Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks Wig Out
Bassist Joanna Bolme talks the lifer talk
Much has been said regarding the significance of Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks' sixth album, Wig Out at Jagbags. Paranoid indie numerologists cite the unlucky number six, pointing out that Malkmus' previous outfit, Pavement, produced only five records. Apparently the Jicks — singer/guitarist Malkmus, bassist Joanna Bolme, drummer Jake Morris, and guitarist/keyboardist Mike Clark — didn't have the good sense to split up before breaking Pavement's previously unbeatable record of being a band for 10 years.
Get over it: The Jicks are at this point an institution, eclipsing Pavement in both output and persistence. Bolme has played bass in the Jicks since the band's inception in 2000, helping to navigate Malkmus' quintessentially indie rocking sound. The psychedelic mouthful of Wig Out at Jagbags finds the group at its most comfortable, having shaken off the louche prog of 2008's Real Emotional Trash, and honing the sound of 2011's Beck-produced Mirror Traffic. The result is all breezy tempos, guitar solos that split the difference between thoughtful and aimless, and Malkmus' trademark literary wit. Deliberately slack jams such as "Cinnamon and Lesbians," "Planetary Motion," and "Lariat" retain the effortless charm that Malkmus is known for, while splitting the difference between capital-I Indie rock and affectionate classic rock craftsmanship.
While the band is entering its 14th year, this sort of musical confidence is the result of a lifetime of work in this field. Prior to signing on as a Jick, Bolme was a member of '90s groups such as the Spinanes and the Minders, and played bass with long-running indie stalwarts Quasi. Quasi's drummer, Janet Weiss, was also once a Jick, in addition to drumming with Wild Flag, Sleater-Kinney, and others. Theirs is a scene of vets: "In Portland, back in the '90s, there weren't nearly as many bands as there are now," Bolme says. "We'd all go see each other's bands, and we're all friends. I'm even in another band with Janet along with onetime bandmate in the Spinanes Rebecca Gates, an act called Rebecca Gates and the Consortium. There's lots of new young bands out there that are pretty cool in Portland. I guess we're the elder statesmen of the scene."
At this point, Bolme says, things have reached a cruise-control degree of reliability. Out on tour with Malkmus and her fellow Jicks, "We're a pretty tight ship," she says. "We keep it to a small crew, we all do some driving, but the art of touring is just learning how to be around people all the time, and getting along. I think we got that down. The main part is just keeping each other happy and stuff like that. Making each other laugh — that's the crucial part of touring. If you don't learn how to do that, you'll never make it. Or you'll have to get your own car."
Earlier in the band's history, the Jicks were tour managed by former Pavement percussionist/mascot Bob Nastanovich, who recently jumped on stage for an encore during a show in Omaha. "He tour managed our first couple of tours, after the first record came out," Bolme says. "He's doing something different now. He did have a few suggestions for our current tour manager."
The group's shared history and community help to further focus a sound that draws equally on '70s arena rock and '80s hardcore, if sometimes only in attitude. Malkmus' songs are known for flirting with the border between cool and uncool, alluding to retro folk or deliberately drippy psych. Do his bandmates have to draw the line sometimes? "Oh, I do that all the time!" Bolme laughs.
"But even songs that I'm not that sweet on at first, sometimes turn out to be some of my favorite songs. When I first heard 'Animal Midnight' from 2003's Pig Lib, that was too soft rock for me," she adds. "I don't know that it came out that way. But when it was first presented to me, I was like, 'I don't know about this one.' Now I love it — I think it's a really beautiful song."
At the same time, the Jicks have successfully navigated an encore of punk classics. "There was one particular show in San Diego, I think we were trying to show off to Ty Segall, 'cause we were on tour with him and he had a Flipper hardcore song in his set every once in a while," Bolme says. "I think we were just like, 'Well, we're old, and we know 'em all, so we're gonna do a whole encore.' So we did 'Nervous Breakdown' by Black Flag. I think we did 'Ha Ha Ha' by Flipper — I believe it was five or six songs. Probably a Redd Kross song." Drawing from the past is easy when you've lived it; marching into the future is equally so for the very same reason.