STEPHEN MALKMUS' much-commented-upon neo-boho lyrical style is actually not that different from the way he speaks in conversation. The former Pavement frontman/current Jicksman could be delivering you the worst news, and he's still going to make it sound cool.
Hell, even the title of his new record, Wig Out at Jagbags, is one big Malkmism. The sixth Jicks album comes on the heels of Malkmus' two-year stint in Berlin. One can easily get the sense he's a little conflicted about returning to his longtime home. "It's been kind of great and also kind of depressing and defeatist in a certain way. It's sort of like going back to college when you're middle aged... like, 'I'm going back to school!'" he says sheepishly. I can almost see him smirking through the phone. Then he chuckles. "It's not really like that. I just wanted to say that. What I mean is we went away for a couple years, and it was exciting, and then it was over before we knew it."
But those two years across the pond seem to have done him good—both personally and musically. While there, Malkmus found himself hitting the clubs and being exposed to more electronic music than in the past. "The Berlin version, it's like demonic sex music," he explains. "It's weird. It's brutal stuff. I think it's kind of cool that people's minds go there. It's kinda punk, ya know. It's not for listening to in the morning. Unless you've been up all night."
Wig Out at Jagbags doesn't take any sharp left turns, but you can hear a renewed love (and a little sentimentality) for music in songs like "Rumble at the Rainbo" and "Lariat." Malkmus says the record reflects what music has given him, and also why he got into music in the first place. "Maybe there's some ego involved, but it's mixed with a love of what came before, and wanting to celebrate what that was, and trying to capture it for yourself."
"J Smoov" takes a noticeably lounge-y detour, with German horn players providing a perfect extra layer of schmaltz. As with 2011's Mirror Traffic, there are no extended guitar jams this time around. And even though Malkmus has tried new things over the course of his six post-Pavement records, he concedes that his songwriting process hasn't changed all that much from his early days.
"I still kind of mentally live out of a suitcase, ya know, sort of on-the-run, cash-and-carry luck," he says, straddling that line between truth and jest. "I just sort of bounce around without any self-knowledge. It's kind of ridiculous."
Of course, that's what makes Stephen Malkmus Stephen Malkmus. And no one else sounds quite like him—not that there hasn't been lack of trying. Still, there's a lot less pressure on Malkmus these days. Being a family man has certainly changed things. He's less self-conscious. He's free to try new things, or an idea that intrigues him. Just don't expect him to settle. Or settle down.
"There's potential to do something different, no doubt," Malkmus says. "There are so many obvious moves to go slower and acoustic, so I'll probably avoid that. I don't really like to follow into the acoustic-reverb pits of the white male. I've got some electronic instruments, maybe something will come of it."