TALKING TRASH WITH STEPHEN MALKMUS
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks | 11/03/08
The one and only Mr. Stephen Malkmus was in Domino HQ recently and we were lucky enough to talk some
Real Emotional Trash with him. Sure he was jet legged, sure he was tired but you can't keep a good man down.
Places seem to come up a lot in your songs, is that a conscious decision?
"Well, now and then. I try not to go all Fiery Furnaces on you and go to a million places but I think they're normally just words that pop up in my head, it doesn't even matter about the place being significant it's more a subconscious thing."
"Like the word 'Balitmore', that's a great strong sounding name you know and there's a great band called Sir Lord Baltimore and with 'Colorado' that's more of a cheap shot at America, or this specific social demographic of mountain surfers moving there, it was just a swipe at upper middle class drop outs you know. I don't know where you’d go in the UK, maybe just come to London and be one."
When you're going around day-to-day in life, when your writing songs etc, are there words that have been mauling round for a while? Do you store them up somewhere?
"Not really, they just kinda comes out from 'The Well' you know, they just kinda come out in times of need, in 'Lyric Time'."
"I do write lines down occasionally but for this album (Real Emotional Trash) I didn't so much, I was using a little stuff from the last album (Face The Truth) now and then and bits and bobs that fitted into place."
"I must say though I'm getting close to running out of passion for words, I'm probably just a symptom of my generation, I mean, we’re seeing the effect of words disappearing, like there's this general empathy of understanding things even if we don't know for sure. Or I'm just taking the 'rock lyrics' I make for granted or that it's just…that's what I do and who I am but don't wanna seem to try to hard, I guess is the British expression of it. I guess there's something unique about my lyrics if you like 'em, a personality to it, a 'can't bottle it' type of vibe and I'm into that."
Creativity seems to flow naturally for some people and others need a certain friction to spark it, but it can be a difficult thing to control or maybe you shouldn't control it, how does it come to you?
"For me, with lyrics or songs, I just try to put myself in a position to receive them, I'm not religious or anything but when it's best it feels like it's not me. I can kinda look outside of myself and look down at it and say 'Oh that’s cool. I could see myself doing that' ".
"There's some ego in there but it really just kinda flows you know, and then later you need to decide what to use, you need to have enough material and choices…but that's never been a problem for me, it's just narrowing it down…ha-ha."
Is that when you get other people involved in the process?
"Yeah, other people and what they like. I don't really know what’s good for sure and what people are gonna like."
"That's proven to be the case throw out my time, even in Pavement, stuff I thought was good…it is good but also, songs that people picked out, when I was picking singles I wasn't really doing as good a job as maybe I should have."
From the other influences in your live since you’ve got all the family stuff going on now, do you feel like you’ve changed in the way that you write songs since you’ve ‘settled’?
"Not at that time – the time we made the record, you know the music is separate. I hate these Sport analogies but they don't ask footballers if they've changed when they have children you know. They're still good players, they don't start playing soft and all, you know like…'I don't want to give a bad image to my son if I take this guy down and get a red card' or something."
"You are gonna be sometimes I guess, you change naturally, it's inevitable. If music exists in this world it has to reach a certain level to connect with people. My standards for aggressiveness and weirdness are still there – I don’t yell as much you know, an old man yelling is like an old man on ecstasy. It's just not right."
Do you think in terms of how music is now, like how people tend listen on shuffle rather than a whole album on their iPod or whatever, do you spend more energy thinking about how the songs are put together and how the music is assembled?
"Yeah, well, especially Janet (Weiss) and Joanna (Bolme), the women in my band, they go crazy over that. You want it to be the best it can be but you can get really obsessive over that, you can lose your friends over that."
"Nigel Godrich almost would never talk to me again over the song order of Terror Twilight, it was like someone had taken two razors to a masterpiece and scraped through the canvas at the end, as far as he was concerned but, you know he got over it."
In terms of what inspires you, outside of music what gets your creative juices going in other things outside of music?
"Let me think…well, my family. Yeah, my family and darts, I play a lot of darts and we’re in this fantasy basketball league with all our friends. The movies we go to movies a lot and TV shows like The Wire and even Battlestar Galactica, you know when you've got kids it tend to watch more TV unfortunately cause you’re a Veg. but The Wire’s not like veg, it's like the fine wine of TV. It's weird how many British actors in that show, that was like a betrayal almost when I first found that out."
It's interesting how people interrupt influences differently; did you know Animal Collective are massive Pavement fans?
"Yeah, I met them last year sometime, they're really good guys, really down to earth and they started out as a Pavement covers band! Basically they learnt how to play by Pavement songs. I was so surprised and happy to hear that as a fan of theirs."
Do you think you appreciate simpler pleasures more as you get older? Like some younger bands feel the need to get out and prove yourself or tick certain lists. Is it a natural thing, as you get older to stop caring as much about things?
"Well, some stuff you do. In some ways paradoxically, the precious moments you get to be in a band still are that much more cherished and not taken for granted, where as Arctic Monkeys could be on their 4th tour in 12 weeks or something and properly be like "Here we go again" but we'll just go for 3 weeks and I'm like "I have to enjoy this cause it's my only chance"."
"And other stuff, you have little tolerance for…like photo shoots. I have trouble with the suspension of disbelieve anymore and I always hated having my picture taken like most boys I guess."
How do you look back at your past material, not only Pavement but also with the Jicks? Do you get a lot back from it or do you find it hard to look back? You know like that Woody Allen thing as soon as he finishes a film, he doesn't want to see it again.
"I'm proud that it exists on its own, it's not really me anymore you know. Like The Smiths they're like this national institution you know, like one of the top 4 bands of British history, it’s funny how that sorta takes over."
"And Pavement had obviously nothing like that massiveness but it's gone its own way and it's relatively respected and rebelled against but It’s there you know, it's cool."
Real Emotional Trash is out now on CD and vinyl from out Mart.