Jesse Malin Interview – June 2007

Circa June 2007 – Fazer Magazine

I sat down with Jesse Malin in a reception room at the hotel he was staying at for day two of NXNE 2007. He’s a great guy, and really likes to talk. He tends to keep adding onto his sentences when he gets going. Rather than edit it all up, and make it sound different than what he was saying to me, I have chosen to leave some longer sentences as they came off – Jesse talks faster than he thinks. It’s like he can’t finish a thought off and the next thought just rolls right into what he’s talking about. He’s a dynamite live act, and will be back in Toronto in the fall.

Mike: So I’ve go to tell you, this Glitter In The Gutter CD is awesome.
Jesse: Oh thank you.

Mike: Love it like I love Pete Yorn Music for the Morning After…
Jesse: That’s a great record.

Mike: … and Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams.
Jesse: Wow, that’s funny.

Mike: It’s great right through, it’s all good. Every song.
Jesse: Yeah that’s a cool record too. One of my best friends is the drummer on that record and he did a lot of demos for this, he drummed on the demos for this record. But Pete’s a good buddy of mine too actually, sang on “Swinging Man” on the second record The Heat. He text me today as I was coming, he says ‘are you in New York bro?’, I’m like ‘no I’m in Toronto.’ But he’s a great. He’s one of the nicest guys in the business, if you want to call Pete, he’s just killer.

Mike: I haven’t met him but I’ve seen him a couple of times and I love his stuff.
Jesse: If you ever sit with him, he’ll be like, he’s a regular guy, like someone you went to college with.

Mike: He’s coming back to TO with Crowded House in a month or so. Yeah he’s going to open for them.
Jesse: Cool.

Mike: Alright this is your first major? (holding Glitter In The Gutter)
Jesse: Third record, first major as a solo artist, I’ve been on majors with D Generation. We even played up here at the SkyDome, opening for Kiss.

Mike: Nice.
Jesse: It was surreal, but yeah I was on majors when I was in that group in America, over here this comes out of Warner Brothers, it’s through Adeline which is a new label for me. Before that I was on Artemis on my first two solo releases.

Mike: I started with this one, loved it, and went back and bought your other two and loved them just as much.
Jesse: Oh cool. I like them to fit in one, I like them to all sound like the same artist, and it’s just a progression hopefully. It’s not like when you were a kid you’d listen to bands, so they go metal or Axl goes industrial, Trent Reznor democracy Chinese. I like when it fits in a line but I don’t want to make the same record three times and I’m not a fan when bands do that. There’s a lot of groups, Motörhead and the Cramps, bands like that but they make the same record every year but just a worse version. So I wanted each of these to be different but, the third record I guess people somehow have been taking a little more serious knowing that after being in punk bands that my solo singer-songwriter, whatever you want to call it emo-core adult phase, hasn’t been a lock that, as I’m not going to maybe go away as the artist formerly known as Jesse Malin.

Mike: The label rep was telling me you played with some pretty cool punk icons from the past. Can you talk about that a little bit? I had no idea.
Jesse: I don’t know. I mean we toured with D Generation, with the Ramones and Green Day and Offspring and Kiss but I got to know Joe Strummer a little bit at the end and a bunch of times in the last ten years before he died. And Joey Ramone. A few people I grew up with who were my heroes and spokespersons and professors and then to get to know them musician to musician is really a killer thing. I mean I wasn’t a big Bruce Springsteen fan growing up, my dad was, but then he came to Nebraska and when I was searching for more writers outside of the hard core thing I listened to Billy Bragg and Paul Weller and Graham Parker and then Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, just kind of knocked me out and I became a big fan and so to work with someone like that who you’re a huge fan of and then suddenly you’re recording a song together, on a similar plane as far as the studio, you’re not just a fan waiting for an autograph, it’s something you can’t put a price on. You can get paid, you can get laid, you can get free booze, but to meet artists that you looked up to as a kid and changed your life and be able to talk to them musician to musician is unreal.

