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Fresh Ground

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Though the band's subsequent work continued to hit such peaks, its aura of invincibility was permanently shattered by the negative reaction to 1995's Wowee Zowie, a frequently beautiful but sprawling mess of a record that can best be described as Pavement's Sandinista!.

The most sure sign that Pavement's stock had dropped came from that notorious name-dropper and pop-culture weather vane Courtney Love. In the spring of '94, Love swooned to Spin magazine about Malkmus' dreaminess, calling him "the Grace Kelly of indie rock," and saying the only hip thing Madonna could do at that stage of her career would be to date him. But only a year and a half later, after touring with Pavement -- among others -- on the '95 Lollapalooza tour, Love publicly bemoaned the fact that there were no male artists on the tour with legitimate rock-star sex appeal.

But if Pavement was no longer fashionable, it continued to exert a huge musical impact on bigger-selling bands. Everything from Beck's giddy streams-of-consciousness to Marcy Playground's aloof affectations to Blur's rejection of tidy Brit-pop in favor of chaotic Amerindie rock can be traced back to Malkmus.

Ironically, since Blur's Pavement fixation made it sound more American, Malkmus himself is something of an Anglophile. He cites the Kinks' Face to Face and the Fall's Hex Enduction Hour as two of his favorite albums. He's a friend and fan of Elastica front woman Justine Frischmann. And his appreciation for the Stones has surfaced on his latest batch of tee shirts, which ask the rhetorical question: "Who the fuck is Stephen Malkmus?" The design is an obvious homage to an early '70s photo of Keith Richards in a tee shirt that read, "Who the fuck is Mick Jagger?"

In fact, when discussing the cesspool that is contemporary radio, one of Malkmus' biggest complaints is that rock stations don't play any British bands. Otherwise, he sees little difference between the current state of radio and what Pavement was up against a decade ago.

"It's the same type bands that were around before, like Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, there's the new version of that, with Creed and Limp Bizkit," he says. "There's a lot of bands that I really don't know what they're called, but they kind of have that same macho sound.

"They [radio stations] really like these kind of gothic type things. It doesn't even have to have a hook. It's weird, but they like that. It somehow goes with tattoos, and younger people like it. I don't get it, but I'm not fretting by it. I kind of like Korn and Deftones, in a certain kind of way. I don't own their CDs, but I like those two better than Limp and some of the other ones I've seen."

In trying to navigate his way through the morass of leather-lunged metal-rappers and ex-Mouseketeers clogging the CD bins, Malkmus has plenty of elder-statesman cache to fall back on, but he's resisted the temptation to lean on his back catalogue during his current tour. Rather than revisit Pavement material, he's chosen to pad his sets with obscure covers from bands like Fairport Convention and the Wipers.

"It just feels weird," Malkmus says about performing Pavement songs. "Any time I imagine playing one of those songs, I guess it just brings all this cognitive dissonance into my brain. It's not like I hate the songs or anything. I guess the flatline of overtouring Pavement comes into my mind."

Malkmus has branded his new band the Jicks, initially envisioning them as a fictional musical family, much like the Carters. But his current concept for them might be a more accurate reflection of how he sees his place in the music biz.

"I don't really think of Jicks as a family anymore," he says. "I think of them more like ticks or something. Like, you lift up the seat cover and there's one underneath. And you're like, 'God, there's a jick.' And your wife is like, 'Ugh, I hate jicks!'"

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia