he’s in this band, pavement. stephen malkmus tells all
interview by gail // from cf #12: 1999
chickfactor: I hear that you’re the international karaoke king.
stephen: who told you that?
cf: it’s all over the internet.
stephen: that I did karaoke?
cf: no, I’m lying. I interviewed janet (weiss) for this issue, and she’s a big karaoke nut.
stephen: yeah, she’s into it. I would never normally do —I’ve never done karaoke except for the day before yesterday in new york. my voice is totally gone. I tried to do changes [sings “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes’” in a high voice]. I’m antikaraoke. I don’t like it myself. I’m telling you the truth. I don’t like to sing. I hate singing. I only sing because no one else does in our band. I like playing guitar and writing songs.
cf: do you guys play golf?
stephen: no, scott does. I watch it somewhat. it’s a sport for old rich men. young rich men.
cf: are you a gambling man?
stephen: I like to gamble. horses.
cf: how’s your horse, speedy service?
stephen: he’s in pasture right now, relaxing.
cf: did you ever say you were going to play that bowlie thing?
stephen: no. we never did.
cf: are you going to play the next one?
stephen: they invited us. I would except, quite frankly, I don’t like traveling to england anymore.
cf: how come?
stephen: I’m just sick of traveling. I’d rather be at home. we’ve already been there too much for promotion. I wouldn’t go there just to play bowlie weekender, no matter how great it was. we have to go to this glastonbury thing, I don’t want to go at all. it’s going to be totally stupid, just idiotic stupid shit. really irritates me. I don’t care. I’m happy to tour in america. I like it a lot more than going there now. the first few times you go there, it’s really fun. but now, it’s just the same places, no one speaks your language. I’ll be glad to go to Italy.
cf: where’s pavement most famous?
stephen: here and san francisco. maybe I guess in england but everyone’s famous in england. they have so much media, that to be famous in england is a really low accomplishment as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care about the english. I like english people and I have a good time there but I really don’t care about being a popular band in england. it’s a small island. I’d rather be popular here.
cf: what’s in your rider?
stephen: beer, coke, vodka, a deli tray, batteries and a newspaper. those are the extravagant things.
stephen: we’ve got lots of towels. I use them to blow my nose.
cf: what’s your typical fan look like?
stephen: probably young and 65% male, 35% female. I don’t know.
cf: have you ever gotten a good present from a fan?
stephen: got this weird thing [a wallet type thing with hand embroidery], I still have it in my pocket. I don’t know if it’s a good present but it’s kind of cryptic. it’s probably from a young girl. nothing too special. lots of nice cds. all the japanese girls are giving me t-shirts or nice shirts and nice stuff. japanese people really are great gift givers.
cf: can you cook?
stephen: not really. I’d like to say I can but uh!
cf: do you have a specialty?
stephen: no, I can cook for myself. I can follow recipes. I’m not afraid to try things. I can make like ratatouille. I would like to. my mom’s bought me all these skillets and they’re really nice. it’s a hint. she wants me to get married and settle down.
cf: has anyone ever written a song about you?
stephen: not that I know of. oh yes, some young kids have given me tapes: [sings] “steve malkmus! steve malkmus!”
cf: who’s the biggest fashion plate in portland?
stephen: nobody on the rock scene, that’s for sure. what a miserable….
cf: everyone wears tevas and polarfleece?
stephen: people in bands just wear whatever, really drab, uninventive clothes. there are some people I guess that do kinda, maybe that luke hollywood guy, he dresses funny. I’ve really never seen anybody step out on a limb in any way there. it’s an extremely repressed place.
cf: is it boring to live there?
stephen: yes, very. it’s incredibly boring.
cf: it’s pretty. I can see why you’d move there.
stephen: I don’t mind that it’s boring, but it’s one of the dullest places I’ve ever been.
cf: where would you take someone if they came there for the day?
stephen: the bookstore, which I love. see, I like boring places, it’s fine with me, but it’s incredibly dull and people are not very outgoing. higgins is a nice northwestern style restaurant. I don’t know where else really. good question. movie theater.
cf: what are you addicted to?
stephen: reading. cigarettes occasionally. that’s about it. I have lots of other things that I love but I’m not addicted to them.
