With the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks album Mirror Traffic just around the corner, excitement is running high for the record's release. The Beck-produced album is the first Malkmus hasn't self-produced since Pavement dissolved over a decade ago. And speaking with Malkmus, it's obvious he thinks it's his best in a while.
In an interview with Exclaim!, Malkmus opened up about how Beck producing the record enabled the band to record a better album. "I was into what [Beck] had to say, completely," Malkmus enthuses. "It was just great to have someone there that's positive, saying, 'Okay, here's where we are now, we're this far, we're going to take this ship home,' and to not have to bother yourself with the production side of things. You just play and be yourself, be more your musical self than your technical self, which I suppose can cloud up your vision or your performances a little bit."
The statement is telling, and suggests that without having to worry about producing, Malkmus felt more free to be himself in the studio. Asked whether recording with Beck was more fun than he's used to having in the studio, Malkmus asserts a positive "yes."
"Well, it was more fun than the last one [2008's Real Emotional Trash]. We had some technical issues a couple of years ago that made it a bit of a struggle just to get the sound that we wanted. It didn't flow like we wanted it to. It was good, but it wasn't easy, like slaloming downhill, which I felt like with Beck.
"A couple songs we did didn't come out -- one of them we didn't even finish, and the other one was just okay, and there were things we could have mixed better, or gotten a better take on -- but generally, it just was kind of quick and pretty fun. It was less work than some albums I've done."
Beck, Malkmus continues, was an especially good fit for the new record, and ensured that his touch was subtle, never forceful. "When you have a producer, you kind of hope it will be less work, because you have less to be responsible for, but I know it could go the other way where the producer's making you do things over and over again. 'Sing it again, a little better.' There was nothing like that, though. He was pretty soft on me. He just let me do my thing as much as I could."
Of course, the band also had a hand in the success of the sessions. "We were pretty well-rehearsed and ready to go on this record," explains Malkmus. "I thought we were for the one before, but there were some sonic, ten-minute builds and cresting, up and down, Led Zeppelin, orgasmic attempts. This time, we just said, 'Let's get some quick tunes in there, some good singing, some good playing, not too flashy, just get in and out, quick.'"
Asked whether the Pavement reunion had a profound influence on Mirror Traffic, Malkmus is coy at first. "It just made it come out later," he quips. "It could have been out like a year ago. That's about it, it just delayed us finishing it. It made it so the rest of the band was kind of waiting around, having to take jobs, or join new bands, in Janet's [Weiss, now the drummer for Wild Flag] case. They were waiting around for me to get back to what I really did. But song-wise and music-wise, I already had the tunes, so they were totally unrelated."
That Malkmus calls the Jicks "what he really [does]" is significant, but that doesn't mean he harbours any ill will towards his former band, and indeed, he had quite a few kind words to spare about Pavement, and how the group helped him to get where he is today.
"I'm proud of everything that we did in Pavement. That was ten of my prime years. I wouldn't want to just throw those years away. When you're 28, when you're a baseball player, that's supposed to be your magic year -- you score your most home runs, you're the fastest -- and then you trail off slightly after that. I don't expect people to forget about my prime years and focus on [my work with the Jicks]. Plus, they build off of each other. It brings some people in, I hope. It's hard to start from nothing."
Mirror Traffic is out Tuesday (August 23), courtesy of Matador. Listen to the single "Senator" below, and change the lyrics to win a one-of-a-kind seven-inch of the song.