Rock Candy Interview: Joanna Bolme of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks


Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Credit: Leah Nash

Fresh off nearly a year of touring with reunited seminal indie band Pavement, Stephen Malkmus jumped into the studio with his main focus: the Jicks.

The result, produced by Beck, was Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks’ “Mirror Traffic.” As I’m not a fan of Pavement, I have usually shied away from Malkmus’ music, but this album has brought me back. “Tigers” is melodic, thumping and singalong-able (it’s a word, trust me) track. And “Stick Figures In Love” was another one that just rumbles along.

I also enjoy that many of the songs don’t sound so wonderfully perfect. There are little human mistakes, which makes it more endearing.

Anyway, the band comes into town tonight to play Slowdown. Last week, I called Jicks bassist Joanna Bolme at her home in Portland to talk about the new album, the tour and the band.

Q. The last time I saw your band in Omaha was on election night in ’08. Do you remember that?

A. Sort of. That was not a typical show night for sure. Obama’s a hard act to follow.

Q. So with “Mirror Traffic,” what it cool to have Beck as a producer?

A. Yeah. Beck was great. He’s a musician first and foremost, so he’s got a musician’s mentality. He’s coming from more of the same place that we are when working on a record. He’s kind of listening more for the energy and the feel of a song than getting everything perfect. He was real conscious of what we were feeling, so he kinda just got it.

We blasted through everything real fast. We didn’t go stop playing and go into the control room and listen back to see if it was good. We’d play through something a couple times and he’d say, “Great, let’s move on.”

We didn’t have to make any of those calls. We just played. That was liberating.

Q. You and Stephen had done a lot of the producing-type stuff before, so I imagine it was nice to step back and let someone else handle it.

A. Oh yeah, much. We recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. There’s Beck and then an engineer and an assistant and interns at the studio, so there’s lots of people to move microphones and amps. We didn’t have to do any of that stuff. It can be kinda stressful.

Q. Did you use a different bass on the album? It sounds a bit different.

A. The bass I ended up using mostly – or on half of the songs – was this Musicmaster Mustang bass of Beck’s that had flat wound strings on it. It sounded great. It’s very Wrecking Crew, Carol Kaye-style, muddy-type bass, which is not what I usually do when i play live. It’s more live and loud-sounding.

Now I actually have a Musicmaster bass that I’ve been taking on the road. I play it on a couple songs. I’ve incorporated that into the act.

Q. How many do you usually take?

A. Usually, I just take one. If there’s room maybe I’ll bring a backup. Mine is real sturdy. This is the first time we’ve really consciously decided to take two basses and use two basses. The nice thing is you don’t even have to change the strings on them. It’s not really that crucial unless you really like the sound to be bright.

Q. What do you normally play?

A. I have a Fender. It says “Precision” on head headstock, but it’s a jazz bass that’s sort of been Frankensteined together. It’s kinda ugly, but it sounds great. It weighs a ton. I really like it but it’s also kind of annoyingly heavy and not really cute. But it sounds pretty cute.

My husband bought me a brand new Precision bass that also sounds good. I use it in another band with Rebecca Gates. It’s a lot different sound.

Q. Your husband is also a musician. Is it tough to be on the road at different times?

A. Yeah. He’s mastering his record right now so he’s out of town. We’re both on the road fairly often, which can be a drag not being on the road at the same time. You don’t see each other as much as if you didn’t do what we do.

The good part of that is that neither one of us gives each other a hard time for being gone. It’s part of the deal. We both know that. That’s nice. I feel like a lot of people get grief from their spouses. It’s not normal, that’s for sure, unless you’re in the army or a salesman. (laughs)

Q. The album came out quite awhile ago, so I imagine you’re pretty comfortable with the songs. Have you guys written more, or are you more of a “one album at a time”-kind of band?

A. We did a tour of the states in October or September. Then we did Europe in November. Yeah, we’ve been playing these songs for awhile. We’ve got a bunch of new songs, some weird covers. We play some oldies, too.

Q. What covers?

A. Let’s see… Last tour, we played “Love Is Like Oxygen” by Sweet, “Brandy” by the Looking Glass, a song by a band called Stack.

Then the last show of the U.S. tour in San Diego, we played a whole encore of hardcore songs: Black Flag and Circle Jerks and Fear. That was fun. They were pretty excited. There’s still a very serious hardcore contingent.

Sometimes we hear songs on the radio and Stephen says, “Yeah, let’s play that tonight.”

Q. Does he just write all the time?

A. Yeah. He’s got a short attention span. Once the record’s done, he’s sort of like, “OK, whatever. Here’s some more songs.” He just keeps writing all the time. For as many songs as he writes, maybe half of them end up on a record. Half of them get shelved. Or they’ll be turned into new things.

Q. Is that a good thing? Does it keep things fresh?

A. Yeah, kinda. It’s great. That’s the way I like things to work. I think everyone’s sort of happy to have new stuff to work on.

Q. What do you, personally, have coming up?

A. Probably the next thing that I’ll be doing when the Jicks have done this tour and are taking a break before summer is touring with my friend Rebecca Gates and the Consortium. You might know here from The Spinanes. I think we’re gonna do a little touring in May.

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