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Stephen Malkmus’ Excellent Electronic Adventure

Former Pavement singer details his far-out new solo LP, ‘Groove Denied’

stephen malkmus new record

Robbie Augspurger

Last year, Stephen Malkmus and his band the Jicks released a great indie-rock album called Sparkle Hard, drawing some of his best reviews in years. Turns out that was only a warm-up for Groove Denied, the trippy electronic solo excursion he’s releasing in March. For longtime fans, the new LP is an exciting left-turn into weirdo pop heaven. For Malkmus, who began working on this project before Sparkle Hard, it’s a way to keep things from ever feeling too predictable. “It’s been a little bit of a journey,” says the singer, calling from Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his family. “It took me a while to conceptualize what it was. But it came around.”

Malkmus started writing the songs on Groove Denied about three years ago, noodling on a refurbished Memorymoog synthesizer (“It’s very finicky, and it doesn’t work all the time, but when it does, it sounds like 1982”) and some freshly downloaded production software in his basement. It was a creatively fruitful time, with demos for some Sparkle Hard songs flying out even as he explored the stranger avenues that led him here. “It’s an open palette,” he says. “There was a lot of scrolling through [synth] presets, saying, ‘I like that sound.’ I didn’t ask anybody if something’s dated or hip. It’s kind of like being a kid.”

Soon he had a bumper crop of synth-pop tunes, with key influences that include the Human League, “Louie Louie” and the cantina scene in Star Wars. He describes opening track “Belziger Faceplant” as sounding “like if I was in Berlin and I got home from the dance club completely wasted and tried to make a song.” Another highlight, “Love The Door,” is “kind of like a stereo ad, cocktail jazz thing, but with bad vibes and a weird time signature. That’s a little psychedelic. It’s hard for me to play.”

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Stoked on the new sound, Malkmus handed his basement tapes in to his longtime label, Matador Records. “I sent them a sprawling 70 minutes, like, ‘Look at all this shit I did,'” he recalls. “There were some reggae songs. Embarrassing things.”

When the label politely requested that he finish Sparkle Hard first, Malkmus acquiesced and put the sessions aside for a while. “I was like, ‘Don’t worry. There are more guitars coming your way.'”

He always planned on going back to those back-burner electro jams — “I had a three-pronged plan for coming back with great shit,” he notes — and last summer, he convened with Portland-based engineer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, R.E.M.) to mix Groove Denied. “He’s the only guy that’s touched it other than me,” Malkmus says. “He helped tighten up my drums. Clever guy.”

Malkmus doesn’t mind that it took a few years to finish this album. “Luckily, it’s not like I’m getting beat to the beats by Drake,” he says. Nor is he worried about how this music will be received by his more traditionally minded indie rock fans. “I guess everyone has their distorted self-image, and I have one where I think I’m a music-maker who can go anywhere,” he says. “As long as it’s good. There’s always the worry that no one’s telling you that you shouldn’t wear that shirt to the party. ‘You’re an old guy, you shouldn’t be wearing those jeans!’ In the end, you’ve just gotta be confident and own it.”

To that end, he’s planning a solo tour to mark the occasion of Groove Denied this spring. “I’m nervous about that,” Malkmus admits. “Hopefully I can pull it together. I’m going to watch the Springsteen thing on Netflix, maybe get some ideas.”

Stephen Malkmus solo tour dates

Wednesday, May 1st – Toronto @ The Great Hall
Friday, May 3rd – Somerville, Massachusetts @ Arts At The Armory
Saturday, May 4th – Ardmore, Pennsylvania @ Ardmore Music Hall
Sunday, May 5th – Washington, D.C. @ Union Stage
Tuesday, May 7th – Austin, Texas @ 3TEN ACL Live
Friday, May 10th – Portland, Oregon @ Doug Fir Louge
Saturday, May 11th – Seattle @ Columbia City Theater
Tuesday, May 14th – San Francisco @ Swedish American Hall
Wednesday, May 15th – Los Angeles @ Lodge Room

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