David Pajo was once the guitarist of Slint, to many one of the most legendary rockbands that has ever existed. I tend to agree, but since the split (back in 1990), he has done a lot more like being one of Will Oldham's Palace Brothers, playing bass in Tortoise and touring with Stereolab. He's probably one of the most active musicians in the united states and he can already be considered a veteran although he hasn't even reached the age of thirty yet. A month ago his own band Aerial-M played in De Vlerk in Rotterdam. I was supposed to interview him before the show. Because of reasons beyond our control it failed miserably. So David and I agreed to do the interview by E-mail. This is a complete unedited transcript of the interview.
Why did you start this band?
It was time. I wanted to know what it was like to fuck up on my own, to score alone. How does it feel to crawl and soar.
And how does it feel now? Are you happy you have decided to do it?
Yes, but it's both strengthening and draining. I still need more experience before I can comment on this. It's too early to talk about how it feels because I haven't fully done it yet.
Why did you decide to go touring with your own band?
I've played Aerial M shows on my own and it was weak. The songs are written so that they make sense as a sum of it's parts. There is a wealth and unpredictability to real musicians playing amplified acoustic instruments as opposed to pre-recorded music. Live, I need to communicate with other humans.
How do you feel about being the leader of the band? And having to do all these interviews, like this one?
It's nice to know what's going on and be able to move things in a way that is preferable to me. It's more work but I'd rather work harder for what is important and be in control than stagnate and let others make decisions for me. I prefer to be on top when I'm fucking if that's what you're asking.
It's not really a good feeling, I don't want to be a tyrant. But as leader you have to make the rules and pave the road, you know, so you make your sacrifices. Superficially you appear to be an asshole but really it's respect for the music. If you don't have that respect why the fuck should anyone else?
Doesn't it feel strange that the music you have made up on your own years or months ago has become a product, or even an artwork, that people you play with should respect? You have to actually be your biggest fan, and the people you play with also. Isn't that hard to do? Don't you feel sometimes feel resentment to your own music?
Exactly. I feel very weird about taking a painting for example and putting a logo on it and mass marketing it. It's something I'm torn about. But I'm making a poor man's piece of art you know. I'm trying to make an album a piece of art that anyone can buy for a reasonable price and every copy will be exactly the same. If I paint the picture then I don't mind using it; it's mine to do whatever I want with. But using someone else's art for an album is something I don't think I can do.
As far as resenting my own music, it's also something I also struggle with. I don't listen to any records I've played on because I know the songs inside and out. I hear what it could've been, I hear what it's not. If I listen to it for what it is, then it's fine. But I know better than that.
Often times playing live with Aerial M, I find myself trying to find something to love about the song. I have to force the song to reflect how I'm feeling in that moment.
Is making music to you a way of life or a way of making a living? Would you want to do anything elses?
I can't do anything else, it's a lifestyle that affects my every decision, my every thought. I don't just make a living out of it. And it's insulting to have anyone even think that. I just hate being misinterpreted by others who might think that Aerial M is a scam to make money. The money I make off of Aerial M for a year wouldn't support the majority of people for a month. That's the sad fact.
Bedhead once said to me in an online interview, they'd rather not do interviews, because they don't see the need tell about themselves, since they are unimportant in peoples perception of their creation. Would you agree?
I believe in music without ego. Aerial M is not about personality, it's about music. Music filtered through my personal experience, which is unique of course. But the emotions behind the experiences are not esoteric. Feeling is the fuel, music is the product. In interviews I don't like to talk about myself yet they so often become "interviews with David Pajo" instead of "an interview with Aerial M". Having said that, there is not much to talk about because Aerial M is so young and hasn't much of a history yet.
I am also a fan of musicians so I understand the desire to read about one's heroes. And wether I deserve it or not, I am a hero for some people and if they want to know my benign opinions and views, they are welcome to it. Hence the reason for doing interviews that I don't enjoy doing.
Why don't you like doing interviews? Is it just being uncomfortable talking about yourself? Or is it difficult for you to take some distance from yourself and your work and think about it in other ways?
I hate reading what I say or write because I feel like a dolt, I hate seeing photos of myself, I hate thinking backwards, I hate being the center of attention for anyone. I'm an introvert at heart and there's probably a bit of self loathing in there.
But is that bugging you? You could also agree to not do interviews anymore or only very few. It's been done by many, although it's frustrating for small-time music writers like me, it's a great way to further build up a cult status.
