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Q&A: Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus

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Stephen Malkmus of Pavement
Photo: Fafotos PictureGroup

What do you think of a Vegas casino as the host site for Matador at 21?

I like it. There’s sort of a puritanical essence to indie rock that would seemingly go against everything that Las Vegas stands for. ATP and other festivals like that are always looking for places away from consumerism and away from excess. But I really like this seemingly ridiculously idea of going to Vegas and setting everything up there. It’s in the Matador spirit, which has been somewhat punk in its style. I like the insanity of the idea.

A reader told me Pavement once played the Huntridge Theatre here ...

We did.

Was that the only time you’ve played Las Vegas?

That’s the only time I’ve ever played in Vegas, strangely enough. Goldenvoice promoted it. The turnout was mediocre, for better or worse. They paid us in chips, partially.

Seriously?

Yeah. They gave us, like, $200 in chips as part of our settlement. So we went somewhere and played with them ... I can’t remember where. But this is a nice time of year there, and I like to gamble at the $2 blackjack tables, so I’ll go Downtown and do that.

You play fantasy sports. Are you also a sports bettor?

Right now we’re actually betting on Bodog.com with [Kim] Clijsters and Venus Williams [in the U.S. Open women’s tennis semifinals]—we’re hoping for more than nine-and-a-half games in the first set, if that gives you some idea of our insanity. We recently hit a nine-game parlay with four tennis games and five baseball games. We won $1,000 on a $14 bet, so things are going good. Only the weirdest bets imaginable, women’s tennis and the Pittsburgh Pirates ... things you shouldn’t be betting on.

Are you staying for the whole festival?

I get to stay one more day. Our show ends at 2 [a.m.], and Bob Nastnovich from Pavement is MCing the second to last night, so that should be cool.

Did Matador’s birthday bash play into the timing of the Pavement reunion?

No, it just worked out. [Matador] wanted to do it the year before, but we weren’t around. I said, “Maybe something next year.” And everything sort of fell together—GBV also decided to re-form. And once you have them and Pavement, you have a significant part of the essence of Matador.

Have you ever thought of the Matador roster as a collective entity, taken pride in the other bands’ successes and such?

Absolutely. I’m proud of everybody who did well on there. I’m friends with all the guys who run it, so I want them to stay afloat. It’s an extremely difficult business to survive in. To be around this long is nothing short of a small miracle. Cat Power is a great artist and a nice person, so when she started doing well I was happy for her. And the Interpol dudes are cool. Liz Phair, I didn’t know much about, but that was kind of a fluke anyway.

Do you have any favorite Matador albums?

GBV, Alien Lanes. Cat Power, Moon Pix. Dustdevils, Struggling, Electric & Chemical. Belle and Sebastian’s first couple.

Pavement has one show scheduled after Vegas, in Brazil. And then, is that it?

That’s the last one. And then we’re back to our regular lives.

Is there anything that could keep it going? Maybe make some new music as a band?

No, we’re sticking to our guns and what we promised, even though it has been fun. Anyone who bought a ticket to see us, I don’t want them to have paid these slightly higher prices to see us and then have us right back there again—it’s just disingenuous. And we want to keep it fun. As soon as it gets to a kind of Pixies you-just-keep-going-because-you-can, it becomes more of a job. We didn’t want it to be that way. We just wanted it to be a blast.

So you’re glad you did it?

Yeah, it’s been fun. Our crew’s awesome, and the people have been so nice. We’re heading through the Midwest now and once we get over to the East Coast it’ll be more our real strong territory, where people completely relate to us on a primal level, so I’m looking forward to that.

What made you decide 2010 was the right time to do it?

Um, well, it seemed it was becoming slightly inevitable that it’d be good to do it one time. And our age. And it being, like, 10 years. And everyone being in a relatively free state to be able to do it. And our booking agent was like, “This could really work,” and he sort of mapped out what it would be. And it just was like, okay, let’s do it.

Do any of the songs you’re playing strike you as better than you remembered?

Not really. I mean, there’s basically the sort of catchy short ones and the hard rockers and the psychedelic ones, and they’re all either good or bad, and we just have to mix them up. Some that we rehearsed initially weren’t coming together, so we just scrapped them. Not that they were bad. They were more just studio songs, or we just lost the ability, or I played drums on them, or I couldn’t scream anymore.

The ones you’re doing are still fun to play, though?

Yeah, they don’t really get that boring. “Summer Babe” for the 90th time isn’t as fun for us as it is for the fans, but we still do it.

You played some shows with your original drummer, Gary Young ...

Yeah, he showed up in Stockton. We played a kind of smaller show there. And he also came to Berkeley. He kind of ran out of gas after two or three songs. He did a great job, but it also reminded us why he was kind of unable to be a full-time touring musician.

Pitchfork just picked “Gold Soundz” as the No. 1 song of the ’90s. Did that surprise you?

Yeah, that’s crazy. But I know the guys that work there are guys that could be in Pavement, easily. They probably dress like Pavement and think like Pavement, so it’s not that surprising to me. And when you get down to the top song you don’t really wanna put “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or a Beastie Boys song; that’s kind of obvious. It’s better that they just did it their own way, I think.

How about the choice of song?

That one was fine. I like that one. Now that I know it’s the No. 1 song on Pitchfork, when the guitar solo comes I raise my hands up and make people cheer. It’s kind of a Springsteen-esque move, but it really works—people go crazy.

Anything else you wanted to say?

We covered: 6-4 in the first set, over nine-a-half games. We hit the bet. Take care, man. Nice talking to you.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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