Mike: How did that happen?
Jesse: I was doing a lot of press in the UK and I was on a tribute to him on a Parkinson’s disease benefit album called Light of Day and he had heard my version of one of his songs, it’s a record that had Pete Yorn on it, Billy Bragg and Elvis Costello and a lot of people. He called me up after hearing Fine Art of Self Destruction and asked me to do some shows with him at Ashbury Park, so we did a week of charity shows. He played, I played, he backed me up with his band doing my songs. It was surreal. He liked the low-fi production, and after all that was done we stayed in touch over the years. If he was doing some quiet rehearsal show he’d call me up and if I’d go to see him I’d go backstage and say “what’s happening.” He was really just a guy that you could see loved music. We’d just talk about “what are you listening to these days,” you know? So I went to see him play in Massachusetts last year, right before I was leaving for L.A., I wanted to try to catch a show, the Pete Seeger Sessions tour, and it was great. Went backstage (oh man this is just an elevating experience) and he said ‘what’s going on with you?’ And I said “I’m starting my record next week” and he said “well if something comes up I’d like to be on it, if there’s something for me, let me know.” Which was cool. I went to L.A., I was sitting with the producer and went through all the songs, I had 30 songs and didn’t really know where we were going to put it, what we’d do. But then “Broken Radio”, which was written about my mom who passed away of cancer 20 years ago, and she was a frustrated singer, got divorced, ended up becoming a waitress and she would sing along if a song came on it the car or you know in the shower. You know those 2-3 minutes when we’d be driving somewhere, if it was the Eurythmics or Frank Sinatra, it would really make a difference, and you could feel the release that was her place. So when I wrote the song it was like radio is this force of redemption, salvation, release, connection, whatever, even if it’s a song and I thought that fit Bruce. The topic and the piano stylings of like a seventies Neil Young kind of thing. So I sent it up to him in Jersey and he responded, said he loved it and he’d like to do it so we got on a plane when we had some time, got out of L.A. and went to his home studio. And that’s the story. We shot a video for it last with David Clinch.

Mike: That would be the next single I guess?
Jesse: I think it is yeah. And the video came out really nice with a cameo from Hanson Dick Manitoba, from the Dictators.

Mike: I like it, that song is awesome just on its own. When it kicks in and he starts singing his part it just works. It’s really solid.
Jesse: Thank you. Yeah he was just, everything they say of him, the people’s man and salt of the earth he is.

Mike: If you had to pick a tune off of this disk that you had some affinity for, you like more than another one, what would you pick?
Jesse: It changes every day because you play these songs every night and you’re seeing the world through these songs, and how you played it last night or how it’s feeling. But I love the opening track “Don’t Take Me Down”, I think it encompasses transcending a lot of stuff that we’re hit with on a daily or hourly level of, you know when life gets hard, whether it’s your family, your lover, your job, the government, the media, fucking weather. You know, fine way to keep a smile going. I like that one a lot. I like “Modern World”, I love “Aftermath” – I like it cause it’s just exposed and simple. I mean you love them all, they’re kind of like your kids, you know you get to a place where I wrote 30 songs, a producer helps me edit it down. Then it makes sense down the line you can see why, the ones you left off and you’re glad.

Mike: Well I got this in a bundle of probably 15-20 disks in a box from Warner, pulled it off the top, played the “Bastards of Young” cover which I love your cover version, and I love Westerberg [The Replacements] so I just fell in love with what you did with it. And then I went back and played the whole album right through. But I mean that cover pulled me in.
Jesse: Wow, that’s really cool. I mean for me, Replacements are one of my Beatles, or one of my Stones, you know? They were fearless and they were misunderstood and they had fun and they were brave enough to sing in front of a group of kids and do songs, ballads, and funny fast songs and have that all in one great show, or record. And Westerberg is such a killer writer. And my cover songs, I like to find my own version of it, I don’t want to be trying to do it exactly like it otherwise I might as well go to a karaoke bar. So I like to take loud songs and strip them down, make them whisper and vice versa. But when you break this down to a piano song you can really hear what great lyrics there are…if I got them right. Go online, there’s no lyric sheet but what I got, I think I got most of them right, see what Paul thinks. I don’t know Paul, he probably hates it. But it was a three-in-the-morning kind of like B-side outtake, kind of I’m flirting with the idea of doing a covers record which I will do sometime, but before the year 2020. And this was going to be on it, but the record came out so tight and, and not slick but raw and tight and powerful and done as this rock record, and I needed a moment where it all kind of fell apart. And I heard “Bastards” and said I’ve got to put that in because it’s a nod to where I’m coming from but it’s also a moment where everything falls apart. And I think that’s important, that four in the morning occurrence, you know?

