Spiral Stairs a.k.a. Scott Kannberg is something of a musical hero for us here at HUP HQ. Not only did he co-found one of our favourite ever bands, seminal indie-rock legends Pavement, his solo work as Preston School of Industry and more recently as Spiral Stairs has also delighted us for years. We were especially excited a few weeks back to secure a show by Spiral Stairs – Scott and his full band - here in Hamilton on Saturday December 2nd.
Arpie Shirehorse caught up with Scott a month out from the show to talk about a variety of subjects, including the fantastic most recent album ‘Doris and the Daggers’ released earlier this year, his love of The Clean, previous NZ visits, a love of cricket, and the possibility of a ‘new’ Pavement happening in a couple of years’ time to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary!
HUP: Hi Scott, how are you!
Scott: Hey Rob, I’m good, I’m good, man. Hey what is this, I’ve got the promoter of the show calling for an interview?!
Yep, you know, this is New Zealand, it’s how we do it here, one person doing the whole shebang.
Haha right, I love it, love it.
Hey thanks so much for giving us the time this afternoon…actually what time is it with you?
No worries, man, thanks for putting the show on. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s about 9pm here in Mexico. I’m just watching the baseball. It’s the last game of the World Series, but I don’t really care about the teams you know…the TV is just on…I mean I want one team to win because the other team is like a super racist…Texas racist team you know, but then the other team is LA which beat my team like 27 years ago and I’ve never forgiven them…(laughs)
Haha, I completely understand, who was your team?
My team was the Oakland A’s.
Aha ok…silly question, are they still around?
Oh yeah, of course, most people don’t know them because they’re like the last working-class team…you know how it is in sports. New Zealand’s probably not that way, but in America all the sports teams have become very corporate and very like…
I know what you mean…it’s a bit similar here, all the teams aren’t really clubs, they’re called franchises, but you know…to me Subway is a franchise…
Exactly, exactly…I’ve been turned off pro sports over the years because of that.
I’m with you. Well this is not the first thing I was going to ask you but as we’re on sports, I know you’re a big cricket fan...
Yeah man, Hamilton, the Hamilton ground looks amazing! You know I’m in Mexico and we get Sky Sports and they have a cricket channel and at about 5-6 at night, you’ve had a few drinks, the cricket comes on, and you know for some reason, every match against maybe England or South Africa or whatever…was in Hamilton! And I was like ‘oh that ground looks cool!’
It is, it’s a cool place...
You know but for some reason they had a fire, in one of the little stands while the match was going on, and the whole ground was evacuated…but there was no fire at all, it was hilarious, the people were like ‘what we have to leave? But there’s no fire!’ (laughs)
(Further research tells me that the fire evacuation was in fact at the University Oval, Dunedin earlier this year - Ed)
So how did you get in to cricket, was it before your time out in Australia?
No, no, Australia did it for me, and then being away from Australia kind of cemented it. It’s a cool game you know, I love the history of it, the simplicity of it. I don’t know if you like it…
I do, very much...
Well, I like that people who like it…really fucking love it you know! You know the band The Stranglers right?
I do, yep…
Well, I’m really good friends with Hugh, Cornwell, the singer, and he came and sang with us in London…
Is that right!
Yeah, my old drummer Darius used to drum with Hugh, so that’s how we made the connection, and Hugh would come to Mexico and we’d hook up since I’ve been down here and he’s like, ‘So…let me teach you really about cricket!’
So we’re playing this show in London, and he brings his laptop and we’re watching the England-West Indies 20-20 backstage before the show, and I have this moment where I'm thinking, ‘Oh my god this is the greatest thing ever’.
Haha! Rocknroll redefined! Now I don’t want to talk cricket for this entire thing, but…you’re off to Australia to an Ashes Test after you come to NZ?
Yeah, we play Hamilton then Auckland, and then I’m going to Adelaide for the Ashes, and then we start the Australian tour.
Aha cool, you know I’m originally from Wales so I’m looking forward to…
Oh! Hey I’ve got to talk to you about Wales! Have you seen that show Hinterland? It’s good man!
I have, it’s good eh!
It is man, there’s some weird shit going on in that town!
There is, there is…it’s more like a documentary really.
I’ve been reading about it. It’s this weird area of Wales, and they’re just like in their own world, right?
Yeah pretty much, it’s all the druidy spirits floating around there I think. I’ve only seen the first series.
Haha! Yes, I’ve seen two seasons, and it’s good, man!
Cool, hey I’d better get onto my prepared questions or we’ll run out of time.
Hey that’s alright, let’s talk about that Super Furry Animals record, the one in the Welsh language, which is one of my favourite albums of all time.
Yeah man, what a great record!
It is eh? I can’t speak a word of Welsh, but it is a great album.
Well that’s ok. I mean you don’t have to speak the language to understand that record, it’s so cool.
It is, another of my favourite bands. So, anyway, ‘Doris and The Daggers’…congratulations, it’s a great album!