Ideally I would only do interviews from selected interviewees but I don't have the clout yet. I just want people to know that we are an active band, to not forget about us.
For the past four years you have played in an enormous number of bands, ranging from country to bachelorpad music, as well live as in the studio. Why so many? And why so many different styles?
I play with friends and people I respect who ask. As a musician I have to always be in a state of learning. And I have been lucky to play with great teachers. Style is nothing, the songs are the center and locus.
How did you learn to play anyway? Do you consider yourself to be an able musician?
I picked up drums and guitar right away, I was suddenly very good at it. Plus I dropped out of school because I was playing guitar 9 hours a day; when I played for 6 hours I felt bad. I wasn't chasing girls around or trying to be popular, I was playing guitar. I chased girls later when I had a more confidence.
I've got a sense for music but I'm not an able musician. I like to work out songs over and over. I couldn't get up with a jazz band and start jamming. I can't sight read. I don't know music theory.
But would you ever want to know? People (in pop mostly) do say that by applying music theory you can kill off most of the spotaneity in music. Are you happy being self-taught or would it have been helpfull if you got guidance back then?
I avoid music theory because I don't want to bias the intuitive way that notes relate. I have a sense for what notes do when they go together. I'm afraid that if I learn the formulas behind it I'll corrupt the feeling I get from the notes. I'd rather continue with the idea that they are wrong notes. I don't want to think in terms of scales and modes.
The way you got into playing music sounds pretty compulsive. What was the reaction from people around you? And how did you go from a bedroom guitarplayer to a bandmember?
Well I only had a few close friends so they thought it was fine. My parents were happy I was staying out of trouble. But I was into sick music so they weren't too pleased with that.
The first song I ever wrote was called " I hate elevator music". I jammed on it with maybe one or two other guys and it was a laugh. Once I discovered punk rock I was welcomed quickly into the scene because I was one of the few people that could actually play (even though I had shitty taste in music). Suddenly I had lots of friends. They were geeks, punks, skins, rednecks, goths, gays, bitches, whores, rich kids, and junkies but they were pals and I could relate with them.
Have you ever regretted dropping out of school?
No, it was one of the smartest things I ever did.
You said you made the Aerial-M album because Drag City asked you to. Do you consider your music so unimportant? Did you not feel an urge to express yourself?
I have been fortunate to always have an outlet; I like to play, period. Weather Aerial M existed or not, I would still be playing in some band. Because Drag City asked me to make a record doesn't mean it's unimportant. I put music over everything else in my life. I chose music over my wife. I chose music over my family. I chose music over myself. It's all I have, to be a channel for music.
But I am changing that: Music, as beautiful and powerful as it is, is nothing without experience. It has taken me a long time to realize that family, woman, friends, solitude, are the focus and force of all good music. Music for music's sake is empty and void.
I had an interesting discussion with the guys from Mouse on Mars about this, eight months ago. They too struggle with the way their music is perceived as apposed to the way they make their music and to what purpose. You say music should only be made if there is an emotional basis to do it for. But does it always work like that? People have made music for music's sake and made music is remembered still (hitfactories in the late fifties and early sixties).
Yeah, you're right. My statement taken out of context like that seems very bold and wrong. What I meant was music without some vibrant life force behind it is empty and void. Music for experimentation isn't always listenable but is fully valid for a multitude of reasons. What I meant was: I don't respect anyone who straps on a guitar and gets on stage just because he can. There has to be something deeper behind it for it to be appreciated.
I know you have tried to do other things, what is it about music that makes it so utterly important? Is it sound itself, is it melody, is it the abstract way of expressing emotions, is it the way it is never there, consisting of only air molecules moving and ever sounding different, triggering different emotions every time you hear things. What is music? And why is it so important?
Man, this is a difficult question and I'm not a music theorist. I can only answer according to what music means to me personally which is very naive.
I think it's all those things you mentioned. For me, I was attracted at a young age to music with a backbeat, music I could sing too. Then the sound of a distorted guitar and screaming, darker music, became the voice for the confusion and testosterone of adolescence. Then drugs made drones and strange sounds more appealling. Then when punk rock became more accessible to people (beginning with bands like the Pixies) I turned to music I thought was "pure": delta blues, old time country, folk musics from all over the world.
