To a select few, Jesse Malin will always be the singer out of New York hard-core band D Generation. To the rest of us, he will be gritty folk singer Malin whose tales of the underbelly of New York impressed Ryan Adams so much that he spent his Christmas vacation last year playing on and recording Malin's debut album "The Fine Art Of Self Destruction". We caught up with Jesse Malin to talk about the thin line between punk and folk music and found out that on this journey he took a diversion scoring several major motion picture movies just for fun. Jesse Malin - jack of all trades and master of each and every single one of them!!!
Q: New York - All the glamour and the grit of the big city. Would you say you are a product of your surroundings?
A: I grew up in a working class suburb called Queens, where the Ramones and Simon & Garfunkel are from, and I just started going to clubs in Manhattan at about 12 or 13 just to be around music. There were record shops where you could get anything at - where I lived they got things on import like Public Image, Cockney Rejects, Sham 69 and the Clash - but music changed my life and New York had a certain energy where you felt you could be yourself. Since then it still has pieces of that, but it's become really gentrified and really developed. In this country we've had a recession and the politicians have been really right wing and Guilliani has made it more of a tourist place...but it still has its soul!!!
You know they seep into the music and I'm born and bred here and the city almost becomes like a character in the songs. You walk out of you door and things kind of unfold...people's life's are jammed together in a small area with lots of different cultures and I guess there's lots of stories in New York City. When I was a kid and I was touring about in punk bands I never used to thing of New York as part of the rest of America - we were kind of out there on our own!!!!
Some of my favourite bands like the Clash were able to capture the spirit of the city and not even be Americans or New Yorkers. Even U2 and different people have been able to pick up on the sentiment here and I think a lot of that is worldwide.
Q: As you said you were touring from a young age. At 12 or 13 you must have bought into the rock & roll dream early on?
A: The main thing for me is you've just got to love what you do and playing live for me is an exorcism. Life hits you with lots of different problems and everyone's got a hard luck story and a good luck story and everyone's got their own pain...but to have a place to deal with these demons and to channel them into something positive, even if it's through negativity. I write about a lot of darker things in life and there's a romance to that. But there's also a romance to being able to speak about things and not just to shake your penis and get me a big car and hot dogs, daddio!!!!
I like people to tell stories in their music and whether that's done through a good groove like the Rolling Stones or some angst like Nirvana. It's all something that paints a picture and rings true. A lot of films I like have that type of urban unsung hero struggling to try and carve their niche - directors like Scorcese and movies like Midnight Cowboy.
Q: At 13 travelling across America you must have seen a lot a of things that the average 13 year old would have missed out on?
A: I'm a vegetarian so for a while it was hard enough even trying to eat, but now you can get a veggie burger anywhere. And MTV, much as it made it safe for you to have the funny hair do and the wacky tattoo and piercing it also desensitized a lot of people from having to really seek things out and get off the couch. People think they can just watch it on Pay-Per-View or download the music and people don't realize that some of those rituals of going to the clubs and the record stores are really special.
Q: It's hard to imagine it now listening to your debut album, but you actually grew up listening to hardcore punk.
A: I'd missed out on the Sex Pistols and the Clash and the Ramones were going through some changes so hardcore to me in the 80s with bands like the Dead Kennedy's and Black Flag was something that was fresh and something that was happening here. It was it's own style and language and got a bit macho and stupid, but it had some really great bands like the Germs.
Q: When you came to writing "The Fine Art Of Self Destruction" album, was it a case of punk music was too limiting?
A: With me it's always been about songs and with D Generation and other groups I had it was always about the mosh pit or they read the cover, not the book. They didn't want to hear about your lyrics, it was all about your hair and your shoes and we'd go out and it was just about playing as fast and as dumb as you could.
To me punk music and folk music have always been connected by the lyrics and the sentiments. So whether it's Hank Williams, Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer or Crass or Rancid - I think it's all about that and some of those things get lost. And while I was young enough to do another group I think I wanted to start afresh, wipe the slate and do something that was more honest to myself and about the songs being stripped down in your face stories.
Q: Alt Country superstar Ryan Adams actually ended up producing the album. How did he get involved and how was it leaving your songs in someone else's hands?
A: We became friends a few years ago. He was a fan of D Generation and I met in his home town in North Carolina and we started hanging around. When he moved to New York I showed him around and we started going to bars. We would just swap lyrics in diners and bars and jam together.
When it was time for me to do this record he just said I really wanna produce. A lot of artists would have taken a break over Christmas time after touring for 8 months, but he decided to hole up in a studio and make the record in 6 days. We did it really live and really raw like in the 50s everyone singing and playing at the same time. It was just really natural at the time and even though it was really frustrating recording in the album, when we finished it I realized he had captured something.
I though the album was going to be a little less rocky and be more like a Tom Waits / Nick Cave introspective vocal guitar piano and it turned out to rock a little more. It's came out to be a very New York record - the difference between me and Ryan is he loves New York and the romance of it and comes from more of a country background. I guess I dig country type of music from the Rolling Stones and the Replacements and for me rock & roll comes from Blues.
Q: As well as working on the debut solo album you've also spent the last few years scoring the soundtracks for several major motion pictures. How did that come about in the middle of this transgression from punk to folk music?
A: I love films so much and while they're not ones that have been the most literary, i've done Airheads and the Faculty...just stuff like that. One day I might actually do a film that watchable instead of doing something that ends up on cable on wank hour.
When you score for movies you've got to get into someone else's vision and how it's fitting into that. It's kind of fun and it must be what it's like for actors getting into different characters - it forces you to look at things differently and to try and look at issues through other people's eyes - as opposed to putting a stake in your heart and letting it all gush out!!!
Q: On the Ryan Adams tour you're going to be leaving your beloved New York and embracing different cultures. Is the UK going to inspire the 2nd Jesse Malin album then?
A: I think you get a lot when you're at places that aren't comfortable to you. I think I write best when I'm watching and not starring in the film and knowing everybody on the block. When you're kind of just watching life go by and you can be off and not on and just be an observer. When you're in hotels and living transient anonymous you can be an observer it forces your emotions to be raw and real when you're away from home.
"The Fine Art Of Self Destruction" album is out now
Jesse Malin tours with Ryan Adam throughout November
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