Recent technological advances have had a massive impact on how people access music, allowing all and sundry to feast on songs of all persuasions at the tap of a button that previously may have taken years of searching – not to mention significant outlay – to get their hands on. But it’s not just hordes of youngsters honing their musical chops by disappearing down internet rabbit holes to expand their musical vocabularies, bona fide indie rock legends are getting in on the action as well.
For his feelgood third solo album We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized, Pavement co-founder Scott Kannberg – best known to the musical world as Spiral Stairs – concocted some of the most fun and accessible music of his storied career by expanding his musical repertoire, in the process embracing some sounds and artists which for some reason or other slipped through the cracks as he took alternative rock to the world during his action-packed youth.
“To me We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized feels like the records I’ve been listening to and the records I’ve been digging and aspire to sound like,” Spiral offers. “In my early-twenties I felt like I knew everything – I always knew about new bands before everyone else – but that kind of closed off a lot of bands that I didn’t give much credence to, and now I’m a bit older and it’s, like, ‘Wow, how did I miss that?’
“I’m talking things like the first two Nick Lowe records – I’m fucking obsessed by that shit, they’re beautiful, beautiful songs on those records. Then he led me to this guy Jim Ford who’s like a weird country-soul singer, he’s so good. And I’ve really got into Van Morrison way deeper than I’ve ever got into Van Morrison before.
“YouTube is the greatest thing ever because you can find everything that you want – I can read about a Van Morrison bootleg from 1982 or something that’s supposed to be the greatest thing ever and you can find it on YouTube! So I got into that 1973 album Veedon Fleece, and then of course Roxy Music stuff and Brian Ferry. But I think the influences on this are definitely Nick Lowe and Van Morrison – I even tried to sing like Van Morrison on a lot of the songs, like how he repeats himself a lot. Those are the kind of bands I would never have liked in 1984… or 1994… or 2004 really.”
Naturally these new flavours and inclinations are filtered through the core Spiral Stairs aesthetic that served him so well over five Pavement albums, two long-players with his subsequent outfit Preston School Of Industry and eventually throughout his slowly-blossoming solo canon. We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized may mark a musical evolution of sorts but there’s no denying its source.
“It’s funny because you go back and remember things that fans would say to you and they’d mention Rockpile or they’d mention Van Morrison records or Roxy Music records and I didn’t have a frame of reference then,” the singer reflects. “But maybe that’s why people liked my bands in the first place, because I reminded them of the history of rock’n’roll, which is what it’s about. You’re always trying to take from the classics and give back and teach people.”
Kannberg’s solo career proper began with the first Spiral Stairs album The Real Feel back in 2009, and after taking a lengthy break following Pavement’s triumphant global reunion tour in 2010 he returned in 2017 with his acclaimed sophomore solo effort Doris & The Daggers.
That album scored Kannberg some of the most fawning reviews of his career – UK music bible Mojo espousing that “it's been a long journey, but Spiral Stairs has finally found his voice”, while Q Magazine called Doris & The Daggers “his most enjoyable music in two decades”, amongst many similarly positive critiques – and it’s from those same sessions that the seeds of We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized were sown.
Four strong songs that didn’t make the final cut on Doris & The Daggers – all notably featuring the drumming of Justin Peroff (Broken Social Scene) – were originally earmarked to surface on an EP, but when Spiral Stairs struck a rich vein of songwriting form in his adopted Mexican home of Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula he suddenly had the makings of something far weightier than an interim release.
Reuniting the bulk of the dream team who assisted him on Doris & The Daggers – bassist Matthew Harris (Oranger, The Posies), multi-instrumentalist Tim Regan and good friend Kelley Stoltz, as well as former touring Preston School Of Industry drummer Jim Lindsay – We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized is the most fully-rendered encapsulation to date of Spiral Stairs’ inimitable aesthetic.
“I’m pretty surprised at how well it all hangs together because I’ve always tried to keep everything pretty close,” Spiral reflects of the album’s protracted genesis. “But when you look at some of your favourite bands’ records they’re often working with songs that are five years old or eight years old, or songs they’d been working on forever and even songs they’d already recorded prior. So when I started working like that it was, like, ‘It doesn’t really matter, as long as they sound good’.
We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized is fun, infectious and musically compelling, while still managing to cover some hefty topics like the current rambunctious political climate and the devastating loss of loved ones, augmented by some tales inspired by various pop culture sources. It’s the best of all that’s come before combined with a newfound wisdom and appreciation of the classics, aided by some beautiful embellishments courtesy the skilled musicians at his disposal.
More than 25 years into his incredible musical journey We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized represents perhaps the archetypal representation to date of Spiral Stairs’ beloved canon – in these tumultuous times we’re living in that’s surely inspiration in itself.