Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
Stephen Malkmus is an honest dude. Some might say cynical. Others would say his seemingly casual and carefree demeanour wreaks of a jaded edge. Yet at the end of the day, the 46-year-old slacker-rock pioneer is simply a man trying to make an honest buck. His time spent in seminal acts as Pavement and the Silver Jews vaulted him into the ranks of the hipster untouchable, though Malkmus has never been content to rest on his laurels.
Instead, Malkmus has churned out five records in ten years with his band, The Jicks, including 2011’s Mirror Traffic. Laden with concise pop hooks, Mirror Traffic also features a palpable sense of honesty within the lyrics. Malkmus insists that he’s not at a place where he can write without fear or reprisal, so much as he’s a man who lives in the moment.
“I’d like to think I can call a spade a spade, but when a lot of the lyrics ended up sounding a little bittersweet, I sometimes feel bad,” he says on the phone from his Berlin home. “I’m not always in that state of mind, I just get driven there when I’m writing songs by myself. When I sing some of these lyrics, I find myself looking back and saying, ‘Why did I have to write that? I’m not feeling that way anymore. I’m actually in a pretty good mood!’”
Though Malkmus speaks in an expectedly slow, sarcastic manner throughout our 20 minute conversation, a sense of optimism underscores most of what he says.
“I’ll write songs about relationships that only describe the complications that can arise from relationships, and I don’t really feel that way anymore,” he says pointedly. It’s a thinly veiled reference to Forever 28, one of the stronger cuts from Mirror Traffic that showcases Malkmus’s consistent ability to mash sunny riffs with painfully direct lyrics. A harsh take on love, Malkmus isn’t yet ready to let down his sarcastic guard.
“I can deal with [Forever 28] because it’s a really unreliable narrator. That person is full of shit in a way. A lot of what he’s saying is dark. The point of it was to show off how that person’s in denial a bit. But maybe I could be more direct, and just say, (mocks singing) ‘All you need is love…’”
It takes some cajoling, but Malkmus eventually gives insight into how he looks back on his 20s. Twenty-eight was indeed an important year for Malkmus, as it was then when Pavement released their famed and most accessible release, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Of course, relationships within Pavement have since strained.
“I think about how I felt back then,” he says. “It’s not easy growing up or anything. There’s all sorts of defense mechanisms. It could be when you’re 18 or 28 and you’re just a jerk. I’m not into Christian guilt, but you can always look back on who you were and perhaps think about having been a better person. It’s not the end of the world or anything. And writing songs about it, maybe that’s part of the problem.”
So Malkmus avoids love songs like the plague, instead maintaining an sense of guile. He’s not totally opposed to change however. For Mirror Traffic, Malkmus enlisted the aid of Beck as a producer, whose obtuse lyrics didn’t exactly rub off on Malkmus. However, the end result did prove how important it is for Malkmus to continue living as he does – incredibly honest and in the moment.
“I didn’t really know what was going to happen when I went with him. We recorded a lot of stuff live off the floor, and we played up to certain strengths that he perceived in the band, like our spontaneity and looseness.
“We can play our instruments pretty well,” he says, tongue-in-cheek. “In the end it became a record that was more 'in the moment' than some I’ve done. When you compare someone like him to me, we’re going to sound more…tightly loose,” he jokes.
Malkmus’ oxymoronic take on the band's approach on record takes a backseat to his noted belief on how Mirror Traffic will translate in a live setting. Mirror Traffic has seen it’s fair share of the touring circuit since its 2011 release, and Malkmus understands how amplified the record can get with age.
“When we do ‘em on the road, things get a little more rocking. Not to be too specific about the album, but there’s this one song, Stick Figures In Love that’s a little miniature-sounding on the record. It’s deliberately small town. And live, it’s more of a whirlwind. When you attempt to do that on record, it sounds a little dated or clichéd, so we backed off from that a bit when recording. They sound good, but there’s no big drums or big reverbs. Live, it gets into Pearl Jam territory.”
It comes as an immediate surprise to hear Malkmus compare The Jicks to an act that Pavement often stood as the antithesis for. Yet by the end of our conversation, Malkmus proves that if honesty is a currency, he’s spoiled with riches. There’s no hesitation when it comes to discussing the effect Pavement’s legacy has had on his works. While that would normally be a sensitive issue for some performers of a genre-defining act, Malkmus doesn’t care. He’s too busy living in the moment.
“I don’t know what the Pavement thing really did for The Jicks. We just get over it and keep going. We want people just to hear the jams as they are. It becomes pretty apparent when you see us live that we have our own thing going on.”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS roll into the Corner Hotel on Wednesday October 3.