Best known for his seminal work with Slint, David Pajo has a curriculum that can amaze anyone that’s into alternative rock. The list of bands with who the American guitar and bass player has already played, either as a regular member or as a guest, includes Tortoise, Zwan, Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, just to name a few.
Besides that, Pajo also has an extensive and prolific solo career, which includes more than a dozen works, signed as Pajo, Aerial M or Papa M. It was with this last project that the musician was in Brazil in October 2019, when he performed two concerts, both in São Paulo, as part of the Balaclava Festival.
In this interview, made during this visit to São Paulo, at the lounge of the hotel where he was staying, David talks about Slint and the possibility of a new album, his love for metal, his admiration for shredders like Eddie Van Halen, black and death metal, what it was like to tour with Danzig in the 1980s, and the records that changed his life, among other things. Check it out!
As I am from Brazil, I wanted to ask if you know any Brazilian artists?
David: Just sort of the older, classic, like Os Mutantes, Tom Zé and João Gilberto.
And were you also into Brazilian metal bands like Sepultura and Sarcófago, for example?
David: Oh, yeah, for sure. And Sepultura…even when I was not interested, when I turned my eyes, I listened to them even when I said I didn´t like metal (laughs). You know what I mean? I still listen to Slayer. But that´s special, like Sepultura. They were different.
Still about this metal “thing”. You played in Maurice in the 1980s, that were kind of a metal band, and that split into Slint and Kinghorse, right? I was listening recently to a demo you put on Bandcamp that you made for Samhain, in 1985. So I wanted to know: did you ended up playing shows with them on US?
David: Yeah, we ended up playing shows with Samhain, in 1985 I think it was – or 1986, I can´t remember which year. We opened for them on their mid-western shows. And we were all really young. I got a lot of stories, they´re my heroes. I still love the Misfits, but I still prefer Samhain over the Misfits. Just because it was darker and…But yeah, we ended up playing shows together and he showed me…Because we covered “Last Caress” in our set – and it was before Metallica. And he showed me the right way to play it. I was sitting in a parking lot and he showed me. It was really cool, you know, to have Glenn Danzig show you how to play “Last Caress” the right way (laughs). But yeah, I have a lot of stories from that tour.
I don´t know if there was any, but what was the importance of Maurice in your development as a musician and lately in creating the beginning of the sound you ended playing with Slint?
David: Oh, totally. I have other recordings that we made. And I want to put those on Bandcamp, because it really shows…Like, once you hear you will understand the transition from Maurice to Slint. Because the songs we were writing were slowly becoming more and more like “Slint-like”. Until the singer and the bass player had to quit. Because they were like…The singer was like: “I can´t even sing to this”. It became like, a lot of songs, or some songs were not aggressive – or had clean guitar sounds. But yeah, I want to document that transition. Because on the demo you can´t hear it. As we changed, the new songs we had became less and less heavy. And so they left and formed Kinghorse, which ended up putting out a record produced by Danzig on Caroline Records. And me and the drummer (Britt Walford) formed Slint. We just went for two really different directions. So yeah, you can´t tell the transition from the demo, but it makes a lot of sense once you hear the songs. Because…we still had heavy songs, but we kind of took out the thrash elements and got more into something slower and heavy.
You lived for a long time in Louisville, Kentucky, right? Do you feel the city that live in plays any kind of influence in how you play or view music? Be it Louisville or Los Angeles, for example.
David: Oh yeah, a hundred per cent. Because Louisville is really isolated. But it always had a good punk scene and a good music scene. They had punk bands in the 70s; they had sort of an arty scene that was all like…You know, there was kind of the working class hardcore…There was this band called Malignant Growth, with which we all grew up with. They opened for Minor Threat a couple of times. Even to this day, they are the best hardcore band. Because they were fucking amazing. There´s a history of good music, but it´s really insular. Everyone is sorts of suspicious of outsiders, outside bands (laughs). In the sense that they really support the local bands.
And you still have some really good bands over there, like Coliseum and Young Widows, for example.
David: Yeah, Young Widows. I think it´s almost like a tradition now, where it´s always been…at least for the good bands… So everyone…the more weird you were, the more yourself you were, the better – and then more people liked it. But if you were just ripping off Black Sabbath and it was really obvious, you would just get laughed out of town. At least by my friends (laughs).
And do you still talk to the guys from Slint? Do you still have a good relation?
David: Yeah. We stay in touch through text and still send each other funny things or share stuff. I talk to them at least a couple of times a week.
