Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Memphis... Bob Nostanovich

One day several months ago I sat with Des Moines resident Bob Nostanovich on his back porch to talk about his days in the band Pavement and to get some light on how he ended up living in a remote far-out place like Iowa.

As it turns out, it was horse racing that brought him here, specifically a job with the Prairie Meadows Race Track in Altoona. Having spent part of his life in Louisville, Kentucky, I am guessing it was there that he fell in love with the sport.

Funny though, I never asked him. We did talk about Louisville, but not the Kentucky Derby.

Pavement on Space Ghost Coast to Coast

We met for about an hour. Much of the conversation centered on one particular question I asked, which was, What was the most memorable gig you played?

Of course I expected some great story about when Pavement played on Letterman, or the Colbert Report, or perhaps even when they made an appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast. I thought maybe he would tell me about the time Pavement played on Leno, or perhaps a festival in some exotic far away place.

But contrary to what I was expecting, he proceeded to tell me a story about a band he played in called Pale Horse Riders, and one crazy night when they played in Memphis.

Suddenly the rest of the interview seemed unimportant. The way he told this story, his timing and the expressions on his face were hilarious, and he had me laughing pretty hard. I understand that these effects will be lost in this transcription. But please... imagine yourself in Bob's shoes as the madness unfolds around him. Murphy's Law was in full effect that night, and all that Bob could do was just endure it.

In the end, the story is nothing short of rock and roll legend.


Here is the story of The Pale Horse Riders, in Bob's words:

My friend Chris Layton should be famous but he's too crazy.

We played a show in Memphis one time it was amazing. We only knew how to play three songs. It's one of those deals... Guided By Voices and The Breeders were both recording in town and there's this one club in downtown Memphis, I can't even remember it's name. They advertised us as some kind of secret show. So everybody that came thought it was going to be Guided By Voices, or The Breeders playing for like 300 people.  I'm going to say that this was in 2001 or something... I'm pretty sure it was after Pavement stopped. Maybe like 2000.

So, they had some metal matinee at this place, it was just like the Vaudeville Mews... The Memphis version. They clear out the metal crowd and all of a sudden there is like three or four hundred people. The place is packed to the gills because they want to come in and see this mystery show. Well the mystery show is me, and three or four of my buddies from Louisville who are equally retarded musicians and we only knew how to play three songs!

So I walk in and people are coming up to me and saying, "Oh my God is Pavement going to play? Or the Silver Jews or something like that?" I said no, we're just a band from Louisville called Pale Horse Riders, me and a couple of young fellas, we just screw around and make songs.

Pavement. Bob on the left. Notice his shirt.
Click to enlarge
Now Layton he is a nut. He's never seen nothing like this in his life, and he's just fired up... And my buddy Sherman Wilmott who we always used to stay with and record while we were in Memphis, he is one of the greatest guys in the world. He owns a record store down there, I think its called Shangri-La Records. We used to stay above his record store and he'd bring us these huge aluminum tubs of ribs from that place Cozy Corner; it's the best rib joint in the world, and I think I had twelve bones, and it's the kind of ribs that you know... Just god bless... Unbelievable. I thought I was going to have a heart attack I ate so many of them.

I had about 12 in 20 minutes. I drove those boys down there in a mini van that we rented. Got pulled over on the way down for some shit, and I brought this friend of mine Jack Barry, who was about 10 years older than us, and he was our emcee... He'd put on a coat and tie, and look real nice, and he'd get up there and be a proper emcee... you know. He was going to be one of our saving graces.

I ask what is the drinking policy here for bands and it's a young kid I think he' about 25 years old, nice kid.

Ok we are getting 500 dollars guaranteed, which is ridiculous for some band that doesn't know how to play, and this guy says - and I will never forget it as long as I live, and my buddies are there and they are about 22 and they want to get ripped, and this guys says - "Our policy with bands is to go behind the bar and help yourself."

I was thinking, You gotta be kidding me... I didn't say anything, except to my friends, I said "Boys, whenever you want a drink, just go behind the bar and help yourselves."

Oh we were littered all over the shop.

And then we start playing and Layton can't handle it... He is kinda like a savage. He's got his shirt off and he's a little guy with tattoos and stuff. he's a very talented guy, but he always wanted to be punk rock and stuff like that and it's kind of this crowd, it's a Breeders/Guided By Voices/Pavement type crowd, you know people are kind of serious and they think they are going to see something historic, and Layton is like this fucking lunatic redneck from the bad part of Louisville and he goes up there with his shirt off and I'm sitting there on drums and I've had 12 rib pieces and there's just beer everywhere.

I've got my one buddy Pete Townsend who plays drums in Palace Brothers, well he plays in Willie's (Will Oldham) band now, Bonnie Prince Billy... He's back there, he's never played a live show in his life , he's like 21, back there with sunglasses on at a keyboard. Paul's up there with a bass guitar, and Jack Barry comes out to introduce us and the first thing he does is start telling stories about the Louisville-Memphis basketball rivalry, and how much Louisville and Memphis hate each other and gets the crowd all riled up and whips them into a frenzy, starts saying fuck all these famous Memphis basketball players and shit and I'm like Oh my god in heaven!

