In the old days, all you needed was a guitar, some friends, and a bottle of whiskey to make good music. Just look at the greats like Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and even Bob Dylan. Those were the days of simple folk music. Fast forward to 2013 and half the bands today use hordes of synthesizers and electronics we can’t even pronounce the names of. But in the late ’80s, three men started making music using a simple tape recorder. This band would become the Silver Jews, and two of the members – Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich – would go on to form Pavement, one of the most influential indie rock bands of the ’90s.
Lucky for us, we got to spend some time talking with Nastanovich.
Though we could wax poetic about the greatness of Pavement, for those unfamiliar, the band started in 1989 right when the post-punk of the ’80s segued into alternative and garage rock of the ’90s. Pavement remained in the underground, signing to independent instead of major labels, and never really made it to the mainstream market. Disbanding in 1999, Pavement reunited in 2010 to a well-received worldwide reunion tour. Its first Central Park show sold out in two minutes, and the other four Central Park shows followed. Clearly, the band holds a lot of cred with music fans and has a lot more history than we’ll share here. But this interview isn’t about Pavement; it’s about Bob.
After Pavement broke up, Nastanovich got a day job. However, like his unique stage presence would suggest, Nastanovich chose an unconventional career path. Below, we talk to Nastanovich about the kind of tech he uses, how tech affects his job in the horseracing industry, and what’s on his gadget wish list.
DT: So what’s the first piece of tech you touched today?
Bob Nastanovich: Nokia Lumia 900 Windows phone. I hate this phone. It’s easy for me to access the Internet in dire situations, which would basically be for checking sports scores and the like.
Why a Windows Phone?
Free AT&T upgrade. Always used Nokia products. My first Nokia I had for about 15 years. It’s about the size of a snickers, or a Mars Bar. But I’m not a big phone guy.
Not at all?
I do like texting and here’s why: because even if you’re really good at it, it’s still sort of a pain in the ass, so if it were up to me, all phone communication, would be done like you would leave me a message, I would listen to that message, and then I would leave you a message back. And that’s essentially what texting is. It’s like the meat of the sandwich. It’s the best information. If you’re a blabber mouth like me, you stay off the phone.
Have you ever owned an Android or iPhone before?
Nope. Most of these iPhone people freak out about their glass and spend all this money on their case, and it’s a crisis if they lose their phone.
What kind of music-related technology do you use or own?
Technics SL-1210 MK2 turntable and Sherwood receiver.
What’s the last thing you listened to on your iPod (or MP3-playing device, phones included)?
Never have used an iPod.
How do you listen to the majority of your music?
Ninety percent vinyl, 5 percent CDs and cassettes, 5 percent YouTube through small computer speakers.
Do you also buy music digitally?
I simply love turntables and vinyl records. Have for 30+ years.
Most kids today only know how to buy music digitally, what are they missing out on by buying music that way?
I think that the thing I can’t really grasp with buying digital music … the thing that puts me off is I’ve always liked and have been impressed with and studied the package … the artwork. If people have to live in small spaces, it saves them a lot of space to have their music on their computer on their iPod – those things are tiny. And then, you lose it and you just have to redownload it. I’ve always had faith, even though it might be considered naive, that people would want the CD booklet, or the record sleeve, or the insert with the lyrics on it. Other than that, I think what they’d really miss is from the fidelity standpoint. A lot of the way that music is recorded will still sound best via vinyl on a turntable.
Physical forms of music, like CDs and Vinyl, are great for that reason, but you’re copying vinyl records to CD because they’re getting to the point where they just don’t sound the same anymore, and they’re just not playable. But what happens if you lose that CD and that’s your only copy? How does the impermanence and that you could possibly lose your entire music collection make you feel?
Obviously there’s natural disasters. Whenever I see these natural disasters on videos, like Katrina and what you guys went through [Sandy], it always makes me feel like, ‘Oh my god, I wonder what this person actually lost.’ And that’s what I would think would be at the top of my most irreplaceable items would be a lot of this vinyl collection. I’m not like Thruston Moore; I don’t have a museum of vinyl here. It’s still important to me, and it would be gone. It would just be gone, and then you’d have to figure out gradually how to rebuild certain parts, and I’d have to reinvest in trying to recoop things I wanted to get back. And I’m also keenly aware of the fact that at least 40 percent of it is probably totally irreplaceable, either due to lack of interest, or some of it I’m just not going to be able to find. It would be a tragedy, and it is an argument for the fact that you can re-access music.
What’s the last record you bought?
Beastie Boys’ “Check Your Head” (replacement copy).
All of Pavement’s albums are available to listen to free on Spotify. A recent New York Times article reported that an artist who had her song played more than 1.5 million times over the last six months on Pandora only earned $1,652.74. The same song played 131,000 times on Spotify over the last year, totaling $548 in royalties (an average of 0.42 cents a play). What’s your take on the way streaming music sites are affecting the music industry?
I think that these sites make it more difficult for artists to sell their products. Therefore, as in the above example, they struggle to thrive even if popular. Logically speaking, [listening to a band online] would keep me from what I would have had to done 20 years ago as a DJ which is spend $8 on that record. It seems to me that the ease of which people can get music, you’re going to have to have faith that people will buy the products.
Do you still get royalties from Pavement and the Silver Jews?
