The last time I spoke to David Pajo (AKA Papa M) he had no teeth. It wasn’t because he had just gotten in a fight. It was because he had gotten into a fight fifteen years before and the crowns had finally rotted off. “I used to be a bit out of control,” he says, almost ashamed. “I was at an Iron Maiden concert during the Number of the Beast tour and I was running all over the place spilling people’s beer and stepping on toes. There were two big bikers who had lost their beers and, instead of apologizing I just ignored them and walked on. They literally beat the shit out of me.” After that, the not-so-big and very soft Pajo was forced to wear fake teeth. “Ever since then I’ve been pretty mellow.”
Pajo has been making a musical career out of being mellow ever since Number of the Beast. Five years with Tortoise and other Sunday morning bands have kept him happy to be living in Louisville, KY, and happy to be sitting around all day. After hearing his new album Whatever, Mortal you’ll wonder how he ever did anything more violent than brush somebody’s hair. “I think you want to start shit when you’re a kid and then you get beat up really bad and get over it forever,” he explains. “I’m staying with a guy right now for example that had his fingers cut off by a gang. He used to be a loud-mouthed wiseass and when these Vietnamese kids drove by yelling at him he threatened to kill them all. So they chopped his fingers off. He got them put back on but they don’t look right. He’s mellowed out a lot since then.”
When I ran into Pajo he was on his way to Harmony Korine’s grandmother’s house to play, as Harmony put it, “pagan folk songs.” We got to talking about Korine’s movie Fight Harm, where Harmony has people pound the shit out of him. We were talking about how cringe-worthy it is if you’ve been in a really bad fight. “I think being beat up does two things. It makes you fearless because you say ‘I’ve been pounded by people way bigger than you’ and it makes you more sympathetic and sensitive to the whole idea of violence. Not scared but sad.”
Not scared but sad is exactly how Whatever, Mortal sounds. It starts off with a casually silent “I’m a Whore” and slows down from there. It’s not placid to the point of being watery though. Like a conversation with someone over 30, the songs are memorable and distinct. They just aren’t trying to go anywhere.
“I had a nightmare the other night about fighting,” he said before getting on the train. “We all had to use axes and I kept asking if we could talk it out or at least use fists. I told them there was going to be massive carnage everywhere but they wouldn’t listen.”
is out on Drag City now.