Pavement was an American indie rock band that formed in Stockton, California in 1989. The group mainly consisted of Stephen Malkmus (vocals and guitar), Scott Kannberg (guitar and vocals), Mark Ibold (bass), Steve West (drums) and Bob Nastanovich (percussion and vocals). Initially conceived as a recording project, the band at first avoided press or live performances, while attracting considerable underground attention with their early releases. Gradually evolving into a more polished band, Pavement recorded five full length albums and nine EPs over the course of their decade-long career, though they disbanded with some acrimony in 1999 as the members moved on to other projects. In 2010, they undertook a well-received reunion tour.
Though only briefly brushing the mainstream with the single “Cut Your Hair” in 1994, Pavement was a successful indie rock band. Rather than signing with a major label as many of their 1980s forebears had done, they remained signed to independent labels throughout their career and have often been described as one of the most influential bands to emerge from the American underground in the ’90s. Some prominent music critics, such as Robert Christgau and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, went so far as to call them the best band of the 1990s. In their career, they also achieved a significant cult following.
Pavement formed in Stockton, California in 1989 as a studio project of guitarists and vocalists Stephen Malkmus & Scott Kannberg, known originally only as “S.M.” and “Spiral Stairs”. Their debut EPs were extremely lo-fi releases titled Slay Tracks (1933-1969), Demolition Plot J-7, and Perfect Sound Forever. They were recorded at Louder Than You Think, the home studio of Stockton local and former hippie Gary Young who also played drums on the recordings. Upon first hearing the duo’s songs, Young was quoted as saying, “this Malkmus idiot is a complete songwriting genius.” After the release of Slay Tracks, a new drummer, Jason Turner, was drafted to replace Young both live and in the studio. However, after just one tour and a handful of recording sessions, when it became apparent Turner and Malkmus did not get along well, Turner was ousted and Young reinstated.
Pavement’s most obvious influence during this time was English rock band The Fall, although Kannberg stated in a 1992 interview that he preferred The Replacements. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith has claimed that Pavement were a “rip-off” of his band and that they didn’t “have an original idea in their heads”, although other members of The Fall have been more positive about the band.
Around 1992 Pavement became a full-time band, with the addition of bassist Mark Ibold, who had been one of the band’s earliest fans, and extra percussionist Bob Nastanovich to help Young keep time. Their debut album, Slanted and Enchanted, was released commercially in 1992 after copies had been circulated on cassette tape for nearly a year. Though the percussive influence of The Fall was still pervasive, as was that of English post-punk band Swell Maps, many of the songs also exhibited a strong sense of melody. Later the same year, the band released the EP Watery, Domestic, which represented a balance between their earlier and later styles.