearsals. We relistened to them and they were like, “Oh, these are pretty interesting.” We realized, “Wow, we actually do have some stuff here.” We went forward and then the talk about putting it on vinyl with Nigel [Godrich]’s order came about as a fun thing to do for people who bought the vinyl. It’s been a long time in the works.
Paste: Listening to Nigel’s proposed sequencing of the record opened it up to me in a completely new way. That was initially a point of contention between him and the band, right?
Kannberg: Not really. For like a week it was an issue. Nigel just kind of said, “Here’s my order.” And I think I said like, “That’s not the order. That’s not that great of an order.” I think he said, “Well, I’m not going to put my name to the record.” We were like, “Well, wait a minute” [laughs]. But we figured it out and it wasn’t that big of a deal. But you know, I’ve said this to people over the last so many years, that I went back at some point and listened to Nigel’s version, and I think it’s great in a much different way of hearing the record. Right, so I probably should have listened to his ears. But I like my order, too. Whatever!
Paste: The album does have a much more somber tone than the other records you made. In Nigel’s sequencing, he leads the record off with “Platform Blues” instead of “Spit on a Stranger.” It plays with your expectations of the record as a listener. Do you see it that way?
Kannberg: Maybe. I think he’d probably been used to doing that with Radiohead, where you’re setting the scene and stuff. I thought about a lot, probably way too much back in those days, and I still do with my [own records]. I just did a new solo record and I obsessed over it for weeks, about what the song order would be, and he probably did the same. I think maybe his reason for it was, maybe he’d liked those songs the best. I’ve got this guy in my band, Tim. He’s always like, “You’ve got to do a video for this song,” and, at the end of the day, the reason he says it is because he plays a great part on it. “Okay, I know that that’s your favorite song because you play that cool part … ” Maybe he was just excited about those songs? I don’t know, but it’s cool. I mean, I think it’s really cool that [his sequence] is seeing the light of day.
Paste: What was it like working with him as a producer? Did he have any interesting ideas on what Pavement could achieve as a band that maybe you hadn’t before?
Kannberg: He was pretty low key. He let us do what we did. In Pavement, we would play a song three or four times, and then we would try to make it sound good from that. Whereas, I think Nigel pushed us and made sure that the performance was really good when we were at RPM. But I think his guidance was more in the mixing. He took over at that point. He put his little two cents in and used his effects. Yeah, it was cool.
Paste: One thing that I was excited to hear were the practice tapes from the aborted sessions at Sonic Youth’s Echo Canyon studio. What went into the decision to not record there, and to split the rest of the sessions between RPM Studios in New York and RAK Studios in London?
Kannberg: Nigel wasn’t happy with the equipment. I’m not sure if it was breaking down or what, but it just wasn’t lining up. It was taking a long time to get things to work and I think he was used to things, you know, working [laughs]. I’m not trying to talk shit on Echo Canyon, because it was really cool. The board was an old board. I don’t know if we were gelling yet, either. I think we had to be like, “Alright, shit. Now we’re spending $500 an hour. We better get our shit together.” And then we did. Maybe it was partly our fault, too. We were cheap. It was a pretty cramped little space, from what I remember. I don’t think there were any windows. It was very New York City, an old-school kind of place. But on the other hand, you can reach out and touch Lee’s guitar from Bad Moon Rising.
Paste: In hindsight, can you look back and see that the writing was on the wall that this would be the final Pavement record?
Kannberg: Not really. I saw it as just another record. Maybe Steve had a different outlook on it. I knew he was a little frustrated when we first got to Portland and the songs [weren’t coming together easily]. On the other hand, we’d never heard them and they were pretty hard songs! I’m trying to relearn one of the easy ones, “Spit on a Stranger” again after 12 years. I’m like, “Oh, shit.”
Paste: There are so many interesting rhythmic choices on this record. They seem to mirror the lyrical phrasing in a stream-of-conscious kind of way. It’s so complex and unique.
Kannberg: I think in his mind, maybe he was saying, “I’m gonna make a record for myself.” As it came out at the end, there were songs on there that he was like, “Okay, this one’s for Scott. This one’s for Bob [Nastanovich],” or “Mark will like this one.” But I think when he originally made it and had all these crazy, weird songs, I think he was doing it for himself and that’s why it was so hard to grasp at the beginning. I did a podcast with him the other day and was saying to him, “What were you smoking when you played that guitar solo?”
Paste: I find it funny when people describe music in “decades.” For example, when they say something is “very ‘80s,” they usually mean it’s a synth-pop record. It seems like when they say something is “very ‘90s,” they are usually trying to say there is a slacker attitude to whatever the artist is doing. Since the band released all of its music within that decade, I find that happens a lot when people say that something “sounds like Pavement.” They’re really only referring to the spirit of the band.
