Monday, November 4, 2013

Malkmus in Pitchfork... New Album with The Jicks

Nice article on Pitchfork (see below), catching up with Stephen Malkmus, of the 90's genius band Pavement, who probably got a lot more well known after they broke up. Pavement are the darlings of both critics and other musicians, as well as select music snobs.

Regardless of what critics say or think (they happen to be right about Pavement), Malkmus is one of the great guitarists of our time, and has created supremely weird and wonderful music as "Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks" for some time now.

Although drummer Janet Weiss (Sleater Kinney, Quasi, Wild Flag, etc.) has departed, The Jicks are ready to ride again, with a new album and a show at Portland's Crystal Ballroom this Friday (November 8, 2013), followed by a European tour.

When I moved to Portland two and a half years ago, I was quite happy that the city was home to some of my favorite musicians, like M. Ward and Malkmus. It was not only that this meant you'd be able to see them perform regularly (as well as perhaps wandering around town in search of a coffee or an art gallery opening, or just walking in the rain with the one you love), but that you also lived in a city that was warm and welcoming to artists of this calibre.

Of course, shortly after I moved here, we heard that Malkmus would be moving to Berlin for a while.

I saw him at the Crystal last time The Jicks played there (great show, see videos below) and it would be nice to see him around town more often.

The legacy of Pavement simply increases with time. I hung out for a bit with Austin of Parquet Courts after a show this summer.. He's a big Pavement fan, of course, and was delighted to have jammed recently with Scott Kannberg (Spiral Stairs), and felt that Parquet Courts fit well with Pavement's legacy. Psychedelic avant garde guitar at its best.

I enjoyed the Pavement reunion shows. Although they didn't have a new album to offer us (yet), it was great to hear the music and see them all getting along.

It meant that the release of Mirror Traffic was delayed, as well as tour support for that fine album, so it may not have gotten the hearing it deserved. 

I'm sure this new album will be great.


Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

With the upcoming Wig Out at Jagbags, Stephen Malkmus has made more records with the Jicks than with Pavement. He talks about why Anthony Kiedis isn't such a bad songwriter, naming his cat after a Daft Punk song, and more.

