Jesse Malin Interview
True rock n roll stars are a very rare commodity these days, but Jesse Malin is one of those. He has not only produced some of our favourite records over the year but seems to live and breathe music. He has more rock n roll associated stories than anyone else we have seen. He was kind enough to spare us some of his time and wisdom prior to his Birmingham show on his recent UK tour.
PH: Your new album “New York Before The War” was funded via Pledge music, why did you choose to go that way?
JM: It started with my producer Don DiLego, he said let’s just make a record on our own terms. We decided to just make a record out in the country, get the band away. The music business has been going through so much I wasn’t sure where the record would end up.
At first, I was really against it, I thought it was like holding out the cup and I’ve busked in the subway, in the square and thought I shouldn’t be doing that again. Then I thought that it’s been a while since the last album and the music business is so fucked up. Ginger from the Wildhearts, who I know really well, has done loads of stuff like that, as have others like Amanda Palmer. So I thought you know what, we’ll make some funny videos and have some cool prizes as the incentives, let’s give it a try.
PH: As a fan, I pledged and really enjoyed the video clips that gave an insight into how the recording was going.
JM: Well, we made the record and I loved the record, but I felt we were missing some energy and up-tempo songs. So I wrote another fifteen songs, got some different musicians together and went to another studio. By then, the Pledge music money had been spent so I was in a tight spot. One Little Indian records, who I’ve worked with a lot and have a great history, decided to put the record out. So Bryan Thorn, the mixer, took the farmhouse sessions and the new stuff from the city, Manhattan, and mixed it all so it had a coherent sound. Otherwise it would have been a bunch of high jinks and messy sounds. It has been a long time between records so I built up a lot of songs, I now have another record ready! I just got really crazy with writing and singing, in the end though I’m really proud of this record.
PH: Going through two different recording methods, must have made you concerned how it would turn out?
JM: It fits together, it tells a story and is a snapshot of this time.
PH: For me, it’s your most complete album, showing the full spectrum of your styles and influences, I think it’s your best one yet.
JM: I’ve been hearing that a lot and it’s got a real lot of good feedback. It’s nice to hear so many of the songs on the radio and we enjoy playing it live, we play loads of the songs in the set. My first record I really like, but this is one of my favourites. You know artists are always full of a load of schlock like ‘this is our best album since Sticky Fingers, it’s back to form, and we’ll see you at Glastonbury!!’
PH: I guess the albums are like Kids, you love them all for different reasons?
JM Yeah, I guess your right and you differentiate them all. There are some records that I don’t really listen to because they were just a different time or period. Tonight I’ll play a load of old and new songs, but it will focus on the new and it really seems to connect with the crowd. I’m not saying that to force feed the ‘new product’ and be a salesman, but it really seems to work for the road. That’s what you want because once you’ve recorded it you have to live with it for years after. They need to fit right and grow with you, not rip apart and leave you with your arse hanging out! Just trousers should do that!
PH: It’s funny you mentioned ‘Sticky Fingers’ as I thought it had an old Stones sound to it. I had the digital download but went out and bought it on vinyl from a proper record shop because it felt right to do that.
JM: Well yeah, you also get a bonus track on the vinyl! Vinyl is kinda trendy now but I’ve always liked it. I like recording direct to tape when we can and getting that authentic sound. I like the early Stones, sixties stuff but I also like the period in the seventies that they get a lot of flak for, the druggy, down and out times around ‘Goats Head Soup’. We’ve covered songs from that record and stuff like “only rock n roll”. I like bands that can bring it down to a whisper but also tear it up on the same album….I like country and western!!
PH: In terms of the record being a commercial success, is that something that really bothers you now?
JM: It’s nice to hear a song on the radio, I get a hard on from that; it’s better than anything. On this trip I’m staying in some nice hotel, shows are sold out but it’s a wild ride and I’m hungry for a lot more. Sometimes though, I step back and go wow… I’m not working a job in New York or New Jersey and I’ve got a fridge full of beer and people playing music around me and we’ve got a bus and can watch Goodfellas as we drive to the next town. If you’re a vegetarian you can go to Marks & Spencers and no one’s chasing you with a gun! So I’m grateful for this life and that there are people who have come to my shows for years. I’ve been doing this for a long time but I’m always pushing to reach more people and take the ones I have with me, so they don’t say ‘he sucks, I preferred him when he was singing with Springsteen’.
PH: Speaking of your past, I saw your gig with the reformed D’Generation and it was one of the best punk rock shows I’ve been to and the chance to see a favourite band I hadn’t seen first time around. How was it for you?
JM: It was traumatic, it was exiting, it was like a weird trip through history but there was a part of it where we just appreciated that the five of us are still alive and still love each other and hate each other! When we got up there, it’s a real band and I love it, we’re kids that grew up together and I think we played better that ever, certainly some shows were better than other and I’m pleased we could do that.