cf: who’s the worst band that’s opened for you?
stephen: tie between the verve and L7.
cf: got any tour horror stories?
stephen: we’ve been strip-searched and all that in sweden with gary.
cf: what was your first gig?
stephen: maybe d.o.a. if you don’t count elton john or like neil diamond.
cf: that counts.
stephen: I probably fell asleep at that show.
cf: you were a big elton john fan?
cf: me too. what’s the worst job you’ve had?
stephen: one time I painted address numbers on curbs for pennies. really sucked.
cf: what do you read?
stephen: I like to read books exclusively. I don’t read newspapers or magazines cause I like really to escape. books are a total escape. they don’t make me depressed cause reading the newspaper makes me sad and afraid of dying or something. so I like to read books, novels.
cf: if you could pick someone to do a pavement tribute record, who would it be?
stephen: maybe the thinking fellers or boss hog.
cf: someone told me that david berman and [uva homie] rob chamberlain were like the deathrock milli vanilli in college.
stephen: yeah, sort of. they were kind of gothic.
cf: were you deathrock too?
stephen: no, I thought they were these scuzzy people that weren’t nice because of the way they dressed. I was afraid of them.
cf: did you like living in charlottesville?
stephen: it was okay. other people had more fun than me. to me it just passed right by. I didn¹t really have much fun. I couldn’t wait to leave. that being said, I had a good enough time while I was there. but I was always thinking, god, I can’t wait till the next stage of my life. high school was the same way. I totally expected to have no ties with anybody from that school when I left. then I met bob and david at the end of it. it was better then. my class sucked. they’re a year younger than me, all those guys.
cf: what’s your favorite bar?
stephen: I’m not a big bar fan in general. I only go cause other people go, to be social.
cf: rather hang out at someone’s house?
stephen: anywhere but a bar. I hate bars.
cf: [gen x novelist] rob bingham’s house?
stephen: I like that. I’ll just stay in there all the time whenever I’m here. I’m totally happy to be there. I never go anywhere.
cf: what’s the biggest misconception about you?
stephen: I have no idea because I don’t know how people conceive me. maybe they think that we’re…I don’t know.
cf: smirky smartasses?
stephen: yeah, I guess so. we’re no more smirky smartass than anyone else with a brain should be. a couple times we’ve been sort of cranky…right now I am relatively cranky and my voice is fucked…so maybe we come across as brats occasionally. we’re really not. we just have a wide variety of feelings like everybody.
cf: do you like being a rock star?
stephen: I don’t feel like a rock star at all. I don’t get benefits.
cf: three nights sold out in new york city.
stephen: we get no benefits from it except we get to employ all these really nice people and hang out with them and our band and see some of our friends. other than that, I must say, I probably wouldn’t be here right now if it was going to be a grinding tour like it was 8 years ago. so I’m glad that it’s at this comfort level cause I wouldn’t go on. I’d just do something else. cause it’s just too hard. I’d still play music.
cf: do you read your press?
stephen: no, not at all. I used to, slanted and enchanted and crooked rain. sometimes local things in towns I’ll just read the little thing. I feel bad now because some of the people I did interviews with are really nice and they’ll be like, “did you read the piece?” and I had to say no. I haven’t even seen any of our videos. I don’t watch any of our videos since…”rattled.”
cf: you just don’t care.
stephen: I care. I just don’t want to know about it. it seems that media corrupts. I’d like to think that I don’t know anything about what people are saying because it would bring me down more than up. it wouldn’t make me feel better, it could only make me feel worse.
cf: even if they like it?
stephen: yeah, no, because I would just think, oh next time they’re not going to. everything seems to be cyclical with our band. people make decisions about whether they like it or dislike it before they listen to it. I guess we have to deal with our history of our group, which I don’t think we deal with. we’re just like, we feel like making an album now and someone reviews it they’re thinking about other things that got said about the band, you know, making a party line. by wowee zowee, I got tired of that. that being said, I’m glad we get a lot of press. I’m glad that [publicist] nils works hard to get it and my parents get to see it. it makes them proud of me and all my friends are like “whoa, you guys are really big,” even if we’re not. our press makes it seem like we’re big.