As time goes on, I find myself continually embracing music that I once despised. I can enjoy the latest Madonna album as much as I enjoy Ethiopian dance music from the '70's. I can go see Spice World and Dutch Harbor in the same week and enjoy both. I find it very immature to be elitist about music. I was like that for a long long time and I was limiting my own voice. There's still music I don't care for, I don't like the majority of music everyone else likes. It's always better to avoid the trends and fashions of the time and to stay uncool. They'll catch up with you in 10 years time but you'll already be 10 years ahead!
Isn't music one of the most abstract ways of expression? I mean anyone listening to Aerial-M might not be getting the same message out of it you put into it?
Is it for you a way of comfort to be able to express your feelings in this way? And how do you feel about the fact other people use the product of your sorrow (and hapiness) as a comfort to themselves?
Instrumental music or music with metaphorical lyrics can be abstract but the beauty of it is that it can be taken as personally as anyone lets it. Songs are read differently according to one's personal worldview. It's a natural medium for me to show facets of myself or tell invisible stories that I normally don't show to anyone. I personally find it comforting when a musician or writer feels the same thing I do or confirms something I already know. It's not because I need to know that I'm not alone; it's just nice when someone can put words or music to something that's difficult to express.
Isn't that maybe what music should do and most music does, leave room for the listener to add his own experiences, values and ideas to what somebody else is expressing? Is that something you look for in music yourself (either listening, playing or creating)?
Yes, I suppose -- depending on your philosophy -- everything in the world is relative. Somewhere I once read that maturity is when you can read a book and not see yourself in the characters.
Are you romantic? (because your music is)
No, I'm sadist. I am anybody. I don't know what you mean by romantic I suppose. I'm emotional if that's what you mean.
What do I mean by romantic. Well just the fact you're using your music as the way to express your emotions is enough proof you are. Romantic is a good thing, it means you take your emotion seriously, so serious you think you should share and express it to others in this manner and provoke new emotions. That is pretty amazing. That is what was pretty amazing about Slint and that was what was pretty amazing about most of the things you've done since.
But the emotions are so varied. I'm not some melancholic. Different bands reflect different facets of my personality. For example, King Kong reflected a certain sense of humor that I share with Ethan, Royal Trux reflects a part of me that is constantly moving quickly and anti-drone (in a way). Often these reflections are in direct opposition to one another but that's the beauty of it.
Are you aware of the emotional value people see in your music? How do you feel about that?
I like the contrast between the emotional impact of the notes and the coldness of the delivery. Like a hard shell on a soft tortoise. A crunchy biscuit with a creamy center.
Many times you've answered questions about Slint by wondering out loud why so many people are into it still. Do you still think Slint is not that special? And if so, who would you consider to be more special back then? And right now?
Slint is very special; what are talking about? I just wish people would move on. We ruled when we were around, I was always our biggest fan. Maybe it's pompous of me, but we started in late '86 and ended in late '90. That's a long fucking time ago and I've done lots of music since then. Music that perhaps isn't as vulnerable but every bit as passionate and valid.
Slint is dead and has been for a long time and I'm really sick of talking about it. It was just a point in time. Like a tattoo.
Sick of talking about your tattoo too?
Yes! It's very similar to showing someone your new tattoo. I don't like to show people my tats, it's for private viewing only. I'm the kind of guy who needs his privacy.
Don't you at times miss the energy of playing loud music?
I still play loud music. I like it for it's directness. I especially like guitar played quietly but the amp turned up really loud. And drums played quietly with sticks on really big drums.
That way musicians can be pretty much in control the way they play. Isn't that also the advantage in playing quiet instrumental music, being able to play around with the dynamics?
Quiet music is really hard. When you play loud it's easy just hit the drums or strings as hard as you can or turn the knobs up all the way. To play quietly and accurately is very difficult. Loren Mazzacane Connors is really good at it.
You said you have written lyrics to some of the songs on the record. Haven't you thought of someone singing them?
Yes. Then I sang and decided it was a very dull idea. There will be a song on the next single that I sing on. But it's a cover song and it's always more comfortable to sing other people's songs.
Dull? Or are you just unsure about your singing voice? Is using vocals a pretty big step to take? I mean Will Oldham does sing, but (bar a few utterly beautiful songs) he isn't considered a great singing voice, but he still continues to do it. Isn't it the combination of lyrics and singing that makes it tough?
Yes, I meant dull in the sense that the edge was rounded and blunt. My voice was distracting and innapropriate. It's not out of the question though. In fact, I sing on the next Aerial M single.
