Interview Highlight: Stephen Malkmus

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Did you miss when DJ yan yan aired her interview with Stephen Malkmus on August 1st, 2018? Never fear, for Weblog is here with a transcript of their conversation, with topics ranging from horses to BART and everything in between.

DJ yan yan here, hope you brought some good snacks because we’re dipping into an interview with Stephen Malkmus of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and of Pavement. How are you doing, Steve?

I’m doing good, how are you?

Good good, I’m looking forward to the show tonight.

Yeah you made it across early, you probably took BART. How’s BART working for you?

They came out with some new BART trains which are fancy and colorful and new. It’s weird because now there’s a side with only single seats, and I kinda miss that thing where you get to sit with a stranger. If you’re in a single seat you’re just all kind of in a line.

I always thought BART looked fashionable in a certain way. I mean their logo is cool and stuff.

Yeah gotta hand it to the graphic designers of BART. So this is the second night of the tour…

Last night we were in Petaluma, which as you know, is north beyond Santa Rosa a little bit. It’s pretty cool. That’s a good town.

Is this your first tour since the new record Sparkle Hard came out?

No we played on the East Coast and the midwest and that was great. That was finding our feet and learning the songs as we went along even though... you can rehearse so much but you can kinda play live and make it work. Then we took 2 1/2 weeks off. We live in Portland, so we flew down.

Yeah Petaluma’s cool. A warm sunny town, kinda feels like that area of California, not to be redundant, but has a certain oak tree and wine and gray hills kind of feeling [or something].

Yeah you guys are playing a lot of shows in California, like four nights.

Yeah man, we’re playing in Los Angeles and San Diego, pretty much all the bigger markets. One time we played near Eureka. We’re not doing that this time.

Oh that’s cool!

Yeah it was cool so I was happy to come somewhere where I could conceivably wear a second layer [laughs].

Definitely. I get such awkward tan lines sometimes with short-sleeved shirts so anything to cover and protect myself is welcome. On your new record Sparkle Hard, you introduce some different sounds such as autotune. And that one’s on “Rattler.”

There are two songs with it. They’re all from the same plug-in unfortunately called Nectar. I always remember Kern’s Nectar, Apricot Nectar. I wonder if they still sell that.

So yeah, I was just messing around with my vocals and I thought it worked. Some people might not. You forget about people’s biases about what they expect you to do sometimes, because we all have ‘em. I can be the same way. It’s like not that I even particularly like Bruce Springsteen, but if he was trying to sound like Future or something, I’d be like “What are you doing?” But if you make it kind of cyberpunk-sounding, that was sort of my coming to all those things in a sort of fresh way because I don’t listen to hip hop as my main thing. So I was just running through the preset banks, and I like that.

I think it worked out well. There are some strings in “Solid Silk”… I think that’s one of my favorite songs off Sparkle Hard. It’s really beautiful.

It sounds autumnal and classy, like a John Irving novel or something. You’re driving through fall, the fall leaves are changing, melancholy. I liked it too, you know. It’s also a new thing for me to give up the melodic choices to the woman who did it, Kyleen [King]. That felt great. Now I’m just totally into collaborating with whoever will have me. I had good experiences on that record. There are some other things I’m working on.

So who would you like to collaborate with then?

Man it doesn’t matter, you know. If somebody knows someone cool… I mean I have my friends that I play with, but yeah. If someone ever has an idea that’s like, “I know this person. He/she is dope.” We should get them to play on it.

Younger in my days… sounds like I’m translating from English, “younger in my days.” In my younger days, I kinda thought I had to do it all myself, and I did. But there’s only so much that you can wrestle from, you can just keep squeezing that bandana of all the sweat that comes out of it, and there’s none left after a certain point. So I’m looking for new blood, vampire-style [laughs].

[Laughs] Vampires are interesting. I was just watching a video about the symbolism of vampires in film and stuff.

What did they say?

It was like the monster trope, outsider thing. I haven’t seen all the films, but [the use of vampires] is coding for the LGBTQ community or the African-American community.

Yeah I’ve heard of that. Anybody who feels ostracized or “other,” it’s very universal, or just works at an archetypal level I guess, right. “They don’t understand us and we are at night and we slip away at night.” And also, people like to feel part of the gang. Especially teenagers and stuff. You identify with your “in” group, and vampires are the ultimate “in” group, really.

They’re like a coven, right. That’s the name for a group of vampires?

Those are witches, I think.


It’s not a brood either. [laughs]

Something… flight?

It would have to be bats. I will just say a cave of bats. Obviously that show Twilight was mega. That boy is like… quite sexy for girls in their adolescence I think. And beyond, probably. [laughs]

Speaking of tropes or characters in those films, I feel like the cowboy is making a comeback as an archetype.

