As a founding member of arguably the most revered indie-rock band of all time, Pavement, Stephen Malkmus has always had to bear the burden of indie's reluctant leader.
So it may seem strange that he found inspiration for his third post-Pavement solo record, Face the Truth, in all things ... crunk?
"I Googled [the album title] and I found that there's crunk-style hip-hop guys that have a song called 'Face the Truth' down in Houston. And that's sh--'s selling, so ...," Malkmus said with a half-smirk.
OK, maybe crunk wasn't much of a musical stimulus, but he still loves the concept behind the sound. "When Houston-style crunk first came out, it was based on drinking cough syrup and so much codeine," he said. "They would do these mixes that were really slow. And the leader of the scene, his body gave out from too much Robitussin or something. And I love that ... these over-the-counter cough syrups are influencing music. Instead of marijuana for once, it's nice."
While no substance, illegal or pharmaceutical, fueled Truth, Malkmus instead found inspiration in the little mantras and goals he gave himself. "I had a sign in the basement that I put up that was like, 'Don't be normal. Don't let things get normal.' "
The maxim seemed to work. The eclectic May 24 release showcases many of Malkmus' musical styles, from the recent guitar-god noodlings of his previous Pig Lib to classic indie-rock songs to goofy Moog-inflected numbers to his newfound genre, "jokey disco."
"I wrote about the art world in Manhattan," Malkmus said. "It's a very small, small world, but it's very big to the people who are in it, so I wrote a vicious put-down on the art world."
Though known as the quintessential smartass with his smarmy, facetious wordplay, this time Malkmus tried to let his guard down and get a little honest. Both "It Kills" and "Freeze the Saints" bear the mark of sincerity, with the latter being one the more heartfelt songs Malkmus has written in recent years.
"There's songs on [Truth] that I would never normally release except in a private room where no one else could hear. They're like secret fetishes that no one should really know about, but I decided to put it out because, hey, it's just a CD. It's me, and I don't get out much anymore." Having recently celebrated the birth of his first child, Malkmus is a homebody indeed, and his tour schedule has been truncated as a result.
His tendency to stay home did, on the other hand, facilitate the recording of Truth, which he documented mostly by himself in his home-basement studio in Portland, Oregon. The Malk is proud of his back-to-basics approach that eschewed the use of modern technology like Pro Tools. "You remember in '78 or '79, when people were like, 'Disco sucks?' " he asked. "Pro Tools sucks as much as disco sucks."
However, a video is being planned for the first single, the smooth and Pavement-esque "Mama." Malkmus is pleased with the song, but he'll only let the rhythm do the talking.
"It's like asking Missy Elliott what 'Get Ur Freak On' is all about. It's just about that beat. She can say whatever she wants," he said, stopping to beat-box the "Freak" beat, "but that's what the song's about."
This year saw the re-release of Pavement's indie-rock classic Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Much like the Pixies' successful comeback tour last year, offers for the band to reunite have been pouring in. But even if a dump truck of money were driven up to the front of his house, he wouldn't reunite the band — not for at least 10 years.
"We've already had offers of that ilk — maybe not a dump truck, but a small minivan," he said. "People that like Pavement will still be alive [in 10 years], their kids will be in high school by then, so it'll be easier for them to go to the show. Right now they have to carry them in baby papooses, you know?"
Stephen Malkmus tour dates, according to Matador Records:
- 6/5 - Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts
- 6/7 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 6/9 - Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
- 6/10 - Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew's Hall
- 6/12 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
- 6/14 - Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey
- 7/4 - New York, NY @ Battery Park - The Lawn (with Yo La Tengo and Laura Cantrell)
Face the Truth track list, according to Matador Records:
- "Pencil Rot"
- "It Kills"
- "I've Hardly Been"
- "Freeze the Saints"
- "Loud Cloud Crowd"
- "No More Shoes"
- "Kindling for the Master"
- "Post-Paint Boy"
- "Baby C'mon"