Jesse Malin: 'Let's strike while it's hot'

As his new double album is released, Jesse Malin talks Tom Petty, Martin Scorsese, Little Steven, Ryan Adams and cancel culture with Richard Purden

Richard Purden

Jesse Malin was productive during the pandemic, honing a new double album, Sad and Beautiful World. Picture by Ilaria Conte

ON the back of his critically acclaimed album Sunset Kids, co-produced by Lucinda Williams, New York rocker Jesse Malin returns with a new double long-player, Sad And Beautiful World, released on Little Steven's Wicked Cool Records.

Down the line, he explains how the work ethic of The Clash inspired the new collection after his plans were put on hold in the Spring of 2020.

"We had been touring Europe and the States and we were about to play Glastonbury... then Covid hit. I came home and thought, 'Let's strike while it's hot'.

"The Clash released London Calling in 1979 and Sandinista! a year later, which is a triple. So we kept working, and I started doing live streams from home with The Fine Art of Self Distancing."

While taking an enforced break from the road, Malin put together a record that reflects his Saturday night rock n' roll live show as well as a more mellow, country-flavoured collection of songs taking on a range of subjects.

Deep cuts such as the beautifully melancholic Lost Forever deals with the complex but common issue of absent parents. "My father and I had no real relationship," says Malin. "I come from a divorced home. Often I'd wait outside on the day my dad was supposed to pick me up and he wouldn't come.

"There are a lot of people who don't know their parents or have negligent parents that just don't care.

"I've had girlfriends and people that mattered in my life that were abandoned emotionally or physically or both... but we get through these things. My late friend Todd Youth and bandmate (who a song is titled after on the new album) had a line in one song, 'Send my love to my daughters; they did nothing wrong'; he was kind of saying that he didn't have the tools."

Another cut that fits the mood of the record is a cover of Tom Petty's Crawling Back To You.

"I saw his last ever show with The Heartbreakers," says Malin. "We didn't know that this would be his last night on the planet, there was a real magic in the air and I remember the lines: 'I'm so tired of being tired/Sure as night will follow day/Most things I worry about/Never happen anyway'.

"I don't like to put a lot of covers on records but we changed it enough that I feel better about it."

Malin often invites some interesting guests to the studio when making a record. This one features his long-time friend and bass player Tommy Stinson, who enjoyed a memorable stint with Guns N' Roses.

"Tommy sings on State Of The Art, he's always been one of my favourite people and has the perfect voice for that song," says Malin.

"I think Axl (Rose) has a punk-rock heart and Tommy is a great bass player, he's got a lot of spirit and swagger so if you can't get Duff McKagan then Tommy is a great fit. I can see why Axl enjoyed having him around."

Based in the East Village, Malin is the co-owner of four bars including Bowery Electric and Niagara.

"I had to say a few prayers in the hope that everything would come back," he admits when discussing the long, dark days of the pandemic.

Sad and Beautiful World

Our conversation turns to Ryan Adams. The pair have been friends for decades, with many fans on these shores getting to know Malin after Adams produced his first album, The Fine Art Of Self Destruction, and took him on the road.

After allegations of sexual misconduct, including one where he was cleared, Adams has since apologised for his behaviour.

"He's family to me," says Malin. "I've known him since 1994. Ryan dated my sister and I knew him before he was successful... he's always been a brother and no matter what happens in the world I always stand by family.

"There's not a lot of redemption in cancel culture and that's the sad thing.

"People go through a lot and there's unconditional love in family. He was there for me when there was nobody and also for a lot of my friends when we had nothing - especially me, he really gave to me.

"The guy has gone through hell and people have made his life really hard and whether it's justified or not this guy is taking the hit very hard but he still creates great art."

It's a time where great art is also suffering; last year The Pogues Christmas classic Fairytale Of New York was called "a nasty, nasty song" by a BBC radio broadcaster who banned it from his show.

Malin is also a friend of Shane MacGowan and recorded a tribute to the singer on his last album. How does he feel about the recent controversy?

"Shane is not a hurtful person, that song is not about beating people down and it's not political; it is a slice of life song," he says.

"It's clearly about a character a long time ago and it made sense at the time and still makes a lot of sense. It's like The Sopranos series, you are writing about how people speak."

Speaking of The Sopranos, how has it been signing to the record label of Little Steven? "I know him from D Generation (Malin's former band). He is a supportive and cool guy for underground and new bands.

"I would always see him at shows and we'd have a good conversation, he was always present and giving to the music community and to rock music as an art form.

"He's also put a great team together at his record label. I'm also a big fan of his solo records, his work as an actor in The Sopranos and Lilyhammer and the spirit that he has brought to the E Street Band."

Malin himself has also acted taking a role in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead (1999) starring Nicolas Cage. What was the experience like?

"He didn't let you down, he knew everything about music and he loves to talk, is very funny and very New York," recalls Malin.

"It was a trip, I was in a dream to be around his knowledge and drive. The role wasn't the biggest stretch for me but it was a fantastic experience; I was a nightclub doorman at CBGB's (legendary punk nightclub)."

Malin also paid homage to the artwork of Scorsese's Mean Streets on his single Queen Of The Underworld.

"The way he captures life is very real, again it's about characters, love and survival," he says.

"When you watch that scene in Mean Streets when Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) walks into the bar with Jumpin' Jack Flash on in the background it's like you are hearing the song for the first time again."

Sad and Beautiful World is out today.

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