Stephen Malkmus: "Being in a Band Is More Fun Than Being a Writer"
As Pavement's literate, sardonic frontman, Stephen Malkmus redefined indie rock in the '90s with a lo-fi, slacker sound. After the band dissolved in 1999, he turned his creative attention to a quasi-solo career with his trusty band of Jicks. During this second act, Malkmus has never appeared bothered by any expectations for Pavement 2.0, and his six albums with the Jicks are relaxed, playful affairs filled with guitar and lyrical heroism.
Photo: Leah Nash
Before Malkmus's stop at Bowery Ballroom (Feb. 26) and Music Hall of Williamsburg (Feb. 27) we caught up with him during his lunch at a European tour stop in Copenhagen. The conversation detailed the Belgian recording sessions for his new album, Wig Out at Jagbags, how his approach to his lyrics has evolved, the Pavement reunion tour, and life on the range
Congratulations on coining the album title of the year -- I was hooked before I even heard a note. Does the title hold any specific meaning or significance to you, or did the combination of words just sound too good to resist?
[Laughs] Right on. That's it, pretty much. I don't know, I had a hundred titles, and in the end that seemed the most interesting. There's no real reason, but I think it's cool, you know?
The album was recorded in rural Belgium. Did that inject a similar sense of European discovery that you experienced during your time living in Berlin?
Kind of. It was also sort of practical, because I was living there, and for me to go far away would have been uncool for my family. Also, the guy who recorded it [Remko Schouten, Pavement's venerable soundman] is from Benelux. He's from Amsterdam, and he kind of set it up. I don't really know where to go there except for England. If you told me that they didn't make a rock 'n roll record in Europe over the last 20 years, I'd probably believe you. Other than like Rammstein or something, I don't really know what's going on there. So, he hooked it up. He's been there before. Hey, remember that band Bettie Serveert?
Yeah, I sure do.
He recorded with them. They are still going. You wouldn't know it in America, but they are still plugging away.
Palomine was such a great album. I'll always love that record
Tell me about it. Remember that song "Tom Boy" off of the first album [Palomine]? That is like a Matador classic.
This new record is a real jammy, guitar-heavy album. Did that evolve naturally out of the rehearsal sessions, or was that the sound you were going for straight from the start?
It just kind of evolves, you know. Things are even more woolly and loose, and then it just becomes trying to make an album in the style that I really like. Like Flip Your Wig by Hüsker Dü or Hootenany by the Replacements, you know, they all have pretty short songs with different angles on them and stuff, and they're pretty compacted in the end. And you know those guitar parts that you called "jammy," those are pruned down like a French garden or something, really manicured as far as I'm concerned.
Has your approach to your lyrics evolved over the years now that you have different stories to tell? Or are you still trying to veil your narratives behind playful non sequiturs?
Well, to me it all makes sense. In my mind, the synapses of the past, the circuits and the conduits, it's not non sequiturs. For so long, there's been a traditional way that we see the way a narrative should go. Just like in an art museum, you always see there's a 19th Century room, and then the 20th Century room, and here's the 18th Century room, and we go from room to room, right. Because that's just the way it's done. And that can be nice, in a way, because you know which way to go, and if you're a teacher. But the reality is, if you go to the museum, right, don't you maybe see something in the 19th Century room and something in the 21st Century room and you kind of take those two things together home with you. Not in some order. That's how my lyrical style is. To me, it's just what I've always done. It's like a realistic representation of how my mind works. And how ALL of our minds really should work, if we're not just doing things because we're supposed to or because that's the way it always was.