Two-drummer bands are all the rage nowadays, but how many official auxiliary percussionists are there? Bob Nastanovich likes to downplay his role in Pavement, but most fans would bristle at the suggestion that he was a nonessential component of the band’s legacy. Whether in comic relief or by literally keeping the beat from collapsing, he was always a focal point of the band’s hit-or-miss live shows, and has been one of its most visible members during Pavement’s hiatus/breakup periods.
These days, Nastanovich is focused primarily on horse racing and DJing, two hobbies which preceded his comparatively reluctant career in music. He’ll be making his Milwaukee DJ debut (under the moniker DJ Need A Stack) at High Dive on Tuesday, March 5, along with fellow Des Moines artist Odd Pets, L.A. singer/songwriter Lucy Arnell, and local keyboard troubadour Andi Action. Nastanovich took some time out of a recent Florida getaway to speak with us about his most- and least-famous bands, and why he’s happier not being in one these days.
Milwaukee Record: I wanted to ask you about Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, since it’s the 25th anniversary of that album this month. What do you remember most about making that album?
Bob Nastanovich: Well, I was in Louisville, and it was all done in New York, and I had played on a couple of the songs, at least three or four of the songs that Stephen [Malkmus] had brought up before we recorded, during sort of a transitional phase of Pavement. Kind of key, because Gary Young quit the band, and then we hired Steve West to take his place. That album, for the most part, was conceived by Malkmus and West, who were in Brooklyn at the time, and Mark Ibold lived there, too. And then Scott Kannberg, who was living in Sacramento, he would’ve been there for all the recording bits, but I actually personally never attended one recording session.
MR: Oh, wow.
BN: Yeah. In fact, when the recording part was finished over a period of several months, I went to New York and picked up Stephen and drove him from New York to Louisville, which is like a twelve-hour drive. That’s the first time I ever heard the finished product, like five months before it was released. And on that drive, which was a long road trip—we did it all in one shot—we played the album several times, and he sort of told me everything he wanted me to do in terms of live performance.
I don’t want to entirely discredit myself, but…I’m pleased with the fact that my recorded contribution exists, because I certainly would’ve played on Wowee Zowee, Brighten The Corners, Terror Twilight, basically everything that happened after Crooked Rain. And then before Crooked Rain, the Watery, Domestic EP. But the early days, up through and including Crooked Rain, I was not a part of the recording process, to be completely honest.
I guess they say, when people claim to be “completely honest,” they’re probably not telling the truth. In this case, I’m actually telling the truth. [laughs] I’m not what you’d call a vital or founding part of the recording process.
MR: Do you feel like there were certain eras of the band that were tighter versus others? Or was it just kind of a night-to-night thing? Because you did have that reputation.
BN: The way I looked at it is that we made five albums, and since we didn’t see that much of each other unless we were on the road, I kind of think it was five different bands.
MR: That makes sense.
BN: You know, you get together and jam with somebody for two, four, six months, and it’s time to record, and the record label [is] expecting an album, or at least some semblance of one by a certain period, so it’s time to schedule it and get it done. That’s the reason why Wowee Zowee, I think, is particularly precious to me, because it was the first Pavement album where five people produced it. And Brighten The Corners was the same way. It’s just, y’know, Crooked Rain had a lot of great songs, and it came out at a time when interest in Pavement was really peaking. And we had very little to do with it.
We were pretty willing to tour. I mean, we played Milwaukee. I remember we played Shank Hall, I’m gonna say in ’92. That’s a guess. So we played a lot of cities, we did a lot of touring, just the five of us for several years. And then when we reached a certain point where we could afford, like, a touring sound man, we had that, but…even in ’99 and 2010 we always had the minimum amount of required tour personnel. It was weird to tour on a bus. I’d never toured on a bus, but that’s what we started doing, like towards the end of the ’90s, you know. It was hilarious.
I remember the first tour we were on…the previous band that had used the same bus was Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and his people decorated the bus. I think it had only been a few days off the road, so a lot of Bob Weir’s decorations were still hanging on the bus walls. A lot of old tour buses have a weird, really shabby, low-grade Reno hotel feel. They’re kind of like germ pits. They’re weird. I’m sure if you were on, like, Lady Gaga’s bus it might be something completely different than what Pavement toured in. I’m sure it’s more customized.
