As the frontman for Pavement, one of the ’90s’ most cherished and influential indie-rock bands, Stephen Malkmus threw together brainy phraseology and detached irony as if each verse were its own Jackson Pollock painting. With gnarled guitar riffs and ramshackle musicianship, he helped birth a unique brand of artsy slacker-rock. When Pavement went on hiatus in 1999, Malkmus formed the Jicks, a new vessel for his freewheeling wordplay and structurally restless pop songs. Malkmus, 47, has now made six records with the Jicks — more than he did with Pavement (which reunited briefly in 2010). Malkmus and the Jicks headline the Black Cat on Friday in support of their latest album, January’s “Wig Out at Jagbags.”
Your music explores the space between hyper-literate and slacker, even stoner, mentalities.
I wouldn’t mind being a mix between Stephen Hawking and Jeff Spicoli. That’s a nice middle ground. I think it’s a good place to be in music. Music that’s purely intellectual … sort of belongs in an art world — things get uptight. This is rock ’n’ roll, right? It’s about grooves and good times.
Lyrically and musically, your songs come off as both carefree and impassioned.
I hear that. It’s improvisational. There’s kind of a jazz element to the lyrics. They’re sort of made up in relation to the music.
One of my favorite lyrics on the new album is “Condoleezza’s Rice scattered on the floor,” from “Scattegories.” What goes on in your head when you write something like that?
You can really say that with feeling for some reason, just phonetically. It really works. You know Uncle Ben’s rice? It was a little bit not politically correct. But I just imagined that she could start a company, Condoleezza’s Rice, if she ever decided to go Oprah in the food world. That was the image in my head.
You often reference your interests, whether highbrow or lowbrow.
Sometimes it’s seemingly avant-garde, but some parts are very FM radio and ’70s. I like all those things. It just reflects my personality.
Are you being intentionally nostalgic?
I think some songs are kind of wistful and looking backwards. At this point in my life, I’m looking backwards more than forward. I kind of write what I know. That cliche. I feel it in my body. I don’t feel Skrillex — yet.
What exactly is a Jagbag?
Donald Rumsfeld is a Jagbag. Pete Carroll, the coach of the [Seattle] Seahawks, he is. The owner of the Redskins [Dan Snyder], he’s a Jagbag. He needs to just get it over with and change the name. It’s really petty and ridiculous. I like the Redskins, it’s a storied franchise. I went to the University of Virginia in the ’80s [and] they were brilliant. [The name Redskins] doesn’t offend me, but I’m not Native American. It offends someone else. If they just change it, it will be forgotten — it will just be over.
What does Pavement mean to you now?
As time goes, now it feels like those songs are kind of old and classic in a certain way. We play them in the encore. We kind of ridiculously mix them into other really famous songs — like they belong there. We’ll do a Steve Miller song into a Pavement song and then into a Black Sabbath song, as if it just naturally belongs with those other songs. I’m proud of what Pavement accomplished. That people still talk about it is awesome.
Do your kids listen to Pavement?
A little bit. They like that song “Unfair” that’s on “Crooked Rain.” That’s their favorite. They like “Tigers” [from the 2011 Jicks album “Mirror Traffic”]. They like the catchy ones, I guess — the more upbeat ones.
What do you listen to these days?
I listen to what [my kids] listen to and I like it. I never thought I would like “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry or “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore [& Ryan Lewis]. I like “Holy Grail” [by Jay Z featuring Justin Timberlake]. I learned more about that kind of music than I ever thought I would. I can say I like it.
Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; Fri., 9 p.m., sold out; 202-667-7960. (U Street)