Stephen Malkmus

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

BY None NonePublished Jul 1, 2005

What are you up to?
I'm kicking around New York, seeing friends. I went to Harlem, some museums; I saw a good art show there. I've been watching baseball and some basketball - I really like sports. I did the fantasy basketball thing. I had Chris Bosch on my team - that guy's cool. He's an awesome dude. I also had Donyell Marshall but he only had one good game.

What are your current fixations?
I like the fantasy sports as a way to bond with my friends and make the transition to check the internet a little easier. I like to play basketball. We have these pick-up games in Portland. I'm pretty good; I didn't play for my high school team but relative to the competition that I play with I'm maybe middle of the pack, maybe a little higher, but there are some good guys there. I have to wear these kind of geek glasses, and I don't feel comfortable playing, like they're going to break. I used to be a good outside shooter, but now I feel that I squint out there and I tighten up, so I've moved into a rebounding, Chris Bosch-type player, even though I'm much smaller. And darts - I've been playing darts.

Why do you live where you do?
[Portland, Oregon] is nice. It's pretty. I have a nice house and a garden. It's a pretty good place, as far as America goes. There are lots of nice people there and the summer's great for hiking. And my parents live in Idaho, so I can go driving and check out where they live. Oregon's a famously liberal place, although it has a lot of rural areas, and where there are rural areas there are conservatives, there are churches and there's trouble. Luckily Portland's big enough, and then we've got Eugene down the way. There is kind of a counter culture history; there are a lot of bike lanes and environmental activism; a lot of environmental terrorism. Terrorists live there too unfortunately. There are also a lot of dumb hippies and dumb environmentalists, of course, as there are conservatives. I remember right after 9/11 I overheard these guys saying, "They deserved it, the people that died in that. They're just tools of the man." Like, what the fuck? You're so stupid. I almost put one of them up against the wall, which I'm not likely to do. He was littler than me; I wanted to give him some righteous anger and speak some sense about humanity to this guy, but I just saved it for the story.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Well, work of art implies that man was involved… Gerhard Richter's paintings at times have been really inspiring. In terms of music, there's been a lot there. The first time I got into the Fall was certainly a paradigm shift for me and twisted things around. And then Johnny Paycheck on a good day can move me; some of the earlier stuff. I like Iris Murdoch books; I don't know if they're mind-altering, but I like the bitter honesty.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
For me, starting quite young, I went to see a Canadian hardcore band called D.O.A. When they were first touring in 1982, I saw them open for the Dead Kennedys and they were just great and made me think I could start a band. They were really high energy, jumping around a lot, which was good for a kid. This guy Dave Gregg, the guitarist, had a skinhead with a little piece of braided hair hanging down his back and wearing a lacrosse shirt - I guess people play it in Canada - and I thought that was just some weird mix. But I was really inspired by D.O.A. - I thought they were awesome.

What have been your career highs and lows?
Some of the highs in the music thing were just the first real Pavement acceptance in the UK - although it was really media-based sensationalism - where it was really exciting to go there and have a crowd of 400 people before you'd only played a couple of shows was mind-blowing to me. I never expected that to happen. Some of the lows were…it's hard to say. I've had some really poorly attended concerts with the Jicks. We played in Wales a few years ago, the same night as the Flaming Lips and just 20 people came, but I guess it wasn't a low because I was confident in my own being. That would seem to be a low, like maybe it's time for me to hang it up, but actually some of the gruelling tours of Pavement, where there was just feeling like I was going through the motions occasionally from just over-exposure and too much touring and feeling completely tapped out. And not in a way that it was just two nights of sleep brought back, you couldn't see wanting to do it anymore.

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I've probably blocked all of that stuff out. I'm sure people have said brutal things. It's funny that I can't remember something that was particularly withering. One time with Pavement, people threw a lot of mud at us, which is in our DVD. That was disheartening in a way; that was just no respect. I felt bad at how we reacted we weren't cool under pressure. I was just like, "I give up. I don't understand you people down there, in the mud." I felt like a British royal or something because I could not connect with the people at all.