And the reviews were pretty great too!
Yeah, I guess. I haven’t read a review for a while, but you know, I think that most people, you know, if they still know who I am, like it, you know.
I was listening again last night and I heard things I hadn’t picked up on before, like the horn section, which works so well. Tell me if you’re sick of talking about the same things by the way, I’m sure you’ve done lots of this kind of thing.
No, no, that’s cool, I haven’t talked about the record for a while. You know we just did a bunch of shows in Europe, and it’s a long time since I recorded it now but I still like it. The horns are cool. You know, the guys that played on it…actually one of the guys that played on it played on my very first solo record in 2001, so it was kind of cool to bring him back and do something again. The horn thing was more my love of like Van Morrison or Springsteen or something, you know?
Yes, I kind of picked up on that, and I’m far from an expert but I certainly picked up a….’mature’ is the wrong word, because we are all getting on a bit, but it’s got this great, layered feel to it and the horns are kind of like the icing on the cake.
I think it’s just what kind of sounds cool. I was talking to somebody earlier about it. They asked ‘You mentioned Roxy Music when making this record' and they ask 'do you listen do Roxy Music when making a song?', and I’m like ‘No I don’t, I just make the song and elements in the song make it like a Roxy Music song or like a Van Morrison song.’ And that’s the kind of thing that makes me excited, hearing my musical influences in the music I make. You know, I don’t want to make it boringm I want to make it fun. So yeah the horns are a fun part.
They are, it works really well.
I’m going to start recording my next record in January.
Yeah I’m going to have some guys work in that with me again.
Sweet! So the process, if I can ask about that, do you take finished songs in and work on it with the other guys you choose, or do you tend to jam stuff out, or a mix of both?
Nah man, I kind of put everything down, on demos, like all of my ideas. Then I go in with the guys I want to work with and say, ‘These are my ideas', and they kind of play with it a little bit, and put some of their things in as well…I’ve never really been...maybe originally in the Pavement years we would do that (jam) but…it’s been a while, I kind of always have the parts laid out.
Is it something you like to take your time on? The last record (before the most recent one) was in 2009, and I know there’s been a lot going on in between that, but do you work with the next record in mind, or do you just write songs and eventually go ‘I think that’s enough for a new record’?
No…I actually just started thinking about it…seriously…yesterday. I just thought I need to work out how to get this next record started. I mean, I’ve got ten or fifteen songs left over from the last record, and maybe like half of them are ready to go. I just need to focus on it. And the other half need to be worked on. And in the meantime, I’ve got like another five to ten songs, so I’m kind of like…let’s get started on it. The last record took a while, I’d get started on it and end up being like, ‘I just want to play with my kids, or I just want to go mow the lawn’. (laughs)
Haha! I hear you, I know what you mean, sometimes any distraction from actually working is very welcome. That’s great though. So the songs are there, the energy is there for a new record…that’s great to hear.
Yeah, so that’s my process, and…we’ll see how it goes. I’ve booked some time with the guys in L.A. in January and yeah…we’re doing it!
I think these days, the more you put out the better….in the old days, you know, you wait a couple of years, but now people want music all the time.
I know what you mean, the appetite to consume is incredible eh, just amazing.
It really is. You know these days, you can put out your demos and people will buy them…and it makes people happy, so…whatever!
This is true! I'd never really thought of it like this, but if Pavement started out today, with the way technology has changed the music industry, how do you think things could have been different for you guys?
I know, I know, right? You know, maybe if I was 20 years old again, maybe it wouldn’t matter…you know I think a lot of kids starting bands…I don’t think they give a shit about technology.
It’s kind of the world they are in…
Yeah, and I think it’s probably how we were too back then.
I guess yeah. OK…shall we talk about some NZ bands…The Clean…
Oh yeah man.
I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I was watching a TV piece Pavement did here in ’93, in Dunedin train station, do you remember it?
Of course, man of course.
In it you mentioned then that The Clean were the greatest band in the world. It’s funny, for me on the other side of the world, I was into Pavement, Guided By Voices, Sebadoh, Dinosaur and all that stuff but I’d never picked up on The Clean and all the Flying Nun stuff until I got to New Zealand, and I felt like I’d missed out for 20 years, you know?
Yeah, I don’t know though. I mean for me, that compilation record came out in what, like ’89 or '90, and that’s when I first heard The Clean and they started in ’83, so you know, they’ve been around for ever and they’re still fucking doing shit! I don’t know, I mean I’ve always been envious of that band, because they made beautiful music when they were kids, they made beautiful music when they were like 30, and they’re still doing it at like 50-something. And you know, they don’t give a shit, they just do it.
I tried to put some shows together with David Kilgour for this NZ trip, but it didn’t work out. But I really want to get down to Dunedin and play with David at some point. You know though, I’ve seen The Clean at the most pivotal moments of my life.
I do…that’s pretty much Pavement for me.
