Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

Beck prods Pavement frontman into revisiting the perfect little pop song

STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS with HOLY SONS at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Wednesday (September 21), 8 pm. $22.50. HS, RT, SS, TM. See listing.

When I learned that Stephen Malkmus is doing interviews from his new home in Berlin, I immediately pictured the former Pavement frontman having undergone a Bowie/Brian Eno/U2-like transformation.

Malkmus’s music would move away from the lyric-driven, stripped-down alt-rock of his fantastic Beck-produced recent album, Mirror Traffic (Matador) and toward beat-infused experimentation inspired by hot techno producers on the local scene. But while it’s true he’s been busy making changes since moving to the German capital, they’re not exactly artistic ones.

“There have been some struggles getting my kids to school,” says Malkmus in his customary deadpan after 10 days of navigating Berlin’s public transportation system. “It’s been a Herculean battle to get them there and back. It’s not very rock ‘n’ roll.”

Turns out the reason he left his home in Portland, Oregon, was simply to shake things up for himself and his wife. The 45-year-old was “feeling blah” in the U.S. and needed a jolt.

As for getting into Berlin’s legendary electronic scene, Malkmus, once considered a leader of the 90s alternative rock nation, doesn’t sound enthused about the idea.

“I’m not against it. It’s a valid art form,” he considers. “I suppose the old-school me still overvalues songwriting and lyrics over hours of programming and tweaking beats.”

You won’t find any Eno-type production grandiosity on Mirror Traffic. Beck, who called out of the blue to collaborate, kept Malkmus and the Jicks (guitarist Mike Clark, bassist Joanna Bolme and drummer Jake Morris) focused on short, tight songwriting while he tinkered with the sonics. It was recorded in less than a week at L.A.’s hallowed Sunset Sound (Doors, Beach Boys, etc).

The resulting fifth post-Pavement record is Malkmus’s most accessible, especially compared to 2008’s heady Real Emotional Trash. Forced to sit on its songs for a year while Pavement reunited, he’s eager to play it on the road. The Berlin move, however, has meant fewer rehearsal opportunities.

“Any Canadian fans coming down for the Detroit show should know that it could be a little broke-y. It’s our first show, and we’ll be getting our shit together. We’ll make up for it by being in good spirits and fresh. And we’re going to be loud and rockin’.”

Interview Clips

Ex-Pavement slacker king Stephen Malkmus discusses how mutual friend and producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead) facilitated a partnership with Beck on his new solo album Mirror Traffic.

Download associated audio clip.

Malkmus is surprisingly astute when it comes to all matters baseball. Here him break down the playoff chances of the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays.

Download associated audio clip.


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