Interview: Behind the curtain with Stephen Malkmus
Stephen Malkmus needs no introduction in this town. A former UVA student, he co-founded the influential indie band Pavement in 1989 as a studio project that developed such a rabid following that it eventually embarked on several tours throughout the 1990s (and even a reunion tour last year).
But after Pavement he moved on to the Jicks, whose new album Mirror Traffic puts technical proficiency to use on shorter, more pop-based numbers than its predecessor, 2008's Real Emotional Trash.
The new album, is "a little bit catchy and funny," Malkmus says. "Light and lively to a certain extent, but also there are some morose things in there, mid-tempo morose."
For the latest production, the secret sauce is Beck, another star of the '90s alt-rock scene, and the collaboration produces a sound that's tasteful and accessible without sacrificing any of the verve listeners would expect from either artist.
"He," says Malkmus, "was into a truthful '60s sound mixed with a little bit of frequencies that weren't heard then, low-end frequencies and spikier guitar tones that could almost be OutKast." More from our interview below:
The Hook: How did you come to work with Beck?
Stephen Malkmus: He's an old bro from the trenches of the alternative wars. He wasn't bringing the same clichés as the heavy metal or the hard rock– the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Later on, lo and behold, he's a producer and more of a homebody producer guy. He called me up and said, "I have time for you if you've got time for me."
The Hook: Was it liberating for you to have him producing?
Stephen Malkmus: You could call it "liberating" or you could call it "less work." I'm just a player. I'm just a singer. I don't have to worry about the other stuff. It's shunting off some responsibilities. It's nice to have someone in there saying, "It's all going to be alright, son. I got this."
The Hook: Is this a new phase or a response to the previous album?
Stephen Malkmus: I think so. Before then, I was into the psych-prog odyssey songs and I did that on the last one. I wanted there to be a couple more angular songs on there that I used to do. It doesn't have to have each song have 14 turns to do that. It's making shorter songs, but still weird. Maybe like Safe As Milk by Beefheart.
The Hook: Did you change your songwriting approach?
Stephen Malkmus: Not really. It's still the same game: try to write some things that are catchy in a certain way. On the last album there was more attempt to be throbbing and orgasmic and heavy. This time it was a little more "be snappy."
The Hook: Does it bother you to hear this one compared to your Pavement work?
Stephen Malkmus: No. The party line is that the Pavement stuff is my best stuff, so to compare it to that is okay as long as it's favorable. I'd rather have it be compared to myself than to say it's a rip-off of Vampire Weekend or a chillwave band or something. In the end, you're referential to yourself. It means you have something you did that's original.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks perform at the Jefferson Theater on 9/30. $15-$18, 9pm.
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