Wigging out with Stephen Malkmus - Page 2

Post-Pavement reunion and adventures abroad, the indie icon talks Beyoncé, Portland fishbowl syndrome, and embracing his classic-rock upbringing

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Stephen Malkmus
PHOTO BY LEAH NASH

"I was thinking about somewhere like [924] Gilman, full of people skanking, but with old people, because it's just funny to see senior citizens doing anything that youthful," says Malkmus of the track. "But it's also bit of commentary about how, if you go so far as to really be into a subculture of music, whatever it is, heavy metal, or punk, or reggae, you always have a home there, and that's nice. It doesn't matter if you're depressed, or way overweight, or you've been divorced five times; you can go to the show and feel safe and see your people and get lost in the music."

If he's at his best as a songwriter when he takes on the point of view of other characters — I fell hard for this tendency with his first post-Pavement album, a Jicks record on which he sings story-songs from the perspectives of, among others, a bloodthirsty pirate, an Alaskan dog sled driver, and Yul Brynner — then part of what makes Wig Out such an enjoyable in-joke is the sense that Malkmus is writing songs while "in character as" an aging rock star who's looking back on his career with a mix of sentimentality and cynicism, fondness and detachment, á la Don Henley circa The End of the Innocence.

"That [Pavement reunion] tour was kind of like reliving an old play, or something," says Malkmus of the cross-country jaunt his old band took in 2010, to the fever-pitch-level delight of virtually everyone who came of age listening to indie rock in the '90s. "It was fun being back with the same dudes, and there were some really cool shows — especially playing hometown shows in Berkeley, Stockton, meeting people my age who were road-tripping to see Pavement twice."

The songs don't quite feel like him anymore, he says, though The Jicks are known to play a handful of Pavement songs during some sets — toward the end, when they're playing other covers. "We mix them in like they're part of some canon, which is a little cheeky," he says. "You know, play a Steve Miller song, some Roxy Music, Pavement, then Wire. And yeah, it's my song, I wrote it, but it's mostly just feels like we're playing a song."

After that reunion tour, something started to feel a little claustrophobic upon returning to Portland. "There was a neurotic, kind of fishbowl feeling," is how he puts it. So in 2011, the family picked up and moved to Berlin for two years, ("a big giant place where no one cares about you too much"), put the girls in an international school, and reveled in the apparently productive anonymity — Malkmus proceeded to write most of Wig Out there.

The family moved back to Portland in 2013, but the expat's sense of liberation comes through in free-wheeling tracks like the Billy Joel-ish, Steely Dan-esque rocker "Chartjunk," complete with horns, shout-along choruses, and a buttery guitar riff, over which Malkmus channels the singing style of the sun-bleached, coked-out '70s guitar gods he grew up with. "In one ear and out of the other, if you feel the urge to share/think again cause you're not my mother, actually I'm not contractually obliged to care," he cautions, happily, but also sounding like he means it. (Acknowledging its Joel-like sonic landscape, Malkmus recently told a Detroit publication that the track, in which he plays both roles of a mentor/mentee dispute, was inspired by the relationship between Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings and his coach Scott Skiles, back when Jennings played for the Milwaukee Bucks. Dude's serious about basketball.)

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