Mike: You do it justice. I’m sure he’d dig it. How long have you known Ryan Adams?
Jesse: Since ’96, we met in North Carolina. I was in D Generation, playing at a place called the Brewery, he was in Whiskytown. I’d heard all about them and somebody that wanted to sign him, that signed D Generation said you guys gotta meet. Came on the bus, talked about everything from the Bad Brains to Neil Young to Black Flag. Moved to New York, became drinking buddies and best friends, and yeah he’s a very sweet person and a huge talent to watch.

Mike: How did his involvement mature on this disk? Was he always a player?
Jesse: He was in the studio down the hall making Easy Tiger, I was making Innocent. We were running back and forth to the A and to the B room. He came and played on a bunch of songs. But whenever he plays, he’s been on all three records, produced the first one but being that we’re close, but he was generous, but also very artistic and loves to play and do things and do different things. And he always brings something different. It’s like a school, like it’s art day: bring in a project. You never know what Ryan’s going to bring. It’s always a little different and weird but it’s always good.

Mike: And Jacob Dylan and Josh Homme?
Jesse: Yeah it started to be like my Tony Bennett record here. These people are friends. You know I was in L.A., I don’t know a lot of people that aren’t musicians and they would drop by the studio. It wasn’t like I was planning this is for this one, this is that. The Bruce thing kind of came about one way, but I’m a big fan of the Wallflowers, always loved Jacob’s voice, and a friend of ours, in between us both Joe Sib who owns a label called Side One Dummy said you’ve got to meet Jacob, he likes the same stuff you like, Replacements, blah-blah. So we started hanging out. He invited me to his house, he was the only person I knew in L.A. He invited me for a barbecue and we’d just hang out. He said come by the studio just for fun and I’d love to have you sing and thought it would be nice to sing a harmony on “Black Haired Girl”. Josh starts visiting with the Queens; they were in the studio making their record, I was hanging out, you know come by the studio. And it’s nice to get, you know a lead guitar player like Josh whose so different, paint outside of his box, bring a different element into your thing and you know have that thing where, I’m a solo artist, I’m the lead guitar player, I’m the lead singer, I’m not going to offend my guitarist if I was in a band to have Josh come in and infuse like this other element, it’s weirdness onto “Tomorrow Night”. So yeah. I mean it wasn’t, you know for me these are my friends, it’s a small part and a wonderful big part on the other hand but it’s a record that’s also very about my core band of touring musicians that aren’t maybe stickers on the outside of the label record for the promo of the company, Paul Garisto drummed on all three of my records and used to play with Iggy Pop and a bunch of bands. And you know Christine Smith who’s now a solo artist, played a lot of the keys and piano stuff and Sam Yaffa on bass who now plays with New York Dolls, one of the bass players. You know those are the touring people and that’s just as important to me as my friends who might get a Grammy nomination or pack out a festival.

Mike: So you tour as a four piece?
Jesse: Five.

Mike: Do you ever play acoustic?
Jesse: I play acoustic and electric, punk and rock, country and western, lead and rhythm.

Mike: Nice. Do you find you can write when you’re touring or do you have to be in your space? Jesse: I would say this: writing is like masturbating you’ve got to find that moment to do it when nobody’s around. Then when you’re ready to go, ‘look at this’ and show the world, then you can do it, but you have to kind of have that space and time and if you’re all travelling communally on a bus, sometimes there’s not a back lounge in Europe some place or in a van, or you get to your hotel room and you’re not too tired, not trying to call home or whatever, it comes up. Sometimes in dressing rooms, I’m having a few drinks, I’m alone before the show time, it’s a nice venue, you get that adrenalin, things come in weird ways, or walking down the street. I always carry a pen, I’m always scribbling stuff, I’m always singing into my voice mail or have a little Radio Shack tape recorder, so I don’t forget it after a couple Tequilas that I wrote a song that day. And then you go back and listen to all this stuff and distil it, put it onto another tape and yeah, carrying a pen is good. I’m the guy that’s scribbling on the popcorn bag in the movie theatre, whatever. Writing on my hands.

Mike: Cool man. I’m good. Glad you gave that Springsteen guy a chance on your album.
Jesse: Yeah he did good, he’ll be alright, he’s got potential.

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