Mikael and the Ess-Dog

Stephen Malkmus riffs on reunion tours and Scrabble partners

"Mikael?" the voice on the phone asks.

"Uh, yeah," I answer hesitantly, suddenly thinking hard, trying to remember if I've forgotten to pay my phone bill or call my dad on his birthday.

"It's not really that bad a thing, in some ways," Stephen Malkmus says, referring to the breakup of his former band, Pavement. "It was great and a great time, but enough's enough.
"It's not really that bad a thing, in some ways," Stephen Malkmus says, referring to the breakup of his former band, Pavement. "It was great and a great time, but enough's enough.

"It's Steve." A beat. "How's it going?"

That's how Stephen Malkmus introduces himself on the phone when you have an interview with him because he's just made a new record that bears his name and a funny picture of him in an Underdog T-shirt on the cover. It's possible that that's how he always introduces himself, but I wouldn't know, as this is the only time I've ever talked to him, and he happens to have released the just-described record about a month ago. It's a good one, quite a lot like the ones he used to make when he fronted Pavement, the sort-of-California-based indie-rock band he started in 1989 with friend Scott Kannberg that led to critical fortunes and artistic ones, too.

"I like the picture of you on the cover of the album," I tell him instead of introducing myself.

"Yeah, it's pretty funny." A beat. "Don't let your girlfriend see it."


Dallas Observer: So I thought this record was supposed to come out under the name of the Jicks.

Stephen Malkmus: Yeah, well, you were just supposing too much there. The band is called the Jicks, the three of us who made the album. I'm a Jick, and they're Jicks, but we just figured, "Well, they're gonna use my name anyway."

DO: Did you have to convince the other Jicks that they're important?

SM: Well, a little bit. I was like, "My face is on the cover, and it's all about me a bit," and they were like, "That's cool; we understand. Just get us out of Portland." And they've got their own things going on, too. They've worked with this guy Elliott Smith and stuff, and he's even more of a stage hog than me, so I didn't feel that bad. At least I let them play on the record.

DO: Why Portland?

SM: Hey, man, good town.

DO: I've only been there once. It was raining.

SM: Yeah, it's not that great. But it's solidly good.

DO: When did you move there?

SM: Like four years ago. [Laughs.]

DO: Oh.

SM: Yeah, I've been there awhile, but I didn't really admit to myself that I lived there for like three years, 'cause I was touring a lot, and I was like, "Fuck this small-town shit. New York rules." Or something. But now I'm kind of into it, sort of.

DO: Did you know these Jicks before you moved there?

SM: No, I met 'em through the grapevine. Whatever. They're like ticks: They get on your legs and you can't get 'em off. No, they're just around--friends of friends that I met eventually. John Moen, the drummer, he's probably the nicest person I've ever met.

DO: Yeah?

SM: Almost. I'm trying to think. I think he is. And he's funny. And the bassist Joanna Bolme is not as nice, but she's good at Scrabble, and she's cool, for sure. They're both like Portland veterans, like born and raised there and stuff. I took the real Oregonians, 'cause I'm a fake, you know? Californians are all fakes.

DO: Which reminds me: Is Pavement over?

SM: Why did you have to ask that? Fuck you.

DO: Come on. I need a quote.

SM: Yeah, it's over. It's gotta end sometime. It's not really that bad a thing, in some ways. It was great and a great time, but enough's enough.

DO: You know it was over when you made the last record?

SM: Fairly certain. It's all of our faults, probably mostly my fault. It's just like, "That's cool; we did a great job, but no thanks to another record--like, ever." We'll go on tour again maybe like in 10 years.

DO: Yeah?

SM: Yeah. If they wanna do it, I'll go. I mean, I haven't talked to the other guys about it, but 10 years, you know?

DO: It wouldn't be depressing?

SM: Depressing? Well, you don't know how depressing it is not to. I mean, you wonder why all these old guys keep going out on the road; it's 'cause they don't know what else to do with themselves. I don't know. I mean, if we're not gonna be pushing it in everyone's faces every year or something, if it's just like one tour once.

DO: Did knowing the band was pretty much over affect the making of Terror Twilight?

SM: I don't think so. I mean, I was just trying to make the best record I could with [producer] Nigel [Godrich], you know, and I don't think anyone was really worried about that. Hopefully people were clear. Some people might be like, "I didn't even know for sure until I saw it written," you know? It's just hard to say it to someone's face: "It's definitely over."

DO: After that happened, was the idea for this record pretty much just, "I want to make a record, so I'll just make one"?

SM: Pretty much. [Laughs.] I like your simple, Simpsons-style logic. Yeah, I was ready to go. I had the tunes and the people and the time, so it was all systems go. Everyone [at Matador] is feeling like, "Yeah, it's a really good record. If it were a Pavement record, it'd definitely sell more," so I'm out here giving it the college try. But I was making the record kind of just...I paid for it myself; I was maybe gonna just put it out myself initially, but it kind of grew into something a little bit more.

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