Stephen Malkmus ended his tenure with one of the most influential bands of the 1990s as the decade came to a close, but he had not yet created half the music that would complete his catalog. Since the breakup of Pavement in 1999, he has recorded six records with the Jicks, a band that comes to Bottletree Cafe on Wednesday to a hard sellout and the club assuring patrons via Facebook as recently as Tuesday that scalpers are asking for outrageous amounts for tickets that won’t be honored at the door. So if you’re hoping to see Malkmus in Avondale, call the venue first.
Malkmus spoke about his tenure with the Jicks and what they’ll bring to the Bottletree show.
Weld: With the release of Wig Out at Jag Bags, you’ve now released more records with the Jicks than you did with Pavement. How long ago does 1999 feel?
Stephen Malkmus: Not that long. These last 14 years or however long it’s been has gone rather quick. The millennium was just passing — I don’t know. To me it’s been really fast. I’m older maybe. When you get into your 30s or 40s, like, time goes faster, doesn’t it? Probably for children, it’s slow. One week can be an eternity for them, if you’re waiting for something. But I think the older we get, there’s less we’re looking forward to, so time just blows by.
Weld: What’s the secret to maintaining this band for more than a decade now?
SM: It’s hard to ask that when you’re on tour, you know? Then you’re like, “How did I even do this for that long?”
Before that, I’ve hired and sacked — drummers come and go. That keeps it fresh. The others are — maybe because the collaboration isn’t super intense and the songwriting, you don’t get tired of each other. If you’re in a songwriting relationship, it’s probably difficult to stay in a relationship. But this is a little more, like, just show the songs to the band, and they play their parts and stuff, but they’re not, it’s not so intense — not that part of it. That’s one way to work, I suppose.
Weld: That songwriting process, do you do it alone and then bring your work to the band?
SM: Yeah. I think that’s the way to do it. No one can understand maybe what’s in your brain exactly. And, of course, everyone adds their own subtle flavor to it I suppose.
Weld: When you were writing on your own, how did you know if it was a Jicks song or a Pavement song or one of your other projects?
SM: I never really know that. It’s more of what you’re doing at that time. Now, I just have time for the Jicks. My life is complicated and stuff, so everything is just for that now. I guess your life situation determines that. At least for me.
Weld: You have young children now, right?
SM: Yeah, I’ve got kids and I’ve got relationships, and I don’t have time — I only have a couple of hours each day to think about myself or music. That’s a lot different than the navel-gazing young man, you know?
Weld: Throughout your career and the new record, you’ve tipped your hat to the Grateful Dead a lot. How influential were they on your career?
SM: It’s a funny group. I don’t really spend much time thinking about them. For some reason, with the new drummer I got, he grew up listening to Phish and he was into the jam band stuff. He’s in an indie rock band, so he likes everything. But I think I started thinking a little about what I liked about some of the west coast psychedelic music or what the feel of it is that I like, I tried to put that in our music.
Then combine that with what it became in the ’80s and ’90s as a nostalgia act — it was interesting phenomenon. I’m sure in Birmingham, the fraternities and stuff like the Grateful Dead. At U. of Alabama, it could be a cool thing for people to be into. It’s sort of defines them as, “I’m kind of chill and I like to party and everything is all right. [Laughs.] Come to our party. Come to our kegger.”
Weld: Where is “Shady Lane”?
SM: It’s just a place in your mind. It’s a suburban world where there’s old trees that were planted in the ’20s — probably some of those where you live. In California sometimes, finding some shade can be a challenge in these new suburbs, new trees. I like older, ’20s trees that were planted in the first go-around in these places.
Weld: How much Pavement material goes into a Jicks show now?
SM: We’ve just been doing it at the end of the shows now, like one song, people get stoked by it. We’re giving. It’s all about giving and receiving. If people are giving us love, we try to think, “What can we do for someone that spent a lot of effort to get to our show?” Money, too. Maybe they have to get a babysitter. They’re using part of their income to come. So we cater to that a little bit.
Weld: How do you feel about the trend of bands reuniting for festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo?
SM: I think it’s fine. Why not? People want to see you and someone wants to pay you money to do it? Go have a dream. Play your songs again. Have fun. That’s what Pavement did. I think the reunions are entertaining for the audience. People like it. They get touched to relive their — to singalong with the songs that defined their younger days.
The aesthetics of it? I’m not sure. Sometimes the music can be kind of weak. But if people come at it from a place of love, everyone wins.
[Malkmus sings a few bars of “Everyone’s a Winner” by Hot Chocolate — “Everyone’s a winner baby, that’s for true.” (guitar)]
Weld: What band would you pay to see reunite?
SM: Hot Chocolate would be great. I’d love to see that. I mean, I’m sure they’re playing right now. Some version. That’s the problem — any classic band, except for this totemic, like, Led Zeppelin or something — they’re out there touring. Everyone is touring to make a buck. Everyone is together! There’s no one else to ask! I really can’t think. I mean, the Allman Brothers are out there. Seger, he’s out there. U2, they’re still going. R.E.M.? Don’t care. Don’t need to see that anymore.
Maybe something from Alabama — there was this jangly band from Alabama that I kind of liked…
Weld: Wet Willie?
SM: Well, no, Wet Willie is classic rock. This is more like R.E.M. style. They were from Alabama. I can’t remember now. I guess I must not want it that bad.
Weld: So you’re not an R.E.M. fan?
SM: No, I like them. I just don’t need to see them reform. There’s no need. They did their thing, and I enjoyed it. But I don’t need anymore.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
SM: Well, there’s Pavement. Maybe Hendrix? He’s American. His band is British, but he’s welcome with us. There’s Steely Dan. That’s three. There’s Prince, he can be in there with the Revolution. And maybe, like, Bo Diddley. The Beach Boys are pretty good, too. They can maybe take Pavement’s spot. Maybe.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks will play the Bottletree on March 5 at 9 p.m. Purling Hiss will open. The show is sold out.