Do they all still live in Kentucky?
David: Yeah, they´re all in Louisville. Which kind of make impossible for us to ever make music again (laughs). I mean, because they´re all there and they all have lives and families and then I´m far way. So it would have to be this pre-planned thing. It´s not like when we were kids and we had all the time in the world.
And did you ever think about making new music together? Or was a feeling of leaving things the way they were – I mean, you made a record that everybody loves and still talk about it.
David: We´ve talked about it. I think on the last, on the 2014 tour we talked about it a fair amount. I think mostly because we didn´t want to tour again unless we had new material (laughs). Spiderland has only 6 songs and Tweez isn´t even that many. So it´s not like we had a big selection. We were just playing them over and over. And I think that it would be more exciting to play something new. But I know it wouldn´t be Spiderland or…I don´t even know what it would sound like. I feel that with that group of people it would be cool. And it would be good. But I don´t know what it would sound like. And I think we worked on a little bit of stuff, just barely, but…Yeah, it would take, we all would have to commit to it and make it happen. So that I would go there for a couple of months and practice every day or move there. So yeah, it never really took off the ground.
Back to the metal side of things a little bit. In 2019, Papa M toured with Sunn in US. And you also played on the most recent Goastnake record (Black Age Blues, from 2015), in which you recorded the intro of the opening song (“Another River to Cross”) – a really cool one, by the way. So I wanted to know if you already knew Greg Anderson (Southern Lord, Sunn, Goatsnake) for a long time? Were you friends already?
David: I mean, I knew of them. I think we cross-passed when he was an ancient kid – but I don´t remember him back them. He became a really good friend. When I met him, I think it was in 2005, during a Slint tour, we just stayed in touch. We even got matching Spiderland tattoos, we went to the place together and got them both. So yeah, he´s a really close friend. And now Stephen (O`Malley) also is, after touring with them. And I love picking both of their brains, you know? Stephen for the black metal…They know so much about music, so we can really geek out (laughs).
You played with Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, two of the most important bands of the so called “new rock scene” of the early 2000’s, that also included names like Strokes, White Stripes, The Hives, etc? What do you make of this scene 20 years later? Did it have any meaningful impact at rock and music in general?
David: I was kind of absent when this scene was happening. I saw Interpol on one of their early tours and liked them, because they reminded me of…You know, that first record is amazing and that´s what it sounded like. And I liked them a lot. But I think that whole wave of New York, New York scene, and White Stripes and stuff, I was just on a different trip. Again, I guess maybe I´m a snob (laughs). But I was just listening to old music, I wasn’t listening to current music. And I remember hearing The Strokes, or over hearing them, and being “Oh, I could listen to Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground”. It´s not a fair comparison, probably, but I just felt like I was more…there was so much old music that I haven´t discovered that I was “I can´t be bothered with new stuff right now (laughs)”, you know what I mean? So I didn´t pay attention really. And then playing with them was really cool because I got to learn the ins and outs of the music, what goes into it, and the songwriting. And now I feel like an asshole again, for just not appreciating it at the time. It´s like “I missed so many good shows”. But, you know, I also saw a lot of good shows (laughs). Everybody goes through phases with their music. I think around then too I was getting back, I felt like I have missed out on metal, because I just went on another trip and all this whole death metal thing happened that I missed. Black metal I kind of knew about, I liked the big ones, Burzum, Darkthrone and all of that – and Emperor, for sure. But I didn´t really explore. So around early 2000´s I wanted to get back into it. I was just “Wow, I have all this music to discover now, I missed out on all of this”. So yeah, I guess that scene was not where my head was at, the New York scene (laughs).
You released albums under a lot of different names, Aerial M, Papa M and also David Pajo. So I wanted to know if this helps you to kind of separate ideas in a better way when you’re writing, to kind of make sense of each of these projects?
David: Yeah, that´s exactly it. If I felt like there´s a good chance…If I wanted to just delineate a time period, there´s the Aerial M sound, which I would describe as just two guitars, bass and drums. Instrumental, standard tuning, plugged straight into amps, no effects. Something like “What can you do with that setup?”. That was kind of my experiment. And then with Papa M is more “Let´s try…let´s get weird sounds. Let´s try anything”. Like an anything kind of goes sound. So I felt like that didn´t…that it had to be a new name, because it was different from Aerial M. And I was using different tunings. Yeah, it just seemed like the “M” thing was just…you know, there´s always a thread. And that´s the thread. But I guess recently I feel like I’ve gotten back into the Papa M scheme of things. I just wanted to do instrumental music. I´m not done with the weird tunings and stuff, you know (laughs)?
