Spiral Stairs: The 13th Floor Interview

You probably know him as the guitarist for influential indie-rockers Pavement. But Spiral Stairs, aka Scott Kannberg, is heading to New Zealand in December to share a bill with Brooklyn-based indie-rockers Big Thief.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Scott Kannberg recently and found out what he’s been up to since the 2010 Pavement reunion last brought him to New Zealand. 

Click here to listen to the interview:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: You’re coming down here in December, I believe.

SK: Yes, yeah.

MD: Is this the first time you’ve been here since The Pavement reunion?

SK: Yeah, I think it is.

MD: That was 2010.

SK: Yeah! You know what? It is! I’m surprised I never made it over when I lived in Brisbane, because it’s pretty close. Yeah, this is probably the first time.

MD: Give me a little overview of what you’ve got in store for us when you get here.

SK: We’ve got a show there in Auckland on December 3rd at the Tuning Fork. We’re playing with a band, Big Thief, who are really cool. And the night before we play in Hamilton – this guy just wrote to us, out of the blue, and said he heard we were playing in Auckland; so, he wanted to see if we could play a show there. Originally, I tried to get a tour together with David Kilgour from The Clean… but things weren’t lining up; so, luckily these other guys came through, because originally, I was going to do an Australian tour – and it’s a shame when you come all the way there, and not do something in New Zealand – but I really wanted to do something where I went down to the South Island and went to Dunedin again. I haven’t been to Dunedin since ’92 or ’93 maybe, and that’s where a lot of my favourite bands come from. It’s a shame not to make it down there this time, but if I move back to Australia, then I will definitely get back there.

MD: Or you could just move to Dunedin!

SK: Or I could just move to Dunedin. Yeah, that would be pretty cool!

MD: Are you touring with a band? Are you bringing a band with you? Who’s coming along?

SK: Yes, yes! I’ve got my band. I’ve got Matt Harris, who plays bass on all my records, and he’s playing with us again; and Daryl Bradie and Danny Tulan, who are from Australia. They play in this great band called Gersey, and they’ve played on my records before… they’re like my backing band when I go to Australia. Matt Harris… used to play in The Posies as well. I’ve got a keyboard player, Tim, as well, who’s coming down; so, it’s a full rock band.

MD: A full rock extravaganza, huh? Very good! That sounds exciting! I know that you have this affinity for all things Dunedin-based, as far as music. Where did that start from? When did you first get exposed to the Flying Nun thing?

SK: It happened when we were in college. College radio, at that time, was the thing, and you’d hear these shows that would play weird music. Looking back at it, these songs weren’t really that weird; but things like The Tall Dwarves: that was kind of weird. I don’t know; and the mystery of it, it sounded different than what you’ve heard before, and then when you find the record – the Flying Nun twelve inches, or something – there was something different about them. I mean, I’m being really weird about this, but there used to be this little thing in the corner of the packaging: they had, not a tear, but a little fold in the corner – whoever manufactured did that; it’s a weird little thing – things like that stuck out; and it had this cool sticker on it; and so, you try to collect those when I was into that. You’d read about the Flying Nun bands, and you’d be like, “Most of them were pretty good!”

MD: And it’s amazing: most of them are still around, now, as well!

SK: Yeah! That’s cool…! The music I was listening to, at that time, was The Velvet Underground and Echo & The Bunnymen – you know, that kind of stuff – and I’d probably gone through my third Beatles phase; so, New Zealand, Flying Nun bands were kind of coming from those same places, but in a newer, fresher way.

MD: Most of the material that you’re going to be performing: is it derived from your Doris & the Daggers album?

SK: Yeah, yeah! We’ve got a bunch of songs from that. We’ve got some old songs from the last Spiral Stairs record, some Preston School of Industry songs and… three or four Pavement songs that I wrote…. It depends on how much time we have, I guess…. Maybe a Roxy Music cover; I don’t know.

