“When you're a Jick, you're a Jick all the way, from your first cigarette, to your last dying day.” Wait a second. That’s jet. No matter. When it comes to bassist Joanna Bolme, she is a Jick all the way. Ever since indie elder statesmen Pavement went on “hiatus,” Bolme has been playing with frontman Stephen Malkmus in his band the Jicks. Bolme is also a recording engineer who handled the mixing on Elliott Smith’s seminal Either/Or and, until recently, played with ex-Jick Janet Weiss, and her ex-husband/ex-Elliott Smith cohort, Sam Coombs, in indie-rockers Quasi.
I recently spoke with Bolme from her home in Portland. She was about to wrap up the last few tour dates supporting the Jicks’ August-released/Beck-produced Mirror Traffic
-- including a tour-closing stop at the Belly Up
Scott McDonald: You’ve been a Jick for more than a decade now.
Joanna Bolme: It’s strange. That’s longer than some of those Pavement guys. It’s a quarter of my life or something. But I usually don’t give it that much thought. I tend to focus on whatever it is that we’re doing next, but I have been there the whole time. John Moen was the first Jick, and I was the second. I’m on every record, for sure. It’s been great.
SM: How was working with Beck on this record?
JB: It was pretty awesome. First and foremost, he's a musician, so there wasn’t any barrier between roles for him. It was just a group of musicians hanging out, and he was the one who was behind the glass a lot of the time. He came up with a lot of great ideas for things, and we trusted him when he said things like, “That was great.” It’s great to have someone that you respect and trust calling the shots in that department. A producer’s producer is probably going to make you do it over and over again until there’s no life left in it, whereas a musician recognizes the life of a song and doesn’t want to ruin that. His style was free-flowing and loose, and it was the thing that kept us all interested.
SM: That sounds ideal.
JB: Beck really likes those impromptu, weird things about Steve’s songs, and he really got Steve to keep a lot of lyrics that were stream-of-consciousness. There were songs that didn’t have any lyrics yet, and Steve was just making things up off the top of his head, and some of it was really good. But Steve, of course, was like, “No, no, I’ll come up with something for it later,” but Beck was like, “No way -- those were great!” So we kept a lot of them. It was a good match for us.
SM: Has Steve moved to Europe?
JB: He and his family moved to Berlin for a change of pace. But so far, it hasn’t really affected anything that we do at all. It’s not like we see each other all that much anyway. Since he’s become a dad, he really has his hands full. It worked out thus far that when he does the band, he’s full-time band, and when he’s off, he’s a full-time dad. It’s just a more expensive plane ticket.
SM: Is Quasi still playing?
JB: I don’t play with them anymore, but Quasi is still a band, for sure. Janet’s just pretty busy with Wild Flag. That’s one of the reason’s she’s not playing with us and things have just gotten busy all the way around. But I’m pretty sure they’ll continue as a two-piece and be more of a recording thing than a touring project. I’m not exactly sure what they have planned, but I know everyone is really busy right now.
SM: Will you ever go back to guitar?
JB: I still play it in the Shadow Mortons, and I played it in the first band I was in, Calamity Jane. Then my friends wanted a bass player for their band, so I picked it up and actually liked it better. I realized at some point that I didn’t have an interest in becoming a total shredder. I taught myself how to play guitar by playing along with Keith Richards, so rhythm was always what I liked more and really felt. Bass is just more along those lines, and it’s still melodic. It’s more my style than ripping leads, for sure.
SM: So, it’s cool we get the last night of the tour.
JB: You are the last day of the tour. Watch out. It might get weird. We’ve already started going off-script. It could really go off the rails. But maybe we’ll be back on track. I’m not sure.
SM: What’s next?
JB: We have about 15 or 16 new songs already, and we’re working on them all the time. We actually play about two or three of them at these shows, and some of them are getting really good. We definitely have more up our sleeves.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com