cf: do you do product endorsements?
stephen: no, we’ve got the converse all the bands get but I don’t wear them.
cf: what was your first guitar?
stephen: hollow-body wooden soft-string thing my grandma gave me.
cf: what was the first song you wrote? what was it called? what was it about?
stephen: it was called “psychopath,” it was a punkrock song. I was like 14. [sings] “I am a psychopath! I’m fucking weird!” that’s how it went. “better stay away man! they said they’d keep me in for 20 years or until my mind clears!” I can’t remember the rest, but it’s like “I will kill you” and stuff. it’s like the adolescents or the offspring. I basically sounded like the offspring when I was 12.
cf: whose stagewear do you covet?
stephen: kim gordon seems to have a lot of nice designer dresses.
cf: and you wish you had them?
stephen: well, yeah, I’d like to have some nice ready-to-wear clothing, I just like to have it in my house rather than some other indie-rock guy’s leather jacket.
cf: do you get writer’s block?
stephen: yeah, for lyrics. songs, not really.
cf: do you carry a notebook around?
stephen: no, I’m not interested in writing down my thoughts. I thought I should. it might make the lyrics better. david does that. he’s more of a word person. I’m not a word person. I just do it. I’m just getting by.
cf: you don’t think your lyrics are good?
stephen: I think they’re good just in relationship to other people’s. they’re good for what they are. I don’t think they’re particularly great. but they don’t aim that high. they achieve what they are meant to achieve. I think the tone of voice is authentic and all that, but I don’t think they’re particularly deep or clever. there just wasn’t that much time spent on them. I can’t stand behind them too strongly.
cf: who’s your favorite lyricist?
stephen: I say I like david [berman] a lot because he’s my friend. neil young was good and captain beefheart. I like nonsense too. maybe john lennon was good. I don’t care about lyrics at all, that’s the problem. they’ve never done anything for me. I like some lines but I don’t think about what they mean. I just sing along with them.
cf: what guitarists are you fond of?
stephen: I guess I like hendrix, the guy from the ground hogs, blues guys maybe. richard thompson is pretty cool. I don’t really listen to solos, I kinda like rhythm guitars more, even though I play a lot of solos live. I’m trying to have something happen up there.
cf: what pop-culture phenomenon is annoying the hell out of you?
stephen: all television, any popular movie, all of it. it’s all terrible. it’s all embarrassingly…
they’re just out to get your money. it bothers me when things are all commercial. when that’s their only reason for existing. I don’t really like things like that. I know other people do, they can comment on how interesting it is. it just seems evil.
cf: do you listen to american bands?
stephen: I want to. but then I find myself somehow being influenced by english things and it really makes me sick. I don’t want to allow them to have any more than they already have. they have so much impact on music and it’s just not fair. and they’re so snooty about it too. do you like english music?
cf: I’m afraid I do. I like tons of it.
stephen: I do too. it makes me mad. it’s really frustrating. I want america to rise up.
cf: do you like to look at art in museums?
stephen: sometimes. I used to like to do it more.
cf: do you have any art in your house?
stephen: well, my grandmother was a great artist. I have mostly just her stuff.
cf: what kind of stuff did she do?
stephen: she does everything. sculptures, painting, cut-ups. she was a really talented woman. she was a great person. I probably don’t have as much as I’d like. my apartment’s too small.
cf: besides reading, what else do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
stephen: I like to go hiking. go out in the nature for the day. I do go out to the golf driving range and hit golfballs but I don’t like to play on the course. I like to buy books and play guitar and travel around and go see my friends and parents. they’re really nice people too. I’ve got to call my dad this evening [father’s day].
cf: do you think it’s a good idea to meet your heroes?
stephen: um, I don’t think it should really matter too much. obviously they might let you down somewhat if you expect them to be really charismatic or excited to meet you because they probably have their own problems.
cf: had any celebrity brushes lately?
stephen: not really. I don’t have any celebrities I’d want to meet. there’s no one that could star-strike me I don’t think. courtney love had some kind of like I don’t know what she was doing but she was like “look at me.” that didn’t effect me either. she was just trying to direct all the attention toward her. I’ve never been around any other stars like that. they’re all just normal. CF