/ 18 April 2008

Voice for a legend

If indie-music icon Stephen Malkmus’s self- effacing attitude is to be believed, it’s merely luck that led him to getting involved with the soundtrack for Todd Haynes’s Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There.

‘It’s being in the right place at the right time,” says Malkmus on the phone from London where he is promoting his new album Real Emotional Trash (EMI). ‘Probably someone else big had pulled out, like Bruce Springsteen, so they just picked me.

‘I am within the realm of Bob Dylan, more so than most people,” he says. ‘Obviously in good ways, but also in bad ways, like I can’t sing that well, I’m untrained and I have a cigarette-smoker’s voice.

‘I am the Bob Dylan for this generation, so get used to it,” he says, raising his voice, before breaking out into a fit of laughter — the man might just have a point.

His covers of Maggie’s Farm, Ballad of a Thin Man and Can’t Leave Her Behind are definitely among the highlights of the I’m Not There soundtrack and, like Dylan, Malkmus has built a reputation as a literate, lyrical genius.

‘It was quite an honour to be involved in a film with Todd Haynes and with a gorgeous Australian like Cate Blanchett,” says Malkmus, who supplied the singing voice for Blanchett in the film. ‘The movie is pretty good, it’s quite a trip, you need to watch it a couple of times to understand what’s going on.”

Malkmus is eager to talk about his new album, Real Emotional Trash, his fourth solo album, in which he reunites with a new formation of his support band, The Jicks, after the DIY low-fi aesthetic employed on 2005’s album, Face the Truth.

The result is what can be referred to only as a jam-band album. Don’t get me wrong, Malkmus’s witty lyrical jabs are still everywhere, it’s just now the band, really work out the songs with meandering television-esque guitar jams, proggy-time shifts and the hard-rocking drumming of new addition Janet Weiss, the former drummer for the now-defunct Sleater-Kinney.

If anything, his album is the first hint that Malkmus is growing more comfortable with his marginalised status post Pavement, his previous band which was considered one of the granddaddies of American indie-rock, and is finally content to record the kind of albums The Jicks like to play live.

‘That’s what we do in the rehearsal room and that’s what we get off on,” says Malkmus. ‘So we buttoned down the hatches and made this record; it was really fun.”

Malkmus fans can expect an album that has a lot in common with his second solo record, Pig Lib, although Real Emotional Trash comes across as a more mature, accessible version of that album’s excess.

When I mention the similarities with Pig Lib, Malkmus agrees. ‘It’s on that tangent,” he says, ‘but for some reason that album was criminally under-appreciated, or it wasn’t very good.

‘I don’t know what happened,” he says, laughing. ‘Hopefully people are ready for it now; I mean this record is probably more approachable than that one; this is a bit lighter and more playful.”

The soundtrack to Todd Haynes’s film I’m Not There is available in music retailers nationwide. It is a 34-track, double-disc collection of Bob Dylan covers by artists including Stephen Malkmus, Sonic Youth, Calexico, Cat Power, Willie Nelson, The Black Keys, Tom Verlaine, Richie Havens and Jim James. Real Emotional Trash is also available in stores.