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Stephen Malkmus paves own road

Stephen Malkmus insists he is not gunning for Moby, although the lyrics from his new song "Jo Jo's Jacket" seem to indicate otherwise.

The former lead singer of Pavement, who will perform Tuesday at the Will Rogers Theater, 4322 N Western, said he wrote the song in a stream of consciousness, with the lyric "Yes I am" leading into "King of Siam." This, of course, led him to mention the late Yul Brynner, which brought him to "Westworld," the 1973 science fiction cult hit in which Bryn ner played a maniacal robot cowboy.

"Later, I found this sample of his voice from this 10-inch promo from the movie," said Malkmus, who recently released his self-titled solo debut. "In the demo stage, I was just making up lyrics off the top of my head to make the band laugh. I couldn't really carry it into the second verse, but then I sort of tried to think, he's a robot, and dance music's robotic, and dance music producers have bald heads or something.

"I didn't plan it to be Moby - I have to set the record straight," he said of the very bald dance music producer. "He'll have his day in court with God one day, just like all of us, and I'm not going to be the judge on him."

Malkmus can be forgiven for disliking the robotic precision of Moby's music, since he is perhaps the most human of our modern rock stars. During his decade with Pavement, Malkmus and his bandmates created great, unpretentious rock 'n' roll. Beginning with 1992's "Slanted and Enchanted," which is considered by many critics to be one of the essential rock albums of the '90s, Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, Bob Nastanovich, Mark Ibold and Steve West were icons for an entire generation of no-frills rock fans.

Many critics point to the group's shambling approach to playing as one of Pavement's greatest attributes - it was real, unadorned rock without the trappings of glitzy showbiz rock. Although Pavement songs often sounded like they were in danger of falling apart, Malkmus' lyrics were among the best in rock, particularly on the brilliant "Summer Babe" and the group's near-hit from 1994, "Cut Your Hair."

Pavement broke up in 1999 after the completion of its final album, "Terror Twilight," but didn't bother to tell the press for nearly a year. Although Malkmus said he confided in Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne when the bands played together two years ago in Paris, he said he didn't tell any reporters because no one asked him.

"Anyone who asked me for the last two years, I told them, 'Yeah, it's over.' I told Wayne, 'Yeah, we're breaking up,' and he was like, 'No way! It can't be!' And this was before we had even finished touring."

Malkmus said Pavement didn't end in some sort of nasty, cataclysmic, "Let It Be"-style breakup, but the band ended because everyone lived in different cities and rarely had time to practice as a band.

"We would cram stuff in before tours," he said. "We lived far away from each other, so we never really had time. We were all kind of existing on a small level, where we had to sort of do a lot of tours and, right away, make another album, you know? It wasn't an ideal situation, but we made the best of it because we liked each other and people liked it."

Although news of the band's breakup came as a shock to some, rumors had been flying for months before Malkmus finally confirmed it. He said he was surprised at how upset people were upon hearing of Pavement's passing.

"People have been sad," he said. "Which is good - it's better than when a couple breaks up and they think everybody's going to be bummed out that they broke up. Then, everybody's like, 'Thank God - you guys were terrible for each other.'"

Since the breakup, Malkmus has been living in Portland, Ore., with his girlfriend, short-story writer Heather Larimer, and recording with Joanna Bolme and John Moen, both formerly of the Spinanes. Malkmus wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his new songs, but after playing some early versions for his old label, Matador, the ball started rolling for the "Stephen Malkmus" album.

His new songs sound like a travelogue, taking his listeners on trippy trips to Alaska, Japan, India, Turkey and Montenegro, but this isn't an episode of public radio's "The Savvy Traveler." Malkmus said he was inspired by the nasty behavior people often exhibit when they are far away from home.

"When I was looking for ideas for lyrics, I was sort of into this idea of people behaving badly in places other than where they live, like ugly Americans, or ugly Swedes," he said.

"Anything where people get out of their normal place and go wild, like in Ibiza or anywhere in general. It's more interesting to me than (writing about) the local scene.

"I feel like, also, America in general can be all Starbucks and kind of dulled out, and I really don't want to start writing about Gap and Starbucks and getting mad about all that. Then again, I don't really want to write about tattoos and piercing and all that."

His new music is far more polished than his previous work with Pavement, but it still has the charm of a homemade recording. In fact, the album was recorded in the basement of his rental home. After the tour, he plans to return to Portland and buy a house, which is a precious commodity in cool, Pacific Northwest towns.

"It'll be better in the spring. The stock market's going down, and people who lived above their means will have to sell their houses," he said.

"It's hard here in Portland - it's a pretty hip place."

Archive ID: 843065

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