Jesse Malin is midway through his latest UK tour celebrating the release of new double LP Sad And Beautiful World. Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth caught up with the New York-based singer songwriter.
Rushonrock: How do you reflect on the last 18 months and how did you react to the global pandemic?
Jesse Malin: For a while I was locked down in the house. I was doing streams to try and help out crew and band mates and to keep myself busy. I wanted to keep everybody working and stay connected and be as involved as I could be. I never really liked the internet or streaming. But I realised it could be a good thing and I was able to talk to other artists, actors and directors. It helped me get by. It was a lonely and scary time but we just tried to take the lemons and make them into margheritas. And we made a double album.
Rushonrock: Was it always the plan to jump straight into a double album?
JM: We’d only really just started to tour the Sunset Kids record and then we were forced to go home and we weren’t allowed to see each other. Little by little we started to make what would become the double album Sad And Beautiful World.
Rushonrock: How did you cope with isolation…mentally and financially?
JM: I live pretty simple and I live alone. My music community is my family – the people I work with and the people in my neighbourhood. And then there’s my fans — my extended family. I created a weekly show called The Fine Art Of Self Distancing and people started buying the swag linked to those shows so that helped. It was a platform that helped to get us out there and we’d do something different every week. It was enough to keep me going.
Rushonrock: Did you take any positives out of a desperately challenging situation?
JM: Looking back those lockdowns humbled me and definitely slowed me down. I’ve always been on the move, all of my life, and I’ve never really had the chance to step back and reflect. When I was forced into that position it made me think. I’ve got this song called Room 13 on Sunset Kids which is all about spending a day in a hotel room and thinking about who you love and what’s important to you and I guess lockdown was like that day after day after day.
Rushonrock: And is finally there cause for optimism 18 months down the line?
JM: We’re still not fully back in the swing of things. People are still wearing masks in the hotels I’m staying in and maybe some people still aren’t ready to go back to gigs yet. Some people aren’t healthy and others are just scared. Everybody’s on a different page. But we’ll get there.
Rushonrock: Does the opportunity to play live for your UK fans encourage you that the worst could be over?
JM: It felt like a victory simply to make it into the UK. There was a lot of jumping through hoops to get to that point. The first weekend I arrived I was just stood on Camden High Street soaking it all in and feeling incredibly lucky to be there. I feel very emotional when I play the new songs in front of people. This is how we celebrate life but a lot of people haven’t been able to attend a gig for a long, long time. This is my first tour in 18 months. It’s an incredibly emotional experience.
Rushonrock: Is Sad And Beautiful World a pandemic record?
JM: The new album isn’t a pandemic handbook. But you can’t have that going on outside your window and not allow it in. Some of the songs reflect the times we’ve been through. I deal with overcoming certain situations, the feeling of optimism and the prospect of greener pastures. From a musician’s perspective it seems like we’re coming back from the dead. As fucked as it is, we’re still here.
Rushonrock: And how does it feel to still be here?
JM: I always hoped that as soon as everyone was back in a room together and they could see and hear each other and see and hear the music it would feel as if this was their church. I’m getting that feeling.
Rushonrock: Do you feel that you’re progressing as a songwriter in spite of a challenging period for your profession?
JM: I write a lot of songs that I’m very proud of. Normally it takes me a little while to work out how I feel about a record. Sunset Kids was a case in point. But I really like it. Until you take a record on the road you never really know. I believe I’m moving forward as a songwriter but also staying true to my fans. You’ve got to take chances as a musician and I feel we did that with the new record. Derek Cruz, my guitarist, did a great job co-producing the album. Take a track like Tall Black Horses — there’s a lot of depth and different sonic palette at the heart of that song.
Rushonrock: But do you feel that Sunset Kids is in danger of becoming a footnote in the career of Jesse Malin given that you had to cut short its touring cycle?
JM: It felt like Sunset Kids got stopped in its tracks but Sad And Beautiful World is about now. We lost a year in time and, as much as time freezes, as an artist you can’t freeze. And touring always represents my records best so that’s why I had to move on with a new album and a new tour. Hopefully we can stay out on the road a little bit longer this time. We’re already coming back to the UK next spring.
Rushonrock: Was there a time when you feared live music would become a permanent casualty of the global pandemic?
JM: 100%. I went through periods where I never thought I’d be able to do this again. I was struggling with money and struggling to get by. It was a frightening time. At first you thought things would get back to normal in a few weeks and then it became a few months and then in became more than a year. I wondered whether the world would ever be the same again. I cried at my first gig back.
Jesse Malin’s UK headline tour wraps up in Brighton on Saturday October 9. New album Sad And Beautiful World is out now via Cargo Records.