Interview: Preston School of Industry

(this interview originally appeared in issue #41 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2004).


by Gordon Downs


Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannenberg named his band the Preston School of Industry after a former correctional youth facility located in Northern California. At a golf course not far from the now shut down school of industry, you can see the ghostly buildings still standing in plain view from the sixteenth hole. Having parted ways several years ago from the most seminal and important group to emerge from the nineties, (Pavement) Spiral Stairs has embarked out on his own yet again with the release of his second album “Monsoon.” I had the chance to talk Scott about his new album, his record label Amazing Grease, Mike Azerrad’s writing, and the mystery behind Pavements strange set on the main stage at the very first Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival.


First off, I have to ask why the release date for “Monsoon” was pushed back?
Spiral Stairs: Well, mostly because of the music industry’s ever-expanding Christmas holiday. (laughing) So it’s like, you say you’re going to put a record out in January and it’s like, no one’s around to work on it in January. So we had to push the release date back.

“Monsoon” is a great record, who else plays on the album?
I’ve got a friend of mine named Matt Harris, who actually came up and played the drums on the record and helped engineer it. Dan Carr is the bass player, and Chris Heinrich played pedal steel guitar on the songs where you hear some pedal steel guitar. (Laughing) Then the rest of [the album] is me. The members of Wilco played on “Get Your Crayons Out!” and Scott McCoy from The Minus Five and Young Fresh Fellows plays mandolin on a couple of songs as well.

So this is like a whole new line-up for Preston School of Industry? It’s a much different crew from your first album “All This Sounds Gas.”
The guys from the previous record didn’t even…(pauses)…we played a couple of live shows together, then they had other projects that they went to. So I’ve had kind of had a changing live line-up since then. Just getting friends and people who have the time and who want to go and play live. It’s just been constantly changing over time, until this new line-up. I actually have a new drummer now, Matt’s not playing live, he has another band he’s in. So I have another drummer from Seattle.

Preston School of Industry played with Mission of Burma at this year’s SXSW festival – how fucking cool was that? How does it feel knowing that your band is now on the same label as Mission of Burma?
You know, listening to those records – I heard them when I was really getting into music. There was that time where there were so many records that I had never heard. And when you heard those Burma records, it was exciting! Gerard and Chris (Co-Owners of Matador Records) lived in Boston when Burma was going on [in the eighties]. Gerard I think even booked a couple of early Burma shows? So they’ve always been on the pulse with that band.

How come you’re releasing “Monsoon” through Matador instead of your own label Amazing Grease?
Just because those guys are friends and it’s a much better distribution situation than Amazing Grease. Amazing Grease is just small. We don’t really have any distribution or anything; and I wanted it to be separate. Even though we did do an EP on Amazing Grease. It’s just better to be on a separate label.

As far as Amazing Grease goes, you are the owner and proprietor of the label. What exactly does that entail?
I just do everything, (laughing) the day-to-day stuff. Getting an email about someone ordering a CD and packaging it up.

So it’s correct to say there is no staff at Amazing Grease Records?
No, there’s no staff. It’s just me and a basement full of records. Hopefully people will want to start buying them. (laughing) Yeah, distribution is hard. With indie records it’s really… the Matador Records should be pretty readily available. But the Amazing Grease stuff, yeah…(pauses)… you know we have a couple of distributors. When the bands don’t really tour it’s hard to get the record stores excited about our little records. Oranger has toured in the past. They have a new record out and they haven’t toured at all for it.

Would you consider the record label part of your career or more like a big hobby?
I guess it’s a hobby. It doesn’t make me any money. (laugh ing) It’s just fun to do. There are bands I like that I’m trying to help out. Trying to help steer them on the right course. And just by putting out 1,000 CD’s of their band, hopefully it’ll help them and turn more people onto their music.

Like many indie labels these days, I’m sure you get a lot of demo submissions?
Well sort of. Not that many, I mean we’ve never really signed any bands off of the submissions. It’s always kind of bands we’ve seen live.

Anything you can recommend to myself and the readers of Modern Fix?
I like the Fiery Furnaces record, The Long Winters. I really like that Ikara Colt record. It’s pretty amazing.


A lot of the songs on “Monsoon” seem to flow and work together in one movement. Is there any concept behind the record?
No, there’s no real big concept. Whenever you make a record it’s always fun to piece the songs together and kind of… you know when you make up the title of the album and you make up song titles and all that stuff, everything kind of all of a sudden feels like there’s a concept there. And you try to say “Well there is,” but there really isn’t. The songs just kind of come. It definitely had a lot to do with…you know I moved up to Seattle.

As far as the other guys that were in Pavement, what are they up to? Do you still talk to them occasionally?
I saw Mark Ibold around the CMJ festival. I went and did something for that and we had dinner a couple of nights. He’s doing good, he’s living in New York working in the food business. I haven’t seen any of the other guys really. I guess I’ve seen Steve Malkmus once, but I haven’t seen… (pauses) I did stay with Steve West once when we played in Virginia so that was about two years ago. I haven’t really seen Bob at all. We never really kept in contact as a band anyways! (laughing) So there’s nothing really different about it.

You know I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you this, but what was the deal with Pavement’s set at the first Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival?
Did you go to that show? Oh God, sorry you had to see that.

Well you see, I was on ecstasy at the time, so it was very surreal and the memory I have of that set is extremely bizarre.
Oh no! Oh my God, what a bad trip that would’ve been! (laughing) Yeah, it was just a weird situation. We had been doing three or four shows previous to that. We were having a great tour, and then all of a sudden that show. – It seemed like things were fine, and Steve just lost it. He claimed that he was sick and everything, but I think he just had a nervous breakdown or something? He had done it a couple of times before, so I think everybody in the band was just like, “Oh no, here we go again.” It was just kind of bad timing. Something went awry in Steve’s head that day. He wasn’t sick, he just didn’t want to be there. And he just couldn’t deal being up on that stage for some reason? It was actually a couple of shows later we had a band meeting and kind of called him on it, and that was pretty much when he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore.