Spiral Stairs - Interview
It's been a slow century so far for Scott Kannberg, aka Spiral Stairs, founding member of Pavement and Preston School of Industry. His second studio album under the Spiral Stairs moniker, Doris and The Daggers, is his first release in eight years. Providing an emotional trip through loss and fatherhood, the album channels these experiences into a collection of sweetly melodic and honest songs.
With Scott currently touring the Europe, we caught up with him to talk life, death, fatherhood, and IKEA, while attempting to get the latest on the Pavement second reunion rumours.
Q. Eight years since your previous release is a long time, how has your style grown in that time and what’s your inspiration for the album 'Doris and the Daggers'?
Well, my style is most definitely better since I got married seven plus years ago. Before I was wearing running shoes, jeans, and too big long sleeve shirts. I was definitely very un-cool as she likes to remind me. I wish I had some more hair though - I'd be totally stylish then.
I'm better as a musician in those years that's for sure and a songwriter. I couldn't have made 'Doris' back in 2009. It's just the passage of time and the inspirations of music, art, literature, what's going on in my life, etc. Lots of life, lots of death, lots of mowing the lawn, lots of YouTube wormholes!
Q: ‘Exiled Tonight’ is about the death of your friend and drummer, Darius Minwalla. How did his passing effect you and shift the course of the album he was supposed to be a part of?
That song was actually a dream I had the night I went home from the studio. It was the last song to sing. I had terrible lyrics. It was about some weirdos in a bar I had met a few weeks prior. My engineer said to me. "Those are terrible lyrics, come back tomorrow with something else." So, that night I had this dream where Darius was stuck in the afterlife and I think it was his way of letting me finish the record so he could move on.
Darius' death was a shocker to us all. Originally, we were to record the record up in Seattle really fast, kind of like the old days. My songs were simpler and garage rock in sound. When he died, in the time I had to really have a think about it, I started writing other songs. Songs that dealt with him, but also life in general. I took my time; that's why it took so long. Plus I had to pick up my kid from school every day around 4 so not a lot of time to record.
Q: The album features Broken Social Scene, Kelley Stoltz, and Matt Berninger of The National. How did those collaborations come about?
I've been mates with the Broken Social Scene folks for quite a while. We've played shows together when I had Preston School of Industry and Spiral Stairs, and Pavement as well in 2010. We did some songs together for a festival in Calgary back in the 2000s and wrote some original songs for it. 'Emoshuns' is one of those songs, and 'Texico Bitches' on the last Broken Social Scene record is another. We've got 5 or 6 others that maybe will be released one day. The band name we had was 'Human Milk.' Anyways, Justin Peroff asked to sit in after Darius died. They were close friends. Kevin Drew was in town and sings on 'Emoshuns' as well.
I've met Matt Berninger a bunch during and after the Pave reunion. He moved to LA and we'd see each other at kid parties. I told him I wrote this song for him to sing and when he came to sing it he said I had to sing it, so he sang backups. So cool.
Kelley Stoltz is a legend. He's the new Phil Spector. I went to his studio in San Francisco when I was doing some pre-recording for the record. He played along and made up some wicked key sounds, not to mention his Will Sergeant solo in 'AWM.'
Q: Some of the record was funded by a PledgeMusic scheme. How did you find the whole experience (selling memorabilia, playing private shows etc)? Did anyone really buy the date with you at IKEA?
It was never funded by PledgeMusic. I paid for it all (and Domino in the UK.) Pledge came along for the pre-order campaign. It was a fun way to get some stuff to the fans. Now I think it's all available to the world. Domino didn't want the pre-order campaign. No, nobody paid for a date at IKEA but someone did pay for a private show out on Cape Cod at this super funky crab shack. So fun!
Q: There’s a Scotland-themed track called 'Dundee Man.' What’s the inspiration there?
I have a friend from Dundee that the title comes from but the songs not really about him. It's more a Scottish travelogue through time, or at least my experiences there. I have climbed Arthur’s Seat and ate haggis meat. I come from a Scottish clan.
Q: What have you been up to since the Pavement reunion tour in 2010? What has held you back from releasing new music sooner?
