He was the king of 90s indie rock, but the ex-Pavement frontman says he’d rather hammer brutal Berlin techno on YouTube than slacker jams
Dazed Faves is the series where we talk all things online – that surreal meme account you’re obsessed with, weird conspiracy theory subreddits, ASMR YouTubes, or slime Instagrams.
As frontman of Californian indie rock heroes Pavement, Stephen Malkmus spent the 1990s emerging as one of the shrewdest voices in alternative music. Offsetting slacker anthems like “Cut Your Hair” and “Range Life” with lyrics heavy on homonyms and clever wordplay, he proved that knowing and nonchalant were far from mutually exclusive.
On his new solo album, Groove Denied, the 52-year-old father-of-two is exploring electronic sounds for the first time. Partly inspired by going to clubs like Berghain while living in Berlin from 2011, it’s a curveballing (and, for the record, totally accomplished) leap from a musician otherwise synonymous with emotionally-driven, off-kilter indie rock.
“This record is me trying to get the tree roots going in different directions than they initially want to go,” he says. “Or, better said, where I naturally tend to go. It's an attempt to make different connections to other trees in the forest that I find myself in.”
When he’s not making music, touring with The Jicks, or spending time with family, you’ll often find Malkmus on Twitter, retweeting memes every bit as much as posting about politics and sport. As part of our Faves series, in which artists give us an insight into their browsing habits, the indie rock elder statesmen goes deep on the corners of the web that, for him, deliver on self-care, shitposting, and slamming techno.
FAVE YOUTUBE MUSIC CHANNEL: HATE
Stephen Malkmus: HATE is a great underground techno channel on YouTube, by someone who has taken a lot of time and effort to curate it in a high quality way.
We’re all looking for content, and we all come to consensuses about what’s good. With television, it’s pretty obvious what’s good, and it’s easy to find on Netflix, the BBC, or whatever. With HATE, I approached it sort of like a child, when you stumble upon something by chance. My daughter, who searches the internet now, has recently decided that she likes Billie Eilish. I don’t know why she decided she likes it, she just sort of found it. When I discovered HATE, I came to it like that – with no preconceptions. No one told me it was good, I was just listening. That’s refreshing. I can’t do that with rock’n’roll as much, because I’m so familiar with what everyone’s doing. There’s people who listen to channels like HATE are like, “Oh, yeah. That beat is from this. And this is trance that references a track from 1992,” or whatever. I don’t even understand that language. For me, it’s nice to come at it without any biases. And I like it. I could go to a similar channel and I wouldn’t like it.
HATE reminds me that electronic music is a broad scene and it’s got rules. I wouldn’t be allowed to write a really good techno song straight away, you know? It just wouldn’t be allowed, because there would be a push-back. For example, the first song on Groove Denied, “Belziger Faceplant”, is just drum beats and keyboards, and there’s some progress with the beat. It’s more on an artsy edge than trying to get into a room and try to make somebody’s eyes to roll back in their head and make them dance. I’m not making music that gets to that chemical animal zone, like some of that music does. I’m still an indie dad guy, so it’s going to be hard to get my music on HATE, but you never know.
FAVE ONLINE MAGAZINE: N+1
Stephen Malkmus: N+1 is a magazine, both online and in print. I follow them on Twitter and subscribe to them, but I also read their stuff online. It’s mainly longform articles, primarily in the Brooklyn leftist, intelligent grad-style, writing-by-smart-people vein. When I’m on social media, there’s a certain amount of looking at memes and shitposting, or talking about sports. But longform articles – man, they make you feel like you’re not a total loser, you know? Just like you would get with an article in The Guardian or something, you feel a little bit better that you actually read eight paragraphs, instead of just listening to someone from Chapo Trap House being obnoxious.
I find N+1 to be edifying, and I think that their writers are good, but that’s just totally me in my in-group, reading something that I almost always agree with. In the end, you don’t want to spend time typing in “MAGA” and reading shit that people are saying that you don’t agree with. With N+1, they have nuanced, smart writers, covering a wide variety of topics that will be about social justice in all its forms, film, and pop culture criticism – stuff like that. There’s also The Believer and The Baffler, which are other cool magazines like that.
FAVE BOT: @SHITPOSTBOT50000
Stephen Malkmus: ShitpostBot5000 is totally Subreddit, 4chan fucking... shit, you know? It’s really good. I don’t understand a lot of it, and that’s okay. I don’t always get the references, but I like the fact that it gets into a meta-narrative. I guess it stems from someone else’s mind and a generation that isn’t Gen X. It’s some other mutation of that thing. Of course, memes are now absolutely part of our minds, in such a deep way. My daughter and partner, they don’t exactly care about them, but they still use them, you know?
