Stephen Malkmus Has No Problem With Houston, He Swears
Stephen Malkmus (right) and the Jicks
Photos by Leah Nash/Courtesy of Matador Records
For the guy widely known for putting "slacker-rock" on the musical map, former Pavement front man Stephen Malkmus sure stays busy. His current band, The Jicks -- which formed in 2000, immediately after the demise of '90s indie-rock gods Pavement -- has now released more albums together than the band that preceded them. Released earlier this year, Wig Out at Jagbags marks the Jicks' sixth album.
Whereas relations among Pavement members grew static with time, the Jicks (bassist Joanna Bolme, guitarist Mike Clark, and drummer Jake Morris) appear to function on a different spectrum. Malkmus doesn't overthink why the Jicks have prevailed where Pavement didn't. Mainly, he credits the Jicks' functionality with increased maturity and an eased approach.
"We're older now," he notes during a recent phone call. "So we have more perspective...with Pavement, we tried really hard. We traveled a lot, we pushed our agenda on people -- and that got really exhausting for me. It wasn't fun.
"We don't keep our foot on the gas pedal so hard," he notes of the Jicks' relatively lax attitude. "We try to keep it fun, and we keep the touring schedule light to promote longevity. You burn out in a band if you go too hard.
"When you're 20, you can maybe pull that off," he considers. "Like Ty Segall -- he plays a million shows, but if he keeps touring so much, it's eventually going to come back to bite him."
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Malkmus, now 47, still sounds (and looks) like his '90s-era self. He's blasé yet charming, and coolly confident. Now, however, his experience shows, as he acknowledges the inescapable changes that have materialized over the years.
"[Wig Out track] 'Rumble at the Rainbo' is about a certain kind of nostalgia for music -- even though the song's about punkers instead of us aging indie-rockers," he laughs. "But it's all the same -- eventually, the signifiers become settled and the wrinkles come -- and that's OK. It's part of life."
The slack-rock innovator is, in reality, quite insightful. But Malkmus has always been an anomaly in many ways. He's a pioneering musician, smart-as-a-whip scholar, skilled sports fanatic and noble family man. He's the guy girls have wild crushes on, and the man guys aspire to be like.
Part of that charm can be heard in Malkmus' uniquely witty lyrics, of which there are plenty on Wig Out.
And though he's has never been afraid of picking battles with his lyrics ("Range Life," anyone?), a particularly combative new tune begs some local attention.
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"You have to address 'Houston Hades' when I'm playing a Houston show," he laughs.
Malkmus casts Houston in some questionable light during the track in question, singing: "Houston's Hades for Houston ladies... This town, so impressive from a distance / Listen boy, I'm talking to you."
"First of all," Malkmus begins, "the ladies of Houston shouldn't feel bad, because I'm not really speaking to them. So, half the audience should be on my side," he laughs, hopeful. "That leaves the men of Houston to have to answer to me -- a person who's barely ever been there, who's kind of, like, talking shit."
Don't drop your gloves quite yet, dudes of Houston; there's not much power behind Malkmus' punch.
"I don't want to pick any fights. I know the men of Houston couldn't care less - like Lynyrd Skynyrd didn't care about what Neil Young said in 'Southern Man,'" he compares.
Fans are used to such contentious Malkmus-isms, though it's amusing hearing his explanatory stream of consciousness, and long-winded attempt to come clean.
"I don't mean any ill will," he pledges. "And I'm not saying Houston is hell; it's got its strong points. I'm just saying in the 'love battles,' it can be hell for Houston ladies -- but I'm not taking on the whole city."
With the air now cleared, Malkmus is more than eager to shift gears away from music and discuss his other passion: sports. A former high-school athlete, Malkmus maintains a keen interest in sports, and participates in an online fantasy basketball league.
"The NBA is like a theater show," he beams. "I like those gladiator-style sports, with heroes and villains."
His fantasy team is full of "heroes" of the indie-rock caliber, including Sleater-Kinney (and former Jicks) drummer Janet Weiss and Built to Spill front man Doug Martsch.
Sometimes, Martsch and Malkmus take their games to the court. "Doug's pretty good," Malkmus credits. "He's not tall, so he's at a disadvantage, but he's smooth."
Malkmus' sporting double life takes a back seat for now, while the Jicks tour. Fans who have peeked at recent set lists already know Malkmus has some surprises in store -- though he struggles to think of anything noteworthy, when asked if there's anything he'd like to add.
For the first time during our conversation, he's speechless.
"I don't know what to say," he concludes, finally unveiling a glimmer of slackness. "I have performance anxiety."
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks perform Friday, March 7 at Fitzgerald's with special guests Purling Hiss. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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