I moved to Australia, got married, had a kid, bought a house, tended my garden, mowed the lawn, and listened to a lot of the Go Betweens. Oh, and got into cricket and smashing cane toads. Life stuff just got in the way, I guess, but it was fun. I was more inspired in other ways than music.
Q: Directly after Pavement you released two records as Preston School of Industry. What made you go back to your original Pavement era moniker of Spiral Stairs?
Well, 'The Real Feel' was more of a personal record, as is 'Doris.' I'll bring Preston School of Industry back one day. I was Spiral in Preston School of Industry still. I'll always be Spiral, I guess.
Q: You’re about to tour Europe. Do you still enjoy the travelling? Which dates are you most looking forward to?
Of course. but not right now. I just got up at the crack of dawn to take a 4 hour bus to Cancun to find out my flight has been delayed 6 hours. They blame it on the hurricane that's nowhere near here and happened 3 days ago. Oh well. I hope to get to Manchester eventually.
I'm looking forward to all the dates. It's been so long since I've really toured in the UK and Europe. It will cool to finally see Newcastle - home of my favourite band, Roxy Music! We're also joined by a great band for all the dates, Canshaker Pi, from Holland. Come early and check them out if you can.
Q: So you now live in Mexico. How did that come about? With the current political climate in the US, how is your life ‘on the right side of the wall’ so to speak?
Yes. Well, we were living in Los Angeles for the last 3 years and it just got too expensive and we wanted our daughter to learn Spanish. My wife's parents have lived here in Merida for quite some time and we've visited a bunch and really love it. We'll see how long it lasts. We're probably moving back to Australia at some point in the future. The US seems pretty harsh these days. The tech boom has made our favourite cities unaffordable, and of course the politics of the minority seems to be running things and probably will for a while.
Q: 'Unconditional' is a song about your daughter. How are you finding fatherhood? What advice to a new father like myself can you offer on raising a cool kid? My four-month-old son listens to a lot of by-proxy Pavement.
Yes, just hang out and don't miss the little things. I used to play Roxy a bunch of Cheap Trick songs when she was younger. I hope it's ingrained in her.
Q: One thing that jumps to mind when watching old Pavement interviews or tour footage, at least to an outsider, is how much fun it looked to be in the band. Was it?
Yes. Pavement was tons of fun, most of the time. At least when all the members of the band were in good moods! We loved making music and touring too! The reunion was awesome. It's amazing how many new fans we have now.
Q: I’m sure this is something you get asked about a lot, so I’m sorry, but can we talk Lollapalooza '95? Bob Nastanovich credits Pavement with the demise of the festival. What are your feelings on that, and how much fun was it giving the crowd the finger before baring your arse at them?
We didn't break Lollapalooza. It was broken before that, when they had the Smashing Pumpkins play the year before. (Ha!) No... from what I've heard most of the people who worked Lollapalooza thought our year was the best. Probably because there were no egos from the bands. Well only one actually, CL! All the bands had a blast and I still hear from fans who saw those shows and loved them. Yeah, I did moon the crowd in West Virginia, but those folks sucked and needed my bare ass.
Q: One final Pavement question - second reunion, yes?
I really hope so. Our 30th anniversary will be in 2019! Working on it! Stay tuned.
Photo - Steven Simko
Spiral Stairs tour dates
20th Sept – Petit Bain, Paris Tickets
22nd Sept – Le Sonic, Lyon Tickets
23rd Sept – Le Pingouin Alternatif, Pau Tickets
26th Sept – Freakout, Bologna Tickets
27th Sept – Ohibo, Milan Tickets
28th Sept – Bad Bonn, Dudingen Tickets
29th Sept – Strom, Munich Tickets
30th Sept – Chelsea, Vienna Tickets
1st Oct – Durer Kert, Budapest Tickets
3rd Oct – Café V lese, Prague Tickets
4th Oct – Grizzly Bar, Warsaw Tickets
5th Oct – Quasimodo, Berlin Tickets
6th Oct – Knust, Hamburg Tickets
8th Oct – Luxor, Cologne Tickets
9th Oct – Bastard Club, Osnabruck Tickets
10th Oct – Atlas, Aarhus Tickets
11th Oct – Loppen, Copenhagen Tickets
13th Oct – Rotown, Rotterdam Tickets
14th Oct – Paradiso, Amsterdam Tickets
15th Oct – Nest, Gent Tickets