MD: I think I read that some of the stuff off the most recent album was influenced by Roxy Music and Bowie and Wire, and things like that.

SK: Yeah, totally! It all comes from that. I discovered that a little later in my life; I didn’t really get it when it first came out – well, I was too young when it first came out. I was just into other things when I was eighteen, and in my late forties, it was like a light went off with Roxy Music; I’m obsessed with them now! I think the next few records will be influenced by it. Some of The Pavement stuff was influenced by it too, but it was more like the ‘Eno-esque’ years.

MD: Do you find yourself going back and searching out certain phases of music and bands that you missed the first time around, other than Roxy Music? How does that process work for you?

SK: Well, it’s easy now, because you’ve got YouTube. It’s so easy. You look for something, and you’re like, “Oh, what’s this over here in the right hand column?” So, yeah, it’s a lot easier. It was fun to discover things – record shops and stuff, or if people made tapes – in the old days, but that’s how I discover music now: dreaded YouTube!

MD: Well, whatever works, you know? It is wonderful to be able to read about something, or have something thrown at you, and then immediately check it out and see what it sounds like.

SK: Yeah! And then, if I was in record shop – when that was available – now everything’s being re-released and reissued… I’d probably buy it.

MD: Are you a record collector?

SK: Yeah! In Mexico, it’s kind of hard, because… where I live, there aren’t really any good record shops, but I still buy things online, and have them sent to my house in California.

MD: That’s got to be frustrating: you need to have it right away, when you want it.

SK: A little bit. I tried to bring down a portable record player, but, somehow, it just didn’t work.

MD: When The Pavement reunion happened, and you guys were here: I think the first show of the reunion was here in Auckland, wasn’t it?

SK: Yes, in Auckland Town Hall. It was cool! I was looking back at  old set lists of the old Pavement tour, and I think we played for almost three hours, that night.

MD: Yeah! It was a good one! So, you have good memories of the reunion?

SK: Yes, very good memories…. That was a really fun time, and, hopefully, we’ll do it again.

MD: I see you, occasionally, play with some of the other guys, in their various configurations here and there; so, everybody must be on good terms.

SK: Yeah, we’re all friends still, and, hopefully we’ll be on the same wave length again, and do something again; why not?

MD: It was eight years in between albums for you on your own. I assume you’re not going to plan on waiting that long between Doris & the Daggers and the next one.

SK: No, I’m already working on the next one. That was too long…. I didn’t realise it was that long.

MD: What kind of thing are you working on now…?

SK: I’ve got a bunch of new songs. I’ve got some stuff that I didn’t really finish for the last record; so, there’ll be some stuff that’s similar sounding. But yeah, I’ve got a bunch of new songs that I’m trying to get through. My mother died this year; so, I’m trying to figure out how to write some songs about her. So we’ll see; another record about death, I guess.

MD: Yeah, well, as you get older, I guess that’s an overarching subject.

SK I know. Nick Lowe just put out a new record, and it’s all about his divorce, and I’m like, “Well, I’ve already beat you to that, Nick.”

MD: It’s a little late in the game, for Nick, in his divorce. That’s a shame. He’s probably in his sixties, I would guess.

SK: Oh shit, man! I know! It’s crazy, right?

MD: In reality, do you feel like you need to have some kind of traumatic experience in order to stimulate the writing?

SK: No. No you don’t…. I guess my life just never really had any traumatic experiences until now, or recently. I just wrote about weird shit…. I don’t know; I always tried to tell a story in some ways…

MD: Is there any musical scene in Mexico, where you are?

SK: There is, but it’s all Cuban, kind of salsa music. It’s pretty exciting when you go into these cantinas, and people are dancing and going pretty crazy. It’s cool, because it’s all repetitious, and I like repetition; but not really a rock & roll scene here.

Sprial Stairs and Big Thief perform at Auckland’s Tuning Fork on December 3rd. Click here for for info and tickets.