Jesse Malin emerged as the fresh-faced frontman for New York City’s hardcore heroes Heart Attack before making his name with D Generation. He caught up with Rushonrock Editor Simon Rushworth after arriving in the UK for his latest headline tour.
Rushonrock: How challenging is it to be a singer songwriter in 2020?
Jesse Malin: You have to want to do it. If there’s a crowd that turns up and people who want to see you perform and who care about your music then that’s the reason to do this. But I guess the record industry is none existent these days and most people just don’t want to go out to shows. Most people just want to stay at home and stare at themselves on their phones. I’m just lucky that I’ve been doing this for long enough and that I’ve been able to build up a pretty loyal fan base. My view is that whatever is going on in the world the main thing is just to play every night you possibly can. Leave it all on the stage. I’m so grateful and happy to be able to write songs in one place and play those same songs in different places all over the world. Not everyone is wearing a coronavirus mask or walking around with an iPhone taped to their head. The rest of us need somewhere to go to release our tensions and deal with our issues and that place can be a gig.
Rushonrock: You mentioned coronavirus…are you concerned that it could prove to be a real threat to live music and touring musicians in the next few weeks and months?
JM: There are always all sorts of things that are emerging as potential threats. Generally, things work out. We’ve been a resilient species for thousands of years and we just have to keep going. You just have to focus on what’s in front of you and have some kind of faith.
Rushonrock: How has your time on the road influenced you as a musician and a songwriter?
JM: In all kinds of ways. It totally has. When you’re a touring musician you get to see just how small the planet is and realise that we’re all connected in some way. When you’re a little kid everywhere seems like a different world. But we’re all connected by the same emotions and our planet is actually a pretty small and fragile place. There can be a guy sitting in Finland and another guy sitting in California and they’re experiencing the same problems. There’s something life affirming about the realisation that you’re not alone. Whether you’re in the rock and roll industry, the film industry or whatever you look at things in a different way if you’re performing all over the world. You develop a compassion for certain things and certain people. Sometimes there’s a show or a scene that suddenly connects you to your audience – there’s that spark of life. The more that I travel the more I seek out new places with great music, or great clothes or great food where I can meet total strangers and learn more about the world we live in. Touring allows me to do that every night…and get paid for enjoying these experiences.
Rushonrock: Does it feel as if you’ve been performing for 40 years?
JM: A lot of things are the same but some things have changed. I’m still waiting for the truck with the equipment to arrive or getting ready for the show and enjoying a pre-gig drink. I’m still cueing up the next album or listening back to the latest record for the first time. It’s still about getting something new out there to the world and making yourself heard. I started doing this when I was just a little kid but even after all of this time I still get that same feeling of excitement when I’m on stage. It’s like going back to your favourite rollercoaster and experiencing the thrill and the adrenaline rush all over again. I guess fans feel the same – there are times when it feels like you’re at your very first concert and it takes you back.
Rushonrock: Given your wealth of experience what message would you give to your 12-year-old self starting out with Heart Attack?
JM: I’d just say focus on your dedication to singing. You have to really believe in yourself. Surround yourself with friends and people who think in a similar way to you. Be open and be fearless. And I’d remind my 12-year-old self that it’s ok to fuck up. Mistakes are part of the beauty of the music business and life. It’s a bumpy road but write about what you believe in and what you’re familiar with. And never be ashamed about where you’ve come from.
Rushonrock: How would you describe latest album Sunset Kids to someone who’s never heard a Jesse Malin record before?
JM: It’s the record that I wanted to make throughout all of the solo years. It’s a composite celebration of life. There’s a sense of nostalgia and sadness at its heart. It’s dedicated to people that we’ve lost. I guess this record is more about owning it and being at peace. You are going to make mistakes but that’s just part of being a human being. There are songs that really groove and songs that are good to play live. There’s a certain pulse and a certain stride to the record and there are softer songs too. I’ve always liked performing the softer songs as much as the louder ones. The quieter songs capture a certain warmth at the heart of Sunset Kids.
Rushonrock: What was it like recording the album with Lucinda Williams as producer?
JM: It made me push myself to be at the top of my game because I’m such a fan of her writing and her singing. We made some of the record in California and some of the record in New York so there were times when both of us experienced a different perspective on life. Everyone was really on point from start to finish.
Rushonrock: Was it always the intention for Lucinda to appear on the record?
JM: It just kind of happened during the times when we hanging around. With a song like Dead On, Lucinda had some lyrics and it all happened quite naturally. We just said to each other ‘let’s just try it and see how it sounds’. We didn’t know how it would work out but of course it sounded amazing! And with Room 13 we all felt pretty good.
*Malin’s new single Meet Me At The End Of The World Again is out now.
*Catch Malin across the UK in March.