Sooyoung Park of Seam once said to me in an interview he found it harder to make instrumental music compared to songs, because he thought it's harder to keep peoples attention. Do you agree?
No. I think it's much harder to play quiet music in rock venues, especially in small towns or when people are expecting loud music. Instrumentals are much more easy and natural for me.
On the last single and on your collaboration with Will Oldham (Continental OP) you have started to use electronic instruments. Did you start using it because of your experiences with Tortoise?
And Stereolab too. Those bands opened my mind to that sort of stuff. I was into Suicide when I was younger (and still) but that was as far as I'd go. Now I'm less snobbish about electronic music and I really really love it. Sound is sound, right?
I still need to check it out. Have you heard the collaboration of Panasonic with Alan Vega singing? Pretty intense.
I haven't heard it yet. Suicide is one of my all time favorite bands, they had this sharp edge, this contempt delivery. But they also droned like the Velvet Underground or a Morrocan drumming troupe. I also loved the Foetus stuff when I was a lad. But that's as far as I went. Big Black, Foetus, and Suicide. Oh yeah, SPK. The Ex.
You're right! Sound is sound. Doesn't really matter what your using. Just like what Mouse on Mars was saying. A great painter uses anything. If he feels like making a drawing he uses a pencil, if he thinks he's better off doing it in oilpaint or even pixels he uses that. The medium and the form is unimportant, or is just a part of the message you're trying to express, the product you're making. But I wonder, is any artist that conscious about the medium?
Sure, lots of em are don't you think? Often times the medium, the proccess is the most enjoyable part of making something.
Are you planning to do more things like that? Is rock dead?
Fuck you if you think rock is dead. I mean I don't want to hold the torch for rock. But it's still strong. It's still evolving.
But to answer your question: I've got some keyboards and access to sounds that I haven't really explored before that I'd like to fuck around with more and use in songs if it seems appropriate and adds something tangible (or intangible).
Have you heard and tried the Rebirth 338?
"Mountains Have Ears" was my little experiment with ReBirth. I'm really looking forward to getting the 2.0 upgrade and checking out some of the modifications that are out. I spend days on ReBirth.
GREAT! That's what I've been waiting for. I still think the use of electronics and the way people have been experimenting with it, especially in the rock context, can be expanded more.
I only use it as an aid really. Sometimes a strange sound will inspire a song, or a sound can add depth, or even crawl around inside the brain. I really want to dive into it and see what happens and not think about whether it gets released or not.
So is most of your music a result of experimentation?
No, they usually happen when I'm trying to get an instrument to do something interesting. I'm not experimental, per se. I just like to see unfamiliar territory.
Do you have enough plans for Aerial-M?
I have too many plans. I'm just worried that the quantity of songs will lessen the quality of the songs. There will be a sequel to "M Is..." as well as a remix album, then if all goes well, a 2nd lp before the year is up.
A remix album. All remixes by yourself or are you inviting other people to do it?
I have invited Tim Goldsworthy from UNKLE, Bundy K Brown, Markus from Tied and Tickle Trio, and a very special guest.
If you could pick a movie that would be ideal to use your music as a soundtrack for, what kind of movie would that be?
I'd take on just about any movie really. Preferably I'd like to have a say in the imagery, story, etc. But really any movie would do.
Nosferatu? M? The Manchurian Candidate? Two Lane Blacktop?
I'm trying to put together an Aerial M video that can be purchased through Drag City but that may be a long time from now.
Did you make it yourself?
Well there's a guy in California that does these cool little video art projects, just beams of light that follow certain patterns in a song. Really crude and simple but very cool and timeless. I might have him do a couple songs and I'd like to do some animated stuff on my own. Maybe even a short play.
I'm amazed you mention one of my favorite movies of all time. What is it you like about Two Lane Blacktop?
Who would have thought that James Taylor could be such a bad ass? Allegedly, the director gave the actors one page of script at a time, completely out of sequence. None of the actors had any idea what the film was about. So consequently they tend to under act. I love their delivery.
People always say they see certain things when listening to music. Their own movies. But usually when I close my eyes I don't see anything, or if I concentrate hard enough it'll be something abstract. What do you see?
It's not like I hallucinate when I listen to music, I just imagine little narratives. It helps me write a song if I'm thinking in terms of, "So now this thing is flying around happily but suddenly he gets whacked by an alien. He's been hit, his group scatters. There are lasers going everywhere, it's all confused. But he doesn't notice because he's watching his blood pool on the marble floor."