MR: Most likely, yes.
BN: Not that I know her personally. Nor would I ever be on her tour bus. And the most disturbing thing about the Bob Weir decorations [was that] most of them were those freaky masks, those multicolored painted wooden masks that had kind of a Mardi Gras vibe. And then within twelve hours we took ’em all down, they were so fucking creepy. You know, you gotta normalize the environment.
We did one tour on Crooked Rain, the first tour of the U.S. we did after it came out, we played 53 gigs in 52 days. At one point we played three shows in 24 hours. We played Pittsburgh at two in the morning, then we drove all the way to D.C. and played some alternative rock festival at RFK Stadium where the Redskins played. We were on first at noon, and then we got in the van and drove all the way to Morgantown, West Virginia, at Nyabinghi Dance Hall, and that was the end of the tour. And it was kinda like…everybody in the band to some extent is a Minutemen fan, and we were trying to take a “jam-econo” mindset and apply it to ’90s indie rock or whatever the hell you wanna call Pavement. So I mean, that’s all we knew. Our heroes were mostly from the ’80s, when we were teenagers and college kids, like the SST mentality, throw it in the van and roll. I used to see tours with those bands and I’d be like, “Holy shit, how do they get around?” Like, you know, 41 shows in 31 days, how do they do that?
MR: How did you first get into DJing? When did that become your primary outlet?
BN: From my sophomore year of high school, just during the summer…this was at the University of Richmond. Me and my friend somehow finagled our way into a college radio DJ slot at the University of Richmond. And then I went to Charlottesville in ’85, and they had a big college radio station called WTJU, and I loved doing radio shows. You know, I’m not like a DJ in the modern sense. I just play records.
MR: What kind of music did you play when you were DJing at the college stations?
BN: I’m sure plenty of jangle pop or whatever. I didn’t delve too much into…like, I had this really immature attitude, amongst thousands of immature attitudes. I had one really strange attitude about music that if it was made before I would’ve had a chance to see it live…in other words, if it was made before, like, ’79, then I wouldn’t really listen to it. Almost like I couldn’t really relate to the cultural background of the experience. But DJing out I’ll basically play whatever I want.
The reason why I started DJing is that, unlike my bandmates…I’m not playing music. I mean, I never played music before Pavement and Silver Jews, and I’ve barely played any music since, so really what I know more than anything else about music is just listening to tons of music. And I do a podcast. I don’t really play, so it’s just kind of a way for me to enjoy music. Just like putting out the occasional small edition of a 7″ record by a band that otherwise wouldn’t have their records put out that are great, that should have records put out, you know what I mean?
BN: That kind of mentality. I don’t really wanna play. [laughs] There’s a band here in Des Moines that I played about 15 shows with. I was in the band for like, maybe six months, called the Mall Cops. And we made one of those split 7-inches with another band called Shitstorm from St. Louis. It’s basically one guy and his wife, their project with me and another friend of mine, and we did, I don’t know, a handful of shows. It reminded me that I don’t really like to practice, I don’t like to record, I’m not a gearhead. So really the thing I like most about music at this point is putting on headphones and taking anywhere between 20 and 50 records and going out and playing them. Eighty percent of it…I wouldn’t say it’s obscure, but it’s not all the hits. I keep it weird but hopefully without scaring people out of the room.
MR: Seems like a wise approach.
BN: Yeah, and somebody like myself who’s…I mean, anybody who really calls me a musician, I sort of understand where they’re coming from because, yeah, I played on some records. I was in, you know, a known band that did a lot of touring. But it took a certain amount of concentration and work on my part for me to pull off pretty rudimentary parts.
So, you know, it’s just not part of…I love to watch bands, I love to see bands and buy records, and all of a sudden I’m in a situation where Stephen, one of my best friends from college, he’s put out this 7-inch by Pavement, and 1990s approaching, and essentially I had a Suburban. I had an old Suburban, so we talked about it about a month before we went on tour. August of 1990 I think it was. We agreed that I would provide the vehicle and be like a tour manager. That’s when I met Gary, and Stephen suggested a few days before I met Gary that I buy a cheap floor tom and a snare, because Gary can be so incompetent at times, that we need somebody actually keeping time. So for the first three years of Pavement, before West joined the band, I was mainly there as a foil for Gary when he was drunk.
