Jump to content

Stephen Malkmus interview


Recommended Posts

Dear Superstar: Stephen Malkmus

The frontman of ’90s indie-rock heroes Pavement on feuding with Billy Corgan, spending time in the clink and what it would take to get his old band back together :


Blender has only just met Stephen Malkmus’s mother, but it doesn’t take long for us to win her over. “They’re the magazine that named our album No. 1 on their indie-rock list,” Malkmus informs his visiting mom, Mary, shortly after welcoming Blender into the Portland, Oregon, home he shares with his wife and two young kids. The 41-year-old singer-guitarist is referring to our recent feature declaring Slanted and Enchanted—the debut full-length from Pavement, the alt-legends Malkmus fronted from 1989 until their dissolution in 1999—the greatest indie-rock album ever. “We love Blender, then,” says Mary Malkmus, beaming. “It’s our favorite magazine.”

And that’s not Mrs. Malkmus’s only source of maternal pride as of late: There are the matters of her son’s new album, Real Emotional Trash, Malkmus’s latest with his band of indie-scene vets the Jicks (now featuring ex-­Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss); his work on the soundtrack to last year’s Dylan biopic I’m Not There (that’s his singing voice coming out of Cate Blanchett’s mouth); and the November birth of his second daughter, Sunday.

We retreat to Malkmus’s messy basement studio, where he prepares to face the questions submitted by Blender readers. He’s not nervous in the least. “I’ve answered fans’ questions before,” he says. “In the ’90s, I even had a Japanese magazine column called ‘Stephen Malkmus Figures You Out.’ I answered love questions from 16-year-old ­Japanese girls. It was fun, and I got paid like, 2,000 yen a month.” Fortunately for Blender, Malkmus agreed to field your inquiries for free.

Blender named Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted the No. 1 indie-rock album of all time. Were they right?

McDeets74, Collinsville, CT

The big problem with that list was the definition of indie—“records not released by major labels” would be my definition. The [major-label] Velvet Underground were No. 7, and if the Velvet Underground are going to be considered indie, they have to be No. 1. They’re the band that influenced all the other groups on that list. Personally, I wouldn’t put Slanted and Enchanted at No. 1—maybe Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me or Sonic Youth’s Sister or the Butthole Surfers’ Psychic … Powerless … Another Man’s Sac. Pavement being in the Top 10 would’ve been enough.

As a teenager in California you spent some time in jail for walking on other people’s roofs. What the hell were you doing walking on other people’s roofs?

Piglib99, Austin, TX

I was about 16, and I was drinking beer with a friend before we went to a high school basketball game. We were peeing in the bushes by someone’s house and we got this bright idea to walk on people’s roofs, like they weren’t going to hear us. The police caught us with beer in our car trunk. They kept us in jail for four hours, a “scared straight” type thing. It’s not the only dumb thing I did. I was on probation for drinking at another high school, and I got kicked out for going to a party in the woods where people were taking mushrooms. I didn’t take them, but some guy narc’d on me.

You worked as a security guard at the Whitney Museum in New York. What did you get to bust people for?

Vibraphone333, Anderson, IN

There wasn’t much busting. There was a lot of “Please, don’t touch.” There were rumors that people were having sex in the bathrooms, and once someone wrote his girlfriend’s name on a painting by Willem de Kooning—it turned out a rent-a-guard did it. When I worked as a night guard, I had the run of the place; I definitely thought about how you could take a lot of paintings all in one go.

Your wife, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, is a sculptor. Is there a marble Stephen Malkmus anywhere in your house?

Karen Kenner, Canton, OH

No, but she made some papier-mâché angel wings for me to wear in one of her art pieces. She filmed me wearing them, eating angel food cake. And I wasn’t wearing a shirt. I know I’m supposed to be a sport for her art, but: 1) I don’t like to get my picture taken, 2) I don’t like to have my shirt off and 3) I’m wearing angel wings. I looked very sullen in the video, so I lost credit for that. Luckily, she didn’t use it.

Lemme get this straight: Pavement’s bat-shit-crazy original drummer, Gary Young, handed out cabbage and cinnamon toast to fans at your gigs, passed out in the offices of Sony Records after demanding a $1 million deal and once pulled a gun on you?

Killdozer11, Fort Dodge, IA

He never pulled a gun on me—I would remember that—but everything else is true, I think. He did have a gun; he bought it in New Mexico just because he could, or something. He was just on one giant bender when we were on tour; he would do weird stuff. Once, he found a dead rabbit somewhere. He supposedly put it in my luggage and then decided to take it out. [Laughs.] I don’t think that I was antagonizing him, but I was kind of a jerk back then sometimes.

Billy Corgan reportedly was so upset about the Pavement song “Range Life,” in which you dis Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, that he refused to play Lollapalooza ’94 if you were on the bill. Have you and Billy settled that beef?

Jumper08, Spring Valley, NV

No, but I have a feeling that Billy’s gotten over it. I made a game of it in the press, like there was some kind of war between us. I don’t even know if the Lollapalooza story was true. The lyric wasn’t even a particularly bad jab. Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots are both just names that I thought sounded really funny. I would like to apologize to them for making fun of their names. It’s not like Pavement was the best name, anyway.

