Interview: Bob Nastanovich (Silver Jews, Pavement)
Published on June 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams and Jamie Steiner
There’s been an awful lot of fuss made lately about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but here at Rocksucker we’re far more excited about the Silver Jew-bilee. No, not the one Her Majesty celebrated back in 1977 – we’re talking about 19th June, the release date of Early Times by Silver Jews. After all, let’s face it, being a member of not one but two of our age’s greatest bands is considerably worthier of having royal status conferred upon you than being an old lady who’s quite good at turning up to places and waving a bit. Where, pray, is Bob Nastanovich’s commemorative stamp?
Rocksucker was utterly stoked to get to interview Steve West last year, and now we are doubly so to complete a Silver Jews/Pavement double by reproducing our email conversation with Bob, in which we discussed amongst other things his memories of recording the fourteen tracks that make up Early Times, back when Silver Jews was a young three-piece comprised of himself, Pavement cohort Stephen Malkmus and the operation’s head honcho David Berman…
How are you, and what are you up to at the moment?
I am fine. I’ve been working alot at the race track here in Iowa. I have five jobs there and put in about 60 hours a week. It’s seasonal so I have to do a year’s worth of work in eight months.
Are you still working for the Daily Racing Form? If so, how’s that going?
Yes, it’s great. I write about racing in Iowa, Portland, Dubai, Singapore, Australia and wherever for them. I enjoy international horse racing.
What do you remember of the Early Times sessions?
The three of us were close friends then. We saw each other on nearly a daily basis. We led similar lives. Jews were a part of our free time at night. We drank beer and jammed. That’s what came out. There was camaraderie.
How mapped out/rehearsed were the songs before you launched into recording them?
Maybe a take or a half-take or completely improvised. Obviously, it was sloppy. We were trying to be cool.
Do you enjoy listening back to the recordings now?
Yeah, I do. I have fond memories of being 23-24 in Jersey City, Hoboken and NYC. We were doing what we chose to do.
Whose idea was it to call the collection Early Times, anyway?
David, I imagine.
Were there any less direct titles mooted?
Not that I know of.
Was anyone taking creative control during the sessions, or was it an open forum?
David and Stephen battled for control. Silver Jews were always David’s thing. Stephen had Pavement to control.
What are you personally playing/singing across the songs?
Percussion, mostly made from cheap furniture and trash, a lot of which had been thrown out by neighbors on Sunday nights. Sometimes, I chime in some inspired background vocals. “I dream about the swarm” in “Walnut Falcon” is an original highlight.
It sounds like you were having an absolute blast making these recordings. Were you all drunk/stoned/otherwise/all of the above?
There was alot of cheap beer involved.
“Bar Scene From Star Wars” is particularly ‘hypnotic’!
That song is David flying completely solo.
Were you often in altered states of mind?
Mostly controllable drunkenness – as much beer as would go in a belly.
I remember Stephen saying he was smoking a lot of pot around the time of Wowee Zowee. How do you think this affected/enhanced Pavement as a working unit?
I would think that pot was helpful to Pavement on most occasions not involving the British Columbian border patrol.
Do you think there was an element of competition between Stephen and David?
Were there ever many disagreements between the two, or indeed the three of you?
Nothing memorable. David and I fought the most. We were always trying to “slash and burn” each other with insults.
If so, how would they get resolved?
Things got dropped.
What is going on on “Jackson Nightz”? It sounds like someone taped over a little bit of it. Intentional or error?
It is all pieced together. There’s rudimentary editing. Intentional and affordable.
Did “West S” have anything to do with Steve West?
It’s a tribute. Everyone loves Steve West.
Favourite Pavement album?
Favourite Silver Jews album?
Any albums from either that you’re not especially keen on?
Natural Bridge (even though I like some of the songs).
We’re obliged to ask: any chance of a new studio album from either at any point in the future?
Not that I know of.
Or tours, even?
I hope so.
What would you have done with your life if Pavement/Silver Jews hadn’t happened?
When/why was it decided upon that you’d handle the chorus of “Conduit for Sale” at live shows? It was an inspired move!
The screaming bits shredded Stephen’s cords.
How much wear and tear has all the screaming taken on your voice?
None, but my ears are effed.
Both good entertainment vehicles. Marble Valley are great live.
Do you know what Scott Kannberg and Mark Ibold are up to at the moment?
Not really. I think they’re in Australia and Queens, NYC respectively. Both are new fathers.
And indeed, come to think of it, David Berman?
David is in Nashville. He is well.
What is the worst venue you’ve played?
Kellogg’s in Cincinnati.
After you had played the final ever Pavement show (final at that time in ’99) at the Brixton Academy, how did you react after what was an amazing show?
I was exhausted and relieved.
Did anyone suggest splitting up was maybe a bad idea?
Was everyone depressed by the end of an era, on in a mood to celebrate what you’d achieved together?
Everyone was ready to go home.
How was the Ace of Cakes Pavement cake?
Wonderful! Those are great people on that show.
Are there any up-and-coming and/or obscure musical artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Poison Control Center and Mumfords.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life with just the entire back catalogues of five different musical artists, whose would you choose?
Gang of Four, Minutemen, Belle and Sebastian, Thin White Rope and New Order.
Bob Nastanovich, thank you.