Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks hit the road (if not the Pavement)

[1 April 2008]

By Rafer Guzmán

Newsday (MCT)

“Of all my stoned digressions,” Stephen Malkmus sings on his new album, “Some have mutated into the truth/Not a spoof.”

Those are the first words of the first song, “Dragonfly Pie,” on the album “Real Emotional Trash” (Matador), the latest from Malkmus and his oddly named band, The Jicks. It sounds like a new manifesto coming from Malkmus, the inscrutable lyricist whose legendary indie band Pavement offered food for thought to a generation of munchie-stricken, college-age rockers.

But Malkmus, speaking by phone from his home in Portland, Ore., says not to make too much of it. “I just riff, and that’s what came out of my mouth when I started to write lyrics,” Malkmus explained. “Maybe I was listening to some Dylan.”

What’s more - and this may be a surprise to some Malkmus fans - the singer does not smoke pot. “Not for at least probably like 12, 11 years,” he said. “Right now, it’s just not the time - around midlife crisis time.”

At 41, Malkmus may sound like a longtime stoner - his lyrics are still baffling, and his conversation is marked by long, long pauses while he gathers his thoughts - but he’s actually become a responsible adult, with a wife and two children. The man who once razzed the notion of domesticity on the sarcastic Pavement song “We Are Underused” (“You’ve been such a great host/The roast/Was just so perfectly prepared”) seems a little conflicted about this new stage in life, particularly the awesome responsibilities of parenthood.

“I haven’t really fully examined how much I wanted children,” he said, somewhat haltingly. “It seemed - I don’t know. You know?” He later added: “I’m happy in my marriage and with my children now, so that’s a key. It doesn’t stop me from being confused a little bit.”

Malkmus seems to take the same slightly haphazard approach to his music. After the collapse of Pavement, he began releasing shambolic solo albums that weren’t too different from his old band. But “Real Emotional Trash” - which features new Jicks member Janet Weiss, of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi, on drums - marks a departure. Along with the usual collapsing song structures come lengthy, loud, distorted guitar solos courtesy of Malkmus himself. (If you didn’t know better, you’d call it stoner-rock.)

The album’s release was almost overshadowed by rumors of a Pavement reunion, fueled by a recent Entertainment Weekly article in which Malkmus mused aloud on the possibility. The magazine even sent out an e-mail trumpeting the “news,” but Malkmus says it’s unlikely.

“I’m so focused on the now and the present, and who I am right now - and we all are in the band. I don’t think about it that much,” Malkmus said. “This new guitar-love, instrumental lovefest, that’s all I’ve got to offer people for right now.”

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