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

Nina Ljeti

Singer/composer, Kills Birds

Kill Birds

Pavement is one of my favorite bands of all time. Not only is it a band that I revisit frequently in an attempt to steal their ideas, melodies, lyrics, and general aesthetic, but it is a band that I turn to for every break-up, night out, road trip, etc. Why? Because they’re so diverse and endlessly exciting. And there’s so much to learn from them that I feel no matter how many times I listen to their records, I’m still trying to figure out what they’re all about.

Wowee Zowee, in particular, is Pavement at its best. I was listening to it again recently on one of my solo, middle-of-the-night COVID-19 quarantine walks, and it was the perfect accompaniment. In these trying times, we’re likely to feel all the feels– sadness, loneliness, annoyance, anger, excitement, horniness, etc.– and the beautiful chaos of Wowee Zowee ticks all those boxes. In particular, listening to it on my solo walk that night made me feel a little less alone in the world. I think that’s because this album has a little bit of everything, so you can always find something that speaks to you. Re-visiting Wowee Zowee that night also made me realize that Pavement is, without a doubt, one of the most punk rock bands of all time. So daring in whatever they create, that even after hundreds of listens, Wowee Zowee continues to be one of the most unusual and exciting records that I have ever heard. Which means that no matter how hard I try to steal from Pavement, I don’t think I can ever do it. Their skillful chaos is a unique trait that belongs only to them. Anyone else who tries might come out a poser. But that’s okay. At least I know, while I’m holed up in solo quarantine, I can rely on Pavement (and Stephen Malkmus’ soothing voice) to get me through whatever I’m feeling.

Rick Spitalsky

Singer-songwriter, Extra Medium Pony

Extra Medium Pony

In hindsight, this album sounds like your friends’ band, if you had a dream where your friends were ultra-talented. Age 16, I first heard this album while ripping bong hits of kind bud in my manic/bipolar 35-year-old friend’s room at his parents’ house, which was filled with garbage and smelled like a dumpster. There was sharpie writing and holes punched in the walls from passer throughs. I sat on a couch that had no legs, spaced out of my mind and Pavement playing in the background. We’ve all been there, right? This album is the soundtrack to that room, wherever it exists now. I don’t know if people can make music like this anymore. Once it’s been created in a moment, it only lives there.

Johnny Iguana

Piano, The Claudettes

Johnny Iguana

I was living in NYC (having moved their from Philadelphia after college) when Pavement first made waves with Slanted and Enchanted and then Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. By the time Wowee Zowee arrived in ’95, I was living in Chicago and on the road full time with blues harmonica legend Junior Wells. But I’d been in punk bands as well as blues bands in Philly since I was 16, and I was as obsessed with Pavement in ’95 as I was with going back in time and studying Big Maceo, Blind John Davis, Eddie Boyd and the other Chicago blues-piano giants. I saw Pavement concerts that varied wildly in their impact on me. When I saw them outside at Dillo Day in Evanston, Illinois at Northwestern University, Malkmus just seemed put off by the frat crowd and expressed his boredom with every fiber of his being and with his words, too. That show was a drag, but I saw them at the Metro, too, not long after, and there was just this ineffable beauty to the music and the whole experience that (and I still don’t understand why) left me literally crying on a curb down the street from the venue after the show. As for Wowee Zowee, I remember hearing that the band were forced to pick a single, and so they picked ‘Rattled by the Rush,’ but they might as well have thrown a dart at a dartboard. This was not a singles album…it sort of stumbled, high and laughing, across a field of alt-rock, spacey country, psychedelia and metal-heavy rock, with vocals and lyrics shifting from sweet and lovely to speaker-busting screams. This album, too, has this ability to make me cry and I don’t know why. And “lo-fi?” I always thought, “Gimme a break.” These tracks are positively lush where they want to be, and craggy where they have to be. Pavement were in total command.

beabadoobee

Beabadoobee

Wowee Zowee was one of the first pavement albums I ever listened to. It stood out because the lazy feeling the vocals matched so well with the melodies that the guitars carried. It’s crazy because it’s rare an artist can make me feel something so much with something as simple as guitar chords. Everything just falls so satisfyingly and it’s the best album to gently bop your head to when you’re stoned. Pavement inspired me with the way I song write, especially with my EP Space Cadet. A melody that sticks in someone’s head that almost matches perfectly with the feeling they have at the time. I was supposed to get a Wowee zowee tattoo at one point, I loved it that much.

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