Pavement's Bob Nastanovich sheds light on the reunion tour

Tarina Westlund

It's the event that anyone who's worth his weight in Rough Trade singles, and who still harbors a secret infatuation with Geddy Lee, has been praying for for more than a decade: the reunion of Pavement. After years of rumors and hearsay, those presentable slackers with the non-threatening smiles and playfully obscure sense of humor—immortalized by Stephen Malkmus's boast of having "so much style that it's wasted"—are returning to the Twin Cities to help us relive the glory days of the '90s.

Before we get all misty eyed, though, Bob Nastanovich is ready to correct us on one of our most frequently recycled aphorisms about his band.

"The whole thing about Pavement being called a 'slacker band' really has a lot to do with the geographical inconvenience that's always existed in the band," he says over the phone from Iowa, although his lackadaisical monotone makes it sound like he's only half-convinced by the idea himself. "It sort of keeps us from any sort of normal rehearsal schedule and so things, you know, are always kind of thrown together at the last second and that's just sort of the way things always end up being."

That's all well and good there, Bob, but as the man's own vaguely defined role in the group amply demonstrates, Pavement have always worn their laziness on their sleeves. A multi-instrumentalist of sorts, Nastanovich mainly helps the band stay in time while ranting, shouting, and adding various tongue-in-cheek interjections into the mix. Most importantly, though, he's just a fun guy to have around.

Regardless of the level of preparation that's gone into touring, Nastanovich says the reunion has been remarkably similar to old times, if a little more relaxed.

"There's been less pressure because we're not pushing a new album or promoting a new album," he says. The decision to skip out on the studio was as much a matter of avoiding the extra hassle of recording as it was a result of the members' continued focus on outside projects. "We sort of felt that people just wanted to see old Pavement songs, and that whatever we would've come up with new would've been drastically different; I'm not sure whether that would've been bad or good," he muses.

Pavement fans are—how shall we say it?—a devoted lot, usually loyal to a particular album, be it to Slanted and Enchanted's epochal lo-fi clatter, the snotty but hummable Crooked Rain, or the half-baked melodic tangents of Wowee Zowee. The quintet has spread their set lists across the catalog accordingly, although Nastanovich admits they've been light on Terror Twilight material. "There's talk of adding maybe three or four more for this U.S. tour and we'll see what happens when we show up for sound check in Portland and Seattle, which are the first couple of shows for the tour. Hopefully these guys have relearned some of those songs that we've talked about.

"But," he adds sarcastically, "you never can tell..."

If Nastanovich has developed into something of a spokesman for the group, an ever-ready receptacle of amusing soundbites, the fact remains that Malkmus's is the voice of the band. His enigmatic lyrics and misleadingly amateurish guitar work are central to Pavement's identity, but while the rest of the band has long been open to reuniting, Malkmus has historically been the deal-breaker.

"He's got to remember (the songs) and sing all the lyrics, so in all honesty he's got the hardest job," Nastanovich points out in defense of his bandmate, with whom he's moonlighted in the Silver Jews. "He sort of has the most serious project going on with the Jicks so his schedule's just more filled than the rest of us.

"It's true that (Malkmus's) performances can accurately be described as 'nonchalant' on occasion, but that's just the way he carries himself," Nastanovich continues. "I think sometimes when something doesn't sound right to him over there in his little area, whether it be the monitors or his amp or something like that, he grimaces and the crowd sort of misconstrues him (as) not having a good time, when I think he just wants things to sound good, and if it doesn't sound good to him I think he wears it on his face."

As a band equally capable of incurring the wrath of Billy Corgan with a mere throwaway lyric or getting pelted with mud and rocks at Lollapalooza (for which they maybe don't deserve full credit, per se, but which remains an admirable moment in their history), it's easy to imagine Pavement's amusement at the fawning reception they've been greeted with from some quarters upon their return, particularly at the hands of the indie press.

Yet Nastanovich strikes a gracious tone on the matter: "Our fans are good," he laughs, drawing out the last word as he says so, "that's basically what it boils down to." After a bit of reflection, he adds, "I just think that all five of us are the kind of people that really don't have the type of ego that would let any of this go to our heads too much."

Fortunately, odds are slim that Pavement's reputation, past or present, will ever lead to many fits of hubris. "I never really was a musician outside of Pavement anyways," Nastanovich concedes. "And, like, if somebody says, 'Hey, do you want to jam?' I'll say, 'No, I can't really do that because I only know how to play Pavement and Silver Jews songs!'"


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