Pavement Take Sincere Approach On Fifth Album

Veteran indie rockers pair with Radiohead producer for Terror Twilight.

LOS ANGELES -- While it might be natural in 1999 to assume the title of Pavement's new Terror Twilight has something to do with premillennial tension, guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg said the phrase is much more universal.

In fact, to him the album sums up a feeling that may apply to anyone who has come into adulthood in the age of rock 'n' roll.

"The sound of the record feels like you're driving down the road and it's twilight, and you're in your 30s and you're terrified of what's ahead of you," Kannberg, 32, said recently from the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood (RealAudio excerpt of interview). "You're sitting there, listening to music and you're thinking, this is great: I love rock!"

That thin line between thrill and panic is one of several fences upon which Pavement balance on Terror Twilight, their fifth album.

The 11-song collection, due in stores Tuesday (June 8), reveals a band seeking to write autobiographically without actually writing about the band or its acclaimed career. Pavement also are trying to stray from arch irony without delving into sentimentality.

"We're very unguarded on this record with the voice," said Kannberg's co-founder in the group, singer/guitarist Steve Malkmus, 33. "It's not [about] ironic love songs."

While many of the new songs ring with sincerity, the album's more acidic lines keep the schmaltz at bay. Take, for instance, the relationship number "Cream of Gold" (RealAudio excerpt), in which the singer senses "a toxic aura from the second we touched."

"I can see [the relationship] is not gonna go good eventually," Malkmus said. "I can mine that territory easier than 'It's gonna end up perfectly in the end.' "

A decade since their inception in Stockton, Calif., Pavement have maintained a firm hold on the indie-rock throne they first mounted with Slanted & Enchanted (1992) and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994). At the same time, the band -- Malkmus, Kannberg, Mark Ibold (bass), Bob Nastanovich (percussion) and Steve West (drums) -- has continued to grow beyond the lo-fi aesthetic it helped establish in the early 1990s.

For Terror Twilight, Pavement enlisted the help of hot producer Nigel Godrich (Beck, Radiohead) to flesh out their sound for the first time in a full, 24-track recording studio. On songs such as "Platform Blues," they play with traditional rock elements, such as harmonica (courtesy of Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood), without losing the enigmatic, off-kilter sounds that define their best work.

Malkmus, the band's lyricist, said that while songs such as "Ann Don't Cry" are colored with disappointment (opening lyric: "The damage has been done/ I'm not having fun anymore"), they are not about the band's career.

Nor, he said, should the song "Major Leagues" (RealAudio excerpt) be interpreted by fans as suggesting anything about the band's ambitions.

Still, he understands that some listeners will hear industry commentary in Pavement's songs. Such commentary appeared on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, on such tracks as "Range Life," and on the song "Stereo" from their most recent album, Brighten the Corners (1997).

"I guess as you get older you feel like your voice is more confident," Malkmus said. "When you're 24 and you don't want to just sing about cars and what to do after you got out of college, you might as well sing about other bands or something. We're not really talking about that anymore."

Terror Twilight is constructed from actual experiences and emotions, Malkmus said, even if they are couched in terms of a personality he's created as an artist.

"It's about us," he said. "You've just got to choose what you feel is putting your best foot forward. That's what we're trying to do, but still keeping it real. It's like putting a little makeup on or making your face look a little prettier. No boob jobs."

Kannberg said the band's scattered living arrangements -- from New York and Virginia to California and Oregon, with Kentucky in between -- have kept the members from burning out on one another over the past decade. And despite the acclaim and Pavement's loyal fanbase, Malkmus said he feels as if the group is always waging a bit of an uphill battle with its music.

Nonetheless, he sees that as a positive struggle that refuels his creativity.

"We still wanna make good records," Kannberg said. "Every record we want to make the best. We have something to prove: We're good; we've got this thing."

(Editorial Director Michael Goldberg contributed to this report.)