Stephen Malkmus: expert Scrabble player, The Wire enthusiast (“It’s been a source of meaning in my life for the last eight months”), husband, father, indie-rock demigod. And — as I found out when I reached him by phone at his home in Portland, Oregon, as he was gearing up to say goodbye to his wife and two young children for the first leg of a six-week tour in support of Real Emotional Trash (Matador), his fourth album with his post-Pavement band the Jicks — still running down a rock-and-roll fantasy.
The new album is, for lack of a better word, jammier than your previous work.
I think we wanted to push the instrumental side a little more and just not be so tight and compact with everything. We were probably listening to records that had some more guitar instrumental parts.
Like . . . ?
I was just down at the store and there was an early Fleetwood Mac song playing, and I was like, “Oh, that’s almost like what we did.” It had like a tom-tom blues part at the start, and then it had this guitar outro that was no singing, just guitar — seemed like what we were doing. Guitar interplay, I like that. We’re not doing herky-jerky hi-hat post-punk. Like, get over it, you know? We don’t do that. Other people can do that — they’ve got the jeans/genes for it. Both ways, jeans/genes.
What was the recording process like? Were you guys pretty well rehearsed before you went in, or were you figuring stuff out as you went?
We were pretty rehearsed. We knew what we wanted to do. It was just a matter of doing it. A couple songs were question marks, maybe the shorter ones, actually. Like, “How do we do them, what tempo?” But we were ready. It had been a while, so to have the opportunity to record — I was really excited to go, so there was no shortage of ideas.
You recorded parts of it at Wilco’s studio.
We did some guitar overdubs at Jeff Tweedy’s studio. It’s a really wonderful place, and he is an incredibly gracious guy to let us do it. I just want to thank him publicly in the Boston Phoenix for allowing us that opportunity. I wish I had a place like that, of course, but I don’t have the foresight.
You’re probably sick of hearing and talking about Pavement-reunion rumors, but you guys seem to have a tendency to throw tidbits at the press.
I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not really throwing any tidbits out there. People are asking me, and I just don’t know what to say, you know? I have no interest in talking about it, but people ask me about it, and I’m not gonna be a jerk. I also don’t want to be hung up about it, like, “Why are you asking me about that again? This is my solo career, it’s sacred.”
EW.com recently reported something about a possible appearance at the Matador 20th-anniversary party in 2009.
I could have said that. It’s true — they asked me to do that, and I guess I was just being loose-lipped. But that wouldn’t be a real show. We would show up there and not even rehearse. To really do a reunion, it just seems like so much organization and planning, and it’s just uncivilized in a way. The time might be right, but it just doesn’t feel right to me, personally. I haven’t talked to everyone about it. I could be in a room with everybody in the band and be like, “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” But we’re never together, and everyone’s doing different things. I’m just not in connection with what Pavement really means, either, so I don’t know how fun it would be now. I guess I’m in denial or something. I’m just into this — what we’re doing now means so much more to me than a Pavement reunion would. It’s hard for me to think about. But also, there’s a time later. Maybe there is a time for that. I don’t know myself well enough. I’m like being psychoanalyzed here. [Laughs.] I say I don’t want to talk about it and then I talk about it. It’s ridiculous.
Has fatherhood affected your songwriting?
I don’t think so. I mean, there’s a couple words that drop in there that I probably wouldn’t have thought of mentioning, but the overall tenor of the jams and the attitude of it is probably not what the average parent would have. I’m pretty oblivious to that part of my life when I’m making music. It’s really just the fantasy of rocking, you know? In every boy’s heart. And girl’s, in our case.