Looking back on his solo album...

Jesse Malin has the look of a man who’s been round the block a few times. His face has the same gaunt, world-weary look of a young(ish) Keith Richards. Jesse is at King Tut’s, Glasgow with his band the St Mark’s Social (S.M.S) to play his debut album The Fine Art of Self- Destruction in full. This tour will be the first time Malin has done this, I spoke to him before his gig to find out what it was like revisiting the album.

Sipping on a beer in the tiny dressing room of Tuts, relaxed while the support act plough through their set down the stairs, he tells me that the tour has been going well so far; he has played one night so far, in Liverpool. But where does one tour start and one tour end with a seasoned road-musician like Malin?: “We’ve been on the road for about 20 months; well I have, so it’s been a long time.” The tour began in support of his last album, 2010’s Love It To Life, with the S.M.S.

The tour is a celebration of the ten year anniversary of F.A.O.S.D and will be released on DVD, with the Glasgow gig being used for some of the footage. What has it been like for Jesse to go back and play the full album?: “We’ve been playing such a high energy set with the newer stuff.... it’s a different approach”. The album is, excuse the cliché, a ‘singer-songwriter’ record, and therefore a lot of its focus is on Malin and his guitar. His material with the S.M.S is much more of a rock n roll affair (think along the lines of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band). The F.A.O.S.D approach is one which he has relished re-examining but he also says that it is too restrictive a sound for him; he is really a rock n roll singer at heart.

Jesse Malin was born in Queens, New York in 1968, the same birthplace as many of his influences, most notably Paul Simon and Johnny Thunders. He began playing music seriously when he was just 12 years old, in New York hardcore luminaries Heart Attack, who were part of the same scene as Bad Brains and pre-hip hop makeover Beastie Boys. “I was around people who were substance abusers, sex addicts, rock n roll lovers or all of the above connected”. You get the feeling that he was a lot closer to these ‘types’ than he would let on, just a glint in his eye implying a few long nights and a few long stories.

Malin’s big break came in the early 90s amidst the Grunge explosion, with the band D-Generation: “Everyone was dressed up like farmers in flannel shirts, we were a bit more stylised.” Despite their different dress-code, D-Generation managed to get a deal with Chrysalis and then Columbia Records; but despite a mostly positive critical reception, they did not meet the commercial promise that their record label(s) had hoped for and after three albums called it a day in 1999. Malin talks of the time openly with humour and seems to be at peace with it now, although it definitely has had a lasting effect on him, he describes that time with traces of anger still: “Records weren’t in store when we were on tour…people didn’t understand us. Nights we would be battling with crowds, we would be opening for other groups and it was like a war y’know?”

Jesse Malin - Wendy

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It was while on tour with D-Generation, that Jesse Malin met Ryan Adams, then of alt-country band Whiskeytown. When D-Generation split up, it was Adams, who had since become a solo artist that persuaded Malin that he should record a solo album. “He really encouraged me to go solo and not be in a band and that going solo wasn’t scary, wasn’t self-indulgent, wasn’t adult.” Adams would go on to produce the album which was recorded over a five day period, live with minimal overdubs. “He’d never produced a record, but I knew he was this super-talented, wildman-genius, and that something would come and I trusted that in the end it would work out, he did a great job.”

The songs on F.A.O.S.D are about Malin’s realisation of the damage he had caused and experienced in his life up until that point, and how one person can destroy everything good in their life: “I’d ruined a bunch of relationships, dropped out of school, broken up bands y’know, just how you can leave this trail of the dead behind you…. It was a look at that without staying in it, finding a way to transcend it through singing about it.”

Malin’s hometown is a running theme throughout the album, in particular on the songs Brooklyn and Riding on the subway. Malin is a classic New Yorker, who is passionate about the city and the changes it has undergone since his youth. He still likes to walk everywhere and says that he tried this when he lived in L.A for a while but, “if you walk in L.A people assume you’re a male prostitute.” New York is its own character in his songs, and although he has moved away from this lyrical style, it’s as present in his work as New Jersey is in the early work of one of his heroes, and friends Bruce Springsteen. “I like New York because as much as they try and kill it with terrorist attacks, bad mayors, bad fashion and commercial corporate chain stores it’s still a place with a mix of culture and a mix of many.”

Malin seems to be revisiting his past not just in this rerelease, but earlier this year D-Generation got back together for a short set of dates. Admitting that at first he didn’t think that he should be doing it because of the musical place he finds himself in these days as ‘solo singer-songwriter’, he soon naturally fell back into his role of front-man: “By the second or third gig I was like, ‘oh yeah take your shirt off jump off the walls have as much fun as possible for an hour act like a madman take a shot of tequila’ and if the crowd gives you something, you know, take it with you.”

There has also been talk of a new album from the band, but Malin at first is vague on this subject, saying that it would have to be right, and that, “there is no point in trying to recreate what your penis was thinking when you were 23”.

It’s approaching his time to go on stage and his tour manager is looking anxious, so I am interested to know what his favourite debut album is of all time, and what he thinks (sometimes) makes debut albums so important in an artist or bands career; Malin seems to finally be stumped by a question I’ve asked him: “Just one, huh? God, some bands don’t get it together till their second or third albums… (Extended humming and hawing) I guess I would go for the Ramones album, that changed a lot y’know, it’s still changing people.”

This question has revealed that Malin has still maintained his boyish, fan enthusiasm for the music he loves which is refreshing. He does not talk about it from the “well from a fellow artist” perspective like so many often do. He talks about it the way I imagine him talking about it when he was 15 and hearing these bands and albums for the first time. So what it is that is so different and unique about debut albums?: “Well, you have your whole life to write your first record, and then you have maybe four, five, six months to write your second. And you’re doing it on the road, in like 50 hotels and it’s all ‘road’ songs about the road. The second Maroon 5 record didn’t sell as good as the first….. but I didn’t like any of their records.”

When I ask him about his future plans, he mentions that D-Generation will be going out on tour with Guns ‘n’ Roses for two arena dates next month. They were offered more but it conflicted with his current tour, and there is the promise of more if things go well and they don’t, “set fire to the stage or piss our pants” as he puts it. Once these dates are over Malin plans to take a break from the endless touring and get back to writing, for a solo or S.M.S album and maybe even a D-Generation album, despite his vagueness on the subject earlier. Malin plans to take a year out, and simply observe, and write or as he poetically describes it: “Watching people’s movies instead of starring in them.”

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Words by Stephen Walsh

Catch up with Jesse Malin at his official website.

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