Not only as a man who doesn’t give out too many interviews, David Pajo‘s credited with collaborating with some of the best in America’s long and intricate underground history. From fellow Louisville native Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, to Tortoise, Stereolab, Royal Trux; then in the popular eye with Zwan, Interpol and Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s– I couldn’t help but wonder if all the skepticism towards interviewers related to being abundantly overwhelmed with questions by obsessive fans relating to– Slint.
As a lowly college DJ in an American indie radio station over a decade ago, I remember veterans who’d swear by Karp, Big Black and Tweez; oft covering everything in the S-lint section in clear duct tape as to preserve the near decomposing compact discs. I too, slowly realized that a David Pajo record would enter my life during every major shift, starting with a move to New York as an intern at Index Magazine in 2002. My favorite song from the Index compilation, “Glad You’re Here with Me” got me to buy my first Papa M record– Whatever, Mortal (2001). I’d continue to cross his wonderfully introspective shows whilst living in London, I remember with a cellist on tour with him at the time.
But his upcoming trip for Øya Festival and Scandinavia in general inevitably invoked conversations about black metal. In a way, it came as no surprise, as I could see a deep affinity between his own music under various titles, from Aerial M, Papa M, and simply, Pajo– with the long painted riffs, dramatic overtones and drones, to almost obscene, despairing lyrics echoed in black metal’s style. Suffice to say, David Pajo is no stranger to the infinite shades of dark. Oslo’s truly privileged to see the man bared here for the first time in years.
Hi David, are you in Louisville at the moment?
DP: I’m actually in Philly.
Oh right on– why Philly? How long have you been there?
I’ve only been here about a year and a half. It turned out to be a good location. It’s close to New York, but you don’t actually have to live in New York.
And you’ve just finished a tour, correct?
Yea, just about three week ago. It’s probably my first tour like that in several years.
I saw Papa M maybe six or seven years ago in London, and, it was a Domino showcase. I also saw the Slint reunion at Primavera some years back.
The Domino showcase, yeah, that was a really long time ago!
How’s the tour been?
It went really well. I was really surprised by the response, how well the tour went. I was kinda expecting the worst.
And you’re going to Norway – I can’t imagine this is your first time to Norway.
I’ve played Norway before, with a few different bands. I want to say I feel like I’ve been there with Papa M, but that must have been in the late 90’s.
You talk a lot about your affinity with black metal- I guess that’s one of Norway’s biggest export these days. Are you looking forward to anything in particular on your trip to Norway?
Oh yea. Definitely. I’m really excited about coming back. I could be wrong, but I remember it was really clean (laughs). Well-maintained, compared to a lot of other countries. I’ve always enjoyed the people and the culture.
Um, have you explored much of the black metal history, or been to Neseblod Records – or anything kind of black metal tourism that?
Yea, I love black metal- and the other guy who plays with me, he’s also a big fan. But no, I don’t know exactly where to go.
Well why I say “tourism” is a bit of a joke – because these days, lots of black metal dudes, like the guitarist in Satyricon has these kind of black metal tours, or Gaahl from Gorgoroth will invite a bunch of international press, and you pay $200 bucks to hear him talk about his new record. It’s a huge export, more of a recent phenomenon. So if any famous black metal guys ask you to pay money for a tour, you should say no.
I didn’t know it was so extreme now. I didn’t realize it’s so popular.
Yea, I guess it gets a lot of attention. And guys in black metal bands realise the selling power you have. But there’s that kind of scene, but then there’s the old school thrash/underground scene. I saw you mention Aura Noir in one of your interviews.
I love them. I listen to them a lot. Mainly the Hades Rise album.
Are there any of black metal bands you’re into currently?
Hmm… trying to think of current bands. Do you know the band called Furze?
Yea, yea. Kinda of Hawkwindy space metal-ly!
Yea! I really like that. Exactly. Seems like there’s always a good underground music scene in Norway. Even if the bands aren’t popular or well-known yet. Do you know why that is?
Well, yea I have a few theories. One is, obviously Norway’s a very rich country. I guess it’s one reason you can also be a little cynical, because it’s not like America when you have a history of this DIY independent labels built out of a struggle. Whereas, alot of musicians in Norway get quite a bit of money to be rebellious.
Yea. Wow, that’s cool. So the government’s really supportive ?
I think so. It’s not the only reason, but it’s part of it. There’s a lot of cultural funding for music, and that’s why a lot of promoters can bring really amazing acts, some really underground shit to such a small country.
–You’ve played in a lot of diverse bands, especially recent years– do you feel personally invested in the music, I’m thinking in particular Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s– or is it more like, you’re at the right place at the right time.
Because the industry has changed so much, it used to be easier to make whatever kind of music I wanted and still survive– but now it’s near impossible. I have to play with a band that’s more popular to fund my own music or independence, ya know? So it’s more like a job than anything, and it’s been more difficult lately to survive just doing my own music.
Really. Do you blame anything, like downloading, piracy? Or do you think it’s just something happening to everyone?
I think downloading could be part of the reason, but I’m not against it per se because I do it myself (laughs). I wish there was a way, I wish they could figure out a way to make money off record sales again. You know? I never sold a lot of records, especially with my solo stuff, but I made enough to survive. The problem now is, if you were somewhat underground before, with lack of record sales it only pushes you further underground.
