After a gap of nearly five years between releases, 2015 has been a whirlwind for Jesse Malin. In March, the D Generation singer released the soul stirring New York Before The War (One Little Indian / Velvet Elk Records), in April he put out a both a solo EP and comeback single with his old band D Generation for Record Store Day, and now he comes to Providence this Friday to celebrate the release of another solo album called Outsiders (One Little Indian / Velvet Elk Records). Check out www.motifri.com for an online review on the Outsiders but for now, l decided to call up Malin to get the skinny on the travels of his PMA brigade, new tunes with old friends and life on the outside.
Marc Clarkin (Motif): Were the tunes on Outsiders all written at the same time as New York Before The War?
Jesse Malin: Some a little bit before and some just a bit after. Actually you know it’s five years between records and I’ll never do that again. Love It To Life in 2010, New York Before The War in March, and now Outsiders. It’s like wow, the music business has gone crazy and you can do whatever you want! Let’s put out two records in one year, who cares! I’ve got two records that I really love, but it was also five years in between. I did a lot and could have probably had three records. They are distinctly different. I think Outsiders is a bit more edgy and maybe a bit darker. I love them both, but it is just they needed to be split up as two different things. One was done in New York and Outsiders was mostly done in the Poconos of the mountains of Pennsylvania at Velvet Elk Studios.
MC: On New York Before The War you had the backdrop of gentrification that the songs evolved around. Who are the Outsiders?
JM: Since I was a little kid I’ve never felt that I fit into mainstream world. I’ve always done whatever I can to stay out of a straight job whether it was DJ-ing, putting on parties at my friends’ lofts, putting on shows, moving furniture or moving bands. When I was younger, I had a van service and moved everyone from the Swans to Barbara Streisand. You know we always just really just do stuff and with the music thing I’ve just been lucky for a number of years to not have to fall in. When I was a kid, I was into things that weren’t really fashionable at that time. I’d be into hardcore or punk and the neighborhood I grew up in, Whitestone Queens (NY), is kind of close-minded. Music spoke to me and my friends, the few of us, that you are not alone. It is okay to be different, you can be fucked up, you can be this or that and there is a place to go and for me that is always been how I felt. I don’t really fit in at the beach or the mainstream. There are certain things that people do that are real normal on a Saturday night that I’m not into, like going to a ball game. It is really about folks I’ve know over the years, characters. Songs like “Edward Hopper,” “Indefinitely,” “In The Summer,” and a few others like “The Hustlers,” characters and folks that have so much quality in them and great insides. Some of their weaknesses are their charms. Some of their downfalls are their beauties. It is a tribute to interesting characters who find a way to make it through. People who take the road less traveled and make a difference somehow.
MC: The lead single “You Know It’s Dark When Atheists Start To Pray” is different from anything in your catalog. It has a rollicking New Orleans swing vibe where the verses keep coming at you like a Dylan song. What inspired it?
JM: I was listening to a lot of Huey Piano Smith and Fats Domino. I moved into a new apartment, the building I wrote New York Before The War in, which had spray painted “The War” on the side of the building. It was this crooked cold little pillbox apartment. I was just finishing up New York Before The War and the first day there and this song came out. I had the title and started thinking about these times and the people who are always the most optimistic, like the PMA folks, positive people becoming cynical and dark. That old expression “atheists in foxholes” was on my mind. It’s kind of an autobiographical story of my family with my grandfather coming over from Russia to the lower east side of New York. Being a person who travels a lot with music and a guitar, I often see how communities and neighborhoods like Nashville, Austin and Williamsburg become kind of these “it” places and ruin everything with hipsters overcrowding and overselling the market. I wasn’t born on Avenue A; you’ve got to come from somewhere. So on the last record and even “Burning The Bowery” on the previous one, it’s about immigration from my family coming through that whole Statue of Liberty thing had been in my mind. This song is very autobiographical sort of like the follow up to “Almost Grown” off my first record, The Fine Art of Self-Destruction. This song even ends with a funeral in Queens at Cypress Hill Cemetery where Harry Houdini is buried, celebrating life like they do in New Orleans in those parades with music walking down the street. That is kind of how my friends and I live. We went down to New Orleans in August and filmed a video and sweated our balls off in a graveyard wearing hats, suspenders and long-sleeved shirts with guitars. We wanted the spirit of being in the street with the second line parade, Mardi Gras Chiefs and graveyards.
