US - Oregon - Full Moon 55 - 04/08/01
Steve Malkmus & Jicks
- speaking with Stephen
Solo, but not alone
The self titled album out now on Matador and Domino
may be Stephen Malkmus' first solo effort, but of course he's not alone. He even assembled a
real band called Jicks again, with former Dharma Bums sticksman John Moen (aka Johnny Jick) on
drums and JoJo Jick, known to her mother as Joanna Bolme (Calamity Jane, Elliott Smith, The
Spinanes) on bass and backing vocals. The record is the best thing Stephen has done in years and
it also marks the end of Pavement, who - in retrospect - probably should've called it a day
before their kinda disappointing last record and the very boring tour that followed. Now Stephen
is back on track again and eager to take his slighty more 70s rock, slighty less indiecore record
on the road, so expect Stephen to stop by a bar or club near you sometime soon. The last time
I'd seen Stephen before our interview in Cologne, Germany, recently was at an Elliott Smith show
in his current homebase Portland, Oregon, so the first question I fired at him was...
Carsten: Why Portland?
Steve: I was living in New York and I had reasons to go, I was just tired of living
there and I'd just finished this relationship-type thing and I just wanted to go free. I always
liked it out there in Portland climate-wise and it's not so big, even though it's growing a lot
and getting kinda worse and more expensive. It was a step down to a mellower thing. I finally
accepted living there now by making this record, it's about Portland a little bit, not the
record itself, but because of the people that worked on it. The people you eventually meet in
Portland are music people, because they are the only ones over 30 who still go to shows
(laughs). There is real underground feeling and it's communally nice. It's not very competative.
Carsten: Is the Jicks line-up permanent or is that just a one-record-and-maybe-a-tour
kind of thing?
Steve: I do consider it permanent, it's hard to say though. I called the album Stephen
Malkmus instead of Jicks, because I don't wanted to get into this thing where we are
all set in our positions too much, but I'm planning to do another record with them. I don't want
John to be upset if there's a song without drums... he could play guitar or just shake on this
one, y'know? I wanted to make sure that it's that way and you usually don't get that in a "real"
band. It shouldn't be a set band thing. Pavement became that way a bit. As long as we are able
to keep flexibility, I am loyal to them.
Carsten: You choose semi-famous people for your new project as well, I guess. At
least Joanna is pretty well known over here for writing for "Tape Op", playing in Calamity Jane
(who opened up for Nirvana in South America) and working as the engineer on Elliott Smith's
Steve: Yeah, she used to go out with him, I guess, Elliott Smith fans would know her. I
never mention the Elliott thing to her, because she's sorta mad at him now because they broke
up. She's also a little extra in The Minders, this indierock band from Portland, she's actually
blowing off touring with them to be in my band, which wasn't good and I felt bad about it. She's
in trouble with them now (laughs).
Carsten: Did you get John in trouble for playing with you as well?
Steve: Not too much... maybe with his girlfriend (laughs). He'll be gone for so long when
we tour. He has another band called The Maroons, he's the singer in that band. He also used to be
in the Dharma Bums, this Walkabouts/R.E.M. type band. They were around in the 80s, so he's been
playing for a loooong time, even though he's barely 30. I think he's looking forward to this
year and I think we are all very excited. Eventually they will be in photos and get interviewed
but for now it's just easier for me to come and do everything.
Carsten: On the cover of the album there's a picture of you in Hawaii. You also had
some other ideas, right?
Steve: We wanted to use another one where I have long hair and look like one of the
girls in ABBA or another one that looks like Saturday Night Fever, where I was wearing
this chiffon thing, that should've looked like an old jazz musician on an island, that's why we
wanted to call the album Swedish Reggae, but in the end it seemed to be too funny or
stupid or something. Listening to the record we decided that it was a little bit more serious.
I also realized that for once it didn't have to have a title. I'm not very good at titles either
and I felt that I needed to come up with one every year when I was in Pavement.
Carsten: Even though you said you consider this album to be kind of serious, I
think it sounds much more loose in a 70s kind of way than say, the last Pavement album did. I
wouldn't describe it as THAT serious...
Steve: Yeah, it's not that serious. But when you call it Swedish Reggae, that
sounds like Beck or Ween, just sorta flaky, y'know? And I guess we didn't want to sound flaky
in a way. It's definitely fun and up and I was trying to achieve that. I was feeling that way
but I also knew what I didn't like about the last two Pavement albums.
Carsten: Grandaddy recently covered Here by Pavement and did a pretty good
job. How do you feel about other bands covering your songs? Is that like: Yes, we left some sort
of legacy after all?
Steve: Oh, that's fine! There are these young kids in Japan, too. They made an album of
all different covers and they wanted permission to put it out without publishing things, and
I'd say: Sure! They wanted to do only 500 CDs or something, y'know? It was really funny. They
had these weird translations of the songs. It was so fucked up, man! The picked weird songs,
too! Like the B-side of the single Cut Your Hair. Songs I'd never heard! (laughs) I
didn't even know what they were, you can't even tell until you hear them sing! It's really
Carsten: Talking of cover versions, can we expect some covers when you tour with
Jicks as well?
Steve: We will do a lot off the album, a couple of new songs and a few covers. Maybe
we'll have to play one Pavement song at the end, to make people happy and to get out out town
without getting beaten up!
Photo © Moses Berkson.
Copyright © 2001 Carsten Wohlfeld