STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS: In The Studio

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“Any plan you have…it just goes out the window when you get to the studio, unless you have a lot of time [to be] a dictator,” says Stephen Malkmus, the man once accused of being the dictator of indie rock legend Pavement. “But to be playing the music and trying to get in the groove, and also be some kind of dictator saying, ‘The kick drum should sound like this’…you can’t really do all that at once without losing your mind in a situation like that.
“Any plan you have…it just goes out the window when you get to the studio, unless you have a lot of time [to be] a dictator,” says Stephen Malkmus, the man once accused of being the dictator of indie rock legend Pavement. “But to be playing the music and trying to get in the groove, and also be some kind of dictator saying, ‘The kick drum should sound like this’…you can’t really do all that at once without losing your mind in a situation like that. It’s better just to play and just want to get good takes. That’s what I focus on…” he says with a pause “…these days.”

Following up 2005’s Face the Truth-a largely solo affair pieced together in his home studio in Portland, OR-these days Malkmus is swinging the pendulum back toward capturing the sound of a band in the studio. With former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss having joined The Jicks, replacing current Decemberists drummer John Moen, the quartet packed up and headed to SnowGhost studio in Whitefish, MT. What they ended up with is a document of a new band, playing with more precision and intricacy than ever before.

“It’s almost a live, in-the-studio thing except for the vocals,” he explains. “We did a tour last January where we were playing the songs, except for a couple. We had two weeks at that place, so we tried to get the best takes that we could within that time. There’s an hour of music now, and we need to pare it down. But in this day and age, you need to have extra songs to give people-according to Matador [Records]. They don’t buy CDs anymore. They’re burning them, so you have to have secret songs and songs for websites…so it will all get used.”

Scheduled for an April release, the yet-to-be-titled fourth album by Malkmus and his band mates is the sonic counterpart to 2003’s Pig Lib, the startling mix of dark psychedelic prog that introduced Malkmus’ move from obscure lyrics and non-sequiturs, and toward an increased focus on extensive guitar solos and sophisticated band interplay. If Pavement was notable mostly for its messy sprawl and off-center energy, The Jicks are a far more exacting beast, even if their songs are more extensive.

“There are five long ones, for better or worse,” he continues. “Some eight-minuters…but they’ve got lots of parts, so it’s not like they drone. One of them does, but it’s busy. Everything has got a real reason, because they’ve been worked over a bit. They’re kind of tight, in the way that they have a lot of parts-like a “Paranoid Android”-type Radiohead song-but it’s not as successful or as likeable,” he laughs, flashing his famously self-effacing wit. “There’s some hard playing on it. It’s not sunny. It’s also not Modest Mouse negative. It’s in the middle.”

Whatever the case, Malkmus might not be sharing the songwriting process to the extent that he did in Pavement, but The Jicks are steadily becoming a more collaborative creative venture. “This time they edited a part of this one song…that’s never happened before,” he admits. “They said, ‘We don’t need that part.’ And I said, ‘I guess we don’t. But I liked it,'” he continues, sounding hurt for a second. “But that’s good. Someone should be able to tell me that. Or I should be able to accept it, even if it’s maybe not for certain that it’s right. I suppose I would have final cut or something, if I wanted it. But as we get older, if you’re not playing that much, and you’re not offering [your band] that much, you have to offer them freedom…and it has become more democratic in a way. We’re all equally invested in it, so it has to be that way.”


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