Silver Jews: David Berman clears things up


Silver Jews mastermind David Berman has been distancing himself from the rock success story of fellow UVA alums Pavement over the course of the past few albums, determined in his attempts to establish the Jews as a quirky indie rock voice for his witty inner monologue. Case in point: Berman has been to hell and back with drug abuse and a suicide attempt since the last album, and his darker days have manifested themselves as songs like "Sometimes A Pony Gets Depressed."

And if the critical acclaim pouring in for the Jews these days is any indication, Pavement frontman and former Silver Jew Stephen Malkmus probably isn't too happy about being left out of this one.


The Hook: You're not down with the characterization of the Silver Jews as a "Pavement side project." What is it about that label that you find most unfair?

David Berman: It would be hard for me to re-activate the feelings of entitlement I had in my youth right here, but in the five years since [Pavement] broke up, it hasn't been an issue of importance to me. This far into the Silver Jews' life, the project is so fundamentally "old man" compared to Pavement, it seems cute and oddly wannabe to think that I once imagined myself to be a part of "youth culture."

The Hook: During your time at UVA, you used to play around these parts under the name Ectoslavia. Who were your favorite local musicians back then?

David Berman: Even back in the '80s Charlottesville was the carrier of a jazz-rock pathogen that killed entire rock scenes in the cradle and prevented post-adolescent expression of any kind in local venues. Noodling prevailed on every stage. Strangely enough, it was all forced on the town by selfish fusion guys and King Crimson fans who had been too hippy for the urban markets. With no invitation that I could see from the young people who needed rock at the time, [those fusion guys] turned C'ville into an expert's paradise, where decade-long explorations into fretting technique, into false frontiers, yielded zero– nothing important to add to what we already knew about the Barney Miller theme, yet rendered the whole area, nay era, unfit for rock and roll or sexual pleasure.

The Hook: Which venues do you remember most clearly?

David Berman: Trax and the C&O. I remember seeing Green on Red two months after college began at the Mineshaft in November 1985. Sigma Nu was where the freaks and hippies tripped and jammed for days. You'd find yourself doing bong hits on the ninth floor next to a Sigma Nu with long gray beard that reached the floor who would slowly reveal to you that there were only four floors and that he hadn't been downstairs since Lennon was shot.

The Hook: You've been through a lot of personal issues since 2001's Bright Flight. Do you think listeners will be able to hear anything therapeutic in the newest album, Tanglewood Numbers?

David Berman: Some have. Some will.

The Hook: The four-year gap between these two albums was the longest break since The Silver Jews got started in the early 1990s. How did that change the composition process?

David Berman: I'm playing to win now. I'm going to endure until all of us prevail.

The Silver Jews play Thursday, March 16 at the Satellite Ballroom.


David Berman