MC: So with tunes like those and “Boots of Immigration” from the previous record, does that mean you’re against Trump’s plan for the wall?
JM: Yeah it’s exactly a reaction to that. This is my country and it wouldn’t have been built without that. You listen to Donald Trump speak and it’s like – don’t you know where America came from? What the fuck? We go like Doctors Without Borders and play everywhere we can. But we have to exist in the same waters as the people who think that way. I’m supporting Bernie Sanders so I’m an outsider in another sense.
MC: I wanted to ask you about the song “Turn Up The Mains” from the last album. What was the inspiration behind that?
JM: I was in a dressing room in Italy waiting to go on stage and it came to me. I was jamming and it was between a poor man’s “Brown Sugar” and somewhere between (MC5’s) “Kick Out the Jams.” I just wanted a song about where we are living. This digital, disposable, fast, not in the moment age where everyone wants to take a picture to show everybody what they are doing and delete it. It’s apathetic. That song is about apathy and disconnect and just wanting to blow it all up and drop all this technology and be there in the moment with what is right in your face — a band, a person, a situation. A song like that is kind of a fuck you song, which I’ve always kind of liked. Danny Ray, my sax player, did a very cool sax solo on it. I wanted something where if the Stooges and MC5 met the Rolling Stones in a parking lot somewhere with 40 ounces smashing.
MC: What made you want to cover “Stay Free” by The Clash on the Outsiders?
JM: I never wanted to cover it because it is such a personal song by Mick Jones about his friend. I got asked to play a memorial for my guitar player Johnny “Rocket” McNabb who also played with Ryan Adams and on my first two records. e passed away last May and was from Texas, but the memorial was in New York. Some of his family and friends asked if I would sing and do that song. So at first I had to think how I’d to do it my way because I like to change songs and make them into something else. I like to find my own voice in it. It was very emotional because I think of Johnny who was very young, beautiful, and a great guy and it just stayed in the set. It was one of the last submissions to this record. It was just a one take kind of demo thing done live. We’ve played it everywhere and some people don’t know it and some do but it is about friendship. There is a lot of autobiographical stuff on coming of age on this record like “Whitestone City Limits” and “Society Sally” that is not just about friends and characters of interests, it breaks down to those early days that set the pace for what is going to happen or what is not going to happen in life.
MC: So “Whitestone City Limits” is about where you grew up?
JM: Yeah Whitestone Queens, Archie Bunker bigotry. It is kind of a nod to Ike and Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits.”
MC: You always used a lot of references from rock ‘n’ roll like the Ramones “Cretin Hop” in “Whitestone City Limits.” What’s your formula when it comes to songwriting?
JM: I write down a lot of ideas in notebooks. I’ve enjoyed referencing other things like the Ramones who are from Queens. I’ve always enjoyed when other people do that. My favorite writers would do that often and it’s like a little nugget for those in the know. As they say in that Spike Lee movie – “those that know won’t tell and those that tell don’t know.” Movies inspire me. Other songs or things that people say out in the street, in a bar, over dinner, or in passing inspire me. I think there is a conversation going on with music where you’re sharing certain things, words and riffs and spitting them in your own way – there is a conversation going forth. There are answers in that.
MC: You have a third album in the pipeline with D Generation, right?
JM: Yeah, we had a single come out for Record Store Day, which was really fun. It was our first record in 14 years. That will be next year because you can’t do it all at once. Danny Sage, the guitarist, mixed it correctly. We always get offered to do stuff and we just did a festival in Spain with ZZ Top and L7. Everyone is healthy and alive and gets along most of the time, so I’m sure we’ll do more dates. Right now I’m going out in the US and Canada with the Outsiders record coming out, which I’m really happy with. Don DiLego produced the record. He’s a songwriter, cool artist, plays in my band and has his own record coming out real soon. We started a label together called Velvet Elk that is putting out Walter from Quicksand new band, Dead Heavens. We just put that single out on Velvet Elk. I’m just psyched and really grateful for the guys and gals who play in my band that make it happen every night. I’m really looking forward to getting up there and singing these songs in front of people.
Jesse Malin celebrates the release of Outsiders with a special full band rocking and reeling release show at Firehouse 13 on October 9. Matthew Ryan and Keith McCurdy (Vudu Sister) get the party started with opening sets.
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