Jesse Malin interview

Jesse Malin’s old band D Generation was often compared to the New York Dolls, and there’s definitely a bit of Johnny Thunders in him. His first solo album was called “the Fine Art Of Self Destruction”, but Jesse goes about things differently from Thunders’ particular style of self-destruction: He takes his band, gets out on the road and plays, all over the world, with hardly a break. That’s why, in stark contrast to “Fine Art”, which was completed in six days, the new album “The Heat” was recorded over a period of eleven months, with visits to studios being scheduled for days off from the road.
Malin is a tiny, terrier-like man with a most impressive e desire and willingness to communicate. As far as it is possible to get from the traditional surly, arrogant rock star, he loves to tell stories in between songs and is the dream interviewee, staring confidently into the camera and nattering into the tape recorder with hardly a space for any questions. Like a test for a long life battery, you can just wind him up and let him go.
Much is made of Jesse’s affinity with his home city of New York and his connections with fellow New Yorkers like Bruce Stringsteen and Ryan Adams. “I try to write stuff that people can connect to on a personal level, you know, I’m not from Southern California but I love e the Beach Boys. When I meet people, the biggest thing, more than payment, more tan posters, more than records in the shops, is having someone come up to you and say they got something out of the lyrics of a song. It’s priceless, that kind of thing, because often that same person is listening to Lou Reed or Springsteen or Dylan or Wilco or the Replacements or the Clash, and those are all bands which have changed my life.”
Jesse is correctly viewed as something of a punk historian and the inheritor of the movement’s mantle, even though there is nothing remotely punky about his music. He was good friends with Joe Strummer and it is in remembering Joe that the only cloud draws over Jesse’s face: “Joe was just a dynamite guy. The Clash were my professors as regards culture, life, politics, sexuality and music. Joe was a great man, very supportive and generous of heart.”?
As regards attitude, there’s a lot of Joe in Jesse:. “Well, I’m not shy. I’m an Aquarius, and we’re very sociable people, very in your face. When I was a kid, I was the class clown. I was the outsider and I didn’t fit it and I got beat up a lot for being into punk rock. You find your own way and I think being an individual is something I always promote in my songs, telling people that it’s cool to be different. There’s a million love songs in the world, but it’s how you approach the love song, where you approach it from. Check out the Buzzcocks’ “You Say You Don’t Love Me” – that’s just the best, saddest song.”
On “The Heat”, you’ll find a good quota of quite heart-wrenching songs of love and loss, making you realise that Jesse is a natural communicator. He has achieved probably exactly what the record company wanted, a truly representative album with major crossover potential. “I don’t like it when artists make the same record every time, and on the flip side, I don’t like it, as a fan, when bands completely change. So I haven’t gone metal or ska, I don’t sound like the Gang Of Four or Public Image or whatever the flavour of the month is. To me, I don’t look into niches, I’m not glam, I’m not alternative country, I just play rock music and write songs. So with this record, I just wanted to be more electric, take the intimacy of the songs and on a musical level make it a more sonic record but still try to keep the personal bits and make a record that I can play with my band live. ‘Fine Art’ was written in my apartment, not knowing whether there was going to be an audience beyond my girlfriend and my cat. Lyrically, ‘The Heat’ was written away from New York, on the road living out of a suitcase during a time of war, a time of a lot of hatred towards the American government, the post- 9 / 11 environment. During the oppressed times of a right wing government, I think good art tends to come out.”
Rock and roll to the core, it’s touching that Jesse is also capable of betraying signs of mid-life thoughts: “It’s strange, being away from home in my mid thirties, while people back home who had dreams of art are now selling weed, having kids or working in mainstream jobs. I kind of feel a yearning to be a parent and to hook up with someone and have a family, but I’m also living like a teenager on the road. I’m lucky that I have that duality. A lot of my friends have had to cash their dreams in because of the pressures of life.”
For now, though, the road beckons. There’s a full US tour coming up in July, including an appearance on Conan O’Brian’s TV show, and there’s the album to promote: “You have to step back after you create something and six years later, when you’re drunk in a bar, you hear it and think, “Ah, that’s what it sounds like. And we thought we were trying to fuse the Beatles with Stravinsky …”

From Amplifier magazine

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