PH: There’s been talk of a new D’Generation album, is that happening?
JM: Yes, we’re mixing it now, it was probably going to come out in October. We did a song for record store day but the record will come out either October or January. They’re talking to record labels now, hopefully there will be people interested in it, what do you think?
PH: They definitely will be, the crowd reaction at the gigs showed the love for that band and I expect those who know your solo stuff will also want to experience what came before.
JM: Danny Sage, the guitarist, who has been producing the album, really feels we can still be angry, meaningful and connect with people in 2015, 15 years later. We had a lot of experiences in that band, got to meet lots of heroes; make some money and blow it…I learned a lot in that band by being irresponsible!
PH: You’ve been a solo artist for a long time, although with regular band members, do you still miss being ‘in a band’?
JM: Ummm, I try and build that environment with the bands that I take on tour.. a group, a pirate ship, a gang, whatever but there is something good about both. As a solo artist I can move a lot faster, give me enough rope and I’ll hang myself! In a band there is a balance of people to keep you in check and there’s a little less pressure on you.. You can let some of the other guys take a few punches!
PH: I saw a YouTube clip of you joining Butch Walker and playing ‘Surrender’ by Cheap Trick. You’re both artists that I grew up with, I loved Butch in his glam rock, Southgang days and you with the punk of D’Generation. Are many of your fans like that?
JM: Many of my fans have been with me for a long time, I’ve seen them grow up and know their families, it’s amazing. On the other hand, there’s people who have never head of D’Generation and some think I’m a new artist because they’ve just heard me on Janice Long’s Radio Two show. So it’s a kind of combination, some have been along for the whole ride and some are bringing new people to the show, which is what it’s all about…..spreading the gospel and leaving a trail of healthy blood behind.
PH: How does your exposure here in the UK compare to the US?
JM: The press in the past have been supportive, Uncut Magazine, Classic Rock and there are some good radio DJ’s. The fans have always supported my shows and the merchandise. This tour has been pretty busy.
PH: A great part of your gigs is the in-between song banter, has that always come naturally to you?
JM: I gotta motor mouth! Babbling on! I like people who have something to say, I was a fan of Lenny Bruce, Lou Reed and Patti Smith. Sometime I will have stories I’ve told before but sometimes it’s good to free form up there.
PH: Didn’t you do a stand up show?
JM: I did a spoken word show which lasted three hours and scared the life out of me! Not being able to turn around and count into a song or have the security of a guitar.
PH: Was it a one off or would you do it again?
JM: I would do it again, sometime, I admire Henry Rollins who can do it, they are my inspiration, along with the likes of Lenny Bruce.
PH: Frank Turner did a tour singing and talking, a kind of one man show, which I could imagine you doing.
JM: I’m a big fan of Frank Tuner, he is one of my favourites. I’ve done a few stories and songs nights which I will definitely do again. I like that but it’s also good to just keep counting off the numbers and building the energy. I used to see The Ramones do that. Today is Joey Ramone’s birthday and I have been thinking about him as he was very supportive of D’Generation and my solo career. Building the energy is what these shows are about. The musicians I play with are all really talented and make me really happy and Don DiLego who produced the album had a clear vision of what he wanted to do and we just added some louder ones. The quiet ones like “Bar Life” and “She’s So Dangerous” are really important as well.
PH: The song “Death Star” has an unusual style which I really love
JM: Yeah it aping Mink Deville and Willie Deville. I like writing about cities, people, dissatisfaction, being misunderstood. I always hope there is going to be someone who understands it somewhere and that’s what we keep pushing for…connecting in this life when you’ve felt so disconnected as a child. Music has been the yellow brick road to get me there. It’s important with each record to try new things but it’s not like I want to change who I am or become industrial, heavy metal or the Prodigy! I just want to evolve a bit by listening to new things. I think it was Joe Strummer who once said “No input, no output”. There’s a lot of new groups I like, but in recent years people like Frank Turner, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem and Gogol Bordello are people singing about the truth and real deal situations.
PH: Lots of those bands have fan bases that would support your music, passionate rock n roll music.
JM: That’s what it’s all about for me, playing with passion. I try to go out every night and perform like it’s my last night and I’ve got a gun at my back!
That’s certainly what Jesse is all about, he loves his music and delivers it with a passion. Whether you’re a fan old or new or haven’t even heard about Jesse before we would urge you to go out and buy “New York Before The War” as it’s a classic and bound to be one of our albums of the year. Hopefully we will see Jesse back on these shores again soon because live he is a phenomenon… and let’s keep our eyes peeled for more D’Generation news!!