Stephen Malkmus Hits The Pavement With The Jicks

Although the singles started circulating in ‘89, it wasn’t until the release of the band’s 1992 debut album, “Slanted and Enchanted,” that Pavement set the barometer by which all subsequent lo-fi indie rock would be judged.

It became known as “slacker rock,” and it came at a time when Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains ruled the airwaves. While most of what screamed out of Seattle at theat time beat everyone over the head with an anvil, the Stockton, Calif., band Pavement delivered the punch line with a poke in the side and a knowing wink. Lead singer/guitarist and principle creative force Stephen Malkmus convinced fans that maybe, just maybe, they were in on the joke as well, but he did it at arm’s length, of course.

The band’s crunching guitars were tastefully tempered as much by Pavement’s pop sensibility as by their sloppy presentation. This, of course, combined with the band’s off-handed, even detached intellectualism, made Pavement, well, infintely cool. The band’s sound was a indebted to The Velvet Underground as it was to Television. Yet, Pavement was a nerdish bunc, which was part of the allure – great music from a group without artifice.

Five records followed “Slanted and Enchanted,” and most were greeted with critical genuflecting. Unfortunately, the final album, 1999's “Terror Twilight,” was released as the crickets chirped in the waning light of the band’s final hours. It was perhaps, an unfair critical assessment of a good album from a brilliant band that never saw the type of record sales to match its stature. So the bad (and very ole) news is that Pavement is done. The good (not nearly as old) news is that former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus has gone solo with a self-titled album, “Stephen Malkmus,” released in February, 1991.

The recording sounds like a Pavement record with new textures and a shift in sense of humor. “Trojan Curfes,” for instance, finds the Greek gods bored, hanging around getting drunk on Helios awaiting the sacrifices to come. Malkmus plays a gorgeious slide guitar throughout the song. The record also frees him to use instruments fans wouldn’t have heard on any Pavement album toy piano, steel drums, and flutes to weave the various textures.

His new band, The Jicks (the label made him call the album “Stephen Malkmus” to help sales) “took a while to get it together, because we were new and untested,” Malkmus says as he switches from his failing portable phone to another line at his house in the hills above Portland, Ore. “Now we’re pretty smooth. Ithink we’re pretty tough.”

“He’s really good. He also plays sampler and keyboards just a real utility player. He’s great,” says Malkmus in his laid-back Northern California drawl.

Malkmus sounds enthusiastic about embarking on tour and what it holds for this new unit. Although it’s not the band’s first trip out together, this time the Jicks are more confident in their new skin.

After 10 years with his previous band, it seems Malkmus is enjoying the new freedoms and possibilities of what might lie ahead for The Jicks.

But still, much has been made of the Pavement break-up. Over the years there were many threats from the band that they were calling it quits. In the end, these band splits proved to be either speculative or simply idle threats. And, in much of the press over the years, a common theme would present itself again and again: Malkmus was widely considered to be the talent, and the rest of Pavement were inept side players.

Writers have often implied that this is the way Malkmus views himself and his relationship with the reast of the members of Pavement. Why, then, would the deified crown prince of Indie-dom lay his head in such music squalor for 10 years? He certainly doesn't come off like a tyrant.

“I’ve never been one to say that they were inept,” he explains. “I was the one that always said, ‘This is our sound, and the way we play comes from the tenets of punk rock. You can do anything that you want. You don’t have to be Mister Chops, you know.? It’s more from the heart than your mathematical rock style. I may have said something about one thing about one specific song that we couldn’t pull off, but that’s never been the ruling ethos of my feelings about Pavement.”

That’s not to say the band didn’t have differences either. “We ran into some dead ends in some ways,” he admits. “After playing together for so many years, things started to get a little repetetive, but more in the way we worked, not because of how good we were. We just did what we did. I mean, as long as the people are cool, you can do anything with whatever you are presented. You can’t do this with session people – getting in the van and traveling. You want to be able to share these small victories, or dfeats with people that you like. I just felt that we had done everything that we could do in that line-up.”