Pavement was a pretty fast phenomenon in the early 90s, they seemed to come out of nowhere. Three pretty obscure EPs from 1989 to 1991, then their first full-length set, Slanted & Enchanted, incredibly hit #2 on the 1992 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll in the Village Voice, and they were off to the races.
But if you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of the work and practice that must pre-date artistic success of that kind—there’s no such thing as people who can do it right away—it might not be so surprising to hear that Stephen Malkmus, Pavement’s lead vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist, had been toiling away as a bassist in a punk band in his home town of Stockton as early as 1982. The band was called Straw Dogs (great name!) and they were the local openers when West Coast bands like Black Flag, DOA, and the Circle Jerks would come to town.
Earlier today Marc Maron dropped an hour-long interview with Malkmus on his WTF podcast, and in the interview, Malkmus discussed his unusual 5-string guitar tuning, his recent obsession with Edgar Allan Poe, and his days as one of the people who “wrote tunes” (his words) for Straw Dogs, a stint that occurred while he was still in high school. (He also discusses his early adoration for Creedence Clearwater Revival and DEVO.)
Here’s the interview snippet where he discusses Straw Dogs (lightly edited, jump to the 31st minute to hear this chunk):
Stephen Malkmus: I was in high school and there were some older dudes that were playing, and it seemed like they were having more fun than the sports guys. …
Marc Maron: What was the first stuff you played? How’d you learn to play?
SM: Eh, punk.
MM: Yeah? …
SM: And then I wrote tunes in the punk band. I was in a punk band.
MM: What were they called?
SM: Straw Dogs, ah, from the West Coast. Not—there’s a Boston one. Not that anyone’s gonna notice. They probably listen to your podcast, but….
MM: In the van.
SM: Yeah, we were a band in Stockton. We opened for some other groups, from back in the day.
MM: Oh yeah? Like who?
SM: Like um, I’m just gonna brag a little bit here, um, Circle Jerks, Black Flag ...
MM: All the LA punk bands?
SM: TSOL, Code of Honor, DOA ...
SM: Some bands like that, yeah. Always the first on, for twenty bucks, but we did play.
MM: Were you like 20 years old?
SM: No, I was 16.
MM: Oh, so you’re the local guys, that you were just…. and punk was so sort of marginal anyway, so the scene was pretty small, I would probably imagine, at that time.
SM: Very small. There was a couple bands from Stockton. A very good one called the Authorities, they did one single. They were the only ones that got documented. We played in Sacramento, San Francisco, just that triangle, for like one year.
As I mentioned, it does help to explain why Malkmus could seem so very polished and assured even though he was a relatively new face in 1991: He’d already been doing this in some form for nine years or so.
Via Stereogum, I found “a Santa Barbara high school newspaper profile of Malkmus” in which his activities in Straw Dogs are confirmed. Malkmus was born in 1966, so he would have been sixteen (a junior, as mentioned in the article) in 1982, which lines up perfectly with the two posters on this page. The Black Flag gig happened on Friday, April 22, 1983, and the Circle Jerks gig happened on Thursday, April 19, 1984.
The Straw Dogs, by the way, are active, even if Malkmus isn’t doing anything with them, being busy with the Jicks and all. They have an active Facebook presence, on which Malkmus is listed as the bassist on the “About” page.
Sadly, there’s no extent recordings of early Straw Dogs, either live or studio—as Malkmus says, they went “undocumented.” So here’s a slab of early Pavement; in my opinion early Pavement is the best Pavement anyway.