Then before the show starts, he sings a beautiful a cappella version of  "My Old Kentucky Home." So the whole crowd is booing and shit, and I'm sitting with my head down at my three piece drum set thinking Oh shit. I'm the only person anybody knows. It's just me and a bunch of scoundrels.

Ok, so Jack Barry is opening, and everybody is booing and Layton goes up to his microphone, turns the thing on and goes, "This song's for all you faggots!"

People are just like, What the fuck! and I'm like, just remove me from this environment.

If I could have beamed myself to anywhere else on the face of the earth, I would have done it. So we start playing these three songs that we know how to play, and we play 'em and Jack comes up to me and says into my ear as we're playing the song, he says "Make this the last one, and we'll just do another set!"

Bob was known for his "scream" while playing with Pavement.
There's no doubt he wanted to scream that night in Memphis.

Ok so we quit, right? We played for about 20 minutes and people are confused. They are like, What the hell did we pay five dollars for?... These assholes - you know that whole kind of deal.

And then we say, ok we'll be back in ten minutes, and play another set. So everybody goes to the bar and about a hundred of them left, but there's still about 300 left and we go back up and play the same three songs again... We did it four times! Oh hell!

And the greatest thing was, Sherman's filming the whole thing in the back, Sherman Wilmott. He just had a video camera camcorder set up on a tripod, and you can't hear the music too well, but there's a big round table that's full of Memphis scenesters... The Grifters were a band back then, a good band and we were good friends with them, and like that whole scene was there and there's a whole bunch of Memphis scenesters sitting at a table right there right in front of the camera so you can hear their conversation more than you can hear the music that's going on in the distance on this camera.

And you are hearing people say things like, "This is the worst shit I have ever seen!" and they're talking about all the other horrible shows they've seen, and they're like, "Oh no, these assholes take the cake!" you know. They're like, "This is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life!" and, "I would never have any problem with Pavement, but fuck that Nostanovich guy... Fuck him!" and all kinds of stuff... Oh shit!

So we finished up and loaded up our shit and drove a mile or two back to Sherman's, lucky to get away with it. Jack, he took off and he ended up in some hotel out 20 miles away. Basically, he was on psychedelic mushrooms, it was one hell of a night.

That night was the most embarrassing moment... Pavement had some embarrassing moments in front of some big crowds where we just sucked, but nothing was nearly as embarrassing as that.

We got paid 500 dollars, drank for free and ate the best ribs in the world. It took about three or four days for me to recover from it mentally, because I didn't really need the humiliation, but then it sunk in that it was, um, legendary.

And then, and I swear to God I don't go to Memphis very often, I mean I would, but I just don't, since then.

I'm talking as much as like five to seven years later I have been in places in Memphis and people have come up to me and said, "You're one of those fucking assholes!" I swear to God, I am not shitting you. "You are one of those assholes that was in that band, Pale... Something..." And I'm like, "Oh yeah. Sorry. I'm sorry about that. Let me buy you a drink."

That's how bad it was. I mean it was insulting. In fact, we had this one lunatic who was part of the band that night, who's ex-girlfriend had showed up and he was grabbing the mic from Layton, and he had written a bunch of love poetry to her and he's reading the love poetry out to this girl who is just like mortified, and there was like all kinds of like thought put into it, and I guess it was pretty dramatic. It was dramatically bad.

I just know that I rented the vehicle, I drove down there, I fielded all the fucking questions, I got paid, dealt with everything, somehow loaded all those lunatics back in the van and we left the next day. I was real happy to be on that I-40 heading up back up towards Nashville and making that turn on I-65, and heading back to Lousiville and dumping them all off.

The Vituperate EP

We made a record. Actually two records. We had a record that we made ourselves called the Vituperate EP. It's five songs and I'm pretty sure it was recorded on an 8-track or a 4-track. Paul recorded it in his parent's basement and it's just me Chris and Paul. We played out in Louisville and Jason Loewenstein of  Sebadoh played in that band.

We always sort of had a rule - we must have played 15 or 20 shows - basically what would happen is when one of the promoters in Louisville was having a hard time selling tickets or didn't think the money was going to be there, like when 30-40 people would come to a show that he needed a hundred for, he's call us up like three days in advance, and be like "Hey can  throw you guys on this bill?" And we'd say, sure. And even though we sucked... We never knew how to play more than five songs, but because we had Loewenstein, I lived with Jake (Jason Loewenstein) at the time. We had Jason Hayden who was a popular musician guy in town ( from Endpoint), but yeah, people would just basically show up to laugh at me and Jake, Pete Townshend and Paul Oldham.


The video below is Pavement performing "Conduit for Sale." Bob is on the vox (I'm tryin' I'm tryin' I'm tryin...)  There are literally no Pale Horse Riders on Youtube that I could find and it was a chore to even find a pic of an album cover in Google images. Only 500 copies were made of the Vituperate EP. Each copy was custom made with cut-outs and paste and strange drawings. No two were the same. No telling how many are still in existence or where they are. I did see one on ebay for $40.00. That's a bargain.