Although best known for being one of the drummers in seminal lo-fi outfit Pavement, Steve West has never been one to rest on his laurels as far as veering off and doing other things are concerned. His "other project", Marble Valley, first came to fruition almost three years before Pavement's dissolution, 1997's hard-to-find debut long player Sauckiehall Street an undiscovered gem in shambolic slouchrock. In between times, he has also been involved sporadically with that other Pavement-offshoot, Silver Jews, while occasionally coming back every now and then to record a new Marble Valley record as and when it suits.
Comprising six members in total - James Waudby, formerly of one-time Jeepster Records combo Salako and also with Horse Guards Parade plays guitar, Carl Hogarth (Concrete Breaks, Baby Mammoth) plays keyboards, Andy Dimmock (Baby Mammoth, The Misshapen Lodge) bangs the drums, ex-Pavement sound engineer Remko Schouten also plays keyboards and various other techno apparatus, while the mysteriously named Beige is on bass. West, unlike his other outfits, takes centre stage as vocalist and songwriter in chief.
Last autumn saw the band release their fourth - and arguably finest - collection of work to date, the excellent Slash & Laugh, and they've recently just completed only their third European tour to receptive, enthusiastic and more-often-than-not, sold-out crowds. DiS caught up with the band post-soundcheck before their recent show at Nottingham's Chameleon venue...
DiS: This is your first UK tour for three years. How has it gone so far?
Steve West: Really great. I mean, the last time we were over was 2006 opening for Silver Jews, so technically people weren't there to see us but this time we've been overwhelmed.
It's also been a similar length of time between your last album, 2006's Wild Yams, and your current record, Slash & Laugh. How long did your new record take to write and record?
Steve West: Remko (Schouten) is based in Amsterdam, and so we went to his studio for about 3-4 days in 2007 and recorded a bunch of songs. I brought some stuff to the sessions and the guys added their parts to it and they had jam songs that were recorded and I took them back to my place in Virginia, sliced them up with some of the other bits and wrote more songs. That part of the process took me around six months as I had to fiddle around with everything and second guess where the songs needed to go and then it was a case of trying to find a label to put the record out. It was all kind of slow moving but, its out...
James Waudby: It took about a year and a half from start to finish but it was all worth it in the end.
Video: Marble Valley 'Duche Dog E Dog'
Were you ever really worried about finding a label to release the record for you?
Steve West: Yeah, I guess we were for a while. We had a label who were interested - Indikator Records who put our last record out - and then Sea Records came along, and wanted to re-release Wild Yams around Europe, and they were also on-board with this one, so that was nice and Matador distributed a few of them, and we did try to shop it around for bigger labels for a while, but we didn't get any offers, so decided to stay with Sea.
Have Sea been quite supportive in terms of promoting both the record and the subsequent tour?
Steve West: They've been overly supportive. This tour was pretty much put together by the guys at Sea, as they knew the right kind of promoters to approach and so far, they've been pretty much spot on judging by the way this tour has gone.
Have the label financed the tour or did you guys have to sort that side out?
James Waudby: It has pretty much paid for itself to be honest.
Steve West: Pretty much, yeah. Remko owes me some money for his flights....!
James Waudby: The way it comes out on paper is that everything pays for itself...except for the beer and the food...
Steve West: ...and we drink a lottttttta beer!
So it's been two weeks of catching up with old friends and getting pretty smashed then...
Steve West: Yeah, I guess, although some of us don't like to get too hammered. I like to feel reasonably OK the next day. There is a lot of debauchery in this band though...old school style, good guy stuff, not a lot of perversion or anything! It's been a lot of fun, nobody's died.
You probably get asked this question every day of your life at some point, but the rumour mill has once again been in overdrive with speculation of Pavement reforming. What's your take on them and what would be the chances of that happening as far as you see it?
Steve West: I think the possibility of that happening is something that crosses everybody's minds at least once a day. It crossed my mind when I was digging ditches to make a living that's for sure. I was working for this guy who played the same Grateful Dead album over and over again every day, and I remember thinking to myself that no matter how painful it may be for Pavement to get back together it could never be as painful as this! Bob (Nastanovich) had his wedding about a month ago and there was a lot of whispering. I guess the general feeling is that if people really love the music, and there's a want for it then why not? It is up to Stephen (Malkmus) though at the end of the day. I think he wants to put out another record and then maybe he'll be ready to move on and do something like that? I guess I'm not really in a position to say. I think everyone else would love to get together and play a few shows but...
If it were to happen - and that's a big IF - do you ever see yourselves writing new material together again?
