Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Stephen Malkmus

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Pavement/The Jicks frontman Stephen Malkmus.

1: According to the title of her 2019 single, who wishes she was Stephen Malkmus?

Beabadoobee.

CORRECT. The song is called ‘I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus’. 

“Got that one! It was crazy and unexpected to be mentioned in a song title – especially as she was born after Pavement had packed it in!* But it’s a good song and she’s cool. I met her in Oregon when she was opening for Clairo, and we talked about how she wanted to meet Kim Gordon. My kids are fans of her. I see her in the realm of younger, ‘90s influenced guitar bands like Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail, although more grunge.”

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*Pavement first split in 1999; Beabadoobee was born one year later.

2: What four things does the barber hand to you in Pavement’s ‘Cut Your Hair’ video? 

“Hmm… a crown, maybe a cape, a sceptre and then… I can’t remember. Probably something else related to being an indie prince, but I can’t think what it is.”

WRONG. You’re indeed given a paper crown and a king’s sceptre, but you’re also handed a platter and a martini.

“Ach! I didn’t remember that part! Occasionally I’ll see a meme of me with a tear rolling down my cheek wearing the crown. But I remember other things about that video, like one guy [guitarist Scott Kannberg] dressed as a gorilla and someone [percussionist Bob Nastanovich] trying to drink the cleaning fluid for the combs, so bonus points?! The ‘90s was a time of million-dollar-budget music videos – this was not one of them!”

3: Kim Gordon once turned one of ‘your’ tweets into a painting. What did it say?

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“It wasn’t actually me who made the tweet, but was it something about Derrida?”

CORRECT. Close enough – it said ‘Who is Derrida?’”

“There used to be a fake Twitter account of me. It was somebody pretending to be me – it was even verified. The person just put themselves into my mindset x 20 slacker. I’ve never talked to her about it. I mean, it doesn’t matter because it’s all grist for the mill for her creativity, and even the fact it was a forgery is certainly something you can talk about in an art gallery. Oh – and Jacques Derrida is a French philosopher!”

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4: In 2011, you held a contest to find a radio-friendly replacement for the word ‘blowjob’ in the Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks song ‘Senator’. What won?

“Um, I remember that, but I don’t recall what won. Sorry, braincells lost! Snow-job?”

WRONG. It was corn dog.

“Yes! That makes me think of a [1980s] band called Minutemen from San Pedro, California. One of their best songs, ‘History Lesson: Part II’, says ‘We were fucking corn dogs’, so that’s why we chose it. I think even Bob Nastanovich from Pavement entered that competition and tried to win!”

5: Mark E. Smith once accused Pavement of ripping him off, saying: ‘They haven’t got an original idea in their heads’. But can you guess which artist the late The Fall frontman is slagging off in the following quotes? One point for any identified.

i: ‘[He sounds like] a duff singer songwriter from the ’70s you find in charity shops.’

“Um… Ed Sheeran?”

Blimey….CORRECT.

“Oh really?! Well… he’s paid his dues. I’m not going to start a war with Ed Sheeran, the blue-eyed soulster. People like that one-man band thing he does. Should he be busking on the streets of Dublin or collecting the English equivalent of a Grammy left, right and centre? You decide!”

This next one is somebody you know…

ii: ‘He should have his rock licence revoked.’

“Um, Damon Albarn?”

WRONG. It’s Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

“Argh! I thought there would be a Sonic Youth one in there, ‘cos I know he [Mark E Smith] talked shit about them, so I was waiting for that, but I picked the wrong one!”

iii: ‘If I could afford a lawyer, I just might pull an injunction on them mentioning our name.’

“Hmm… Primal Scream? I don’t know!”

WRONG. It was Franz Ferdinand.

“Gah! I wouldn’t have thought they were mentioning The Fall that much, but I can see it now. Fair enough!”

Just as you had been inspired by The Fall, Damon Albarn (whose rock licence remains in full working order) was hugely influenced by Pavement…

“Well, I think Britpop was halfway over and they were looking for an escape hatch. It was all Kula Shaker and Oasis going [He sings a boisterous version of ‘D’you Know What I Mean?’] – so they were running for the hills. We became friends with Justine Frischmann when Elastica replaced Sinéad O’Connor on 1995’s Lollapalooza tour – we bonded over our love of The Fall! – and through her, Damon. On Blur’s album ‘13’, they were looking to have a different, less produced, more personal sound – Pavement were probably a good place to look.”

