Texas Never Whispers
Chatting with Joanna Bolme of Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks on Beck, The Mohawkand more
Since Pavement's demise in 2000, Stephen Malkmus has built a varied and fascinating second discography with his band The Jicks. While the cast of characters has changed a few times, the one constant throughout all five Jicks albums is bassist and multi-instrumentalist Joanna Bolme.
Since Mr. Malkmus is shying from the spotlight this year after the lengthy Pavement reunion tour, Bolme called us recently from Portland to discuss The Jicks' excellent new Beck-produced album Mirror Traffic and their tour, which stops at The Mohawk Wednesday night (22nd) for what promises to be a beautiful outdoor gig.
CultureMap: I wanted to start out by asking you about the new record Mirror Traffic, which is not new to you because you recorded it a couple of years back. It really has a positive and a more relaxed kind of sound than the other Jicks records. What do you attribute that to?
Joanna Bolme: I think partially the songs. It was a conscious decision to sort of have more shorter and kind of poppier numbers because the last record was a little bit darker and more drawn out. I guess like every record is sort of like: "Let's do something different!" There was that, and then we recorded in California and it was sunny and there was this good vibe, Beck's got nice good vibes, you know. And the fact that we had a producer this time and, we could just concentrate on playing and not having to sort of self-produce and think about all that stuff was good. That made it a lot more relaxed for us because we could just stay in the studio and play and not have to go back and forth and make decisions about things, so that made it a lot more relaxed and easy for us.
CM: I was going to ask you about that, too. Mirror Traffic is the first record that you guys have actually used a producer on during this whole period of the Jicks, right?
JB: Yes, it is.
CM: Was it a little bit strange to let somebody else in and let them collaborate in that way?
JB: I thought it was great. I was personally really up for a change. You know, we've done four records before, and we were just ready for something different. I think we just thought it would be easier if we brought somebody else in and didn't have to do that part of the job and that ultimately it would result in a different feel.
CM: How is the live set looking for this tour? Are you guys leaning pretty heavily on the new album or is it just kind of a little bit of everything from the five records?
JB: Yeah, the majority of the songs have been stuff from Mirror Traffic with a sprinkling of oldies mixed in and then a sprinkling of new, new songs as well. We have a full new album's worth of new songs and have been trying to work those out in front of people and decide which ones we like the best - so, yeah. Occasionally a cover will jump in there. It's whatever we feel like at the time!
CM: You touched on something — because of the Pavement reunion tour, there was a pretty big gap between you guys writing and recording this record and when we actually saw it, so it sounds like you're fairly far along on new material already.
JB: Yeah. I didn't realize that Steve actually had time to write songs during that whole Pavement year but apparently he did. He just showed up and said "Hey, I've got all these songs!" So, OK, great. Let's go!
CM: It's a funny quirk about Texas, but you guys are playing at the Mohawk, an outdoor venue...in February. Does doing something a little atypical like being outside on a winter Wednesday night change the way a show develops - as opposed to, say, being indoors or being at a festival? Does venue really affect the way you play?
JB: Yeah, for sure. I'm excited to play outside. And I've never been to The Mohawk, so that should be interesting to do a different venue. But yeah! When you play festivals, that's often kind of weird because it depends on the crowd; you never really know who you might be playing with, and you could be playing to a bunch of sixteen year olds who have no know idea who you are! My personal favorite are the smaller, tight clubs. The energy gets crazy. But you know, it's cold where I live, so if I get to play outside, it will be amazing.
CM: How is your band dynamic now, your live set-up, is it different? I mean obviously, right after this was record was recorded, Janet left to do WIld Flag. How is the dynamic different with new drummer Jake Morris?
JB: Well, it is pretty great, actually. We've been friends for a while, we've toured with The Joggers before and you know he and Steve play a softball team in Portland together. It is actually pretty great, he is a real good fit, he is a great drummer for one thing, a great drummer and good singer, but then he has got a little bit more levity. I guess, he's got some irreverence in his personality. He is really fun to watch. We sort of shifted around where we stand now, so now I stand right next to him, and we play off each other a lot, it's extra fun.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks play outdoors Wednesday the 22nd at The Mohawk. TV Torso and Nurses will open. At press time, tickets were still available through Transmission Entertainment.