Swedish Reggae

Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks Hit the S.B. Pavement

by Charles Donelan

Stephen Malkmus, who will play SOhO on Saturday night with The
Jicks, was the leader of Pavement, the best rock band of the 1990s.
Fine, Nirvana sold way more records, and yes, so did Oasis, but for
legions of college-educated, upper-middle-class rock fans, Pavement
was it — the ultimate matador act, a perfect wonder of
intelligence, credibility, and goofy rock exuberance. That they
managed to stay just shy of crossing over even while producing five
consecutive successful albums between 1992 and 1999 only added to
their indie appeal.

But, just like their big decade, Pavement packed up for good in
1999. Malkmus has since gone on to distinguish himself with a
number of projects, including collaborations with Kim Gordon and
Jim O’Rourke. His main thing since Pavement, however, has always
been The Jicks, which now includes Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney
on drums. Outstanding punk-blues act Entrance will open this
weekend’s show.

When he spoke with me recently from his home in Portland,
Oregon, Malkmus was momentarily distracted when his one-year-old
daughter Lottie tried to eat a glass Christmas tree ornament, but
otherwise was as friendly and expansive as ever, happy to share his
opinions and impressions. Married for the first time in October to
his longtime girlfriend, Jessica Hutchins, Malkmus, his wife, and
daughter live in a house with a small recording studio where he has
been doing work on his last couple of Jicks albums, Pig Lib and
Face the Truth. When he describes the latest version of The Jicks’
sound as “kind of tough,” he definitely means it, but even over
long distance it’s hard not to hear the trace of a smile behind
those words. What follows is an edited version of our
conversation.

JicksMain_photoby_John_Clar.jpgWhat’s going on? Today
has been a dad day for me. Lottie and I ate some PB and J, and then
we went to the library and got some books. You know — the finer
things in life.

How well do you know Santa Barbara? Oh, pretty
well. I’ve been to some parties in Isla Vista, but that was a while
ago. I remember it as being fairly decadent. Am I thinking of the
right place?

Decadent? Isla Vista? Yes, you’re thinking of
the right place. I also have a sister who lives in Ventura, and
some other relatives who will come to the show, so that’s fun. Do
you surf?

Me? A little bit, but not too well. Why? I’ve
got a cousin who bought a stake in Hollister Ranch just so that he
could surf there. It’s all he cares about.

Wow. I’ve never been to Hollister Ranch, but I hear it’s
pretty great.
You know, they don’t necessarily make
musicians as good as they like to think, the surfers. It’s not like
an automatic thing, that if you are a good surfer then you can just
go ahead and play music.

Ouch, snap! Are you maybe thinking of Jack
Johnson?
No, not Jack. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be a
snob about it. It’s just that I think music is maybe a little more
difficult than that, and maybe sometimes requires a little more of
a struggle, that’s all. Actually, Jack Johnson is overwhelmingly
nice. I met him backstage a couple of years ago when we were
playing on the same bill at a festival, and he rolled up on me with
a big smile and said, “Stephen Malkmus, I know your cousin. We grew
up together in Hawai‘i.” And he was right — I do have a cousin from
Hawai‘i, and he had been telling me about Jack for years, so how
could I deny it? He’s friends with my cousin, for real, so, you
know, that’s it, he’s got me. And his approach really was just so
warm. I mean, how could anyone not like that?

I understand. Is there anything you want to remember or
discuss from Pavement or back when you were starting out?

Yes. The thing about music is that it really gives back the effort
you put into it — there’s always been great personal value in it
for me. When it’s good, the music really makes the whole slog it
takes to get things together worth it. As far as other people’s
music, there were things that helped me stay interested early on,
like certain REM albums I listened to in the 1980s and thought,
“These songs are good, I want to do something like this.”

You’re a good writer yourself. I appreciate your
lyrics — they’re always really about something
. Thanks. I
try. That’s what I am working on right now, lyrics. The music is
good; I just gotta get the lyrics more together.

I’m sure you will. Thanks Stephen, and see you in a few
weeks.
Yes. See you at SOhO.

4•1•1 Stephen Malkmus and The
Jicks play SOhO this Saturday, January 13 at 9 p.m.

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