Larry Fitzmaurice
 , November 4, 2013

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Stephen Malkmus, Mike Clark, Joanna Bolme, and Jake Morris; photo by Leah Nash
A couple of weeks ago, Stephen Malkmus took his two kids to see a Macklemore & Ryan Lewis concert. His critique: "Macklemore's got good messages, but he does that thing where you have to wait forever for him to come onstage. I thought he'd be more prompt because he's clean and sober and realizes people have things to do in their life. But he makes you wait."
As a 47-year-old indie rock hall of famer, Malkmus' time is valuable. But that doesn't mean that the left-of-the-dial idol is above singing along to Top 40 hits in the family car. Despite offering opinions on current underground acts such as Oneohtrix Point Never ("sounds cool to me") and Matador labelmates Savages ("I like them, I guess… they're kind of old-fashioned") during our recent phone conversation, he's much more willing to discuss today's mainstream phenoms. "I've heard Robin Thicke a million times over—Lorde, too, which I like, but I'm going to get sick of it," he says, shortly before breaking into an impromptu a cappella rendition of Lady Gaga's "Applause" (and then quietly apologizing for the outburst). At one point, he lets out a dramatic yelp. "I almost stepped on my kitty," Malkmus says, referring to his new cat Lucky, who's "named after the Daft Punk song."
Granted, the last few years of his life have involved a bit more than naming pets and listening to Gaga in the car. Shortly after the release of his last record with backing band the Jicks, 2011's Mirror Traffic, Malkmus and his family moved from Portland to Berlin so that his wife, a visual artist, would have an easier time finding work. "There's lots of artists in Berlin, you practically can't help but step on one while you're there," he says. "It's super livable for all lifestyles—it's not just Berghain and partying and doing coke in bathrooms." 
Regardless, Malkmus' grown-up lifestyle didn't keep him from taking advantage of Berlin's vibrant club scene, and his experiences almost had a profound effect on his music. "I would have these epiphanies where I was convinced that I wanted to make electronic music—but only when I was trashed," he says. "Later, I'd realize that, even if I could hear the music in my head, I can't naturally recreate it. It's someone else's game."
So Malkmus is still, for the time being, playing his own game, the latest round of which is his new album with the Jicks, the amazingly dubbed Wig Out at Jagbags, due out early next year. When I say the title aloud, Malkmus laughs heartily and then rattles off a list of could-have-been alternatives: New Lifeboat RulesMorrissey's Trainwrecked Daughter ("too of-the-moment"), New Yoga for Cleavage HoundsSwingers Blowing Freddie, and Chocolate Euros ("but we would've needed a specific album cover for that one"). 
Now that the title's settled, there's just the issue of pinning down exactly what a "jagbag" is. "It's a Chicago term—like a jack-off or a blowhard," explains the singer. "A lighthearted aspersion towards somebody, profanity that's been watered down. You can imagine Archie Bunker saying it to Meathead on 'All in the Family': 'Quit being a jagbag!'"
Malkmus and the Jicks convened in a Dutch farmhouse near Amsterdam, self-producing the album alongside Remko Schouten, a sound man who's worked steadily with Malkmus since the Pavement days. It also finds Malkmus working with some new collaborators in ex-Joggersdrummer Jake Morris (who fills in for since-departed Jicks member Janet Weiss) and Fran Healy of Britpop survivors Travis, who he calls "the coolest, nicest guy in music." A literal neighbor in Berlin—"he lived 30 feet away"—Healy assisted in recording Malkmus' vocals for the album, and introduced him to a trio of "German dads" that contribute horn parts on a few of Jagbags' sprightlier songs.
The record is his sixth with the Jicks, which means Malkmus has now made more LPs with his current band than he did with Pavement. The good-natured surprise in his voice when I bring this fact up speaks to just how little time he actually spends ruminating on the past. "It all feels like a continuum to me," he says. "The songs just go on, and they've all been made with friends. I'm almost at the point where if I covered Pavement songs with the Jicks, it wouldn't be like I was cheating on Pavement." Still, there are limitations: "We'd never play'Summer Babe'. That's such a youthful song, so it's not very age-appropriate."
"At the time, the 90s were so much about cynicism and irony,
but in some ways it was more idealistic and innocent
than mainstream indie trends of today."
Pitchfork: When you write songs now, are you focused more on music or lyrics?
Stephen Malkmus: The most important thing about a song that I write is if I can sing it in a good way—if I can pull off sounding like the band I think I'm in. Lyrics are more placeholders at this point. You hear a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, where Anthony Kiedis is singing, "What I know is I don't know/ I'm just looking for a place to go," and it sounds like placeholder lyrics; you see those lyrics on the karaoke screen and you think that the band maybe thought he would change them at some point, but he just kept them. They're probably like, "Hold on a minute, I worked really hard on this bass part." But that Red Hot Chili Peppers song works and it's a good song because when you're hearing it in your car, you're like, [sings] "I don't know a place to go, ba de ba ba ba ba ba be ba ba."
Pitchfork: Structurally, your albums with the Jicks have alternated between jammy and more concise, but this is your second concise record in a row.
SM: Well, this album's going to be pared down to 40 minutes, and I could see even that length being a chore to listen to for this type of music. If you're going to make jammy music, it has to be background-y to an extreme degree, as if it's not trying to grab your attention. If I wanted to make something jammy now, I'd have to be totally zoned out into a haze, but for this album I made melodies that just get in your head a little more annoyingly, or pleasingly. It's not coffee-shop music, though. I hate that.
Pitchfork: You've lived in Portland for quite a while now. How do you feel about the city at this point, especially in comparison to Berlin?
SM: It's a small town that's gone through some changes since the days of Elliott Smith and Doc Martens—for the better, I would say. I like the Williamsburg-ification of Portland: food trucks, education, creativity. Berlin is totally good for families, though. It's an awesome place to be, and I could have seen myself staying there. All of our things were still back in Portland, though, as well as my band, so we got cold feet about making a full commitment to Berlin.
Experiencing true organic change is not just vaudeville, like Bowie—it's very difficult to manifest. You need a sea change, as Beck would say. You have to hit a rock bottom or a sky-high epiphany, but I don't really run that way. I'm more in the "know thyself" camp.
Pitchfork: How do you feel about 1990s indie culture now that it's far enough in the rearview that it could be treated with reverence, in a museum-like way.
SM: It's human nature to pick over the bones of past eras. Perhaps you can look back and think, "Man, Nirvana was rad. There's no bands like that anymore." At the time it was so much about cynicism and irony, but in some ways it was more idealistic and innocent than mainstream indie trends of today. Of course, there's still peace punks, and Fugazi's influence is still felt. Musically, things are a little cleaner to me now, though—there's more "hey!"s.
There's so many millions of 7" records and albums, too, and I don't see them rising to the top in a unique way. A lot of mainstream indie these days is too many steps removed from rock bands like the Velvet Underground—but that's just our era now.

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