Found slouching center stage on any given night through the ’90s — tall, gangly, mop-topped and forever apathetic — was Stephen Malkmus. Some now consider the former frontman of Pavement (the slacker outfit often hailed as “the most important band of the ’90s”) to be a larger-than-life character, a sentiment echoed in a recent interview with drummer Janet Weiss, the latest addition to Malkmus’ band, the Jicks.
“Usually it’s no big deal, I’m not really a star-struck kind of person,” Weiss laughed. She joined the Jicks in 2006, replacing John Moen, who left to pursue full-time duties alongside Colin Meloy and The Decemberists. “Every once in a while, though, I’ll hear Stephen singing in my headphones and realize that, hey, that’s the guy from Pavement. He’s really just a normal guy; all of us [Jicks] are pretty normal people. I got over the shock of playing with him after, like, 20 minutes.”
Malkmus and the Jicks just released their fourth album, Real Emotional Trash, to glowing reviews, including a rare four-and-a-half-star rating from legendary Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield. The 10-song album is a new turn for Malkmus, one that sees him noodling around on his guitar more than ever, opening up each song in ways he’s only done from time to time over the years. Trash is an organic, collaborative and fuzzy rock ’n’ roll album that splices together ’70s stoner rock with ’90s indie-rock.
“We don’t really tour,” explained Weiss, who was a member of indie power-trio Sleater-Kinney and also currently drums and sings for indie-rock mainstays Quasi. “Since Stephen became a dad we only really play shows for two or so weeks at a time. I call it ‘Baby Schedule.’ This is the first full round of Jick touring for me.”
Growth-through-touring is not at all surprising mantra considering the record they made. "We really wanted to focus on the four of us playing in one room together and what happens when four people get together and improvise," explained Weiss, who joined Malkmus and longtime Jicks Joanna Bolme (bass) and Mike Clark (keys, guitar) for the Trash sessions, her first as a Jick.
"We wanted to record on tape and we wanted it to be as organic as possible,” continued Weiss. “It seems like records these days have a really cold feel to them, almost as if a bunch of people who don't really know each other are playing to a click track in separate rooms. We wanted to do the opposite of that because a lot of the records that we all love are just a bunch of people playing together in a room."
Trash has been disregarded by its few naysayers as a "jam record" due to its lengthy compositions, which are — as Weiss implied — the very reason the Jicks are able to keep getting better. "Well, I love to jam, you know,” Weiss said.” Improvise. It's awesome. Awesome." She laughed after a moment of hesitation. "It's the most fun thing you can do as a musician…Stephen won't even say the word 'jam.' But, really, I don't really think it's a jam album, there are some long passages, but those are just the songs we ended up with, not jams. Those are how the songs go."
Malkmus previous record, Face the Truth, was his first since becoming a daddy. He wrote and recorded the album in his house, playing nearly every instrument, Todd Rundgren style. While the album was very good and did have its fair share of all-out brilliant moments, it seemed, more than anything Malkmus has done, to look back at some of his previous work. Not Trash. Trash is thick and loud and long and collaborative, all attributes none of his other records wholly embrace. It's the kind of record made to be opened up on stage, but only if you have a proper guitar player leading the charge.
"I don't really know any guitar player who is better than Steve,” Weiss said. “He's one of the best guitar players I've ever had as a peer. When he really turns it on, well, it's just kind of incredible and totally energizing. It makes me want to go to the place that he's gone to. And he doesn't always go there, but sometimes he just cranks it into overdrive. In Quasi and Sleater-Kinney there was never just one focal point, so that's been different for me with this band. With the Jicks there's definitely a leader, and he is just such a great guitar player."
One final observation: Stephen Malkmus likes playing with girls. Elastica's Justine Frischmann, current bassist Bolme, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and now legendary post-rriot girl Weiss have all spent plenty of time on stage with Malkmus, all but Gordon as a member of The Jicks. Maybe it's a trust thing (Malkmus supposedly looks to Bolme for decision-making help) or just a simple matter of communication (a recent interview implied that Malkmus likes to have Weiss around for interviews), but something has changed. Stephen Malkmus is doing things differently these days. He's really, truly collaborating and, if the recent bootlegs floating around are any indication, his live show is the better for it.
The Jicks are joined by opening act John Vanderslice throughout their tour dates in March and early April. Vanderslice, who continues to provoke with his latest album, Emerald City (named after the Green Zone in Baghdad), will hang around until 1:30 p.m. Sunday to play a free brunch in-store at Luna Music (5202 N. College Ave.)