Kannberg: I agree with that. I think we definitely had a different attitude. We weren’t trying to be ironic. We weren’t trying to be “slacker” or flippant. I think it just kind of came off that way. We were suburban dudes [laughs].
Paste: The “slacker” label always rubbed me the wrong way, given the complexity of some of these arrangements. It does this record and the band a disservice!
Kannberg: I think so, too. You’re right. I think it’s definitely well thought out. There’s definitely something to it, for sure. I was talking about Slanted and Enchanted the other day. The songs were simple. But in between the simpleness, there’s a lot going on. In melody and attitude. The songs on Terror are not as simple. But it still has that attitude. We were talking the other day about how kids are all of the sudden into Pavement. We were trying to figure out what they liked about it. Maybe they’re sick of that formulaic thing that a lot of bands have?
Paste: So after spending so much time talking about the record with Stephen and the rest of the band, has your opinion on Terror Twilight changed at all?
Kannberg: I don’t know. I think it’s the same as all of the Pavement stuff. For me, I really have not listened to it since we stopped playing. Maybe I listened to a little bit of Slanted stuff when we did the reissue, and same with the other records. But I have not listened to any of our material. It’s not because I didn’t want to or anything. I just was like, when I heard it, I was maybe like, “That doesn’t sound as good as what I’m doing now.” You know? I probably started rehearsing about a month ago, and I actually really enjoyed the songs. I was playing one the other day that I always thought was just a simple, kind of boring song, and then it had all these parts to it and I forgot how cool it was. I enjoy it a lot more than I have. When we did the reunion, I learned them all back then. But they were still a little too close to when we were still a band. But now for some reason, it’s way different. In my head, it’s like they have a different meaning or something.
Paste: A few of your songs ended up as b-sides on Farewell Horizontal. How many song ideas did you initially bring to the table for the recording of Terror Twilight?
Kannberg: I probably had four or five ideas. That’s how it was for every record and then we would just get to it at some point. Steve’s songs were fully worked out and they’re really hard to nail. I think everybody was like, “Let’s do this. Let’s get these sorted out.” I think I was a little offended. I thought a couple of my songs could have fit on there. But I wanted to make the best Pavement record, and I wanted to make sure that everything went as planned. So I didn’t care in the end. It was great and the songs are awesome. I didn’t need to add anything to it besides my guitar playing and editing skills, or whatever.
Paste: At that point were you viewing your own songs as solo material that wouldn’t fit into the world of Pavement anymore?
Kannberg: No, I thought that the songs could have easily been Pavement songs. But what it did do, is it made me go home and start doing demos and finishing demos. When I wrote the songs for the b-sides, that was part of all the demos that I did for All This Sounds Gas [Kannberg’s Preston School of Industry album from 2001]. If Pavement would have done another record, I would have had 30 songs! I had become confident enough with writing those songs to do other records. Like I said, I finished another one. So I’m happy about that.
Paste: When is this new record coming out?
Kannberg: I think it will come out in June. That’s the plan. It’s going to be called Medley Attack. I think it’s my best one. I can’t listen to it anymore because I’ve heard it so many fucking times [laughs].
Paste: Pavement first reunited for a massive tour back in 2010 and you’re getting ready for another huge tour this summer. How has your perspective changed on the band in general? What sets this reunion apart from the one you did 12 years ago?
Kannberg: I’ve noticed how Pavement has become a much bigger thing in the history of music. I don’t want to compare us to, you know, Big Star or The Velvets, or anything like that. But when I was 18 or something, it seemed like nobody knew who they were and then all of a sudden over the next 20 years they became these bands that a lot of people liked. I think Pavement might be kind of like that. Whereas over time we’ve got a pretty extensive catalog and there’s a lot of different directions you can go in. I think that’s the appeal of it. There’s generations of kids out there who are sick of techno [laughs].
Paste: It seems like everyone is busy outside of the band. Stephen is always releasing music and you have a new solo record on the way. With revisiting Terror Twilight and preparing for this new tour, do you think there is any chance the band would get together to record new Pavement music in the future?
Kannberg: I don’t think so. I mean, you never know. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe in some of the soundchecks, we’ll come up with some new jams. Who knows? It’d be cool to do, that’s for sure. I’d like to. I mean, like I said, we’re trying to figure out what songs to play. We’re in a pretty fortunate position. We’ve got some good songs that we know people will demand to hear. So it’s gonna be fun. I’m looking forward to it.
Pat King is a Philadelphia-based journalist and host of the In Conversation podcast at Ears to Feed. He releases his own music with his project Labrador and is a tireless show-goer and rock doc fanatic. He recently took up long-distance running, which he will not shut up about. You can follow him at @MrPatKing.
Revisit Spiral Stairs’ 2019 Daytrotter session below.