The debut release from Pavement is a bit of an oddity.
From Stockton, California, the band was formed in 1988 by Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, with the legend being that they looked to try to make money from performing at open mic nights, mostly through performing cover versions with the occasional original thrown in for good measure. In January 1989 the duo decided to enter into a local studio with the intention of cutting some tracks for a single, with the $800 costs borrowed from Kannberg’s father.
The ensuing outcome were five, incredibly low-fi tracks, that were put out on an 7” EP, Slay Tracks 1933-69, on Treble Kicker Records, a label conceived and developed by the duo. The pressing was restricted to 1,000 copies with minimalist information about the band, other than a contact address in Stockton, with the and the pseudonyms S.M. and Spiral Stairs being adopted. In later years, the sounds you hear on Slay Tracks would come to be described as slacker, although at the time the music was impossible to easily pigeon-hole.
There’s a very extensive entry for the EP at wiki which draws upon a range of press reviews at the time and subsequently interviews given by the duo to provide an informative and entertaining story. All of the songs were Malkmus compositions and the use of radio static was deliberate as it was seen as the third instrument in top of the guitar anD bass. The use of drums was an afterthought and only came about as studio owner and session engineer, Gary Young, thought they might add something and he ended up adding them to two of the tracks while Malkmus and Kannberg improvised on two of the others. The lead track, however, was entirely drum and percussion free.
It was an EP that, unusually in the pre-internet age, got picked up almost entirely via word-of-mouth through mentions in low-circulation fanzines. It was as much down to the fact that, in an era where image and glossy production were seemingly the be-all and end-all, such a sh!77y sounding recording managed to feel exciting, new and unique. It was punk rock more than 20 years on.
The move from underground to overground, certainly in the UK, came via The Wedding Present namechecking the band in interviews and then covering one the Slay Tracks as a b-side on one of their singles, Brassneck, in 1990, and I’ll come to that in a separate posting quite soon.
All the while, Pavement continued to do their own thing and indeed they weren’t aware that they were being quoted so highly in the UK. They continued to record more low-fi EPs in 1990 and 1991, although there was a gradual expansion into a full band, and in due course a debut LP, Slanted and Enchanted, was released in 1992. Over the next seven years, they would enjoy increasing commercial success without ever really hitting the big-time in any consistent way.
If you want to pick up a vinyl copy of the debut EP, be prepared to fork out something in the range of £150-£200.
Slay Tracks was a hugely influential and important debut single, and to some, Pavement never bettered it. That ‘some’ however, are just muso snobs, for the band would progress on to much better, more listenable and accessible things in the times ahead.