Westworld. It never goes out of style. For me it’s the same way. When I see a movie… there’s another TV show on Netflix, with—I wanna say—Jeff Bridges on it, but it wasn’t. What I wanna say, regardless of who was in it, when they show the Wild West and this beautiful morning, and you’re on your horse. And you know maybe if you’ve been on horse rides or out in Arizona… it’s really hot and there’s maybe a couple of hours in one month, each day for a whole month, where it’s like that. Usually it’s dusty.

And also horses don’t really like to travel alone. They like to be in a pack. And they’re very scared. Like if they saw a rock on the ground they’d shy away from it because they’re prey animals. They’re meant to be eaten.


Yeah they’re very afraid, so they stay pack-bound, traditionally. Of course you can train a really good horse to live by itself and wanna run freely. But I would think even a horse race they all run faster when they’re together. To me, that’s sort of like heaven. I relate to that when I see that. I’m like, “That’s fine. If that’s heaven, I would be fine with it.” Just being out in this beautiful nature on a horse riding around. There’s something elemental about it. That’s why I say it doesn’t go out of style. I’m sure there are some urban people who are like, “Ugh that’s terrible, I’m a city boy or city girl.” But for me it works.

For sure. Yeah I feel like there are kind of some western or country music influences on this new record.

There’s one tune. It kinda sounds like “Range Life” too from the old Pavement style. I see it in that. But mainly because in my solos I never learned any classic country riffs, so I’m just quoting in my hammy way. These kind of things.

You’ve been making music for a while now. So I was just wondering are there certain things you miss about the scene, per se, the music sphere?

No, not really. For me, it stays the same. I’m kinda plateaued at a certain kind of venue, temporarily at least. But they were similar to the venues I played, even in Pavement. And we meet young new bands like Soccer Mommy and a fantastic group called Lithics from Portland, who we toured with. So I feel like their struggle is not so different from ours. Starting and playing shows for not much money, and trying to get a little bit of a grip on finding your footing in touring. And finding out if you’re really are up for it.

I think that’s all the same. You find your marketing for your age or how you’re gonna present it yourself. It was the same back then. I had a visual, kind of cryptic style to the band, and how I organized everything to make try to make it bigger than the sum of its parts. And I think everyone is kind of trying to do that now too. How do you stand out? Because all of us loved to play music and we all want to. There’s a lot of people who want to do that and think they’re good at it, and they are. And some aren’t. But you know. [Laughs]. So eventually you gotta have the songs but it doesn’t hurt to have cool titles and good title art and a nice internet presence.

On the topic of internet presence, I just had a random question about your old profile picture [on Twitter]. It was like a Barbie doll?

It’s not. It’s Marilyn Monroe. It’s an old, weird doll of my partner’s that’s from the ‘60s. It’s Marilyn Monroe in a red dress. And then there’s also Manute Bol who’s behind, who [was]’s a basketball player. It’s a bobblehead of him. Then an old-fashioned bookend that’s like a Mexican peasant with his sombrero down. It’s a little bit colonial-like. It was like a triple reference to people that are marginalized but are super famous.

I mean the Marilyn Monroe doll is so bizarre to make a sexy doll for a kid. She also has diamonds. [It] was for a kid to play with because any adult didn’t want it, or a pervy old man.

Did your wife just inherit it?

She didn’t want it anymore. Yeah, it must’ve been her mom’s. If you look closely at it, it’s just a head added to a stock Barbie body. [Laughs] It’s on my dresser.

My friend wanted to ask you some questions. He’s a big Animal Collective fan and said that Animal Collective has cited you, cited Pavement as a big influence. What do you think of Animal Collective?

I like ‘em. Sung Tongs was one of my favorites when it came out. I like the new stuff too. A friend of mine—Brad—was doing their tour managing.

It’s two of ‘em. It’s not Noah so much. Noah was not into Pavement, but the other two [were]. And then eventually a little bit, Geologist, who wasn’t in the band then.

But Dave... I think one of their high school bands they used to do Pavement covers. They did a lot of different things but were into that. I thought that was cool and I’m still in touch with them on the internet and whenever they’re in town I come to see them.

They’re doing a Sung Tongs tour.

Yeah just two of ‘em, Noah and Dave I think. I saw some video of it.

Speaking of Pavement covers, Speedy Ortiz was in an all-female cover band called Babement.

That was she says. We’ve toured with her. She’s a really inspiring person because she’s just open and likes a lot of different things. Maybe she displays some of these classic millennial traits of just being, you know, flexible about things and fluid. I like her a lot. She has a book of poetry coming out, she told me.

Really? That’s so sick! She studied math and then poetry, I believe. That’ll be really cool. She’s awesome.

Yeah she’s great at music. And funny on the internet. She’s like a relatable type of woman.

Well, I guess that’s it from me! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk.

My pleasure. Have a good time tonight at the gig. Go get some food.