When Bob Nastanovich, multi-instrumentalist of '90s "slacker" band Pavement, mentions he's in "the larval stages of a pretty massive trip," we can be forgiven for thinking, hey, the old party days are back! But that's not what he meant.
"I just visited a friend in Minneapolis, saw the Twins and the Tigers play, flew back to Iowa and now Denver. I'm now flying 11 hours to Frankfurt and then on and on, to Poland. It's about 28 hours all told." He pauses. "But it's worthwhile just to bring Pavement to the Polish."
Fantastyczne! In its lurching run through alt-rock from 1991 to 1999, Pavement never set foot in eastern Europe. Now, as a reunited nostalgia act, they're circling the globe, taking the lo-fi sounds that defined a certain corner of post-Nirvana rock to audiences that never heard them the first time.
That corner has grown slightly in the preceding decade -- while bandleader Stephen Malkmus crafted a solo career, and Des Moines-based Nastanovich returned to his day job as a chart caller at horse racing tracks (he spends three months each year working at Hawthorne Race Course in nearby Cicero) -- though most people remember Pavement, if they remember them at all, as that quirky '90s band with one moderate hit (1994's "Cut Your Hair"). But the reunion, announced a year ahead of time, has generated hype much bigger than that bio suggests.
Sunday night they bring the reunion to Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival. Nastanovich talked with the Sun-Times about why such a thing has happened -- and about the mini-reunion that could have been at Pitchfork 2007:
PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL
-- 3 to 10 p.m. today; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
-- Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph (at Ashland and Lake)
-- Single-day passes, $40; pitchforkmusicfestival.com (Saturday and Sunday have sold out, but a small batch of new tickets for both those days will be released at 11 a.m. Thursday only at the on-site box office.)
Q. So ... why? Pavement seems like the one band that would resist reunion and nostalgia. Why have you come together to revel in the greatest hits?
A. We never really ruled this out as a possibility. I'd said the chance of us doing anything together again was between 25 and 50 percent. It wasn't anything ardently discussed, but most of us were hopeful. Stephen took the most convincing on the subject. It was [Chicago-based music agent] Boche Billions that convinced him. ... Stephen was on a tour with the Jicks, and he had dinner with Boche, who told him if he ever wanted to do a reunion with Pavement he needed time to prepare it. This was last summer. Stephen said, "OK, let's do it." And the ball started to roll.
Q. You say you were hopeful for this. Why?
A. Scott [Kannberg, guitarist] really wanted to do it since a few years after we stopped. Mark [Ibold, bassist] was the most shocked and couldn't understand why we stopped in the first place. He told me over the years he'd happily put down what he was doing [playing with Sonic Youth] to play with us again. ... Pavement isn't such a household name, but the people who know us care a lot about us. I work in horse racing. Less than 1 percent of any of the people I work with have ever heard of Pavement. But the people who have -- it's become clear over the years, they want to hear us play.
Q. Can I write about Pavement without using the word "slacker"? Where did that come from, anyway?
A. From the way we presented ourselves on tour, as a band that was generally pretty comfortable with ourselves and essentially wanted to appear on stage and play our songs the way we intended them to be played. We didn't rehearse much. We didn't live near each other. There are bands right now that have been together for 90 days who've rehearsed more than Pavement did in the '90s. That created a lot of anxiety. We never really knew what song was next. That combined with the presence of Gary [Young, the band's original drummer], a very erratic person in performance mainly due to alcohol abuse -- people who saw us saw something that looked pretty different. The lack of preparedness was largely the reason. So they called us slackers. In some ways it's unfair, in others it wasn't. But we never canceled a show. We played them all, sometimes in horrible condition.
Q. Much is made of Pavement's musical influence. Does the slacker element influence bands, too?
A. I think so. Kids in high school now -- it's a normal thing to start a band and just wing it. That was a little unusual when I was growing up in Virginia in the '80s. People looked at Pavement and were encouraged to start a band themselves. Maybe we made it look too easy.
Q. I saw you at Lollapalooza in '95. The performance was definitely ... loose.
A. We were pretty bad on that tour. We played 35 of them, and maybe half a dozen were pretty good. Generally speaking, those amphitheaters in the middle of the afternoon weren't conducive to what we did.
Q. Why didn't you decide to play Lollapalooza here this year?
A. I didn't know they had Lollapalooza anymore. I had no idea.
Q. You've played at the Pitchfork festival before -- with Stephen?
A. Stephen was playing there a couple of years ago [in 2007], and he called me the night before, said he needed help. He said, "All these bands are here. Slint just played 'Spiderland." Sonic Youth played 'Daydream Nation.' I'm solo with the Jicks, but what if I played 'Slanted'? Would you do your parts with me?" I hadn't heard the record in years. My wife pulled out the CD, and we drove to Chicago the next morning with her writing down all my parts as we listened to the album. I called Stephen. He said, "See you at 4. We're on at 6:30." He shows up at 5:45. I'm getting anxious about the whole deal. I don't want to walk out to an outdoor festival stage for the first time in years and humiliate myself. He says, "I've changed my mind. We're not going to do 'Slanted.' We'll just do 'In the Mouth a Desert' and 'Trigger Cut.' Well, I never played drums on that one. He goes on, plays five songs, introduces me, people clap. I'm ready to play and he says, "Here's 'Trigger Cut.'" I don't know how to play it. Subsequently, I completely ruin the song. It was pretty awful. We then play 'Desert.' This time I can play fine, but he forgets the words. So based on those seven minutes at Pitchfork, I hope that when we return whatever we do in an hour and a half is an improvement.
Malkmus and Nastanovich perform "In the Mouth a Desert" at the Pitchfork festival in 2007
Malkmus and Nastanovich perform "Trigger Cut" at the Pitchfork festival in 2007