Jesse Malin, American singer- songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about his duet with Bruce Springsteen, warm beer in the UK, his latest album New York Before The War and his forthcoming UK tour.
Jesse Malin is an American solo recording artist. Beginning his career at the tender age of 12, he later became the front man for hard-core band, Heart Attack. He later joined glam punk band D Generation. Having made the decision to go solo he released his first album, The Fine Art Of Self Destruction in 2003.
Going on to contribute to two cover albums, he covered Hungry Heart for Light Of Day: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen and a cover of The Clash’s Death Or Glory on the tribute White Riot Vol. 2: A Tribute To The Clash. Other albums followed; The Heat, Glitter In The Gutter, and Love It To Life released with his new band; Jesse Malin And The St. Marks Social. Malin’s album, Glitter in the Gutter was released in 2007 and featured a duet with Bruce Springsteen on the track Broken Radio.
With the release of his latest album, New York Before The War, Malin is about to tour the UK, and despite his busy schedule, Kevin Cooper caught up with him in New York, and this is what he had to say.
Hi Jesse how are you?
Hi Kevin I’m good thank you. I am just getting ready to come across the pond and go out on tour (laughter). I will be leaving New York in a day or two.
So just how is life treating Jesse Malin?
Life is extremely good Kevin. The new record, New York Before The War has been out for a month now. I love the band that I am currently playing with; we have played some great dates in America. I am just so excited to go out and play. I love doing that more than anything so everything at this moment is cool.
You mention New York Before The War, how has the album been received over in the States?
Most people seem to like it. We have had some good press about the album from most people Kevin. I know that they say that you shouldn’t read your own press but it has been very positive and we have been getting some good airplay here in the States. Let me just say that everyone has an opinion about the album (laughter). People have been hearing the album on the radio over here for a little bit now and so people have been coming out saying good things about it who were not that familiar with my work in the past.
How would you describe your new album New York Before The War?
It is Rock ‘n’ Roll for the new millennium Kevin. It is a rhythmic, up-tempo record with romantic tragedy undertones. It is a good elixir for these modern times.
I have been playing Addicted the first release off the album and I have to say that I love it.
Thanks Kevin, it is always nice to hear that someone likes your work. I wrote that song about the battle against the ever changing world and the times when we get beaten down with it. But the things that we love, such as the music, carries on. That was a fun song to write. I thought about Paul Simon and I thought about The Clash and the idea for the song was that I wanted the two of them to meet in this kind of Ramones type of song. I am always pushing for the PMA (positive mental attitude) when I write. We can always manage to celebrate throughout all of the bad bits. I have always liked that kind of song; similar to the old Sam Cooke records, they are sad but there is always a feeling of hope carried within them. I have always liked the characters who are going through hell but there is a little light of hope in there.
You have been busy playing live in the States and I hear that you recently supported Green Day?
That’s right Kevin. We have played some pretty cool shows over here with Green Day and we also have some shows with The Replacements coming up, which is a band that I am really fond of. On top of that my own shows have been really strong.
New York Before The War has taken a while to get released, why was that?
It has been five years since I released my last album, Love It To Life, and so New York Before The War was a really important record for me. It was something that meant a lot to me. During the time in-between records there was a lot of build-up; there was a lot of material, and I found that I had a lot to say in these millennium times of 2015. We find ourselves in the middle of a very disposable culture, there is rapidly changing information and Rock ‘n’ Roll is very commonplace. It has become a very interesting spot to stand on the stage, sing these songs and to still find myself in this so called art form at this time and place in the world that’s show business Kevin (laughter).
I totally agree Jesse. The whole music industry has now become a disposable media.
Yes it has and it is a very different beast to when I first started out. Having said that I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t doing it. There is always stuff to sing about; there is always something to celebrate, and there is always some sort of blues to exorcise out of your body. I have been doing this since I was a kid and to me it is just a journey. With each record I still want to be myself and to be able to look in the mirror and see that I haven’t changed. I don’t want to see myself and think what the hell is he doing and see that I have become an industrial glam-metal Taylor Swift cover band (laughter). I want to be able to grow and progress and still make some growth on each record. I want to be able to see the fans who have supported me stick with me and also try to meet some new people. It has been a progression and a wacky career.
How do you feel about the British press feeling that they have to pigeon-hole you?
(Laughter) it’s not just the British press Kevin, it happens most places around the world but the British press are well-known for wanting to do that to an artist. They always ask me if I am a singer-songwriter; what kind of music I play, is it alternative country, folk, punk or glam rock (laughter). To me Kevin it is simply Rock ‘n’ Roll music which to me is still an attitude, a lifestyle, it is not just some t-shirt or fashion statement. For me it is everything that I breathe every day; Rock ‘n’ Roll doesn’t even have to be guitars, it can be someone who lives true to themselves and to their spirit.
