INTERVIEW: JOANNA BOLME of The Jicks – Live at Terminal West – 3/4

photo by Leah Nash

photo by Leah Nash

Being a die-hard fan of everything Stephen Malkmus has ever put his hands on and claiming him as my biggest influence musically, I jumped at the opportunity to interview the bass player from his current band, The Jicks. Literally, jumped up and down like a little girl, broke my chair, etc. This interview was conducted the morning after the ice storm a few weeks back and I had lost power overnight. That did not stop me from sitting in the darkness and calling up Joanna Bolme on a Tuesday morning to talk about how she became a Jick, the new album, Wig Out At Jagbags, and the tour promoting said album – which includes a show at Terminal West in Atlanta on March 4th.

Hi Joanna, my name is Denny Hanson and I’m calling with in Macon, GA.. How are you doing today?

Good, thanks.

Sorry that I’m a few minutes late, we’re having some crazy weather here.. 

I know, my husband was trying to get to Florida and said he got re-routed because of everything.. How are you doing with that?

Well, I had to go down to a gas station to charge my phone so I could call you and now I’m back at the house in the pitch black until the power comes back on.. so..

Oh, no! You guys are just going to have to get used to that kind of weather from now on. Global warming is coming your way, man.

Anyways, let’s talk a little bit about your background with the Jicks..and how you got involved with everyone.. 

I’ve actually been involved since day one really. I’m an original Jick.

You played on Stephen’s first solo record too, didn’t you?

Well, that’s really a Jicks’ record, actually. John and I played on the whole thing, we just didn’t really didn’t know if we were going to be a band yet. We wanted to release it as a Jicks’ record, but the label didn’t really want us to do that because they were like “nobody’s gonna buy that record because they’ve never heard of you but they’ll by a Steve Malkmus record”.

So, I started playing with Steve because of Pavement, he lived in Portland, and I kind of knew him. We became friends and he was gonna put this band together and John, who played drums on the first record, said, “get Joanna” and that’s how it kind of all happened.

So had you playing with Quasi around that time too?

No, I didn’t start playing with them until their later years, but I was playing in a band called The Minders at the time.

I remember seeing Quasi on New Year’s Eve at Disjecta in like, 2006 I think. Were you with them then?

We’re the Joggers playing then too? Then yeah, I must have been playing that night. Jake, the drummer for the Joggers and who is now our new drummer, was playing with them then.

Ah, okay. I didn’t make that connection. I lived in Portland from 2006 through part of 2011, so I’ve seen a number of your shows and seen you play in many different capacities. 

Yeah, I’ve played in more than a few bands there

I’ve been looking at set lists from the shows you guys just did in Europe and a lot of it, as expected, is stuff off the new record, with a few choice selections from the previous records.. I’ve noticed for encores you all are tending to do some older, more classic rock stuff.. What’s bringing all that about?

I don’t even know. I think it was a random thing, something that was maybe sparked by touring in a van at the time, so there was a lot of driving and listening to the radio just cause it’s interesting to see what songs are big hits there and didn’t make it in the States and vice versa.. We’d sort of just start doing some jamming and whatever we had heard on the radio would work its way in. We didn’t spend a lot of time learning those songs though. I’d say it was more of a medley style… classic rock, free-form, jam, medley style of encores with maybe a Pavement song thrown in.

I think last night we did “Swing Town” by Steve Miller..

Where did the recording for most of the newest record take place at?

It was at a studio called ‘La Chapelle’ in the Belgian Ardennes, sort of the French part of Belgium. A very nice studio, though, I think it used to be a farm house or a stable. That’s where we recorded the main stuff and then Steve went back to Berlin, where he was living at the time, and then we mixed it in Amsterdam.

Were there any tracks that didn’t make the record that were originally considered?

Yeah, we were talking recently about how we could get those out. I think we recorded 16 songs and then narrowed it down to what became the record. It just seemed like we could make the best record with the particular songs we chose.

Like with most recording or writing sessions, it seems that there are usually small accidents or mishaps that sometime take place that can transform a song, or give it a new breath of life. Were there any particular ones that you can recall from the session?

