Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
At the dawn of the new millennium, legions of diehard Pavement fans endlessly debated the questionable fate of their favorite slacker kings. Stephen Malkmus’ abrupt announcement of the Stockton, California quintet’s indefinite “hiatus” in late 1999 prompted widespread speculation of an actual break up. After all, the final Pavement tour found various members wearing handcuffs on stage as a symbol of their growing dissatisfaction with each other. Most expected frontman Stephen Malkmus to record the obligatory solo album (guitarist Scott Kannenberg had already announced his intention to do so) and perhaps return to his on-again-off-again collaboration with Silver Jews along the way. But nobody anticipated said solo album to appear less than a year after the official announcement of Pavement’s demise in the fall of 2000. Nothing lasts forever, and with his debut self titled solo album, Stephen Malkmus (2001 Matador) it was clear the frontman was ready to close the book on Pavement in favor of a more nuanced adult oriented career. As pioneers of the lo-fi indie sound, Pavement represented the enduring energy and resourcefulness of the 90’s indie youth culture. But the 90’s were over, and the various members of Pavement were no longer kids but grown men eager to enter adulthood free of Pavement’s shackles. Malkmus modest musical genius has never been under-estimated but if fans were expecting his next incarnation to follow the Pavement aesthetic they certainly under-estimated his zeal for thinking outside the box.
Instead of embarking on the expected solo career, Malkmus originally intended his first post-Pavement release to be the work of an entirely new band called The Jicks, and wasted no time recruiting veteran Pacific Northwest players Joanna Bolme (bass), John Moen (drums), and Mike Clarke (guitars) to round out the line-up. Even though Malkmus would remain the principle songwriter, The Jicks would function as a real democratic band rather than simple session players. After signing with Matador Records, the band concept was jettisoned as the label thought a Malkmus solo album would have a wider commercial draw than a new band simply featuring Stephen Malkmus. The album’s original title, Swedish Reggae, was also ditched to reinforce the solo artist concept. Where the final Pavement full length, Terror Twilight (1999 Matador) bathed in languid indie-tronic waters, Stephen Malkmus returned to the silly lo-fi days of Malkmus earliest Pavement work and was heralded by critics as a welcome return to form. Ironically, many of the album tracks were written as potential Pavement demos but the band broke up before they could be recorded. A few weeks prior to release, The Jicks made their live debut at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, New York and continued on numerous U.S. and European tours until the end of summer 2002. During this time former Pavement multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Bob Nastanovich became The Jicks touring manager with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann lending her guitar skills to the group on several dates.
Since the majority of the Stephen Malkmus album was originally intended for Pavement, the frontman decided to stretch his creative wings and cover new ground not heard from his previous incarnation. Malkmus made good on that promise by delivering the dark, abstract follow up Pig Lib (2003 Matador) the first solo release to be attributed to Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. All but abandoning the playful Pavement aesthetic, Pig Lib came off as a little too serious and undercooked for its own good, with many critics and fans lamenting the absence of the trademark Malkmus’ childlike abandon. In later years, Malkmus would admit to dissatisfaction with the final running order, stating he would have removed a few of Pig Lib’s filler tracks if he had the opportunity to re-record the album.
Since beginning his solo career, Pavement songs were notoriously absent from all Malkmus gigs. After taking the stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 23, 2003, however, Malkmus announced he was going to play a song off his first album before launching into a rendition of “Summer Babe” from Pavement’s debut full length, Slanted and Enchanted (1992 Matador). The band continued playing nothing but Pavement material for the rest of the night. The gig has since gone down in fan lore as The Milwaukee Show, currently a highly sought after bootleg of questionable quality. The band spent the majority of 2004 on various international tours, including a supporting slot opening for Radiohead on their Hail to the Thief tour, and served as curators for the second weekend of the 2004 All Tomorrows Parties Festival.
Considering the first two Malkmus “solo” albums weren’t solo albums at all, Malkmus decided to give his next full length the full solo treatment. Although the Jicks made minor contributions, Malkmus played nearly every instrument on the inspired and experimental third full length, Face the Truth (2005 Matador). Largely self recorded in his basement, Face the Truth showcased Malkmus as explorer of his own artistic horizons, leading many critics to hail the album as yet another return to the prestigious glory of his former days in Pavement. The album was also the second release attributed solely to Stephen Malkmus and not The Jicks. The birth of Malkmus first child resulted in limited touring to support the album, although The Jicks did return for live performances. When Moen exited The Jicks in 2006 to become a member of The Decemberists, Malkmus found a more than suitable replacement in former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. Eager to return to a more full bodied band sound, Malkmus and The Jicks convened at the rural SnowGhost Music studio in Whitefish, Montana to record their fourth full length. Packed with dirty guitar jams, abstract imagery, and a raw power not heard from The Jicks in years, Real Emotional Trash (2008 Matador) was the most eclectic, original, and unified album of Malkmus solo career with many critics touting it among his best work with Pavement. Fans who pre-ordered Real Emotional Trash directly from the Matador website also received a limited edition live bonus disc, SM & Jicks LIVE in PDX 12/21/07 featuring numerous live renditions of Real Emotional Trash material recorded three months prior to the album’s release.