Tag Archives: Stephen Malkmus

Archive: Stephen Malkmus interview, 2008


This is the direct transcript of a twenty-six minute conversation I had with Stephen Malkmus in June 2008. It was for an Analogue piece, and you can read the polished, non-Q&A format version at the Analogue site. Alternately, if you hoard magazines as much as I do and you passed by a magazine rack in August 08, you could seek out your physical copy of Issue 4, with Times New Viking on the cover.

The reason I’m posting this, as well as just for the sake of posting something, is that it’s probably my favourite interview I’ve done, along with Vampire Weekend. Not necessarily that it’s a great interview or anything. Just that hanging out and talking about music with the guy who wrote some of the best albums ever is about the best way imaginable to spend an evening.

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The Year. 15-11.

15. Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion
Model Citizen
A disclaimer: I know the production is dodgy. I know Something Global sounds bizarrely like Avril Lavigne. I know all that. It took me a month to get over minor differences in inflection on the songs that were on the EP. But I got there in the end. And as a collection of songs, it’d be remiss of me to leave this out just because it wasn’t the album to put Dublin on the world indie map. So many of these songs are undeniable. Lend Me Your Face, Jake Summers and Do You Karate are all the pulse-raising clumps of alternapop they were last year. But it’s heartening to note that the rookie Digifucker is, in all its abstraction, dejection and aggression, probably the album highlight. And Tie Me Up With Jackets, the lyrical high point of the Apes so far, wraps up a Side A that could fight almost anything and win. The second half is patchier, but that’s forgivable. Hot Press insanely said that it was the best thing in the world in 2008. It’s not, but it’s a remarkable display of off-kilter songwriting ability, and I have a feeling it will still stand on its feet in ten or twenty years because of it. Now, who has Steve Albini’s phone number?
MySpace, or if you’re interested, this is a blog named after a line from Jake Summers.

14. Roots Manuva – Slime and Reason
Big DadaHaving watched Dizzee Rascal and Estelle zoom past him to worldwide audiences and financial reward with half the lyrical talent,‭ ‬it would be easy to forgive Rodney Smith some bitterness.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬Slime and Reason’s opening line,‭ “‬A lot of people don’t know about Smith‭”‬,‭ ‬seems more like a simple statement of fact than a complaint.‭ ‬This album doesn’t acknowledge anything in its surroundings.‭ ‬Rather,‭ ‬it is the newest chapter in an isolated musical portrait of the artist.The music channels the place-in-time feeling of Jamaica’s Studio One recordings from the‭ ‬1960s and‭ ‬1970s.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬the dancehall carnival feeling is skin deep only.‭ ‬Smith is one of the difficult school of rappers that fight with their demons on acetate for the world to hear.‭ ‬Consistently throughout,‭ ‬but especially on closer‭ The Struggle‭‬,‭ ‬we find him enumerating the difficulties of balancing artistic advancement and the need to provide for others.There are few rappers in the world who can deal with real internal turmoil and lyrical skill in a successful way.‭ ‬Nas is one.‭ ‬Roots Manuva is another.‭ ‬There is enough universal wisdom in Slime and Reason to make it one of the most vital hip hop albums I’ve ever heard.
This review originally from Analogue. The video to Again and Again is pretty excellent, and you should check this uninformed review against that of the experts.

13. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash
Domino“Of all my stoned digressions, some have mutated into the truth”. That’s the first line of Real Emotional Trash, and that’s the premise. Follow the music where it wants to go. Wait for the beauty to reveal itself. In a world of indie rock that Malkmus perceives to be divided between the Gang of Four devotees and those who love Pavement, an album in the milieu of long-deleted 60s bands in the psychedelic slipstream of the more cocksure likes of Hendrix and The Doors is likely to be a curveball. Many felt it didn’t work, but my gut feeling is that comparative listening is hurting Malkmus. You can only judge an album on its own isolate merits. And Real Emotional Trash is not devoid of those, even if they are longer and a little more esoteric than those that preceded it. Simply following the music where it wants to go paints pictures with subtle and novel shades. But it is the clearings in the dense forest of fretplay that provide the true transcendence. When Out of Reaches or Gardenia pop out of the furore, context makes them something strangely, and differently, beautiful.
SM is at least my second favourite interview I’ve ever done. This video might be better though.

12. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
Sub PopSpencer Krug is a font of genius. This is a truth self-evident. Picture his input to anything as a white light. The question is not whether or not the germ of inspiration is going to be there, the question is how it’s going to translate to music. In front of the white light, you could put any number of things. You could have slides of colour, or you could cast shadows, or block it off, or whatever. That all comes from the context. How do you listen to a new Wolf Parade album when the guy who wrote almost all of the truly great songs on the last one has spent the last three years taking his music into new, complex and much more developed regions with a different band? You just have to go with it. It works, too. It’s not quite the opus that the unjustly underrated Random Spirit Lover unfolded into, but the spidery, proggy character of Mount Zoomer stakes its own claim. It’s surprisingly unified for what is now essentially a side project for both primary songwriters. Songs such as Boeckner’s bare, aching Fine Young Cannibals and Krug’s more knotted but equally aching Call It A Ritual sit well together and create a slightly gothic feeling that evokes the wildness that the title describes.
Dan Gray did an interview which was pretty good, and Pitchfork did several.

11. No Age – Nouns
Sub PopI read a lot of magazines and blogs, and a lot of my friends do too, so I’ve slowly developed quite a stockpile of indie rock anecdotes. With some of them, I can remember the page and issue of the magazine it came from. With others, it’s just a vague recollection, or something I was told in passing. My favourite No Age anecdote is one of the latter. I was once told that Nouns was recorded and mixed in full, then played through a guitar amp and recorded again with a single microphone. This recording is the one that ended up being released. I’m not sure if this is actually true, but it sounds a lot like it and it’s a good story. It’s loud and it’s muddy. Everything is distorted. But it has more going for it than the half-attentive stoner shoegaze it might be, just on production values. Eraser bristles with static electricity before releasing it and heading into a hooky chorus. And Teen Creeps, as I have noted here before, is one of the tracks of the year. It’s not often that music perceptibly explodes on your speakers, but this does.
Metacritic is an interesting one here for such a divisive record, but bring the band and you have two friends for life.

I’d rather date Rwanda

According to some review I found while researching (putting “Stephen Malkmus” into Google and clicking everything for five pages) for the Analogue interview I did with him before his gig on Monday, Malkmus fans are divided into two camps. Those who like Face The Truth, and those who like Pig Lib. I want to preface this post by saying that I like both. I love Pavement, I like focused Malkmus a healthy amount, but I also genuinely enjoy the jam bits. So, unlike a lot of people I talked to after the gig, I wasn’t disappointed or surprised that he went mostly with the strung out guitar jams. I was actually pretty happy.

Thing is, to my ears, Malkmus guitar-waffle never descends into pointlessness. He has said in interviews that you’re not supposed to listen that closely to the instrumental breaks on Real Emotional Trash. But I think you can. Through all the solos in the live set (and there were solos in pretty much everything), my attention never wandered. It’s not just fucking around! Seriously! It’s what blues would be if shit, Record Collector magazine-reading, high school English teachers weren’t choking it to death through reverence and simultaneous enjoyment of 70s classic rock. The Jicks sound fresh to me, and distinctive. The really great instrumental parts were the best part of the show.

Thing is, by playing a lot of really long songs, there’s less time left to play some of the million excellent songs of average length in his catalogue. Pencil Rot? Jenny and the Ess-Dog? Also, by definition, Stephen Malkmus solo is hampered by the fact that half his audience at least is hoping every time he finishes a song that the next one is going to be Cut Your Hair. He even said “I need a hair cut” before one of his encore tunes (possibly Baby C’mon). Probably intentional, probably habitual.

He’s not hung up on being a solo artist. He had no complaints about talking about Pavement as if it was still a real entity in the interview. He’s just doing the jam-out thing right now, and it’s probably just as fun to pretend he’s going to play Cut Your Hair to him as it is to actually play Cut Your Hair. Still, he’s a fucker for teasing. Really enjoyable show, nonetheless. I put one of my favourites off Real Emotional Trash, Gardenia, up in the muxtape you can find in the sidebar, if you’re curious.