Stephen Malkmus wigs out

“I would say I’m the only jagbag in the band because I can sometimes — every once a month I can be sort of withering and say provocative passive-aggressive shit. But I don’t remember anyone in the band being jagbags. Mike the keyboardist he can turn into Mean Mike but he’s not even a jagbag he’s just… mean. You know? I’m not really mean I’m more… full of shit.”

I’m talking to Stephen Malkmus over the phone. He’s obviously tired (early quote: “It was nice to get to bed at… early”) having just flown into San Francisco a few hours ago and I’m the last of three phone interviews. He has a cold too. From his opening “hello” I already feel as if I’m inconveniencing him – not that Malkmus is known for being a grump but he is known for getting bored easily and not suffering fools gladly. With his position as one of the most lauded and influential songwriters of the ’90s (he along with Pavement may as well be responsible for “slacker” being in the lexicon of musical descriptors) he’s also answered all the obvious questions enough times to warrant such ennui’d greetings.

Needless to say when discussing his new album Wig Out at Jagbags I didn’t bother asking what a “jagbag” is (Midwestern slang for “jerkoff” — you’re welcome) or what he thinks about Dag Nasty (they’re punks!). No Stephen Malkmus has a new album out full of hooky tunes and cool guitar playing he sings the word “pugnacious” — nothing “new” but he could probably release a spoken word album of non-sequiturs and still have people in a tizzy. Dude’s also been touring almost non-stop since January and recently moved back to Portland with his family after a few years in Berlin.

“When you’re on these tours it’s kind of like — I mean I love it and stuff but it’s sometimes like working on an oil rig or something. You’re fully away from your own life and you’re in a new life” says Malkmus.

“It’s a little better than being at an oil rig though” he adds laughing.

Perhaps fittingly several of the songs on Jagbags were written on the road which is likely where much of the album’s rock n’ roll impetus comes from — in fact one of its songs was written and debuted a few years back in Calgary.

“There’s a song called ‘Chartjunk’ on the album… and the first time I taught it to the band we played in Calgary at Sled Island outside in the rain and I’d just made up the song. I’m like ‘I’m just going to make up a dumb rock song’ and I taught it to the band during that sound check and we played it that night” Malkmus explains.

Jagbags also marks a further retreat from the extended jams one might associate with prior Jicks albums like Real Emotional Trash and Pig Lib and when pressed about whether or not these songs get a chance to stretch out live Malkmus airs reticence.

“Long songs they can be fun maybe one a night. But if you’re playing every night then you sometimes have to force the jam you know? You’d rather just play nice songs or have a set list be different and like talk or be improvisational in your person.” He sighs.

“There’s nothing worse than if you see a band and they’re going through the motions or something. You see it all the time if you see big bands they just whatever they can’t bring it every night. So we try to not do that — I don’t want to have that taste in my mouth I don’t want people to feel that way. It used to happen in Pavement more often because we just played way too much — just ‘ugh not again….’”

Malkmus is more keen to discuss recent tour mates Tyvek and Purling Hiss (“they’re great!”) Vietnamese coffee (“Pure sugar you know those things? Fuckin’ gnarly. You have to come down from it like drugs. What I imagine drugs are like.”) and travelling through Western Canada (“Fuck that I’m not gonna make that drive”) but the music speaks for itself. Put simply go see Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.