I get royalties still from Pavement and Silver Jews. I don’t personally know what affect streaming music has on the royalty statements. A band like Pavement from the ’90s was expected to last five or 10 years. The climate that we were in was very straight-forward business agreements. People were buying CDs, cassettes, and vinyl. I’m close friends with a lot of people on a pretty small record label here in Iowa called Maximum Ames, and I know in addition to all of the other formats of music, they offer free downloads. I’m just ignorant in regards to that technology. I’ve never used it. I never really listened to that much music on the go. I never had a Walkman. All the listening I do is at home, or at friends houses on speakers on a stereo system, and then in the car. I’ve driven with people who’ve hooked up their phone or their iPod to a docking station in their car … my car is old, and I have a cassette deck in it, so I pretty much listen to the radio. I’ll see cassettes in a thrift store every once in a while for a dollar and buy them, but I’m really sort of unhip or not up to date.
How do you feel about streaming concerts online for free? This way, people don’t even have to leave their homes to watch a live show.
That doesn’t bother me. Because live music will always be a more heightened experience than watching a video. Watching a streamed concert may convince someone to go out and see a show. A few of the shows we played in 2010 were streamed live … but the entire Pitchfork festival was streamed live with the exception of us and one other band [Broken Social Scene], and without consulting us, our guitar player Scott [Kannberg] said Pavement didn’t want to be streamed, which sort of pissed off the Pitchfork people. I thought it was not very sensible. I would’ve definitely said stream it, the thing’s sold out. What difference does it make?
I think really the main reason you’d do that is that you’re looking forward to seeing the band yourself and you want to see what they look like live, so you’re seeking confirmation, or you’re looking forward to their concert coming to your town and you’re going to go anyway, and you want to see what it’s like. It’s the same kind of thing as listening to the cassette or the CD when you’re driving to the concert. I think that can only spur more enthusiasm going to see live music.
The Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop came out more than six years ago. When did you get yours and why haven’t you upgraded?
[Got it in] 2009, used for $200, [and] it does the job.
In addition to playing with Pavement, you also jumped into the sport of horse racing early on. When and how did you start getting involved with horse racing?
I became a fan of betting on horse races as a teenager.
We know you chart races for Equibase by visiting racetracks, watching races, and recording the data. Can you explain what you do and what Equibase is?
I’m a chart caller. I watch the races at Prairie Meadows through binoculars on the fifth floor and call out the positions of the horse at various designated points in the races. Then, I write a formatted brief synopsis in the minutes following each race.
Do you do that electronically now, and was it different when you started?
Yes via company-provided laptops [that stay on their desks in a secure office] hooked up to high-speed Internet. For the first few years, we still had dial-up.
We imagine that following races 20 years ago was a lot different than it is now. How has technology changed the way people play the horses?
Most horseplayers now stay at home, place bets on their computers, and watch on cable, Dish, or live streams.
Races happen every day all over the world. Do you follow other races outside of the U.S. How do you do that?
Every day, with only the rare exception, I watch English and Irish horse races via stream at twinspires.com and listen to audio analysis at williamhillradio.com.
Have you ever lost a significant amount of money playing the horses while sitting in front of the computer?
Yes. Lost $1,000, and won over $2,500.
Are there any other ways in which you use tech?
Social media, fantasy sports, shopping, and paying bills.
Has social media changed what it means to be a former member of Pavement? Is it hard to function online as a celebrity?
I have an entirely open, totally public Facebook profile. I don’t do too many tweets. I tried to do Twitter for about a year because it’s good for up-to-date horse-racing information. It’s good for people who actually have a clue, who are at a certain race track, who are tweeting about how a horse is behaving in the paddock before a race, and I find that to be very useful information. I was doing that for a while, but my Twitter account got hacked twice. I don’t think it has anything to do with who I am.
Can you tell us more about your presence on Facebook?
As far as friends on Facebook, I think I have about 2,200 friends, and over 1,000 of those are Pavement fans who I don’t know. There’s also a certain high percentage of Pavement fans that I’ve met once, and I have no problems with that. I sometimes have to take people out of my news feed because they’re constantly putting up pictures of like Hooters girls bending over and stuff. Another guy was putting up scantily-clad photos of women covered head to toe in tattoos, and that kind of stuff just doesn’t make my day brighter, so I took that guy out of my feed. But I have a totally open profile, and I don’t even think twice about it. People are extremely nice. They can look at all my pictures. I don’t care. I live in De Moines, Iowa. I’ve never felt the need for any type of protection or security in any regard. I don’t really feel like I’m a big ‘whatever’. I work at Prairie Meadows racetrack, I was in a band that was cool in the ’90s, it was a fantastic experience, and I’ve been fortunate enough to own a few race horses that have won horse races … it’s very pleasant that people treat me with a large degree of respect. I don’t mind that at all. I’ve been pretty in touch with my little reality over here. That’s why on Facebook, I’m just going to be like anybody else.
Have you ever encountered any weirdos on Facebook?
I can’t really remember if it’s ever happened. I’ve had a couple of people write stuff to me on Facebook and then the next day I’ll get a message saying: ‘Dude, I was so wasted last night, I hope I didn’t embarrass myself.’ I don’t care. I know what’s it’s like to drink 23 beers and start watching Pavement videos on YouTube and then getting on Facebook and writing ‘that was awesome what you did,’ and then being like ‘oh my god, I just Facebooked the dude from Pavement last night.’ The original premise of Silver Jews was that we had Thurston [Moore] and Kim’s [Gordon] home number when they lived in Manhattan, and we played the first songs we made up directly into their answering machine. It’s the same kind of thing. It’s a glorious privilege, and I don’t mind any of that stuff.
Is there anything on your gadget wish list right now?
- The history of home audio systems
- Barenaked Ladies cut loose and show it all with ‘Fake Nudes’
- How Syd Bennett launched an R&B career with old MacBooks and a microphone
- Pop a cork and sit down. For Slowdive, vinyl is all about the ceremony
- Naked but never nihilistic, Starsailor charts a course for indie soul