Unfortunately if you want to avoid being pigeon-holed you are coming to the wrong place Jesse (laughter).
That is very true Kevin. I must remember to pick up my copy of Q Magazine at the airport when I arrive (laughter) and stick it on my tush. I have to tell you that the British press have been very supportive of me in the past. I love coming over to the UK Kevin.
How do the British crowds react to you?
Everyone over there in the UK seems to know the songs; they come along to see the support act, they love to get involved with the show, and they love coming at us ready to get their monies worth. The British crowds take going out to a show very seriously. A lot of people nowadays are watching things on YouTube, and they are not going to shows, and they are not going to record shops. But I am still a person who, as much as I like the interweb, I really like the live connection with people. I love playing to strangers, I like being in a dark room under the hot lights, and I feel that Rock ‘n’ Roll needs to be played in a dark room to real people. You need to go out and get off your ass (laughter).
So what does Rock ‘n’ Roll mean to Jesse Malin?
Everything Kevin, everything. It is my way of life. I write songs, I sing them, I record them, and then the reward is that I get to go out and perform them. They connect and grow when I get to play them to a live audience. It is that interaction between the songs and the audience which I live for Kevin, it is amazing.
What dictates what you write about; where does the inspiration come from?
That’s easy Kevin, I simply write about what is happening in my life and how I feel. I wrote half of New York Before The War on a farm in Virginia in a farmhouse where whenever I stepped outside I would be chased by goats (laughter). I found that living communally with the band helped me to produce a really beautiful batch of songs. I came back and I listened to the songs whilst on tour before the album was due to be released and I realised that they were really missing some of the energy that my live shows are about; the balance of the up-tempo songs as well as the sad bastard songs (laughter). So I continued to work on the record, hence the reason why it came out year’s later (laughter).
The second half of the album was recorded in The Magic Shop Studios, Soho in downtown Manhattan and we recorded a bunch of songs that were more physical. The producer of the album managed to make the country sessions and the studio sessions sound like the same record which was just a really good thing. I am always looking to work with bands who can take it down to a whisper and get your attention and also turn it up and rip your head off with that blistering volume, and everything else in-between. You have to remember Kevin that there are many different ways to connect to the heart and this is where I think that I am at (laughter).
Do you still enjoy touring?
I think that touring is like being on a pirate ship. You get all of these people together and you surround yourself with the people who you like. My mother always said to me, show me who your friends are and I will show you who you are. It is one of the greatest things to build that little pirate ship and go from town to town; every night you try to show them exactly who you are.
Well your pirate ship reaches The Bodega in Nottingham on Friday 15th May. Are you looking forward to the gig?
(Laughter) yes I am Kevin as I haven’t played Nottingham for a while now. And it means that I get to go up and down the motorways and visit Marks & Spencer (laughter). It also means that I get to overload on Shakespeare and Robin Hood. I actually do enjoy my trips over there in Nottingham despite the warm beer and hot sense of humour (laughter) which I have to say I like that too. It is obvious to me that the people over there in Nottingham haven’t found ice yet (hysterical laughter). It’s lovely to be able to let my sideburns grow and to walk around wearing sacks for a while. I have played The Rescue Rooms and Rock City over the years and have always had a great time so Nottingham will be good. The UK is always good fun and up in Scotland they love to call me a big Jesse (laughter).
I have to ask you, Broken Radio, how did the duet with Bruce Springsteen happen?
I met Bruce back in 2002 when I recorded my first album, The Fine Art Of Self Destruction, and he told me that he really liked the record. After that we did some shows together and he was very sincere and passionate. We stayed in touch with one another and I used to see him. I told him that I was going into the studio to record a new album and he said that if I wanted him to do anything on the album he would gladly come down to the studio. I had written Broken Radio about my mother who had passed away when I was 18 years old and the producer suggested that I send it off to Bruce and make it a duet. So I sent the track off to Bruce thinking that he would probably play the guitar and shout hey a few times (laughter).
I was recording the track on a farm and he said that he would come down. He arrived on his motor cycle, and he gave the song all that he had Kevin, it was really special. It was so very special to have Bruce singing on a song that I had written about my mum. It has turned into a really solid relationship. We have played that song live at The Later Day Charity in New Jersey a couple of times, and we have also played a couple of Ramones songs a couple of times. I have also got up on stage with him at The Giants Stadium to sing Twist And Shout; it’s been a crazy thing, the man is just so very generous Kevin, very real.
We also had a fun time making the video for the song too (laughter). There we were just the two of us standing around with guitars waiting for the lighting to be right for the shoot and we just started fooling around. I would say to Bruce, do you know this Rolling Stones song and we would go back and forth (laughter). Two guys with guitars just killing time was something special to be able to do that with Bruce. For me to not only meet one of my heroes but to also share a microphone with him is pretty bizarre but I will take it.
On that note Jesse, thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
My pleasure Kevin, it was fun. Thank you brother.