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Indie-rock icons Pavement make it cool to be uncool

Trend-spotters may have left the underground band behind — and lead singer Stephen Malkmus tells EW Online that would suit him just fine

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Charlie Gross

If a new Pavement album is released, but only music critics and a devoted cult following listen, does it really make a sound? The truth will be revealed on Tuesday, when the indie-rock icons’ fifth album, ”Terror Twilight,” hits stores. For a group that hasn’t had a mainstream hit since 1994’s ”Cut Your Hair,” lead singer and guitarist Stephen Malkmus is remarkably unconcerned that he and his bandmates may have become old hat in the eyes of fashion-forward record buyers. ”If we tried to get a giant recording contract from a major label, we probably wouldn’t be able to get as good of one now as we would’ve five years ago,” he tells EW Online. ”But all we’re worrying about is making music that’s good to our ears.”

Fortunately the band has been deemed good to the ears by critics ever since their first album, 1992’s ”Slanted and Enchanted.” Even so, the introspective Malkmus, who hasn’t read any of his own interviews or articles about the band ”in years,” dismisses the pileup of critical drooling. ”In the genre we’re in, everyone’s album is critically lauded, so how can you get excited about something that’s sort of a scam?” he asks. ”It’s all log-rolling and back-patting unless you’re totally derivative, like Stone Temple Pilots when they sounded like Nirvana.”

If Malkmus is unconcerned with courting critics, he cares even less about polishing his cool-rocker image. Splitting his time between such untrendy places as Idaho and Oregon, where he enjoys ”doing his taxes and reading,” Malkmus jumps into the media spotlight not just to sell records, but to please some of the special people in his life. ”I’d feel bad for (our record label) Matador if they didn’t make their money back, because they gave us a big advance,” he says. ”And my parents really like it when we’re in the press. They get so excited when we’re in something like Vanity Fair.”

But even this recalcitrant singer admits to enjoying the media spotlight — on at least one occasion. ”When we were in the New Yorker, that was great,” he recalls. Hey, when you’ve got that, who needs the cover of the Rolling Stone?

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