Stephen Malkmus Pounds the Pavement to Tel Aviv

The American indie music legend comes to the Barby club with his eponymous group Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks in their first Israel appearance.

A quick look into the history of American indie music will find that the road was first covered by Pavement, the band formed in California in 1989 whose lo-fi tunes and smart lyrics revolutionized the underground music scene and heralded the subsequent explosion of alternative rock that defined the 1990s.

Stephen Malkmus, the indie legend and Pavement frontman, arrives in Israel for a performance at the Barby club in Tel Aviv on August 22 with his current band, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Though the concert marks the bands first date here, it wont be the first time Malkmus has visited.  Hes already been to Jerusalem twice, Haifa, Ramallah, Najaf and said he hopes to get to the Negev on this trip.  

In its early years, Pavement shunned the spotlight, avoiding live shows and eschewing publicity. Throughout his career, while some of his indie rock contemporaries went mainstream with major recording studios, Malkmus has stuck with indie labels throughout his various projects.  

Pavement recorded its first EP in the home studio of Gary Young, the man who would become its drummer, then distributed a thousand copies.  That EP turned out to be a hit among fans of underground rock, among them John Peel, the renowned radio DJ and presenter who subsequently played their song "Box Elder" on his show and helped introduce the group to a broader audience.

During its heyday, Pavement butted heads with some of its musical peers.  Allegedly, the song "Range Life," from their iconic second album "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" was a jab at the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins had Pavement removed from the Lollapalooza Festival lineup in 1994, where the Pumpkins were headlining, and threatened to cancel if Malkmus showed up. Malkmus has denied the claim and tried to downplay the conflict, saying his song had been misinterpreted, but the accusation stands.

Pavement disbanded in 1999, but its decade-long run with five full-length albums and nine EPs, were met with both critical and popular acclaim and left an undisputed mark on American music.

These days, Malkmus is still attracting the attention of vanguard musicians looking to team up with him. His latest album with the Jicks, released earlier this year, is psychedelic and refined – and was produced by none other than the celebrated indie-rock musician Beck.

"Beck called me up and said he was a producer now, Malkmus told Haaretz via email. It was perfect timing because we were looking for someone.

Swedish Reggae

In 1999, during the short interval between the breakup of Pavement and the founding of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Malkmus participated in a brief project (one of many) called Kims Bedroom, with rockers Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame. Also on the project were producer and avant-garde musician Jim ORourke and well-known Japanese drummer Ikue Mori.

The super group performed live several times but never released an album.  Asked whether theres a chance that they might reunite, Malkmus said, I doubt it. That was a one-off event curated by Kim for a specific festival."

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks was founded in 2000, shortly after Pavement broke up. Its biggest fans, who don't easily succumb to nostalgia, say the group is even better than Pavement, which also reunited briefly in 2010 for a well-received tour.

For the new project, the record company decided to trade on Malkmus name recognition and insisted on including it in the bands title, rather than just calling the group The Jicks, which Malkmus preferred.  

"It has a ring to it like Buddy Holly and the Crickets, he says of the name. Kind of '50s style." As for the origins of the word Jicks, Malkmus said simply, I made it up.

The groups first album, released in 2001, was given the eponymous name Stephen Malkmus though Malkmus, ever the cynic, wanted to call it Swedish Reggae.  Subsequent albums have gone in a more psychedelic direction, approaching psycho blues and progressive rock.  Their latest album, "Mirror Traffic," has taken a turn toward sweeter tunes.

"The songs are focused more on singsong melodies and melodic chords and solos, Malkmus said of the recent offering.

Malkmus and the Jicks have released five albums to date.  The band now includes Jake Morris, Mike Clark, and Joanna Bolme.

Influences and non-influences

Malkmus breaks down his three favorite psychedelic albums for Haaretz:

"Ege Bamyasi" by Can (1972) – "I never really get tired of this album. It has a late-night feel to it and sounds good in the dark."

"The Doors" by The Doors – "This album is overplayed but it does the doomy Vietnam thing quite well."

"Parachute" by The Pretty Things – "An underrated band that could have been the Stones if they had played their cards right."

One musician Malkmus has never considered himself a big fan of is Bob Dylan. Despite this, he contributed three Dylan songs to the soundtrack for "Im Not There, the 2007 Dylan-inspired film directed by Todd Haynes. So whyd he do it? Because he was asked.

"It was fun to immerse myself in Dylan," said Malkmus, who has said elsewhere that he gained a new appreciation for the artist during that process. "What a crazy diamond he is!"

When asked whom Malkmus would want to collaborate with in the future, he mentions Tim Gane of Stereolab. Is that a hint of things to come? Malkmus wont say.

Leah Nash
Leah Nash