"I don't know why I didn't think it was wrong," says Dead Child guitarist Dave Pajo with a laugh, recalling how he used to steal metal albums from his local record store as a teenager in Louisville, Kentucky. Looking back, Pajo paints a hilarious picture of a slight, acne-ridden kid with a methodical, almost absurdly time-consuming approach to thievery that involved several complicated steps. At one point, he would even hide records in the bushes outside before going back in the store to fill his bag one more time.
"I would spend, like, a whole day at the record store," he says. "I don't know why they never caught on."
His mom never caught on either, despite the fact that Pajo would return home with a "huge" stack of records. After being drawn to enough album covers that "seemed aggressive or extreme" enough to piss off his conservative, religious parents, Pajo naturally developed an affinity for metal and hardcore, which were confined at the time to the import section — to keep them, Pajo presumes, segregated from more respectable genres.
Known primarily for his work in the legendary Slint, as well as Tortoise, Stereolab, Royal Trux, Zwan, and a slew of other projects, Pajo has returned to playing metal after almost 20 years exploring other styles. His return to the riff (which initially occurred when he hooked up briefly with then-NYC metal outfit Early Man in 2004-05) makes sense when you consider that Pajo has built a career out of abrupt shifts. His latest group, Dead Child, consists of longtime friends and features Shipping News bassist Todd Cook and guitarist Michael McMahon, younger brother of Slint vocalist Brian McMahon and himself a participant in the recent Slint reunions.
Because Pajo and everyone else in the band essentially bailed on metal around 1987 or so, Dead Child unsurprisingly evokes the more traditional stuff. And gravel-throated vocalist Dahm hits the high notes reminiscent of that classic metal sound without falling into parody. His impressive sense of balance should help prevent people from misunderstanding the band's intentions.
"In one camp," Pajo explains, "there's the ironic crowd that's gonna think we're condescending by playing metal. And there's the metal crowd that's going to question our trueness."
Pajo understands that "retaining metal's purity is really important," but also clearly thinks the band can slip in some humor without insulting anyone. The band photo in the CD insert, for example, was slightly altered by the Jesus Lizard's David Yow so that the band members would appear ugly and inbred, with eyes too far apart, etc. Thankfully, the music itself remains largely humor-free, and though the band plays loosely, Pajo says the members have worked hard to jell as a unit. Still, after years of eschewing solos and the shredder technique he loved as a teenager, Pajo's chops ain't what they used to be.
"I spent a good 15 years trying to unlearn how to play," he says with a laugh, "and did a pretty good job of it."
Perhaps that's for the best, as Dead Child rolls along with a gritty, gut-level attack. And the fans have spoken. In May, the band beat King Diamond in an online poll to land the Headbanger's Ball encore video of the week.
"I had to vote for my band," Pajo says, "but it was against my better judgment. I preferred King Diamond."