With the release of their newest album, a conspicuously-titled package of straight-ahead sardonic indie-rock known as Wig Out at Jagbags, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks have now been together longer and released more albums than Pavement have. It’s an odd thing to wrap your head around, to say the least, and even Malkmus himself has a hard time believing it.
“Pavement just still seems like it was longer,” he says. “Like, I know that objectively it’s not longer, but I always just feel like Pavement was a much longer time. Maybe as time passes… I don’t know if it’s the world we live in, but time seems to blow by faster than it used to. I think we’re much more distracted these days, our minds are just so ADD’d out that we don’t really pay attention to time anymore.”
Though he admits that this bizarre time dilation also might have something to do with the absolutely insane amount of shows that Pavement played throughout their career, and the fact that they were effectively under a microscope, as all the eyes of the indie world were glued to watching their progress.
“With the Jicks, it’s like, we want to keep our profile going, we want to stick around, we just don’t want to have to play like 300 days out of 365, you know? Maybe that’s why Pavement seems longer.”
Malkmus talks very matter-of-factly about his time in Pavement. It’s clear that he’s got no reservations about it, but there’s a hint of weariness to his voice when he mentions it, a kind of at arm’s length distance to the way he describes it. He admits he deals with less industry bullshit now than when Pavement were dominating the scene, but also admits that sometimes it feels like he’s just dealing with a different kind with the Jicks.
“When Pavement was starting to hit it big, there was all this media fascination. There was a lot to do and sometimes when we were talking to people that didn’t know what we were about it was like a job. Like, you have to defend or explain yourself in a certain palatable way,” explains Malkmus. “Now, it’s all a little more contained, I suppose. We have that leverage, in a way. ”
That leverage has allowed Malkmus and the Jicks to churn out a wealth of great albums laced with ironic pop-culture jabs and blistering guitar work. While Wig Out At Jagbags retains the winking, ironic glare of their past work, there’s something much more concise and focused about this record, moving away from the wandering jams and hazy murk of their early records.
“Well, Joanna [Bolme, bassist for the Jicks] was talking and I think I agree, when you do long songs when you play live, it’s kind of… well, it’s tiring. It’s not really inspiring to play long jams night after night. We’re primarily a live band, so if you’re moving through lots of territory it’s just way more fun, and it’s more effective. I guess this album was informed by our live set, I guess, which is what is most important now. When you’re living the band life, you spend 98 per cent more time touring than you do recording. I mean the record will long outlast the band in the long run, but in the short run, it’s the live thing that’s most important.”
Despite Malkmus’ heavy reliance on the energy and raggedness that comes with their energetic live shows, he admits that for some time when he was living in Berlin with his wife and kids, he would often get wasted in discotheques and for a while was kind of convinced he was going to do an electronic record. Eventually the idea was dropped, but Malkmus admits it’s still an idea that’s bubbling away on the back burner.
“I felt, thus far, I didn’t have the chops for it yet, I think you need chops to make an electronic record and make it good. I’m just not gonna put something out that I don’t think is very good. I felt just like a child learning how to write cursive, so it was just not a thing that ended up transpiring. It’s like, when you see like an elderly lady trying to dress like she’s competing with her child to look hot,” explains Malkmus, chuckling. “So, yeah, it’s like, maybe I don’t have to go outside like that. But, maybe down the road, if I figure it out, you know, if I watch some more YouTube tutorial videos. Maybe, I’ll put one out. I have like no one to help me, it’s like learning another language,” he says.
While in the early days of the Jicks, Malkmus was very careful never to retread old ground by playing Pavement songs, he’s since relaxed his stance a bit and their live show frequently incorporates old Pavement staples. It’s a process that Malkmus says helps him get a bit of distance from the whole thing.
“I don’t know, it’s just not really weird to me to play them anymore. It’s just a matter of time really, and you start to get farther away from it all. The songs just become disembodied songs after a while, you kind of try and sever that connection,” he says. “Our show is, you know, in the show we just wanna make it memorable for everyone, we want them to like it and have a good time, we know people love and appreciate those songs, so, yeah – it’s fun if everyone’s having fun.”
When asked if there’s any Pavement song he’d ever be reluctant to bust out again, Malkmus starts to say he doesn’t think so before he has to field a call from his vet about his aging cat’s tooth surgery.
“How many teeth did she have to get out? Oh, wow, they were pretty gnarly huh? Oh, yeah, but I bet it looks kind of spooky when you see her,” he says, chuckling.
After the call, he admits that there’s not really any Pavement song he thinks would be off limits. “I don’t know, maybe the ones that aren’t that great – but that’s not because they’re like taboo or anything, I just wouldn’t want to play them if they kinda suck. That’s kind of a bummer.”
Catch Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at Republik (Calgary) on April 7 and at the Starlite Room (Edmonton) on April 8.
By Nick Laugher
Photos: Leah Nash