When US indie kings Pavement split at the tail end of '99, fans and press speculated on who from the quintet would beat the others to the finish line and get a solo record in the shops first. It was no surprise that honour fell to frontman Stephen Malkmus who released his acclaimed eponymous debut in January. But a far great wonder was to come during the summer months however, when the band's former guitarist, Scott Kannberg, re-appeared with his new outfit, Preston School of Industry and a new album, 'All This Sounds Gas'. With nods to everything from country to gospel to rockouts, he's created an album that keeps the spirit of his former band alive but which also sees him emerge as a standalone talent. Currently in his San Francisco home getting ready for a European tour, he found time to talk to Harry Guerin about life after Pavement.
Harry Guerin: Firstly the name Preston School of Industry, where did it come from?Scott Kannberg: (Laughs) It came from a reform school that was near my house when I was growing up. I'd always pass this place and it was always in my mind that it would make a cool band name. I had this song in Pavement that was never released called 'For Sale: The Preston School of Industry'. Other band names I thought about were The Hydraulic Socks and Ben Her (sic), but I always knew Preston School of Industry was it. I wanted a name that was kind of mysterious and wasn't a one-word name.
HG: Talk me through from Pavement's last gig at the Brixton Academy in '99 up to the release of the Preston album.SK: With Pavement, I don't know if everyone thought it was really our last show. Every tour we did it was kind of like the same thing: Steve would always say he didn't want to do it anymore and we'd end up six months later doing something else and starting all over again. So nobody really knew what was going on. I was busy with my record label, Amazing Grease, and writing songs. I thought if Pavement did get back together it would probably be a while so I started writing songs, keeping busy. Six months or so went by and I just got the vibe that Pavement weren't going to happen anymore so I started working on my own record. It only took me a few months to record and mix everything, 20 songs. I wanted it to come out a lot sooner but my labels wanted me to wait a little bit.
HG: Were you sad or relieved when Pavement called it quits?SK: Kind of both. Sad because I put so much work into it for ten years and it was my life pretty much. But I was relieved because my own music was something I should have been doing for the last four or five years. Pavement was a little restrictive in ways, musically, for me.
HG: Was there a point where in Pavement where you thought: 'I'm selling myself short. I have all this stuff I want to get out'?SK: I think I needed to get these songs out there. I'm always fooling around on the guitar and making up songs. With Pavement I'd always do that as well, but I'd always bring a few songs here and there to compliment Steve's songs. In Pavement I was happy being in the background but I did play a big part in that sound.
HG: You mentioned your record label Amazing Grease. Can you tell me a little about it?SK: It's been going almost two years. I started it before Pavement broke down with a guy called Mike Drake who's in the band Oranger. Amazing Grease put out their first record, they're amazing - like the Beach Boys mixed with The Who. We've got another local band called Carlos who have been around ten years and are a really good power punk pop band. Another band called Sunless Day, who are a little more rockin' and the Moore Brothers who are two brothers who write amazing pop songs in the Guided By Voices vein. We're taking it slow right now because I'm touring but once next year starts we're going to put out some more things.
HG: You recorded the first single from your own album, 'Whale Bones', in former Pavement drummer Gary Young's studio. Do you see him a lot?SK: We're always in touch, we're friends. I decided I want to do something with him and we actually started the recorded out in Gary's but ended up moving it back to the Bay Area because it was too hard to commute. Gary's doing great, he's invented a microphone holder called the Shockmount and he's probably going to make millions of dollars off it! He's going to be richer than all of us in the end!
HG: But Amazing Grease might come up on the inside and make millions too...SK: (laughs) No, no! That's never going to happen!
HG: Is PSOI a case of starting from scratch or is it a case that music is fun for you again?SK: It's kind of like starting from scratch. I've got ten years of connections which help me out a little bit. But it definitely makes it fun to win over a crowd of 50 people in Nottingham who are chanting their local football slogan. Kinds of reminds me of the old days!
HG: It always struck me with Pavement that as a band you were a lot bigger in other people's minds than you were in your own.SK: Exactly. And record sales too. We didn't really sell that many records. It was good that way – it never felt like it was a big thing.
HG: But in terms of influence, you brought on a lot of bands.SK: That's what I hear! It's nice it's good that people are still being influenced to make rock music.
HG: Do the lyrics on 'All This Sounds Gas' have any relevance to your Pavement days? Especially a song like 'Take A Stand' where you sing 'friendship doesn't hold you to the past'?SK: Some things do. 'Whale Bones' is about coming back from a tour. Every verse is about a certain tour and you come back from the tour and you're happy that it's over and you get to start afresh. Then you go on another tour and it's the same thing. And at the end it's a crescendo of moving forward, don't feel bad, we did a lot of good things but it's time to move on.
HG: Reading the press that came out around the time of 'All This Sounds Gas' that towards the end with Pavement you felt it was becoming very mechanical, more of a business.SK: I don't think I realised it when I was in Pavement that it was like that because it was so easy to do. But I'm definitely trying not to make the PSOI like that – I'm in charge and I can make decisions from day one.
'All This Sounds Gas' is out now on Domino Record. Preston School of Industry play the Empire Music Hall, Belfast on Thursday, 27 September and Whelans, Dublin on Saturday, 29 September.