Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Fixin’ to thrill

Fixin’ to thrill

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: High five for the lo-fi
Photo: Leah Nash

With a new Beck-produced LP under their belt, Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks continue to thrill

Availing of his days in 90s underground indie sensation Pavement, Stephen Malkmus is still regarded as one of those musicians to be spoken about in hushed, reverential tones. Following Pavement’s acrimonious breakup in 1999, Malkmus threw his rather high-profile eccentricities into Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, making meandering, and frequently ingenious, post-rock and pop(ish) albums with titles like Real Emotional Trash. Yet for the band’s fifth full-length, Mirror Traffic, Malkmus has stepped away from the producer’s desk, offered the reins to Beck and, in his own words, tried to make something "relevant."

"I guess the marketplace determines how relevant something is, or just how people relate to something, if they can groove with it," says Malkmus, reached at home in Berlin. "That’s still a process that is being figured out, but people that write blogs about music like it. They like most things though. People are going to be mostly positive about most things, I think, it’s not a really hateful world out there. I don’t really know what I’m trying to achieve. You hear it when you know it on some songs by other people, if they’ve got the good spirit to them and good quality rock and roll that we love. We hear it in others, but you probably can’t hear it in yourself because you’re deluded by the effort or hope."

The influence of Beck on Mirror Traffic is unmistakable, and represents an inspired, if not somewhat unconventional, fit. For Malkmus, long the producer on every Jicks record and single, stepping away from the boards was actually easier than he thought.

"I didn’t really know what [Beck] would bring to it and what his sound would be," reveals Malkmus. "As it turned out, he went for a clean, slightly lo-fi sound, like I wouldn’t call it hi-fi in terms of being wet and big, like somebody who was being fancy would be. Sometimes he wanted things to sound thin and small in a way, in an old-fashioned 60s way. You never really know what you’re going to get when you work with somebody. We just went in and started, and then it was the sound coming out of the speakers. There was no effort to reprocess things like a big rock band or whatever. He’s not into tricks and big, blown-out sounds. He’s coming from a musician’s side first, and I reckon that’s comforting. You don’t come away feeling worked into something you’re not.

"Mirror Traffic is kind of weird within its parameters. There are some standard chord progressions, but if you combine it with my lyrics and voice, and the way the Jicks are playing around them, it’s still kind of like pop punk or something. All the harmonies and melodies together… I wouldn’t call it sophisticated, but it’s really heady at times."

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Pop Montreal at Théâtre Corona
September 23

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