Scott Kannberg’s resume has a bolded header that slaps you right across the face: Founding member and guitarist of Pavement. There isn’t much need to explain, because that single sentence says a lot of things. But Kannberg is more than one arm of a multi-limbed rock ‘n’ roll giant. Over the years, he’s led solid outfits like Preston School of Industry and Spiral Stairs. The latter (also his longtime alias) is where Kannberg lands in 2016, polishing his first release (Doris and the Daggers) since 2009’s The Real Feel. Produced in Los Angeles by Dan Long, the forthcoming LP will at some point be touched by the hands of San Francisco mainstay Kelley Stoltz, and features well-worn players like drummer Justin Peroff (Broken Social Scene).
Spiral Stairs taps into the brilliantly loose mood that defined Pavement. It’s not sloppy, or undercooked—it’s something more akin to your most intelligent, good-job-having friend that shops exclusively at thrift stores simply because they prefer it. “Cold Change” is a prime example; a song that belongs to Spiral Stairs, yet just as easily could have been on Terror Twilight. And reminding people of Pavement is not a bad thing. It’s actually quite good. For all the ‘90s alt we look back upon with sheepish smiles (Pearl Jam? Soundgarden? Bush??), the lazy rock ‘n’ roll swagger of Pavement still stands tall. And Spiral Stairs, with a looming show at Sacramento’s Torch Club alongside Ian Moore, will showcase just that. Submerge recently caught up with Kannberg, who happens to be good-humored and an all-around nice guy, with a fuzzy recollection of Sacramento lore to boot.
So it’s been six years since the last Spiral Stairs record. Why now?
After the last Pavement tour I moved to Australia for a few years and had a kid and lived on an acre of land and kinda mowed the lawn everyday. I lost track of things and didn’t make a lot of music, so when I moved back to the States I just started doing it.
Has the lyrical focus shifted at all now that you have a family?
It was kinda weird. I had a bunch of ideas for songs. Not really anything about the kid; I’m not singing about my kid like Paul McCartney did, or whatever [laughs]. I guess it’s in there a little bit. But we were all set to record in Seattle last May, and the drummer I’ve had for years, Darius, passed away. Big shock. He just had a heart attack and died. He was 39, four days away from his 40th birthday. And like a week away from seeing the very last Rush show—of course a drummer’s favorite band is Rush [laughs]. So it was quite a shock, and I kinda refocused a lot of the songs [to be about] this guy, and loss and friends; life and death, really.
What’s behind the title Doris and the Daggers?
I’ve always had this fake band name, Doris and the Daggers. It’s like a punk rock, fake band from the ‘80s that you’d see at the Cattle Club. It’s gonna be weird playing Sacramento again. I went to school there and lived there in the early Pavement days. I guess the show got moved to the Torch Club, which is even weirder, ‘cause I used to go to that place when I was like 20 years old.
Is it ever a give and a take being inextricably linked to a name like Pavement? Are there times when you’re grateful and others you’d prefer the anonymity?
No, no, I’ve always been very proud of Pavement. I mean, it was my band, ya know? Over the years it’s become such a bigger thing and you’ve gotta respect that. I love it. It made me who I am today, besides my parents I guess [laughs].
I grew up in the ‘90s, and i think it’s interesting to look back at what was popular at what time, and what holds up and what doesn’t, and Pavement’s a good example of a band that has held up. Do you ever contemplate what it is about Pavement that lasts where say, Smashing Pumpkins doesn’t?
You know, I kinda look at it like R.E.M. and their career. When you really care about every record you do, and every single you do and you kinda have a sense of humor about it; you take it seriously but you don’t take it seriously. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. And what we always tried to do was respect our influences. We didn’t try to say we were creating the Holy Grail. And I think people respect that and it resonates.
Have you ever come across somebody who turned out to be a big fan that you didn’t expect, and have it kinda blow you away?
We played a festival once in the mid-’90s or something, and I remember Oingo Boingo played. And I remember the guitar player came up to me and was just like, “Man, you’re my favorite band.” And I was like, “That is fucking weird.” [Laughs.] That’s just a random one. Probably the coolest one ever was Nick Cave taking me aside and saying, “I like you guys.”
Do you have any old, dusty Sac stories? Maybe spin a yarn or two?
Geez. So long ago … my memory’s terrible. It’s basically where Pavement kinda started. I mean we did start in Stockton, jamming and recording, but I was living in Sacramento after the first single. We were around that town when there was nothing going on. But there were great shows; Cattle Club was a great club. And then before that, Club Minimal is basically where we grew up. It was where all the punk rock bands came. I did my first stage dive at Social Distortion when I was like 14 years old.
It was a big part of my life, that town. I went to Sac State. I didn’t finish. I was actually about a semester short of finishing, and Sonic Youth called us up and said they wanted us to tour and open up for them in Europe. So Steve [Malkmus] called me up and said, “Can you put off school for a little bit?” And I never went back [laughs].
I think you made the right decision.
I think so too! My urban planning teacher was like, “What are you doing?” I was working at this door and bathroom hardware warehouse, and I remember telling the boss, “I’m goin’ off, I’m gonna be a rock star.” And he was like, “Alright, good luck with that, we’ll see you in a month!”
Spiral Stairs’ tour with Ian Moore comes through Sacramento Jan. 30, 2016 at The Torch Club, located at 904 15th Street. Admission is $15 for this 21-and-up show, with things getting started at 9 p.m. Find more info at Torchclub.net.