NME Braincells logo6: Which classic actress did Courtney Love once compare you to?

“She called me the Grace Kelly of indie rock.”

CORRECT.

“‘Cos she’s a really cool, fashionable, actress so I take that as a compliment. When I heard that, I thought Courtney Love is cool in my book. It’s better than being the Molly Ringwald of indie!”

She’s receiving the Icon Award at this year’s NME Awards…

“She’s legendary. She’s done a lot of stuff, made cool songs and been there for ground zero of grunge with her husband, so she’s a good choice. There’s something kinda ‘80s rock star about her, which is good and bad. She has an aura. You notice she’s there – whether it’s her blonde hair, her perfume or make-up or outfit or whatever, you definitely feel you’re in her presence.”

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7: What was the risqué working title for Pavement’s 1995 album ‘ Wowee Zowee’?

“‘Dick-Sucking Fool at Pussy-Licking School’? That one?”

CORRECT.

“That was Bob’s suggestion. We were thinking something like Cocksucker Blues, The Rolling Stones’ unreleased documentary where they’re acting really decadent on tour and in their private plane. We like titles that rhyme and that’s the rhyme he came up with! I never put it forward to the record company suits.”

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8: Kim Gordon guests on the Jicks’ 2018 ballad ‘Refute’. But which pop star was your second choice to appear on the track?

Lorde?”

CORRECT.

“We were also considering Chan Marshall from Cat Power – we shoot for the moon! A trifecta of great singers.”

At the time, you said Lorde “owed you a favour”…

“We were internet buddies for a second. We were in touch, initially through her manager and then she wrote me and we worked out this… something… but I have not talked to her on the internet since I tried to get her to sing that song. Which she didn’t do. But I’m not upset. I just sent her a couple more emails based on what we had talked about before and I never heard back from her, but she was probably busy doing ‘Melodrama’, so I understand.”

9: Which two bands did Pavement play between at 1992’s Reading festival?

“Huh! Man! L7 and… Mudhoney? Teenage Fanclub? Evan Dando? I don’t know… L7 and Screaming Trees?”

CORRECT.

“Oh really?! Good! I remember L7 being there because I saw some video footage where they were hanging out with us. No disrespect to Screaming Trees, I don’t remember them being there but I know they were popular and from the same era, so it was just a process of elimination!”

Pavement are reuniting for two festival appearances – at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound and its sister event in Porto, Portugal – this year. How did it come about?

“It just came up randomly. There’s certain elements of Pavement who want to play every year, every day, but that’s not in the cards for me. I was trying to find the time and place where it sounded fun, and it just all aligned this time.”

Will there be any new music from Pavement?

“No, we’re just doing the live shows. I just think we should try and be like the 1990s – that’s the goal, and to the best of my ability, tap into the vibe of what the band was. It’s pretty much just pure nostalgia in my mind, but I want to try and get that right.”

10: You’re a big Scrabble fan. How many points would you get for the word ‘Pavement’?

“In the English edition without double letters? Well p is worth three points, v is worth four, and m’s worth three so that’s 10 and then (Adding it up) a, e, e, n, t – five… 15?”

WRONG. It’s 65.

How so?! Sorry – you’re right. I forgot it’s an eight letter word, and you receive 50 points for using all seven tiles! That was tricky! At least I got the correct amount for the letters. Shit!”

Have you played against any good musicians?

“I’ve heard Stuart [Braithwaite] from Mogwai is into it – though I haven’t played him. It’s an embarrassing thing I play on my phone in secret. There used to be a talk function on it, and one guy threatened to come over and murder me because I used the word ‘taenia’ and he thought I was cheating!”

NME Braincells logoThe verdict: 7/10

“My daughter’s obsessed with grades now, so I can tell her I got a good score!”

The new Stephen Malkmus  single, ‘Xian Man’, is out now. The album, ‘Traditional Techniques’ is released March 6 on Domino

 

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