Stephen Malkmus is indie rock. A more succinct definition or illustrative example of the genre and the business ethos couldn't possibly exist. He is prolific, enduring, and ridiculously talented—a gifted guitar player and a Scrabble-savant lyricist. His most recent solo album, Face the Truth, further cements his already historical importance.
In 2005 he became a father. In 2006 he turned 40, and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi) joined his band, the Jicks, as a permanent member.
Malkmus graciously interrupted his morning hygiene routine to ramble and, yes, mumble about birthdays, Seattle vs. Portland, Johnny Marr's singular jangle, and the necessity of cutting your hair.
So you turned 40 this year?
Yeah, I guess so. I don't care about that. It's a number that is higher than 39 and lower than 41, but it's relatively irrelevant in my profession—except maybe your voice drops a little bit. I'm hoarse today from singing last night. Um, I'm brushing my teeth. Yeah, I turned 40. [Brushing sounds... spitting... rinsing.]
I still shred, probably much harder than I did back then, except vocally. I don't scream like a teenager. You shouldn't scream if you're 40; that's just ridiculous.
You once said, "Seattle kind of sucks. The people there are so mean." Why do you think that is?
Well, I don't know if that's really true. At the time when Sub Pop was just starting, or when it first became popular with Kurt Cobain and Soundgarden, there was sort of a certain smug feeling with these rockers. And now that's probably changed because it got taken away for a few years until Isaac Brock signed some bands for them or something.
As far as people, it's just like anywhere else, I think. You know, perhaps there is a Scandinavian reticence or something that makes people less outgoing than some places, or maybe that's a reflection of the environment. Maybe when Microsoft came and things changed from the Boeing/service economy to this new technological thing it created a rift in the society with the haves and have-nots and new people moving up there, so you get people in trucks and Mariners hats mixed with these wannabe San Francisco types and it's just kind of weird. I don't know....
You have the same Mariners-baseball-hat person and Seattle has the same liberal-college-grad person. It's cheaper to live here, which is nice, but it's almost exactly the same. Maybe it's more relaxed.
I like Seattle, don't get me wrong. I always have a good time now when I go there. Probably when I said that I hadn't visited or stayed there. I like going to the sporting events, and there's a yoga instructor there that's 20 times better than any Portland yoga instructor.
What about Portland's music scene?
There's stuff going on, you know. There's all varieties. I'm not totally privileged to know. There's the Kingdom and the Get Hustle. I like this band, the Get Hustle; I think they're weird. The Shins, of course, they're a big... multinational... corporation. The Decemberists, the Shins, that's like... the new black or something.
The new Nike?
[Laughs] Yeah. There's just crazy stuff... Marriage Records, this guy Curtis, has got some good stuff. Hutch Harris's band [the Thermals] is good. Modest Mouse live here now—they're on the top of the food chain here by far. I've seen Johnny Marr around town....
Are you a Smiths fan?
Yeah, I always liked them. They were kind of unique in a good way, a weird band with a weird sound. I never paid attention—I thought it was just all jangly, but it's more than just jangly, what [Marr] does. I was anti-jangle back then. I liked R.E.M., but the jangle had to go when the '90s came, I'm sorry.
Well you guys get jangly here and there....
Yeah, sorta, but it's not fey and drenched in reverb. It's probably a more country jangle. It doesn't come with a mop top. I like a bit of jangle, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it's gotta go. You can be in love with your mullet, but it has to go when you decide to try to get off welfare.