Interview – Stephen Malkmus

Stephen Malkmus needs no introduction.

But for any millennialsĀ that don’t give a damn about anything that happened more than 20 minutes ago, here’s the jist of it.

Malkmus used to be the frontman for a band called Pavement. They were amazing. They pretty much invented indie rock, which is where you get your Chet Fakers and your Courtney Barnetts from.

Here’s a sample:

Pretty terrific, right?!

Malkmus quit Pavement about 16 years ago, and apart from a reunion tour back in 2010, has spent the majority of his time since 1999 performing and recording with his band The Jicks.

Stephen and The Jicks are currently in Australia to play a series shows, including a spot on the fantasgreatĀ Golden Plains festival line-up this weekend, so we caught up with him on the telephone a couple weeks back to chat about it.

Although he sounded pretty dozy after a day of skiing, he still managed to talk between yawns about the band’s scheduled gig at Melbourne Zoo, heckling Nirvana, ex-bandmates talking shit about you publicly, and why he doesn’t mind playing old Pavement hits.

[V]: Are you home in Portland?

SM: Sort of. Not far. Like in a little holiday place. We went skiing today. That was pretty cool.

You’re about to ditch winter and return to Australia for Golden Plains festival, as well as some of your own shows. Are you excited about that?

Totally. It’s going to be fun.

Apart from Golden Plains, which in itself is a fairly boutique affair, you’re playing some pretty intimate, small venues. Is that the kind of place you prefer to play these days?

Meh, doesn’t matter. Real big ones aren’t always fun. I’ll play wherever. If it sounds good in the room, I’m into it. If the PA’s alright and there’s a dressing room and stuff like that. Otherwise I don’t really care how big the place is. We’ve played some kind of gross places in England, that was kind of like whatever. The CBGBs of Liverpool or something and [puts on a sarcastic voice] that was punk rock. That was cool, but I don’t really want to go back [laughs].

You’re also set to perform at Melbourne Zoo. Bit of a weird venue. Are you interested to see what that’s going to be like?

That’s pretty strange, yeah. I thought it was just a venue called that but they were like “literally, you’re in the zoo.” That’s cool. We have in our town some summer program of zoo shows and – I don’t know. Weird Al is playing one of them. Weird Al Yankovic, you know who he is?

Yeah, definitely.

If he can do it, we can do it. I like to see strange wildlife, besides our fans.

I went to a similar gig a few weeks ago and it’s a strange setting. You get to hear a lot of weird animal noises during the show.

That will be fun. Anything different at this point is welcome. Again, I can paint a picture of it being un-fun too, if things go wrong. But I come in with an open heart.

Well the strangest thing I saw at my zoo gig was the smokers being all caged up. They were the most endangered species there, fenced in away from everyone else.

Right! That’s true. I didn’t think of that. They’re also going broke from the $30 cigarettes there.

Please don’t get me started on that.


These will be the final shows for this record. How are you feeling about the songs this far into the touring cycle? Are you tired of them yet?

It’s cool, yeah. It’s fun to play. There’s some difficulty in bringing back up some things to what it was after a couple of months break. There’s a lot of muscle memory. It’s definitely not boring. We don’t play that many shows. In Pavement we did sometimes. We would just really play a lot and I would feel a bit numbed by the repetition. But yeah, it’s alright and plus we have a big back catalogue and we know people just want to hear all the good tunes they like. They want to hear this one and just see us be good. That’s how I treat it. I go see a band, I don’t really care what they play if they’re good. Like, I went to see this band Deerhoof from San Francisco and I really didn’t know any of their new songs, or their album, or their last three albums, but it was amazing, you know? They just played so well. It was like, I don’t care what you play, just keep playing.

It’s the true sign of a good band, right?

Yeah, I guess so. You can tell when it’s good.

I did read on Twitter that you’ve got a bunch of new songs ready to play. Can you tell me much about those tunes and will you be threading any of those into your Aussie shows?

