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Pavement's Stephen Malkmus Steps Out
With college rock stalwart Pavement unlikely to regroup in the foreseeable future, Stephen Malkmus, the band's former front man, is quickly moving on to new endeavors. After leading the band toWith college rock stalwart Pavement unlikely to regroup in the foreseeable future, Stephen Malkmus, the band's former front man, is quickly moving on to new endeavors. After leading the band to critical acclaim over the past 10 years, the singer/guitarist issues his solo debut Feb. 13 on Matador -- the New York-rooted label that released Pavement's five full-length albums.
Although Malkmus says a handful of the set's 12 tracks had been kicking around his brain for years, the bulk of the project came together during low-key rehearsal sessions this April in a basement in Portland, Ore., where the artist has been living of late. Drummer John Moen and bassist Joanna Bolme, both veterans of the Portland scene, played with Malkmus in an impromptu band, which eventually entered a variety of area studios to record the material with engineer Rick Saltzman.
At first, Malkmus considered self-releasing the music. But when Matador staffers heard a rough mix, they jumped at the chance to extend their relationship with the artist.
"He was like, 'I'll send you some stuff' in a shrug-of-the-shoulders kind of way," says Matador co-president Chris Lombardi. "And you know, [after that] my cassette deck might as well have been locked shut. It's the only tape I had in my car stereo all summer."
Although the new songs don't fall too far from Pavement's iconic, ironic indie-rock family tree, they demonstrate a welcome musical and emotional diversity. The set opens with the dense rocker "Black Book" and proceeds to test out everything from highly catchy keyboard-addled whimsy ("Phantasies") to reflective but immediate narratives of music and love ("Jenny And The Ess-Dog," "Church On White").
Then there's "Jo Jo's Jacket," which sounds like a tribute to late actor Yul Brynner but has been rumored to be about a certain bald electronic-music artist. Without clarifying the issue, Malkmus says, "When we were making rough tapes with headphones on, I would just say stuff to try and crack up the band, to keep it interesting. [Instead of recording new lyrics], we thought we should definitely keep it."
As for the album as a whole, Malkmus says simply, "I think you'll like it if you're a Pavement fan." He adds that the writing process "was pretty similar" to past efforts, including Pavement's 1999 album "Terror Twilight," which peaked at No. 95 on The Billboard 200 and has sold more than 75,000 copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan.
"After you make an album, you get this release and momentum of thinking that you wanted to do things that you couldn't do," he says. "You get this burst of energy. I always do. That's when most of the songs are written."
Matador has high hopes for the album, which will be simultaneously released on Domino in Europe and P-Vine in Japan. College radio, on which Pavement remains a staple, will be a huge piece of the puzzle, according to Matador product manager Donovan Finn.
Stations got a four-song sampler around Christmas and will be serviced with a commercial single for the track "Discretion Grove," backed with two non-LP B-sides (the single hits retail Jan. 16). The full album goes to radio next month. Triple-A and alternative specialty radio will be the focus of another campaign involving the full-length set, which will be stickered with three emphasis tracks. Malkmus also plans to make a host of in-station appearances.
"We're fairly confident that this record has the potential to outsell 'Terror Twilight,' because it's such a great record, and there's definitely a feeling of newness to it that was starting to not be there so much for Pavement," Finn says. "The anticipation is pretty high."
It's a sentiment echoed at Portland's Jackpot Records, where owner Isaac Slusarenko reports, "A lot of people have been asking about [the album]." In a gesture of hometown good will last fall, Malkmus and his bandmates showed up at the store's third-anniversary party and played an on-the-fly set of alternative rock covers.
But Malkmus and company won't put their first public face on the material until a special Jan. 25 performance at New York's Bowery Ballroom, playing to a crowd that will likely consist of industry members, a small group of the general public, and contest winners, according to Finn.
A short tour of Europe is on the schedule for February, to be followed by a 30-date North American tour. After returning to Europe and hitting Japan, Malkmus and company will come back to the U.S. for a tour of secondary markets in late summer.
Although it's still under construction, Malkmus' official Web site (stephenmalkmus.com) will eventually feature sound samples, news, and contributions from the artist. For now, fans are redirected to Malkmus' section on the Matador site (matadorrecords.com). In mid-January, the four songs from the college radio sampler will be available for download at various retail sites, Finn says.
Malkmus says he has no plans to perform any Pavement songs in his live sets, but he and Matador are hopeful that two archival projects -- a live album and a DVD compilation -- will eventually see the light of day. The DVD, compiling all the band's videos plus live footage, was initially set to be released around the time of Malkmus' album but has experienced a number of delays.
"Matador is still pursuing the archival projects. Whether or not we can get the [members of Pavement] in on it is another story," Lombardi says. "We're going to distance the DVD from the Malkmus record. The focus really is on this. We're not interested in tying this into Stephen's past, necessarily. There are similarities, but we're talking about him as he is, not who he was working with in the past.