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Pavement’s Wowee Zowee Turns 25: Musicians Remember Alt Rock Classic

Artists speak about the unseen power of the band’s experimental, endearing third LP

Andrew Leahey

Singer, Andrew Leahey & the Homestead

CREDIT: Chad Cochran

I studied English at the University of Virginia, Malkmus’ alma mater. This was a decade or so after Wowee Zowee, and to many of my classmates, Charlottesville had become synonymous with the Dave Matthews Band, whose members all lived nearby. Even so, that didn’t stop many of the indie kids — the student bus drivers, the drama students, the tattooed and pierced outliers — from proudly claiming Malkmus as one of their social descendants. On a campus whose beauty was both manicured and historic, he was like the Gen X Godfather of haphazard cool.

Luke Rathborne

CREDIT: James Strosahl

I always loved how “We Dance” uses a bong rip as auxiliary percussion. I love how the bong is continuous too like somebody took a two-minute hit.

An older friend introduced me to this record and as commonplace as it might be to say Stephen Malkmus seemed to me in the same mold as Bob Dylan in the way he cuts through the speakers. I also love the huge variety on Wowee. The sprawl and different styles of music felt like a kind of modern White Album.

Ben Harrison

Singer, Stutter Steps

CREDIT: Noah Purdy

I was a junior in college when Wowee Zowee came out and for me at the time, it was inextricably linked to Guided By Voices’ Alien Lanes, (also released in ’95), and therefore, as I recall, it didn’t get as much playing time on the dorm turntable. Formative years, indeed. I think my favorite track from Wowee Zowee is “Grave Architecture,” both because of the quirky intro line “Come on in” and the super hooky and bass-heavy two-chord change in the beginning of the song, that reminds of the chord change during the verse in “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Just one of many classic Pavement moments that made me think of, and appreciate their significant Velvet Underground influence. I can certainly relate…

Sean Cahill

Vocals and guitar, The Next Great American Novelist

The Next Great American Novelist
CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

Wowee Zowee always felt like one of the least coherent Pavement records. But for a sprawling indie rock band, the chaos works in its favor. I didn’t start listening to Pavement until I heard Chris Thile (Nickel Creek) do a cover of “Spit on a Stranger,” from Terror Twilight. The pop-bluegrass band captured the humor of the song in 2002 and upon listening to it, I knew I had some backtracking to do. Who was this band I missed? I first went to Slanted and Enchanted and from there I found a treasure trove of satisfying noise that Pavement had honed over the ’90s. It was a blend of poetry and self-indulgence. To me, it captured the feeling of growing pains. Somehow their take on the genre rang more authentic to me than Weezer did. The opening track on Wowee Zowee, “We Dance” starts with the familiar pulse of strumming open chords and makes you feel like anyone can play guitar. It’s like the song is inviting you to start a band and that you should do it right now. More slacker-jangle vibes come in an out throughout the record as they sandwich moments of fully crystalized laser-beams that come through overdriven tube amps.

There is a sense of humor in its rambling weirdness. You can hear it on “AT&T,” which opens with, “Maybe, somebody’s gonna save me, my heart is filled with gravy.” Which sounds an awful lot like “Wonderwall” by Oasis (which came out the same year). But Pavement’s take on this S.O.S. kind of message is delivered much more like an inside joke. A joke you’re invited in on. Now, when I listen back it inspires me to write songs more impulsively because there seems to be freedom and room to grow in that kind of looseness. The catharsis of melodies that are more spoken and less sung.

Michael Tapper

Drummer, Practice (formerly in We Are Scientists, Bishop Allen, Fool’s Gold, Yellow Ostrich)

CREDIT: Guy Eppel

Pavement was like indie rock college for me. They basically became the paradigm through which I saw music. So Wowee Zowee was kind of like my junior year: once the fundamentals were sound, it was time to start branching into some electives and more advanced theories. But the lesson was, like, “whatever.” Except it was the coolest, smartest, most musically interesting “whatever” I had ever heard. It was like the “whatever” heard round the world.