During his 10-year stint in seminal indie-rock band Pavement, Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg sang about dates with IKEA and painted soldiers. After Pavement broke up, he borrowed a title from a song he'd written for the band and applied it to his new solo project, Preston School of Industry. More whimsy ensued. Now, five years after the last Preston School of Industry album was released, Kannberg is ready to present his fans with an album full of material that sounds nothing like his previous bands' output. He's back to being Spiral Stairs, but this time, there's not as much to joke about.
The majority of the songs on his new album, The Real Feel, deal with his divorce, which occurred after the last Preston School of Industry album. Before he came up with the songs, Kannberg considered quitting music altogether. He spent his time fixing up his house in Seattle, traveling and going back to school to take some “urban-planning classes.”
“I tried,” Kannberg recalls. “I went a couple semesters. I took some classes. Terrible classes.”
But then he found inspiration, penned this new batch of songs and not only got back in the game, but also regained direction in his life.
“Music always seems to do that to me,” he says. “Right around the Pavement stuff, I was kinda lost, then that band kinda helped me get though college. Preston helped me get through the end of Pavement, and this new album helped me get through the lost years.”
The Real Feel may be filled with lyrical misery, but many of the songs bask in rollicking glory. Opener “True Love” gets the album going with the energy of a raucous bar band. It also displays Kannberg's ability to front a powerhouse rock group—and “Maltese T,” “Stole Pills” and “Cold Change” only reinforce that fact.
Another notable song off the new one is “Subiaco Shuffle.” It's a bluesy dirge that shows that Kannberg's musical tastes are still traveling on somewhat parallel lines with those of his former cohort, Stephen Malkmus, even though they've spent years apart. The two seem to have embraced classic rock whole-heartedly after their old band's demise. Malkmus has let his love of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Allman Brothers bleed through his songs, while Kannberg openly admits that mid-period Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights influenced his new record stylistically. Both have also displayed new lyrical strengths in their post-Pavement careers. Kannberg has proven that even the most hardcore disciples of '90s irony can spill their guts lyrically to tremendous effect.
“I think it was kinda surprising that the lyrics came out and I was able to use them in that way. It really kinda helped me deal,” Kannberg says.
What's perhaps most amazing about The Real Feel is that even though it sounds like a group of four or five musicians hammering out a collection of songs they've been fine-tuning for months, it was in fact crafted by a rotating cast from various parts of the U.S. and Australia, where Kannberg's been spending recent winters. For this tour, he's going to assemble the musicians in much the same manner that Pavement prepared for a tour: Alert the members wherever they happen to live, rehearse a couple times and hit the road. When you have seasoned vets in your band, such as Jon Auer (best known for playing in The Posies and the current version of Big Star), it isn't nearly as risky as it sounds.
As for Pavement, a booking agent has for the last two years been contacting the members about possible shows for a much talked-about reunion tour. Kannberg says everyone in the band just felt that the time was right to get back together. He also confirmed that some sort of “greatest hits” disc is in the works.
Though he was mum about a possible Coachella appearance, he did say the band is “definitely looking at some West Coast shows.”
The only instrument to switch hands during Pavement's initial run was the drums. So, will these shows include the original wild-man drummer, Gary Young, or his replacement, Steve West?
“This thing is just gonna be about Steve West,” Kannberg confirms. But then he offered a glimmer of hope to a nation of disciples of Gary Young and his trademark on-stage headstands: “Maybe we'll do a show or two with Gary.”
Spiral Stairs plays with Bob Mould on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at the Belly Up. www.myspace.com/prestonschool.
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