Oh really? Wow. You know, I saw The Clean five days after 9/11, for the first time, the very first time in my life, and they were like my favourite band for ten years before that.
And I cried, you know, I cried when I saw them. The only band that I ever cried to was The Clean. I just realised that. Fuck! I never thought about it that way. You know their songs are just beautiful, they’re just…
To me they are magical, which is a bit cheesy to say, but they are, simple but magical..
They are! Magical. I mean they have kind of turned into like hippies, but I guess they kind of always were.
We put The Bats on here in Hamilton in May…such a great show!
Oh I love The Bats!
Of course Robert (Scott) was playing, and he had a Pavement ‘Sunny side up’ tee shirt on the whole time. We chatted about the band for a bit.
Ooooh really? Oh that’s cool.
You know, New Zealand music…there’s been some instrumental music to my life, career, that’s come out of New Zealand, and I don’t know why that really is. It’s the sound and it’s got that mystery to it.
I agree, I don’t know what it is but a lot of bands here had a weird alchemy going on. It’s also the accent for me, I love it.
So, you’ve played New Zealand before, obviously, but have you ever played solo here?
No, so only as Pavement. The last time of course was 2010 on the reunion tour.
Yes of course, I was there, I probably cried that night actually.
That was really cool, that was our first show of that tour. We were really excited, not only because we got our new ‘Hot Cake’ pedals (legendary NZ designed/made overdrive guitar pedals), we played almost three hours, and afterwards we were like ‘fuck, we played pretty good!’
I remember…my calves ached for days after. What a show.
Oh really! We played a lot of songs, I think like 28 songs or something I still have the setlist somewhere…and I remember telling the guys ‘we can’t play this many songs every night!’
I bet! We got the special show, I like it. Do you guys (Pavement) keep in touch much?
Yeah I mean I talk to Steve (Malkmus) all the time, because we have to deal with the business…of Pavement, and I see the other guys around every once in a while…you know. There’s some talk about doing some stuff…in a couple of years…
We’ll see how it goes…it needs to happen…it’s just hard to talk about it you know, because it’s the 30th anniversary of Pavement, you know…when people talk about those anniversaries it’s kind of weird.
Oh man. That would be unreal.
We put on The Wedding Present here in July, and they were on an anniversary tour for their George Best album. I don’t know if you know The Wedding Present very well?
Of course! You know The Wedding Present was actually Pavement’s first big break.
They covered Box Elder…
Yeah! And John Peel played it!
I know! I’m almost certain I heard it, as a spotty 16-year-old. This is how I first found you guys, listening to John Peel late at night in Wales, under my duvet on a wireless!
That’s awesome man! That is awesome. We played John Peel’s 60th birthday party you know, it was us, The Wedding Present, The Fall,
Oh my god…
Someone else weird….it was FUCKING AMAZING!
Oh wow. What I would have given to be there. I actually asked David from The Wedding Present about Box Elder, and he told me their old guitarist, Peter, bought your 7” in New York on holiday and brought it back to England and they liked it and decided to cover it.
That’s it, that’s basically how it went.
Man. Very very cool. So…the live show…when you come over, how do choose the set, what can we expect, how do you go about picking a set list these days?
Well, it’s pretty easy…there’s a bunch of Pavement stuff, that I wrote, and those are always fun, mostly Spiral Stairs stuff, sometimes some Preston School of Industry stuff, maybe a cover. The thing is, the band’s coming from all over, two of them from Australia and three of us from the US, and we need to have a practice together.
So Tim (Regan, Nine Mile Records) plays keys…
Yep Tim plays keys…he was actually in a band called Texas Never Whispers..
I’ve heard that name before…
Yeah it’s the name of a Pavement song…
Ah of course!
But he’d never heard it before haha! Yeah Tim’s great, and there’s Matt Harris, who is the bass player on all my records. He hasn’t been able to play with us before as he’s been on tour with The Posies…
And he toured with Roky Erickson for a while, but he’s back with us now, and I’ve got Dan and Daryl from this band Gersey in Australia, who played on The Real Feel, and every time I play in Australia they play with me as well.
Well we are all very excited, people are asking me about it and asking if it’s sold out yet, and I keep saying not yet but it will.
Cool how big is the venue again?
It’s 110, it’s a great room and we’ve had some great shows there already this year. It will be a fantastic night.
Sounds great, well we are looking forward to it too. Spiral Stairs’ first NZ show!
And at that point we said our goodbyes and yours truly tried to wipe the huge grin off his face by going for a walk in the November drizzle. It didn’t work. Have at you, elements.
Tickets are still available at the time of publishing - get onto yours now by clicking HERE to see Spiral Stairs live in NZ for the first time! The show is on Saturday December 2nd at Nivara Lounge, Hamilton. Tickets are just $30 and support comes from two tremendous Auckland bands - Wormstar and longtime HUP faves, The Naenae Express. See you there!