David Pajo is one hell of a jack-of-all-trades guitarist. In the early ’90s, Pajo revolutionized minimalist post-punk sonics with the crucial Kentucky outfit Slint, helped birth the post-rock aesthetic in Tortoise, collabbed with ex-Slinters in loopy dance new wavers King Kong and palled around in projects with Will Oldham.
Since then Pajo as experimented under a myriad of pseudonyms including, M, Aerial M and Papa M, weaving intrepid and singular six-string guitarplay into a folksy Americana and electronic noodlage deconstruction. Pajo has dove into old school metal with Dead Child, black metal with Evila, played in Zwan with Billy Corgan, cameoed with Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and revisited Slint. He’s now back in Papa M mode.
Sound of the City caught Pajo via email to talk about his nonstop projects.
It’s been a while since the last new Papa M album. Is there a new album in the works? Are you testing out new material live?
I don’t have plans for a new album. Although, I’ll probably add some little doodads that no one’s heard before. Hopefully it will all tie together as some kind of experience.
On Sunday at (le) Poisson Rouge, will you play solo or do you have a band?
Matt Jencik [Don Cabellero; Slint 2007; Implodes] is playing bass and other textural things. It sounds surprisingly big and full with just the two of us; in the right venue, with the right audience, and the right P.A. system. If any of that is lacking in some way—KAPUT.
What can we expect?
Me and my music are pathologically quiet.
You’ve collaborated with Will Oldham over the years and he’s gone under several different names, as you have been prone to do. as well. Was there ever a conversation between the two of you where you conspired to fuck with people’s heads and your label Drag City just for shits ‘n’ giggles?
You know, I can’t recall ever talking about the different name changes. I would usually run a new name by him to get his take, that’s about it. I don’t think either of us did it to intentionally fuck with anyone.
Which one of you thought of recording under the numerous names first? Did Will rip your idea off?
Neither of us did it first, not really. A lot of those old blues guys put out records under slightly different names. John Cougar did that too. I can’t speak for Will but I always assumed he was “fine-tuning” his outward presence. Before Palace Brothers there was Palace Flophaus. For me, I just felt that a change in musical direction or philosophy constituted a new name. It was also a way to delineate time periods. I think Will probably felt that way too, to some extent.
When you write a song, do you think to yourself “This is going to be under ‘PAJO'” or “This is going to be under ‘Papa M'”? What’s your rationale behind it?
I usually write the songs first and then I’m stuck with trying to figure out how it should be presented. I wanted Papa M to become Papa M Sings—sometimes I wish I had done that. The band name is one of the last things I think about. If I recorded a bunch of tunes tomorrow, I’d have no idea what name it would be released as. I know the band name should probably matter to me but it really doesn’t at all.
When Slint played those reunion shows a few years back, were you immediately into taking part in it or were you skeptical in any way about it just being a nostalgia act, given the fact that reunions have become so commonplace in recent years?
I was skeptical of a lot of things. I wasn’t sure we could pull it off. There were so many potential scenarios where it could utterly fail and be pathetic. Looking back I think we did a respectable job, with the help of some great people. We were fairly detailed when it came to recreating that sound. For example, I used the same copper picks and the same brand strings that I used back when we recorded Spiderland. Same amps, pedals, pickups, etc. We were old friends getting back together, which was the most awesome part about the reunion. I don’t think any of us were nostalgic. I felt like I was just doing my duty.
What were your thoughts on playing those songs again after all those years? Did you enjoy it?
I really enjoyed it. It was so cool to look back on those songs with that much perspective. I would be happy not to play them again, but it was a definite joy to me.
What did you originally bond over with your friends in Squirrel Bait and Slint?
In addition to getting excited about the same music, I definitely bonded over our mischievous, delinquent humor.
David Pajo (live in Rome, 2012)
What did you discover first in your formative years: punk rock or metal?
I was into metal when I was barely pubescent. My older brother was the punk / new wave guy. We got in fights over our taste in music; metal was for morons, punks couldn’t play their instruments!
Can you point to a particular metal album(s) or artists that inspired your trajectory towards the different metal genres you’ve been involved in?
I think it was Darkthrone and Ulver that tipped me over from traditional metal and death metal into straight up black metal. I like it all, really—there are very few genres of metal I dislike!
Speaking of metal, a few years ago you were in Dead Child and also played bass in Early Man. The sounds of those two bands can be construed somewhat as falling into a type of ‘hipster metal.’ niche. How did you see those two bands?
I hope Dead Child wasn’t hipster metal. But yeah, I can understand why people would say that. With Dead Child, we just wanted to be a heavy live band—that’s about it. I really loved Dead Child.
Is Dead Child no more?
The band was kind of fizzling out on its own. Then when our drummer, Tony Bailey, passed away, there was really no good reason to continue.
Evila is metal but a completely different beast altogether.
Do you get shit from metal diehards that, on one hand, you’re in a band like Dead Child and on the other you’re doing Evila, which is black metal?
Most metal diehards don’t care about either band! Maybe I want everything I do to contradict itself.
You recorded Evila here in New York at Menegroth. Did Colin Marston record it? Are you a fan of Brooklyn metal like Dysrythmia, Krallice and Mick Barr stuff?
I actually wrote the songs for Evila at Menegroth, when I was sleeping on the floor of one of the iso booths—I didn’t record it there! I did the recording by myself, in my basement in Columbus, Ohio. I love Krallice, Mick Barr, all that stuff.
Is Blazebirth your own record label? Why’d you start it?
Blazebirth is my online label. I wanted a place to put stuff that would otherwise never get released. Stuff that didn’t seem appropriate for Drag City, or that I want to keep quiet. I’m the worst fucking salesman. I can’t sell records.
You’ve played in a bunch of popular groups… Interpol, Yeah Yeah, Yeahs, Zwan. Has a band ever called you up to join or go on tour and you refused?
The Voice interviewed Matt Sweeney recently. He related experiences with Billy Corgan talking trash about after Zwan ended. How was your experience being in Zwan?
It had its ups and downs, you know, like any band. But on a dumber, more dramatic scale.
Can you share any fond moments of being in a band with Billy Corgan?
Getting to hang out with Paz and Matt!
Do you regret being in Zwan?
Will Zwan ever reunite?
I thought they did…?
You were a hired gun (for lack of a better term) for Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. How was the time you spent on tour with those groups? Did it compare with being in Zwan?
It was so awesome, some of the best touring experiences of my life. It compared with Zwan only in terms of scale. The friendships I made…that made it a dream come true.
If offered, would you ever join Interpol or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on a full-time basis, or would that hinder your time to work on your own material?
I would love something like that. That stuff doesn’t hinder me, it propagates my solo work. I’m unproductive without it.
Papa M plays (le) Poisson Rouge tonight with Starring.