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Interview: Spiral Stairs Talks About Ghosts And Pavement

Interview: Spiral Stairs Talks About Ghosts And Pavement

Thursday 23rd November, 2017 2:25PM

US songwriter Spiral Stairs aka Scott Kannberg is well known to indie music fans for his pioneering work as a founding member of Pavement. Since that band wrapped up in 1999, Kannberg has kept busy with his group Preston School Of Industry and recordings under the Spiral Stairs moniker. Bunkering down in Brisbane for a while to raise a family before heading to LA, Kannberg recently reactivated Spiral Stairs this year with new album Doris & the Daggers. The record is a tribute to frequent collaborator Darius Minwalla who passed away in 2015, and features guest contributions from Matt Berninger of The National and members of Broken Social Scene.

Spiral Stairs is heading to Auckland this December to co-headline a show with Brooklyn outfit Big Thief, and will also be playing a headline show in Hamilton, his first New Zealand performance since touring with a reunited Pavement back in 2010. We felt it was an opportune moment to catch up with the spirited artist on his feelings about the new record and plans for the future…

What motivated the release of the new album Doris & The Daggers? Were you recording and writing the whole time, was it an accumulation of ideas?

The last time I did a record was 2009 (The Real Feel), and then the Pavement reunion kind of got in the way, it took a couple of years of our life. I wasn’t really writing any music then, I was just kind of dealing with Pavement stuff. And then I moved to Australia and had a kid. I’d sit down sometimes and try to write a song but other things kind of got in the way. I think not until I kind of moved back to LA in 2013, that’s when I was just surrounded more by musicians and people kind of egging me on to do something again. That’s kind of how it got started. Time just went by quick.

You were planning on recording the album with Darius Minwalla before he passed away around 2015, and you’ve dedicated the album to him. It’s a tough question but how did his absence impact on the recordings?

He was a pretty big part of the Preston School and Spiral Stairs’ world. He was a friend of mine from Seattle when I lived up there, and when I moved away from Seattle, he moved away from Seattle as well and was still a big part of our lives. I wrote some different songs after he passed away. Some other songs started creeping back in, lyrical content I might have changed a little bit to kind of talk a little about him and his life. It definitely changed the direction of the record.

Originally it was supposed to be done really fast, really short punk rock songs, kind of the garage rock vibe. It made us delve a little more into sounds and lyrics and emotions I think. Yeah he was cool, I mean, it wasn’t cool that he died (laughs). But it was definitely a good experience to go through in making this record. We got shivers a lot.

In the way that you felt his presence in the recordings in some way?

He was definitely around y’know. We definitely felt his presence. I kind of still do sometimes when I sing those songs live, you still kind of get this weird feeling. He’s probably jealous that I’ve got another drummer (laughs).

Are you exploring any specific themes with Doris & the Daggers or did anything specific inspire you?

My songs are pretty bare when I start, they’re just kind of these riffs and melodies that I have. I kind of go from one song to another, they link up when I make the music in the studio, that’s kind of where it links up, because of the sounds my engineer’s getting or the people I have playing on it. I have this really amazing violinist that comes in, and whenever she puts down her parts they sound really cool, it just takes it to a different level. That kind of all just came with the recording.They’re kind of happy accidents almost, that’s how every record’s really done.

It’d be nice to do a record like Neil Finn does, he’s got everybody there ready to go. I really like that concept, that thing he did on Facebook was cool to watch. But I would be really nervous (laughs).

I read that they practiced a lot before they actually did that, so that made sense. They’re all really good players, whereas we’re just amateurs (laughs).

You said that with your song 'Exiled Tonight' you tried to sing like Matt Berninger from The National, and then you couldn’t so you asked him to sing with you? Is that an example of how your collaborations generally came together on the record?

Maybe yeah. I kind of wrote that to kind of sound like him when I first started writing the lyrics and stuff. And then I thought it’d be funny (to ask) “why don’t you come over and sing it instead of me?” I love it when people have someone else sing their songs on a record, I think it’s really interesting and cool. So he came in and he was getting it but he just turned to me and said “I can’t sing this, you gotta sing this, I’ll just sing back up.” So it kind of went like that, he’s a nice guy.

You came here a few times in the nineties to Auckland (with Pavement), and your shows were quite famous. I heard at one of the shows, your drummer Gary Young was gifting visitors soup or potato salad before the show. That's what people have told me, I don’t know whether it’s true or not.

Probably yeah. It was probably a place that had a kitchen in the back. I think he made potato soup or something like that.

That sounds great. So what can punters expect from your show in December?

(Laughs) Well I’m not going to make anybody soup, but hopefully I’ll be as entertaining as Gary used to be, he was pretty entertaining. We’ll play a bunch of old Pavement songs, we’ll play a bunch of my catalogue as well, maybe a cover or two. I haven’t really figured it out yet. Auckland and New Zealand in general plays a big part in my music. A lot of bands I’ve loved over the years have been from that part of the world and have influenced me and Pavement. So it’s kind of cool to come back and share it.

What does the future hold for Spiral Stairs?

I’m enjoying making music. I’m going to make this new record in January, the way it is in today’s world with everything digital, you can kind of put out whatever you want. In the old days you have to wait a couple of years before you put out something, have this whole machine behind you and stuff. And now you can kind of, it’s kind of like you can relate to your fans a little more, give them a little more… so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep putting out songs and some will be on vinyl and some will be on digital. Hopefully Pavement will do something again in a few years, and just keep plugging away.

Spiral Stairs will be performing at Hamilton's Navara Lounge on Saturday 2nd December, and at Auckland's The Tuning Fork alongside Big Thief on Sunday 3rd December, ticketing details are listed below.


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Spiral Stairs
Sat 2nd Dec 7:30pm
Nivara Lounge, Hamilton
Big Thief / Spiral Stairs
Sun 3rd Dec 8:00pm
The Tuning Fork, Auckland