Are you playing with any bands currently or focusing on the solo tour?
Right now I’m focusing on the solo stuff. Yea. I haven’t really done focused on my own stuff in so long. It’s great to go back and play these songs that are over ten years old!
Who is playing in your band, is it a large travelling crew?
No, right now it’s just me and Matt Jencik, the bass player. He played bass on the Slint reunion tour in 2007 and he used to play in Don Cabarello. Great guy, amazing musician.
Why do you think so many different people ask you to play with them– is it more then just being a versatile musicians, but maybe also from what it seems, an easy going guy? I guess what I’m asking, is there something about your personality that makes it easy to work with?
I think I am easy to work with. I really like to collaborate and I like bringing the best out of other people in the end. I think that’s what’s makes it in terms of playing with other types of people. I support whatever sound they’re trying to capture, and I like to help them get that sound. I think I have a certain style too– I’m not quite sure what it is– but I think I have my own sound that I use to enhance the song.
Would you consider yourself well obviously a guitarist first, guitarist seems to have a specific persona, whereas on the other hand the bassist types tend to meld with different styles easily– ever think about it like that?
Sometimes I do. I mean, I try to respond to whoever I’m with, just to help them get the sound they imagine, you know? I respect what they’re trying to do. I dunno how other bands do it, even in Slint it felt like a collaboration. I was trying to amplify whatever good ideas were floating around.
Is there anyone you – maybe not fantasize – but someone you know, that you think, OK, I want to collaborate and make this kind of band.
Yea, a little bit, especially since it seems like I’m usually frustrated with whatever the current, popular music is. But there’s always a current band or two I really love. I’m really lucky, I don’t have to seek out people to play with, it’s always been a natural process.
So what’s the current music you don’t like, these days?
Well, uh, there’s a lot of music I don’t listen to (laughs) but there’s not a lot of music that I don’t like, or hate.
Yea. For example, I don’t listen to a lot of dance music, but I can understand the craft behind it.
You’re not a dancer.
I can’t really hate on it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I used to hate a lot more music when I was younger. Now I don’t feel as emotional about it. If I hear something I don’t like, I just ignore it.
When you’re touring with different bands, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Zwan even, these are different crowds… do you ever feel like you’re drifting along, like there’s thing you can’t relate to? Are there certain people who just get on your nerves?
I know what you’re saying. I think I blocked out a lot of stuff. I try to focus on the music as much as I can. I try to ignore the circus that’s going around it.
What does the M in Papa M stand for?
I originally started calling the band “M” because it was a cool shape or symbol. Then I changed the name a few times, and it became Papa M.
And you don’t really use Papa M, do you. It’s now just under the moniker Pajo.
No, not so much. I haven’t really released anything under Papa M for a long time. The last might have been Whatever, Mortal…
Your most recent release, wasn’t that about two years ago?
It’s not that recent, I think it was longer ago. I started releasing things under Pajo, which were more vocal-oriented song as opposed to the Papa M stuff, which was more instrumental (and then kinda became vocal-oriented later). The style changed a little bit so I started going with my own name. And all those albums are just me, playing all the instruments.
Some of the songs are… quite angry. Do you consider yourself an angry person? Or is this, you know. Artistic expression?
Uh, I think it kinda goes in waves. When I was young I had a lot of anger, that came out in my music. But for many years I didn’t feel that rage I felt when I was younger. And then as I got older, it started coming back… (laughs)
Is there something that triggered it in particular, or just society in general.
I think a number of things triggered it– despicable people I’ve worked with, bad relationships, being broke. (laughs) My love for metal came back in a big way. It’s hard to say, I don’t what the word is, but I’m a misanthrope. Not negative necessarily, but I definitely have a bleak outlook.
Are there any other cities you’re looking forward to on this trip, or places you keep coming back to?
I always love Scandinavia. I think that’s what I’m looking most forward to on this trip. It’s a short tour and Scandinavia is at the end, but I can’t wait. Let’s see… I enjoyed playing France on this last tour, and Italy. But it’s always Norway and Sweden.
That’s great to hear. Is there anything backstage, other then usual rider, you’d want waiting for you?
(laughs) Yea, nothing outrageous. Pretty much the regular things.
What’s the regular things?
Well, I love good coffee.
One of the things I’m nervous about on this tour is that the music is so quiet– that people will talk over the whole thing. That’s been the most difficult thing to deal with. There’s no drums, there’s no distorted guitar. I’m hoping people will be patient.
I don’t know about the Italians or French, but in Scandinavia I think people are notoriously shy. Many people are too shy to say anything between songs.
That’s cool with me. I mean that’s usually OK with me. (laughs) I can relate to that. Hmm… trying to think of what else I’m looking forward to… The black metal tour sounds like the most exciting thing I can think of!
Revolver and Spoon Train present: David Pajo during Øya Festival. Friday, August 10 at Revolver, Møllergata 32. —Tickets are going fast!! Be sure to pick one up at Tiger. http://oyafestivalen.com/artist/papa-m/