What do you think was the equivalent of shitposting in the 1990s?
Stephen Malkmus: I think it was just any kind of sarcasm. For instance, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is a very famous Pavement album, and it has this song, “Range Life”. To me, that was a partial shitpost, because it’s taking this country rock that repulses you on some level, on the level of The Eagles or of 70s white males playing easy Malibu music, and just kind of hating it and loving it. The same goes with classic rock. Classic rock is over, but it’s not over, you know? I love Van Halen, but I’ll always be pissed at them.
Shitposting is many things, really. It’s also writing a negative record review – I’m sure you can relate. It feels good, it opens you up a lot of adjectives and dispositions that you can’t really use if you’re praising something. It’s harder to do, because you’re being more vulnerable. So, shitposting is more than just memes. And although I think it should be a part of one’s world, you shouldn’t give into it completely.
Are you aware of the Facebook shitposting group called pavementisgood, aka I’m gonna motor away and listen to Guided by Voices?
Stephen Malkmus: I didn’t know that! That’s hilarious, I’m going to have to check that out. Man, I definitely will. If I can find some more self-hate inside myself, I’ll get on there and revel in it all.
FAVE WEB ANIMATION: COOL 3D WORLD
Stephen Malkmus: Man, the Cool 3D World guys must have seen Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” video and thought, “That’s so normal. This is a Disney movie. Time has changed and we don’t need these Disney stories any more.”
I think they’re getting a little traction. I saw them on Adult Swim recently, which is the place where they should be. It’s like late-night cartoons and definitely not for kids. They’re pretty scatalogical, you know? In the end, it’s just this bizarre world of creepy-looking dudes getting weird, but they’re also subconsciously disturbing imagery that have dream-like logic. The video for “Gold Soundz” by Pavement was kind of like that but, you know, not geared towards people that have been playing really fucked-up video games for 20 years.
It’s that whole realm of fucked-up, disturbing video stuff that is this generation’s A Clockwork Orange or Pasolini movies or anything that kind of pushed the edge of what’s acceptable. It’s not, like, rape or murder fantasies or whatever. There’s a line that doesn’t go beyond. But it’s a realm where they’re like, “We’re fucking with you.” If you could show these videos to a priest in the 17th century, he would be like, “That’s the Devil. Satan is real.” So it’s of its time. It means something different to us today, based on what we’ve experienced in this world.
FAVE TWITTER: DAILY ZEN
Fundamentally, people just want to be happy and loved. The way we go about achieving these goals varies wildly, but our deepest motivations are all very similar.— Daily Zen (@dailyzen) February 12, 2019
Stephen Malkmus: Daily Zen, on Twitter, was created by a guy called Charlie Ambler. He’s a fan of mine, of Pavement, and he lives in New Orleans. He's someone from my generation who started this page, but I don’t know how it metastasised into a well-followed, perfect-for-Twitter hub where a couple of sentences can keep you thinking about the world in a rather brutal way. Zen, as far as I know, can be Nietzschean in its severity. But it can be okay, too. People take it in all different ways. Charlie retweets a “loving kindness” Zen guy – I can’t remember his name, but that’s more in a realm of self-help, almost. And that’s okay, too. We all need that. I generally agree with the sentiments whenever I see. There’s nothing untrue about it all, in my mind. It’s easily digestible and it’s not monetised.
Many of your lyrics could be called koan-like. They’re often immediate but with a lot of depth. Has meditation ever played a role in your creative process?
Stephen Malkmus: I wish I could be that way. As a child, I thought Zen was cool before I had any idea about what it was. I just thought it was a cool word. This was pre-rational, you know? I would write it on my notebook or something. I was also into M.C. Escher and other cheesy things and skateboarders like Alva or Bones, you know?
But adjusting to being present and in the moment is certainly something that music is all about. And lyrics to a certain extent. You kind of have to own them in a more concrete way, more than the music. It’s a dialogue and it becomes refined more than music. I start with the music in a place of discovery, sort of like, “Oh, I like that. And that goes there. And it’s done.” You can reform it a few times, which I did on (Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks’ 2018 album) Sparkle Hard. There was “the moment”, then there was a lot of data studying. What does that do? Was that successful? But in a concert, or playing a solo, you’re in a moment where it’s more about breathing and listening and not thinking ahead or what the next note is. It’s more like, “I like it. I’m right on the edge here. I’m surfing, man.” I feel like Groove Denied is a version of that, but it’s like riding a different kind of wave. It gets a little risk-averse in the end, but people will like that too.
Stephen Malkmus’s new album Groove Denied is out now