The next steps
New solo album, new musical chapter for ex-Pavement guitarist Spiral Stairs
Time has a way of playing tricks. It can seem like ages since something occurred, while simultaneously feeling like yesterday. Scott Kannberg knows it all too well.
The Pavement co-founder and solo artist—better known as Spiral Stairs—hasn’t released a record in nearly eight years, in which time he found himself reuniting with his Pavement bandmates in 2010, living in Australia for four years, and becoming a father for the first time.
“I didn’t really try and take a break,” Kannberg said from his new home in Mérida, Mexico. “Being a dad just became a full-time job. We traveled a bunch. It just went by so quick before I was like, ‘Oh, wow. I have all these songs, and I need to start doing something again.’”
Some of those songs have found their way onto Spiral Stairs’ latest album, Doris and the Daggers, a record that reflects Kannberg’s growth and confidence as a songwriter and, even more so, as a vocalist. Kannberg shaped many of the songs with Bay Area musician and studio wiz Kelley Stoltz, and had members of The National and Broken Social Scene join him on the sessions. It’s his most tuneful album, and also his most candid lyrically. He wrote “The Unconditional” about his daughter, which shows an emotionally earnest bent rarely heard in any of his earlier, more abstract work.
“On the Preston School of Industry records and my Pavement stuff, it was more about fitting words together with a melody and trying to be more mysterious. I don’t need to be like that anymore.”
In recent years, Kannberg also delved into music from artists he never imagined he’d enjoy—including Aussie legend Paul Kelly and, most notably, Steely Dan, the latter of whom he says he couldn’t stand until hearing Countdown to Ecstasy, an album put out in 1973. Now he can hear similarities with a certain other band.
“Steely Dan actually has a lot in common with Pavement—not the music per se, but the way they sing and what they sing about,” Kannberg said with a laugh. “I’m sure Steve [Malkmus] got that before I got that.”
Kannberg recently had a brush with Pavement—not his old bandmates, but with his old records—as he ranked the band’s five studio releases for a feature in Noisey. Needless to say, longtime Pavement fans had plenty to say.
“They were pretty offended by my list,” he said. “Some loved it, but there were some people that were, ‘Whoa, what are you talking about?’ That’s what’s so great about those records—they’re so different, and they affect people in different ways.”
While Malkmus wrote the majority of tunes for Pavement, Kannberg’s contributions such as “Date With IKEA” and “Kennel District” remain warm and fuzzy gems in the band’s canon. He says those early songs, as well as the ramshackle approach to recording, are indicative of growing up in the hot, flat central valley town of Stockton.
New environments, children and middle age have all played parts in Kannberg’s growth as a songwriter. And while he still doesn’t consider himself prolific, he says he recorded almost 30 songs for Doris and the Daggers, some of which will make their way to a forthcoming release. One thing’s for sure: He won’t wait another eight years before putting out a new record.
“I’m pretty confident now, and I’ve been writing a bunch of songs,” Kannberg said. “I kinda want to just keep doing it now that I’m on a roll.”