I heard that Pavement were supposed to play on Beverly Hills, 90210 but got kicked off the show after getting into a fight with Jason Priestley. Did you punch Brandon Walsh?

Jeff Tipp, Athens, GA

No, I was not involved in any of the violence on that show. I was a fan—you can’t hit your heroes. [Laughs.] We weren’t ever even on that show and didn’t fight anyone. We completely fabricated that for the English press.

Can you pinpoint the moment when you knew Pavement was over?

Sangha14, Chicago

Not really. It was sometime during the making of the last record. I was like, “Yeah, this is fun, but it’s not quite fun enough to make this the only thing that we do in our lives.” I didn’t fully decide until after touring was done for that record. I think I communicated it pretty well, but there was confusion within the band because people didn’t want to believe it. But it wasn’t only me; I think other people in the band were ready for it, too.

The Pixies did it. The Police did it. When is Pavement going to join the reunion wave?

Gold.soundz, Orem, UT

With two kids and the Jicks, I can’t see doing it anytime soon. I’m not against reunions. Maybe someone will talk some sense into me and tell me why we should do it, like if it’s good for the legacy of the band. It could be really fun to play with those guys again.

Does anyone in the Jicks have a say, or do you just boss them around?

Dark_knight, Seattle

I wish. I’d love to see in print that I said, THEY JUST MY BITCHES. [Laughs.] But the truth is that the two ladies in the band, you can’t push them around. I guess you can boss people around if you’re an asshole or you’ve got a lot of money and your band’s famous. You can just say, “You play this, or you’re out. I’ve got 20 other people waiting in line to take your spot.” But we’re doing this because we like it.

Courtney Love once called you “the Grace Kelly of indie rock.” What does that even mean?

Summerbabe, Groton, CT

She was living in Seattle then with these grunge people and their bad fashion and their bad teeth and bad breath. Pavement were comparatively preppy—dressing in cardigan sweaters and not dying our hair—and comparatively upper class. So she probably just thought, Oh, they’re graceful.

I heard you’re a big Scrabble player. I bet I could whup your ass at Scrabulous. Up for a game?

Ess-Dog85, Brockton, MA

If you think you can whup my ass, you probably can. I haven’t played in three years. When I was playing a lot on tour with Pavement, I might have been able to take you down. Now there are new words, like qi and za, and who knows how many others.

What are the most and least indie-rock things you’ve ever done?

Carla H., Shreveport, LA

Most indie rock: living in Portland, being on [indie label] Drag City. Least indie rock: being into sporting events and overpriced restaurants and playing golf with my dad—stuff that’s kind of bourgeois, bordering on Republican. I was vaguely pro-war at the start, thinking that Saddam was a horrible guy and being pro-Kurdish. Obviously, I don’t think it was a good idea now.

You live in Portland, home to many other older indie rockers: Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, James Mercer of the Shins and Britt Daniel of Spoon, to name a few. Do you guys have some sort of aging indie-rocker coffee klatch going on?

Mike Thompson, Providence, RI

I know Isaac the best of those people—he lives around the corner. But all their bands are constantly touring, so I wouldn’t even see those guys. This group you’re asking about sounds like the Masons or a Bohemian Grove–type conspiracy.

What’s the most ridiculous interpretation of a Pavement song you’ve ever heard?

Oshkenee, Brooklyn, NY

I can’t think of anything. Mostly people want to talk about my Geddy Lee mention [“Stereo”], the Smashing Pumpkins line and whether I’m saying career or Korea [in “Cut Your Hair”]. So two pop-cultural references and one dumb thing, which is kind of sad. I don’t want to be remembered for lyrics. I want to be remembered for having a big nose that’s a little crooked. And for being skinny.

Edited by axlfan88
Link to comment
Share on other sites

They were different!

Indie pioneers. Most indie rock of today owes something to Pavement and The Pixies, amongst a handful of others.

I agree that there's something special about them though - some indie music doesn't appeal to me very much, but I've always liked Pavement. Like, I can only take so much Pixies within a certain amount of time - but I can listen to Pavement endlessly.

Edited by Estranged Reality
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I always thought these guys was were vastly overrated.

Like they were the epitome of a band that people believed if they listened to them, they became cooler.

I own 3 of their albums, including the vastly overrated "..Enchanted" and I for the love of me can't see why they get so much praise. They are terrible musicians and Malkmus couldn't write a hook to save his freaking life.

Anyway, this interview/article just reinforces my belief that Malkmus is a jerk. In every single interview/article that I have read about this guy. He continously disses STP, Billy Corgan, and countless other popular bands for basically being more successful than his band.

Its like he really believes that Pavement were the band of 90's and everyone should be sucking his ****.

I don't understand why he would believe this.....especially when you consider, his "so-called" masterpiece "..Enchanted" has barely sold more 500,000 copies. A fact I find weird,if consider it always ranks at the top or near the top of every critics "best off.." lists.


Edited by SunnyDRE
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Like they were the epitome of a band that people believed if they listened to them, they became cooler.

Funny - because of all the overrated indie bands with poor musicianship that people have bandwagons for, I've always thought Pavement stood out from the rest because they were one of the few great indie rock bands like Dinosaur Jr. and The Pixies deserving of their hype. And maybe Neutral Milk Hotel, but even then... they're not as perfect as people claim.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 years later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...