Steve West: No, I don't think that will ever happen. I do remember one of the last band meetings we had and we said we'd maybe do some shows together in the future but we'd never record together as Pavement again. I guess when you look at a lot of cool bands who've gone away for a period of time and then got back together they don't try and top their previous recorded output - My Bloody Valentine for instance. It's like, you've had your time, you've had your decade or whatever it was, and to try to put yourself back in that mould and be young again is really hard to pull off. I don't think I can name any band that's done it well. Once you reach that pinnacle and then stop for a long period of time its hard to get it back. What I would like to think is that if we did get back together and play live again, the shows would have that unpredictable feel to them. There was always that sloppiness, that what's-going-to-happen-tonight-? persona around us, that I think would be vital for any live reformation in the future. It all comes down to the personalities within the band, and I honestly think that's why Pavement are held in such high esteem today.
You've also been playing drums in Silver Jews, but it seems there's a bit of a hiatus going on there too.
Steve West: About a month or two ago, David (Berman) said the band Silver Jews was done. I'm not sure if I really believe him - I mean, he wants to write a book and he's one of those people that will cut off what he's doing at a certain point and start a whole new thing, and then go back to what he was doing beforehand later. To say the Silver Jews are no more - I doubt it, as its gone really well and David is a really creative person and like Pavement, I can see Silver Jews growing slowly to a similar level over time. I think the stuff David has written is way ahead of its time. The biggest struggle for David has been the live aspect, transforming his songwriting into a live environment. He's always worried about his voice and whether it sounds as good live as it does on record. I mean, I know I'm not the greatest singer in the world either but I love being on stage entertaining people. Everyone is different I guess, and David was always insecure about the live shows. Personally I always thought he was brilliant, and to be onstage playing with him is always a pleasure, a wonderful experience.
For the rest of the band, how do you feel that people always talk about Marble Valley as being "ex-Pavement drummer Steve West's band"? Do you sometimes feel undermined by comments like this?
James Waudby: I don't know, I've never thought about it like that really. I mean, it is Steve's band to all extents; he started Marble Valley, he writes the bulk of the songs. We just enjoy getting together and playing. I mean, its not like we're a bunch of hired hands just starting out. We've all been in and in some cases are currently in other bands, so we know what the industry is all about. No one is hung up on the fact we're often perceived as being members of Steve's band.
Remko Schouten: There are no egos in this band...
Steve West: When all's said and done, I'm the most talentless person in a very talented band.
You're all based in different parts of the world. How did you all get together in the first place?
Steve West: I live in Virginia, Remko and Beige in Amsterdam...
James Waudby: ...whereas me, Andy and Carl live in Hull.
Steve West: We started playing together as a result of Andy and Remko's involvement with Pavement. Andy was our guitar tech and Remko was sound engineer, and I'd just started writing songs. We loved hanging out together and at the time, Pavement weren't getting along that well.
James Waudby: My old band, Salako, had supported Pavement on their last tour, and we kept in touch so when Steve asked if I'd like to play with this new project of his I jumped at the chance.
Steve West: To be fair, Andy helped to put it all together with the people he knew like Carl and James both being from Hull as well.
The fact you're all from different countries with different backgrounds is evident in the music, particularly on 'Slash & Laugh'. At times there's a hint of Super Furry Animals-style eclectic psychedelia, others, like 'Hip Hick Hop' for example, a more alt-country Americana vibe.
Steve West: I live in area of Virginia where bluegrass music is hugely popular, and no one knows who Pavement is or has any idea about rock music in general, so I wanted to take some of that old-time bluegrass feel and translate that into a more modern sound. The lyrics "Everybody come and dance with me" are I guess about them going out and getting fucked up too; I mean, they're as rock and roll as I am in their own way. They're more punk too, as they play that shit real, real fast, and they're really hardcore about it.
What about 'Shaven Advark'?
Steve West: The story behind that one is that the other guys jammed it and sent it to me, and I thought it was so brilliant that it didn't need vocals but it did need a title, and Carl woke up one morning and Remko's cat was on his chest, except he didn't think it was a cat he thought it was a shaved aardvark!
The album's climax, 'A Ghost Of A Thousand Tours', is possibly the most melancholy - and shortest - moment on the record. How did this song come about?
Steve West: When I make records, I try and create a party atmosphere for the most of it and then towards the end when you're a little drunk and tipsy and you're trying to get to sleep, I like to bring the mood down a little. When we recorded that, Andy was actually trying to tune a guitar and he ended up playing this ditty and I was shouting at Remko "Record that, Remko! Record that!" and then Carl started playing as well and we put it all together. The title is basically about Andy, because he's been around the world touring for so many years with so many different bands that it pretty much sums him up.
Despite Slash & Laugh being your fourth album in over a decade, in many people's eyes Marble Valley are still seen as a new band. Are there any other bands you think we should be looking out for that maybe haven't had the recognition they deserve so far?
Steve West: I'm a big fan of The Phantom Band. They might be big already over here, I dunno, but they're awesome.