Before she was the bestselling author of Wild, Cheryl Strayed laid in bed with Pavement’s lead singer Stephen Malkmus back in 2001.
Indie rock’s brainiest band, Pavement, stopped making records in 1999, but lead singer-songwriter Stephen Malkmus had other plans. The thirty-four year old’s eponymous solo debut (Matador Records) has just hit stores, and it’s part Pavement, all Malkmus — quirky and sophisticated, tender and sharp. Stephen lives in Portland, Oregon, in a rambling house on a quiet middle-class street with his girlfriend of four years, writer Heather Larimer. He greeted me at the door wearing boxers and a T-shirt, and then took me on a tour of his bedroom. The walls were pale peach. A drawing of what looked like a swarm of sperm on a tarot card was tacked to the wall above their utilitarian but comfortable bed. Although a perfectly sumptuous green velour chair sat in the corner, I ignored it and lounged on the bed with Stephen and Heather for a chat. —Cheryl Strayed
CS: What’s the most important thing in this room?
Stephen Malkmus: The bed.
Heather Larimer: I love this bed.
CS: Is this bed your favorite place to have sex?
HL: Definitely. We’re lazy. We’re not into fucking in weird places. I just don’t get the thrill out of maybe being caught. I’d rather be comfortable.
SM: We’ve done it outside and it’s been good.
HL: We do have a wooden stage in the backyard. We could definitely fuck there. I want to do Shakespearean theater out there.
CS: Being outside, there’s this constant fear of someone seeing you.
HL: That’s the difference. Women can’t come if they’re not relaxed. I can’t. There’s no way I could come if I weren’t relaxed.
CS: Steve, could you come if you weren’t relaxed?
SM: Probably, yeah. It depends on how horny I was. I hate that adjective. I think I could. Some women are into that, too. Maybe it’s that the orgasm isn’t the thing. Maybe it’s just the thrill of being bad or dangerous.
CS: What kind of relationship did you have with your bedroom when you were a kid, Steve?
SM: At first, when I was really young, I just played sports in there, and then when I got older it was my jack-off palace.
I had the same posters on the wall for, like, ten years. Farrah Fawcett posters.
CS: Did you have a crush on her?
SM: Yeah. I didn’t know why, but other people told me she was cool and I got a signed photograph of her. Now she lives in Sun Valley where my parents live and I see her jogging around.
CS: Is there an indie-rock scene? Do you have groupies?
SM: Not really, no. A couple of stalkers. But we didn’t have groupies in Pavement. We were just very straight to the bus from the back of the dressing room. And then we’d go to some bar that was really smoky and gross.
CS: But the guy on the stage singing always has an unspeakable amount of sexual power.
SM: Not our music. I guess it’s too dorky. We’re like this Protestant anti-sex band.
CS: Do you think your music is sexy?
SM: If you want really macho, aggressive porn music, it’s definitely not that. But that’s not sexy anyway.
HL: I think your music is sexy.
SM: That’s ’cause you think I’m sexy.
CS: What’s your favorite fuck music of all time?
SM: I never listen to music when I have sex because it’s the one time I don’t have to. The music I like is generally unsexy. I’m talking Captain Beefheart and blues — most of which is made by ancient, poor black men from the South. Some might find their singing sexy, but I just find it more spiritual.
CS: Has fame affected your romantic life?
SM: I don’t really take advantage of it. You could worry about gold diggers, but this is indie rock, so there isn’t much—
SM: The only thing that fame has done is that people come to you a bit more and you don’t reach out quite as much, so Heather spends more time on top.
HL: That’s right.
CS: Heather’s the boss in bed?
SM: More or less.
CS: Has she ever spanked you?
SM: No. Not that kind of boss. She’s like, “Let’s do it.” Yeah. And once it’s rolling, I’m there. I’m in the game.
CS: I heard you play Scrabble. If you had to spell a Scrabble word that would describe you as a lover, what would it be?
CS: Do you agree with that, Heather?
HL: [Hesitantly.] Yeah.
CS: Hardcore in what way?
SM: I don’t know — nuns in black leather. [Heather laughs.]
CS: In a song you said that if your soul has a shape, it’s an ellipse. What’s the shape of your sexuality?
SM: It’s a rhombus.
CS: What’s a rhombus?
SM: [Draws a leaning square.] I’m not quite a square.
CS: How does that manifest itself in your sex life?
SM: Sometimes I don’t take a shower before I have sex.