What should everyone shut up about?
Anything to do with movie stars, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I just think it's kind of tacky. Or like American Idol or something. That kind of stuff. Save it for your bedroom with your pornography collection - don't bring it out in public.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I don't like the fact that I'm not a very, well that's kind of personal. There's plenty not to like. Just classic male traits of not being open. Or being occasionally judgmental or dismissive of other people's pain. I do like my ability for grace under pressure or the ability to see the big picture. Sometimes it can come in handy not to sweat out the small things and be able to breathe through potential confrontations or bad vibes. Some good West coast easy-goingness, it's this other side of the coin of the things that weren't good.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Don't smoke cigarettes, when I was a kid. That would have been good. It's been a dumb habit. Don't drink and drive.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I would kick people out of the band for bad vibes and being unenthusiastic and not into it. I haven't really for those reasons, well, I haven't kicked anyone out of a band. The Pavement drummer [Gary Young] quit on his accord. He definitely had negative vibes and didn't see the world the way we saw it. If they were wantonly cheating on you and lying about it, I would likely kick someone out of bed for that. Saying someone else's name during lovemaking.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of the maple leaf and I think of large empty barren spaces of Alberta and I think of Montreal, a little bit, the French speaking people. I think of border hassles in Vancouver, and junkies stealing from our car. I think of Chris Bosch and the Raptors and their future, and Rafer Alston's temper - he's got to get that under control. And the storm cloud of Vince Carter leaving. He was a quitter and lame. Molson, we drank a lot of that when we were kids. Moosehead and the way that it smells when you open it - yeasty and kind of weird.

What is your vital daily ritual?
Just the morning coffee and the paper. The mornings are the best time of day as far as I'm concerned because I don't work perhaps. Well, I work, but I make my own schedule. For some people it's an anxiety time because you have to go to work and it's rushing out the door, but God bless it that we get to wake up, make coffee and read and take it slow.

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I don't have any problems with ship piracy, I'm all for it. I don't own ships and I endorse petty crime. But with the piracy of the internet, I've been involved in some piracy of computer programs - I got Windows for free and some other film editing tools - so I can understand the impulse. So I just think people who take CDs and burn songs, I really don't feel like I can judge. If you do have an emotional attachment to something it's worth paying for, but if it's just window-dressing the song and you don't care much about it then I can understand and I think you should just steal it. That's like with my computer programs; I don't love them, I think they should be on the computer any way.

What was your most memorable day job?
It would be the security guard at the Whitney. I worked at an art museum for four years and I have a lot of weird stories and funny memories from that.

How do you spoil yourself?
Buy records or on a deeper level I just do what I want to do. I have my routines, like go out to eat or kick it for a few hours and just wander.

If I wasn't playing music I would be…
Probably tried to find a focus or something else I felt passion for, but I don't know what that would really be. Maybe I would have drifted into the arts a different way because most of my friends are in that now, like doing visual art or working for a record label or in publishing. I would have tried to find a way to earn a wage, but it's hard to say what that would have been.

What do you fear most?
Being a bad person; not liked and just thought of as a selfish, dark person. Besides that, just death and what's coming after that is down there in the fear area.

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Sexy outfits and a good body.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I saw Morgan Freeman going through customs in Brazil and that was just weird being in line with him. You wouldn't think he should have to go through customs, even though he's not a huge megastar. He couldn't escape like he could in America - he'd be off the plane already there. Other than that, one not very famous guy, but at the time he was the quarterback for the Raiders, his name was Todd Marinovich. He was backstage doing coke and smoking weed at a Sonic Youth show. I don't want to slander the man but he did go into rehab. That was kind of weird. He's one of those products of a father that was overanxious and pushing him so hard to be a star that unfortunately, he never had to make his own decisions or be his own and that's how he decided to do it, by hitting the crack pipe or something.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I think we'd like to have Herman Melville here and we would serve him sushi and green tea.

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
Moms like doctors, lawyers and professors, so something like that.

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
Age 90, with a cigar and a steak and in a very manly way holding my cane across my legs.

In post-Pavement times, there really hasn't been a standout release by any members of the famed indie rock outfit, but Stephen Malkmus has finally solved this drought. While his former band-mate Spiral Stairs has been equally productive since 2000 with Preston School of Industry, Malkmus's new record, Face the Truth, is the first real shining light to come from their band's dissolution. Backed by the Jicks on his first two records, Malkmus mostly went it alone for this trip, retreating to his basement with his trusty 16-track to get the job done. "It is fair to say that I did a lot of it on my own and that's why I put just my name on the cover. We're still going — the Jicks — it's just that this time I took a little detour to the basement and went solo style a little bit more." After baffling his fans with 2003's dour Pig Lib, Malkmus has also returned with his infamous and quirky sense of humour and penchant for offbeat hooks to complement the wide scope of musical styles. "I think it might have been a reaction to the last one being so stripped down and dark sounding. I wanted to make a slightly more claustrophobic, basement sounding, off the cuff thing this time. There were some melody efforts that were different. I harmonised them myself a little more and I don't really know why it came out the way it did, it's weird." As for sticking with the timely deluxe Pavement reissues, Malkmus says unfortunately, Matador will not be doing a tenth anniversary release for Wowee Zowee in 2005, so pray for next year.
Cam Lindsay

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