Following the Great Pavement Reunion of 2010, it was anyone’s guess what Stephen Malkmus would do next. Lucky for fans, that next step took the form of Mirror Traffic, Malkmus’s fifth, and undoubtedly most Pavement-esque record with The Jicks. In addition to being more hook-driven than 2008’s Real Emotional Trash, Mirror Traffic feels like a more laid-back record. The jams are shorter and sweeter, the lyrical deliveries are catchy and imperfect, and the songs jump around without ever sounding too experimental or cerebral.
Fittingly, Mirror Traffic also finds Malkmus & The Jicks joining forces with songwriter-turned-producer Beck Hansen, who manned the control board for the record. Himself a child of the weirder side of the ’90s alt-rock scene, Beck proved himself a perfect pairing for Malkmus’s signature smart-slacker rock style and ultimately helped to capture one of the band’s best records to date.
I recently caught up with Jicks bassist Joanna Bolme to talk about the album, Beck, and the departure of drummer (and fellow Quasi bandmate) Janet Weiss.
You guys are just one day into the tour — how’s it going? I’m in Wyoming, so reception’s a little dodgy. We just played Salt Lake City last night, though. It was great. It was fun.
And Stephen is living in Berlin now. How does that work out for the band? Well, he flew in a few days before, and we played. It’s fine. We sort of work in reverse anyway; we rehearsed a lot before he left for Berlin. We’ve toured a few times behind this record. It just takes a couple days of playing together to get used to it. He’s just sort of jetlagged for the first couple of days, but then we’re right back at it.
I want to talk a bit about the record. How did you guys decide on calling it Mirror Traffic? Well, it wasn’t the first pick. We were actually going to call the record L.A. Guns because we went to L.A. and recorded in a proper studio. We felt like session musicians, so it kind of became this joke, like “oh, we’re the hired guns — the L.A. Guns.” When we told the label that they got a little worried that we might get sued by the actual L.A. Guns — I think there are even two versions of that band now. We ended up needing to change the title at the last minute, and we had a list of things. I think we all just thought [Mirror Traffic] conjured up the most interesting imagery and ideas. It wasn’t the first pick, but it is a good title. I like it a lot.
Did you guys know from the start that you wanted to bring in a producer? We decided when we started working on these songs that we wanted to do something different. We made the decision to work with a producer, but we didn’t really have any idea who. Then, coincidentally, Beck called Steve and said that he’d been doing a lot of recording and if Steve ever wanted to do a project together, he’d be interested. That’s how that happened; it was just sort of serendipitous.
How did he compare to past producers you’ve worked with? I haven’t worked with that many producers, actually. Most of the records I’ve worked on have been with a real good engineer and a band that sort of coproduces alongside them. But I have been around other people when they’ve been recording with producers. The main thing I noticed working with Beck is that he seemed a lot more motivated by capturing a certain vibe, as opposed to making sure it’s technically right on the money. If anybody hit a wonky note or something, it absolutely did not matter. He was more concerned that the energy was right. He didn’t have us play things over a million times and sort of beat it to death. I think the fact that he’s a musician who’s recorded so many records himself — he’s pretty aware of what it’s like to be on the other side. He’s also pretty creative and interesting. I think he was coming at it from a musical standpoint, rather than a production end. He sort of picked up that hat after we put the music down to tape.
Were there any tracks that really took shape or changed form in the studio? Definitely. For “Stick Figures,” we didn’t have much of a plan. It went from this short little sparse riff to this kind of longer epic song. I didn’t really know in the skeleton form what that was going to be, and now it’s one of my favorite songs on the record. “No One Is (As I Are Be)” is another one where it was late and we were all burnt, but we were like, “Oh, let’s just try one more thing.” That one was recorded pretty much live, and it came out amazing. … There were a couple of things that started out and I didn’t really know what to think. But that was the other thing about having a producer — you don’t have to think that far ahead, really. All you have to do is play. You’re not constantly thinking about the next move, or having to go back and forth from the studio to the control room. You just trust that that person in the control room knows what they’re doing.
Was there any stuff on the record you thought was really out there? There’s a French horn on it. [Laughs.] We definitely used some instrumentation that was not common to us. I played a lot on this bass — it was a Mustang bass with flat-wound strings, very Carol Kaye Wrecking Crew-style, which is not my sound at all, but it sounded good in the songs. I was happy to go with it. There were some weird keyboards. We got a slide guitar player in there. There was some weird stuff going on.
With the departure of Janet, you’re now the lone female Jick. Has it changed the band dynamic at all? Well, I was the lone female Jick for a long time before she joined the band, and I’m kind of like a dude. [Laughs.] It hasn’t really changed too much for me. I’ve been in all-girl bands and all-guy bands, and oftentimes it ends up kind of the same, really. Being in an all-girl band is a little more intense in a way.
How would you compare touring with The Jicks to hitting the road with Quasi? With Quasi, it’s just three people, and with this band, we have a crew, so the traveling party is bigger. I think people don’t get in each other’s heads as much [with The Jicks]. There’s more people to bounce thoughts off of. And I don’t have to carry as much stuff. [Laughs.]
What have you guys been listening to in the van? In the van, we’ve mostly been listening to Scharpling and Wurster podcasts from “The Best Show” and Bob Dylan-themed podcasts. The music varies because we all kind of have our iPods out and are deejaying for each other. There’s been quite a mix of stuff being played in the car, but the podcasts have been popular thus far.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks play a 21+ show at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Monday, February 27, at 8 p.m. with openers Nurses. For tickets and info, call (805) 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com.