Mmm, now and then. We’re not just gonna do all – well, now that you mentioned we’re playing small venues maybe we will, because it will just be our core fans. But yeah bands get pretty gassed about their new stuff. That’s how we are, like “look at our new show,” but we also know children all look alike to people who aren’t theirs, so we won’t bore you with it too much. We’ll mix it up.

That being said do you have plans to go back into the studio soon?

Yeah probably in May, we’re talking. That’s coming up pretty soon. I’m working on some stuff by myself, some electronic things for fun. No real drums, just electronic drums. But we’ll see where that goes. I gotta see if it’s good. I’m just taking chances right now.

Do you feel pressure to out-do Wig Out At Jagbags with the next album name?

Oh thanks. I like the title. I think I can do it. I think I’ve got a pretty good chance to make a good album title, just objectively looking at the competition these days [laughs].

Especially when they’re just using maths signs as album names.

Yeah, I can hold my own in that way.

You guys still perform the occasional Pavement song, which I’m sure is thrilling for the audience, but what are your feelings around it? Is it kind of like you’re being asked to make out with your high school sweetheart in front of your wife?

It’s not really, no. If my wife was into it, it would be like that, I guess. If she was like “Yeah, I really want to see when you kiss somebody else,” because the Jicks are like that. They like to play those songs. We all do. Looking forward, that’s what keeps us alive, but we like to play those songs and we like to make people happy and we know where the bread is buttered. People like that, you know? It’s alright. We’ll play a tune like that; I guess we don’t do it every gig but it’s always there. It’s not part of our duty either. Sometimes it’s fun. We were doing it our last tour. I think people like it.

There were a few news stories going around today based on an interview Bob Nastanovich [former Pavement member] did where he talked about recent attempts to get a new Pavement reunion happening and that those pitches are usually the others approaching you and you saying no. Does that give you the shits when he talks about that stuff publicly?

[Laughs] No, not really. It’s no big deal. Bob’s a friend of mine and he’s just being honest. I feel bad if I don’t know the level that the guys in the band… how important it is that we do it. You know? I feel bad about that sometimes because I want them to be happy and relive and do something they’re really proud of. But if you’re not feeling it, you don’t want to do something like that to the audience. It’s just going to be fake. I value the history of the band and what’s gone on up to this point. I think it’s special enough and I don’t want to take a chance at fucking it up.

He did tell a pretty funny story about being at an early Nirvana gig with you and Dave Birman and Dave heckling the band.

Yeah, I was there.

What memories do you have of that night?

I remember they just took too long to come on, the band. It was getting on around 2am and yeah, I know we’re supposed to be young hipster people that want to stay there all night but when you’re in a really crowded club and they’re playing bad music like the Pyramid [the famous New York club where Nirvana played their first NYC gig], you’re just like, “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.” So we were just like a little bit fed up with everyone there being a little precious and some heckling started and I really don’t think they’d been heckled before. It was New York, they were really nervous and excited about their New York show because probably, like, Thurston Moore was there or something and they were probably nervous [laughs]. I don’t know, they did react to it. I don’t remember it exactly like Bob. I remember they were good though, when they played. I enjoyed it. They sounded good when it finally got going. It was the Bleach record I remember. It was pretty cool. Yeah, I thought they sounded pretty good for a three-piece.

I watched you and the Jicks performing for KEXP radio online and you were wearing a Speedy Ortiz shirt. Are you a big fan of them and that East coast punk/indie scene?

I like them. We toured with them. I like Sadie the lead singer and bass player Darl is a cool guy. I do like them. They’ve got a new thing coming out soon, I haven’t heard it yet but I’m excited to.

And just finally, you’re a man that’s lived a pretty fascinating life. Have you ever considered penning a memoir?

Yeah, lightly. I’d want to write it myself completely, so that means it might be bad. It wouldn’t be great, so I don’t know. But I think it would depend maybe, like how much money someone offered me with an advance to be honest [laughs]. Then I might consider it but I’m not dying to tell my story. But I kind of would with somebody telling me what they could do for it, I might do it, I hate to say. But I’m not the only one that thinks that way [laughs]. I like my amount of publicity as it is.

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