Friday, March 7, 2008

The Lost Stephen Malkmus Interview

By Evan Rytlewski
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Here’s a long-overdue concession to everyone who told me to ditch of my clunky micro-cassette player and upgrade to something more reliable, like a digital recorder: You were right. Foolishly, though, I stuck with the outdated technology, since despite the occasional tangled tape, I had never lost anything irreplaceable using it. My important interviews were always recorded without incident.

Until this week, when my luck ran out. I went to transcribe my Stephen Malkmus interview, and discovered, to my horror, that it wasn’t there. At least not in any usable sense. If I turned up my Dictaphone to maximum volume and pressed the headphones to my ear, behind the angry rumble of amplified static, I could faintly make out the indecipherable murmur of me asking Malkmus questions, followed by a long, silent pauses, presumably during which he responded with lengthy, hilarious tangents.

Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

It’s not so much that I milked any great insight from the guy, but his responses to even the most rote questions are so dry they make for a great read regardless. He also went on a two-minute tear about Oasis that I was hoping to post to this blog verbatim.

We talked a bit about his songwriting, and he confirmed that Real Emotional Trash’s first single, “Baltimore,” is partially a response “The Wire,” a program he’s a huge fan of. “I never thought a TV show could engage me like that,” he said (although maybe not word-for-word). Now that he has two kids, he said, “The Wire” is one of the few reprieves he and his wife have from children’s programming.

Although the song's “The Wire” references are pretty thick—early lyrics, Malkmus explained, detail the program’s womanizing protagonist, Detective McNulty, on the prowl, while later verses reference gang soldiers—he says mostly he wrote the song because he just liked the way the word “Baltimore” sounded.

“It has this nice phonetic quality to it,” he said, repeating the word, variations of it and other words it invited into his head.

“Is that really how you write songs,” I asked, “by just playing with words that strike your fancy?”

“Pretty much,” he said, pausing for a second or two. “My mind wanders a lot.”

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