Yeah, you know I think maybe “Shibboleth” was one that was like that. We didn’t really have high hopes for that song or hadn’t figured out what to do with it yet and then we just decided to try it. I had this weird phaser pedal and so I played bass through it and another pedal and it sort of colored how we went around the rest of the song. There was this weird vocoder machine there too and Steve used that, though you may not be able to tell that’s what it is. That was sort of the case, that the gear that was available in that studio really shaped what that song became.

Speaking of gear, was there anything at the studio that you used that you probably wouldn’t have used or that jumped out at you?

The vocoder, probably. We haven’t come across one of those in a studio yet. They had a really nice keyboard selection and that was great. An excellent Hammond and a Rhodes. The main thing about that studio was the room itself – just really fantastic.

This was the first record we’ve done where no tape was involved. In the past, there’s always tape somewhere on the record and this is the first one that’s completely ProTools.

I’m not a super fan of digital recording. I think it sounds good if you can finesse it the right way, but not everyone has that touch. The room definitely warmed the digital process up.

I read an interview with you from around the Mirror Traffic days saying that you had found this MusicMan or MusicMaster bass that you used on a couple of tracks that you really liked for recording.. 

Yeah! Actually my husband gave me one, though I didn’t use that one for the recording. Beck has a bit of a nicer one, so on Mirror Traffic I did play an older MusicMaster with the flat-wound strings to give it maybe more of that “Carol Kaye, Wrecking Crew” sound.. I put a foam pad underneath the strings to give it more of that plucky sound. I do have one though, but I didn’t bring it on this tour.

Are “Lariat” and “Cinnamon and Lesbians” technically the singles from the new album, or how is that being handled?

“Lariat” is the song the label thought would make the best, first single and “Cinnamon & Lesbians” was more the thing that a friend who plays in a band with Jake makes music videos and he had some ideas for videos and one was to make the literal translation of Steve’s lyrics and do a video.. so that’s sort of why we choose that. It’s a fun song. I wasn’t really sure at all when we finished the record what would eventually become the single, but those two work and represent the record well.

Is there another song that you’d eventually see being released as a single?

You know, like I said, maybe one of those B-sides that didn’t make the final cut of the album if we ever get our shit together.. that might be the plan.

For the current tour schedule, you all have a couple of different opening bands for different legs of it. What’s your take been so far after the first night?

Last night, TYVEK opened up the first show of the tour and they were great! I’m looking forward to the rest of the run with them and then we’ve got Disappears, Endless Boogie. Purling Hiss, and close it out with Speedy Ortiz.

Yeah, Purling Hiss is opening the Atlanta date on March 4th, I believe. 

Do you have plans to do any other projects once the Jicks’ tour wraps up?

Not any personal projects, but I will be playing with my friend Rebecca Gates – Rebecca Gates & the Consortium – I’ve been playing music with her since the 90’s and so some stuff with her and then I have a garage band with a friend that’s just for fun and I’m actually in a really kick-ass wedding band! Whenever two of our friends get together, Mike, who’s also in the Jicks, and I end up playing some really awesome weddings. It’s really fun, nothing for hire, but I hope there’s a wedding this Summer.

I haven’t been back to Portland since I left in 2011. Has the musical climate changed from um.. well, I remember about the time I left, more and more electronic bands were coming around… Is that still the case?

Yeah, there’s a lot of that. It’s not really my scene, so I’m not to up to date on all the newer bands, but there’s definitely that contingent there. Ultimately though, Portland is rock town. I can’t help you too much there though..

Well, I guess I meant are the some newer rock acts in Portland that you’ve grown fond of or bands that are making waves in that community?

Houndstooth is a band that’s pretty good – Jake’s other band, Left Chest, an instrumental band is great. Grandparents and Pure Bathing Culture both seem to be pretty popular here too. Sun Angle is another group I really like a lot. But hey, I’ve got another interview I have to take here so I’ve got to run.

Thanks, and I look forward to seeing you all in Atlanta. 

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Cinnamon & Lesbians”

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