Stephen Malkmus is the musical equivalent of a pitcher with a natural curveball who couldn’t throw the ball straight if his life depended on it. But those curveballs — like references to Robitussin, the Van Wyck Expressway and WTF wordplay like “arboreous Sleestak lost in the sticks” — are some of the best in the game.
“Well, like, there’s been a lot of rock music made, right? So I just try to put a stamp on it of uniqueness and a reason to do another one or something,” says Malkmus, who with his band The Jicks will perform at Brooklyn Steel on Friday, Jan. 25. “I guess whatever my influences and reading poetry and art and stuff, things that are maybe too didactic or have a one-note gimmick to them, I’m not going to be excited by that I guess. I’m also probably not good at direct lyrics.”
“Even someone as famous as Neil Young, he has certainly some sort-of cryptic lyrics,” he continues, singing, “ ‘I was lying in a burned-out basement,’ so I don’t know what he’s on about sometimes. He’s probably stoned, but it sounds great.”
Malkmus fronted the beloved and influential indie-rock band Pavement until its 1999 breakup. Since then, he’s been releasing his own albums and touring with The Jicks, pausing for a Pavement reunion in 2010.
The singer and guitarist’s latest raft of songs are split between 2018’s record with The Jicks, “Sparkle Hard,” and “Groove Denied,” the solo album he announced Tuesday and will release on March 15.
Malkmus actually presented the songs that would form “Groove Denied” — his first-ever electronic album — to his record labels (Matador in the US and Domino in the UK) before he shared “Sparkle Hard” with them. The Brits were keen to put out the more out-there tunes post-haste, but when Matador showed some hesitation, he showed them the more typically Malkmus-y “Sparkle Hard,” and everyone agreed to release that one first.
What’s “odd” about “Groove Denied,” Malkmus says, is “it’s just me on all the instruments and using drum machines and less guitar to be the focus.”
Malkmus, speaking with The Post from Portland while walking the family dog, Magic — there’s a brief skirmish with another pooch over a stick during our phone call, but Malkmus keeps the doggy peace — on Tuesday also released the video for “Viktor Borgia,” the first single on “Groove Denied,” and announced solo dates in support of the upcoming album.
“I’m conceptualizing that right now with my sound engineer, and I probably need to like figure out which way to go,” says Malkmus. “I’ll have some guitars and backing tracks — people don’t seem to have that much of a problem with backing tracks, vis a vis most of the headliners at Governors Ball will be 60 percent backing tracks, if that little, so I’ll do some play-along.
“Sometimes I feel like a fancy street musician when I do it, because I have nicer software, but it’s not so far from ‘everyone’s got a beatbox these days in the subway that they’re playing along to.’ How do you gig that? It’s me, that’s one thing, people know who I am, and they know the songs, so I won’t be playing a David Bowie song or something on the 6 train.”
Malkmus is an unabashed NBA junkie, so we couldn’t help but lob him a few hoops questions.
Do you have a fantasy basketball team this year?
Yes. I’ve got two. The difference is I got lucky, because the one league I picked first, so I got Anthony Davis, so everything’s great, and I’m in first place. In the other league I actually got to pick second and I picked Giannis [Antetokounmpo], who is good but he has a lot of holes in his game, like no 3s and bad free-throws, s–tload of turnovers. He puts up Russell Westbrook-style popcorn statistics.
It’s amazing how much Anthony Davis can do for you. He’s unbelievable. That’s obvious. So my life is pretty good, because I have him and he hasn’t gotten hurt, and I’m doing fine even with some dumb picks, like Gordon Hayward, who I picked in one league. I probably shouldn’t have picked him, I should’ve picked Luka Doncic, so I have regrets.
Is there any chance Kevin Durant signs with the Knicks after this season?
No. I think he’s going to stay in San Francisco. You might get Kyrie Irving or something like that, which is not so bad. But you know what they should be doing is tanking and rebuilding, and I think they’ve made pretty good picks overall. Frankie Knuckles [Ntilikina] or whatever his name is is not doing anything, but I don’t think that was a bad pick. You don’t know. I mean it was a bad pick, but you can’t know that you’re not going to get Donovan Mitchell.
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