And then…all the abrasive singing parts that would mess up Stephen’s voice, he kinda passed on to me because that way his voice wouldn’t go out on tour. That’s the reason I ended up singing “Conduit For Sale” or “Unfair” or “Debris Slide” or “Two States” or any of the other things I screamed or yelled on or sang background vocals [on], and it just got over-indulgent later in things…
MR: I’ve even seen you referred to as the “hype man” for Pavement. What do you think about that characterization?
BN: Well, I think it’s humorous? I mean, I think at one point somebody got in touch with me, some friend of mine, I forget who it was, and they were like, “Holy shit Bob have you seen this list?” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And he says, “Do a search for ‘hype man’ on Wikipedia.” You gotta be shitting me. There I was, with like 40 other people, 33 of which or more were hip-hop artists. There might’ve been somebody else, like there was some guy, a famous one, that guy Bez from one of those drugged-out English bands from the ’80s and ’90s. What was the band called, Chemical People? Chemical Brothers? [Note: it was Happy Mondays.]
BN: Some of those bands…back in the ecstasy era, who were coming out at the same time as Pavement, there were a few hype men in those bands. So I saw the list, I took a picture, and within less than a year, somebody contacted Wikipedia or somebody took me off there. [laughter] I mean, I’ve seen the Wikipedia definition of a hype man, [which] sort of gave you an idea of what it was, and then the only hype man that I was completely familiar with was Flavor Flav, and the only time I ever saw Public Enemy they were terrible and he was the worst part. So…
MR: So you didn’t really want to be on that list.
BN: Well, you know…I’m sure you’ve seen bands that go one song into the next, and then some bands take an ungodly amount of time between songs, and I’m sure you’ve noticed during this conversation that I’ve kind of got diarrhea of the mouth? And so, during those dead air times I would get kind of impatient, and I would start saying stuff into my mic, and usually Malkmus would reply or something, and I would always just try to create, and with Gary, kind of an onstage banter. So I guess that’s as hype-man-y as I got. Who knows what I was doing?
It’s all complete hokum to me. I’m very happy I was a part of it, you know, and I think that some people were amused by my contributions and some people took it seriously. I think it got to a certain point where I’d played a certain number of shows where I was able to do my parts with a certain kind of confidence, and you know, [the band] were all pretty tight. If I was doing something really stupid, Stephen would tell me to stop doing it sometimes. I’d ask him all the time, “Okay, I’m doing this now in this song,” and I remember he’d say things to me like, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, I don’t even have you in my monitors, but whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, people seem to like it.” I didn’t know what I was doing.
MR: So how did you wind up putting together this upcoming tour?
BN: Odd Pets, I put out their 7-inch. They’re a good band from Des Moines. They’ve never had much of an opportunity to tour really outside of Iowa. So for them it’s kind of a big deal, this tour, which is fantastic and I hope people like ’em ’cause they’re great, two-piece band, really good. And then Lucy [Arnell], she contacted me about six months ago, and I gave her my address, and she sent me the record. I dig the record. It’s called Anyways Any. I played it on my podcast, and we became cyber-friends, as they say. I think right now she’s on the road touring with some band called Holiday Sidewinder that’s more famous than I realize. I had never heard of them until about a month ago. But, yeah, I love her record, and I was talking to Lisa [Burner] from Odd Pets one night, and I was like, “Well, why don’t I bring my friend Lucy Arnell to the Midwest and try to book a bunch of shows, have Odd Pets open, and I’ll go out and DJ?”
One of the beauties of social media these days, although it constantly gets trashed for various reasons, most of which are valid, one of the great things about it is you can put together a tour of small places around the Midwest. You can throw together a pretty decent little tour via social media. And then Lucy, I mean I’ve never met her in person, but…You know I can’t really hear very well, so I hardly ever talk to people on the phone. Mostly via text is how I know her, and she’s pumped. I think she’s a very enthusiastic person to start with, and she writes great songs. That’s good enough for me.
I hope the weather cooperates. As you know, in Milwaukee right now, if for some reason it’s a 40-degree night, it’s gonna feel like 70 and there’ll be people out. I’m hoping to make it through. I’m hoping there aren’t any ice storms or snow storms, or we get stuck. I hope the van rolls, I hope it’s 40 degrees and people come out, just to be out.