Cool! By the way, you sang really well on Friday´s concert with Papa M in São Paulo.
David: Oh, thank you! Gosh! My voice has changed over the years. I feel like I used to have a kind of a sweet, innocent voice, and know is just like “whisky and cigarettes” – note: in this moment, David does a kind of a harsh voice (laughs). It´s a bark (laughs). And I had a suicide attempt that fucked up my neck. I have a scar and stuff, that´s why I have this tattoo covering it up. But that changed my voice too, so I´m really hesitant to sing. But I´m glad you said that, because that was actually the first time that I´ve done that live, with this new voice (laughs).
Still about yesterday´s concert. What stroked me more is that, even though you were playing something more experimental, with a lot of arpeggios and stuff, there was always this kind of simplicity in the songs. Is this like a conscious thing that you do, to search this when you are writing/playing?
David: Yeah, for sure. Because I´m sort of getting back into the shredding stuff…again (laughs). Because when I started off, I figured out every Eddie Van Halen solo, I figured out – or I tried to – figured out as much of the first Rising Force record (Yngwie Malmsteen) as I could. And that´s all I did when I was a kid: just sit there and shred. And I think that once Maurice started to change, I got into…almost “anti-guitar playing”, “anti-shredding”. Something like “What could I do with just one note?”, just making things as simple as possible. And it´s actually harder for me. For example, there´s this one part in “Good Morning, Captain”, when all the music stops and it’s just harmonics, and just I knew it from one fret to another fret and back. But I have to play it really evenly, the space between the notes is really important and the speed that I move to the front…It takes all my concentration (laughs). But with shredding and stuff you can almost turn off your brain, once you practiced enough and then you just run up and down scales. And that took a lot more…I realized that, for me, it´s almost the simpler it is, the harder it is – or the more focused it is. So yeah, I think in Slint I had this approach, where I didn´t want to play…Not only I didn´t want to shred, but I didn´t want to play guitar like a guitar. So I do stuff like picking behind the fretted notes, using harmonics as much as I could, or just playing one note throughout the whole riff or whatever – I use a lot of open strings. We had one song that live we would just knock on the guitars and that was the…I just wanted to do stuff like that, be the opposite of Eddie Van Halen (laughs). Who I still love, by the way. I love all the shredders. I guess is so much a part of how I play now, that I don´t even realize is simple, you know (laughs)?
This is something that I was like to ask. Please tell me three records that changed your life and why they did it.
David: Oh, shit. I mean, Minor Threat, Out of Step (1983), for sure. I feel like if I say anything, I´m going to forget about some other major record. The first Van Halen record was also important. Those are both rockers, but I would say those two. And also Ramones, It´s Alive (1979). I think I would say those two, at least for those times (growing up), but it doesn´t mean that I even listen to them now. Probably just because I have memoirs, but I just wore them out.
This is the last question. What are you most proud of in your career?
David: I´m proud of Slint, for sure. You know what I´m really thankful for? It´s not so much that I didn´t give a shit of what other people thought, but I… And I realized this because I´ve been living in LA and seeing all these ambitious people that are trying to make it big in music and stuff. Not only did I never had that urge, but I didn´t really care whether something was trendy or cool. I just liked it what I liked it. When I was a little kid, I remember stealing Venom´s Black Metal (1982) record. I didn´t have money, so I just steal them (laughs). I also got these Mercyful Fate´s EPs and stuff. I didn´t know anybody that liked that stuff, but I loved it. I feel like my whole life I had no problem just being myself and like finding what I like – without regard to what anybody else thinks. And I´m super thankful for that, because I feel there´s a culture now that´s so self-aware, that you have to know something is cool before they check it out first. And for better or worse, I´ve always just being myself (laughs). At a time when aggressive music was really cool and underground culture, Slint was getting quieter and quieter and playing more and more melodic. And it was not cool back then for most of the world, but our little group of people liked it. I feel we just didn´t give a shit, we were doing that because it pleased us, and I think that´s…So I´m thankful for just…I don´t know if it´s a specific thing that I´m proud of, but I´m just proud of…And I don´t even know if pride is the right word, but I´m just happy that I always just did my thing, whether it was cool or not. And a lot of times it was really tacky (laughs). You have to do whatever is cool to you, whatever excites you.