Interview: David Pajo

words by Jon Aubin
| Thursday, October 14th, 2010

David Pajo (aka Papa M, Aerial M, M) is the ultimate rock n’ roll renaissance man. He hops genres like a bullfrog with a bottle rocket up its butt. He’s played in some of the most influential and highly-regarded bands of the last two decades (Tortoise, Slint), and he’s collaborated with a list of musicians that reads like a “who’s who” of indie and alternative icons (Will Oldham, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and, most infamously, Billy Corgan in Zwan).

Though he hasn’t graced our ears with an album of solo originals since 2006’s 1968 (Drag City), the prolific multi-instrumentalist has kept busy, releasing an album of solo acoustic Misfits covers (Scream With Me), touring and recording with the death metal band Dead Child, and recording a bludgeoning slab of instrumental metal under the moniker Evila entitled Hexes, demos of which are available online, with a physical release (vinyl and limited edition signed and numbered CD) due out any time now.

Being a longtime (12-plus years) fan of Pajo, my curiosity was piqued when I noticed Interpol would be playing Toad’s Place the very same night I would be attending the Kurt Vile/Real Estate show upstairs at Lilly’s Pad. Knowing Pajo had taken over bass duties in Interpol, I patiently waited outside the exit of Toad’s Place between Real Estate’s and Kurt Vile’s sets, nervously chain-smoking, hoping for a chance encounter with one of my heroes. As Interpol’s roadies packed up the last of their gear into an 18-wheeler, I made my way back upstairs, pretty much giving up hope of meeting Pajo.

But sometimes fate play tricks on us. Halfway through Kurt Vile & the Violator’s set, I turned to my left and there he was, in the flesh, looking impossibly young for a guy over 40 — it makes you wonder whether those tales about selling one’s soul to rock n’ roll are true. Well, you can probably guess my reaction: I became a gushing fan boy, and David was, of course, as cool as his music.

In the ensuing interview, David discusses his abiding love for death metal, the reason why he has so many pseudonyms, some his favorite musicians, and even hints (albeit vaguely) at a possible return to the stage with Slint.

How would you characterize the music of Evila? Who collaborated with you on Hexes?
I consider it a black metal album, even though it isn’t.¬†Originally, Harmony Korine was going to contribute vocals and words, but I ended up working with some friends in England. In the end, I did all the sounds and recording by myself.

You’re known for playing music with a wide variety of bands, most recently the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol. Is it difficult transitioning to other people’s music, and how long does it generally take you to learn the new material?
Depends on the band. Yeah Yeah Yeahs was easier because they don’t have a bassist/keyboardist. That gives me room to interpret the songs, use my own voice a little more. With Interpol, Carlos has such a distinct style that is integral to the song — it took more effort to learn the songs.

You’ve recorded under lots of different monikers. What is the significance of the name changes?

Being difficult to pin down was part of the idea. I mostly change guises to be able to delineate time periods and musical interests.

When do you plan on going back on the road as a solo act? Also — though I imagine it’s related to the fact that you’re a busy man — is there a reason you tour so rarely?

Purely due to scheduling. If I have time to do it right, I’ll surely tour.

Can you approximate your mental/cognitive experience while playing live?

I am mostly in the moment, with one part of my brain preparing for the forthcoming section, and another part is above me, transforming molecules in the air.

What kind of guitar do you do most of your songwriting on?
Usually a seven-string Jackson with a low A. But lately I’ve been writing in standard tuning with a travel guitar that fits in my suitcase. Then I record ideas using FourTrack on my iPhone. Hotel songwriting.

Your recent music (I’m thinking of Evila, Dead Child, and the Pajo album Scream with Me) is heavily indebted to the death/heavy metal genre. What draws you to heavy metal? What are your top five favorite metal albums and bands?

I love metal because it’s like a cockroach that will survive any trend or fashion. Even when the hipster fascination with it wears off, I’ll still be obsessed. I think it is very pure music.

I started listening to it when I was very young. In the early to mid-’80s, the crossover years, I stopped listening when I discovered punk and hardcore. Now I’m back with extreme prejudice.

My all-time faves are Ulver Nattans Madrigal; Von Satanic Blood Angel; Weakling Dead As Dreams; Thorns self-titled; and Darkthrone Panzerfaust.

Do you have a favorite among your own albums?
I listen to Evila. Sometimes that Karen Elson duet.

What has been your most recent approach to recording, especially with Evila?

I have a lot of outboard gear so I track with all those toys into Pro Tools. Then I edit for eternity and prep the tracks for mixing. Then I use even more toys to mix out of the box with Logic.

Slint was one of the great unclassifiable bands of the 20th century. You guys definitely influenced an entire generation of musicians. Is there any chance you might do another reunion tour like you did in 2005? Is there any possibility Slint would consider recording new material?

I doubt it. Although we are working on a few surprises for next year.

How was your experience of ATP 2010? What material did you play? Who were you psyched to see play?

I played only Shark Cage material and it was pretty fucking cool. I didn’t see too many bands because I was selling merch most of the time. But Tortoise was tremendous. My favorite was Avi Buffalo, who I’d never heard of before.

What bands/artists coming up now interest you?
Avi Buffalo. Circle Pit. First Aid Kit are the greatest. And, of course, there are hundreds of amazing metal bands. Blotted Science blows my mind. Krallice. Ludica. Aura Noir.

Papa M Sings has always struck me as an album rooted in a particular sort of Americana. It is certainly the most western of all your albums — I’m thinking especially of the Jerry Jeff Walker cover, “London Homesick Blues.” Unfortunately, the liner notes on this album are scant. Where were you at mentally/physically when you recorded that particular album?
I was doing lots of drugs and only interested in country music! I still love Jerry Jeff Walker.

What can we expect next from you in regard to future solo recordings and collaborations?

I’d like to make a movie and comic book with a through-composed soundtrack that sounds somewhere in between Shark Cage and Evila.

Are you on any kind of terms with Billy Corgan?
I sure am! “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” terms.