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With Pavement Broken Up, He's Gladly Walking Solo

Life after the band has been good, says Scott Kannberg, who's enjoying his own gig.

November 22, 2001|KARLA S. BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you are the lesser-known co-founder of one of the most influential bands in '90s indie rock, how do you combat the public's curiosity about the breakup?

Scott Kannberg, a.k.a. Spiral Stairs, is simply trying to move on as a solo artist after the demise of Pavement. That band burst onto the scene in 1992, drawing rave reviews and an expanding audience with its spontaneous, one-take recordings marked by blasts of feedback, crafty lyrics and lo-fi production. Its 1994 album "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" included the singles "Cut Your Hair" and "Range Life," both of which received heavy airplay on college radio and even got onto big-time stations such as L.A.'s KROQ-FM (106.7).

But last year, co-leader Stephen Malkmus, who had reportedly handcuffed himself to the stage during one of Pavement's last shows to demonstrate how trapped he felt in the band, decided to dismantle the group.

"There was some confusion about how and when Pavement broke up or whatever, but that was more Steve's fault than anybody's," says Kannberg, who plays the Troubadour on Friday. Kannberg, 34, denies that a presumed rivalry between the childhood friends led to the breakup.

"I mean there always was a small rivalry from the first time we met on the soccer field in third grade," he says. "But there's no real rivalry. He went off and did his own record, which is good and that's good for him. I wish him the best."

Kannberg, 34, is a solo artist now, although he records and performs under the enigmatic name Preston School of Industry, named after a 1940s correctional facility in Stockton, Kannberg's hometown. ("I like names where people go, 'What?'" he says.)

Preston School released its debut album, "All This Sounds Gas," in August on Matador Records, and some reviews said it was better than the post-Pavement album from the more famous Malkmus and his band the Jicks.

But the name of the band isn't the only thing that's different about Kannberg minus Pavement. The recording process on "All This Sounds Gas" was a unique experience.

Instead of the methods that resulted in the unfinished feeling of Pavement's recordings, there was no lack of patience on this record--and no producer either. The ruggedly independent Pavement had finally hired a producer for its final album, "Terror Twilight," and Kannberg found the experience frustrating.

Without a producer looking over his shoulder this time, Kannberg was free to please himself. He added horns, cellos and pedal steel guitar to the record, contributing to its distinctive, esoteric feel.

Kannberg was also able to pay tribute to some of his influences, many of them British. "Falling Away" is a Cure-spirited song with a New Order bass line. "History of the River" could be a cut from the Fall's greatest hits, and the vocal on "A Treasure @ Silver Bank" is reminiscent of Echo & the Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch. Even the Stones are represented in "Doping for Gold," a warped variation of "Street Fighting Man."

The album title is a play on George Harrison's three-album set "All Things Must Pass," and was originally supposed to include 24 songs. But the task became too daunting. Only 11 songs appear on the album, with another five on the EP "Goodbye to Edge City," released on Kannberg's own Amazing Grease label in June.

Several of the songs, including "Whalebones," "Encyclopedic Knowledge Of" and "The Idea of Fires," are sad ditties written during Pavement's last at-bat. His post-Pavement songs are more positive. Lyrically, he celebrates the history of California as well as touching on Pavement's breakup.

In "Whalebones," Kannberg sings about his experience driving home in Pavement's tour bus.

"This song is about every Pavement tour we've done," he says. "You're just so drained and there would always be the fear that the band would break up. The final time I did it, it turned out to be the end. It was sad but OK, because I had to move on and things are all right."

Preston School of Industry, with the Shins and Carlos, Friday at the Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. $10. (310) 276-6168.

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