Written by Hunter Gorinson
May 21, 2006
Photographed by Lina Haskel
The house lights go down and Jesse Malin takes the stage before the sold out Sunday night crowd at the Mercury Lounge. His acoustic guitar is slung around his shoulder; he’s channeling Joe Strummer in his Brigade Rosse t-shirt. “Ooooh,” he says. “We’re going to have fun tonight.” Damn right.
Just back from a short stint on the road with pal and one-time producer Ryan Adams, this is a rare venue for a Jesse Malin show. Malin usually sells out bigger venues like Irving Plaza and the Bowery Ballroom - but tonight is not just any other show. He’s here to preview new songs before he and his band head back into the studio to begin recording their third record. In the subterranean reaches of his dressing room, Jesse elaborates on just what we should expect after The Fine Art of Self-Destruction (2003) and The Heat (2004).
“This time I wanted...to come into a different place with writing, write a lot more songs and kind of make the third record a step in a different direction. I haven’t gone metal or emo or whatever. I’m definitely still coming from the same street that I’ve been on. I haven’t gone metal or emo or whatever-you-want to call-it.”
You should trust the man because, believe it or not, he’s been getting his songs dirty on stages all around the world for more than twenty years. He (mis)spent his youth fronting for one of the original New York hardcore bands, Heart Attack. Heart Attack frequently opened up CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City for oft-worshiped luminaries such as Black Flag and Bad Brains. During the 90’s, he recorded three albums and spent eight years touring the world as the front man for the glam punk throwbacks D Generation and in the process, proved just what the bad handling by a major label can do to a great band. After the implosion of several projects that followed, Malin went solo and that’s where he’s been ever since.
Given his storied history in the New York’s music scene, its not shocking to see that Malin feels right at home on stage and has an easy command of the audience. After a nice break-up song like “ Brooklyn” or “Since You’re In Love,” he can shift gears and regale the audience with wisecracks about gay robots and Cracker Barrel. I’ve never quite seen a guy shake five hundred asses so hard, while depressing the hell out of everyone in the process.
“I think it’s a blessing to have this outlet to take all the heartbreak, pain and frustration and have a place to celebrate all that and people actually listen. People show up and they sing along. There’s not a better feeling to write a song in your apartment or a little hotel room somewhere and then go somewhere and have some audience singing the words that you’ve written with your cat sitting around.”
“Playing in these clubs – whether it’s a blessing or curse – is just something I need and love to do. I love to play.”
That is pretty evident in the new songs Malin and his formidable band tore through live. New songs like “Prisoners of Paradise” and “In the Modern World” are some of the most up-tempo, ballsy rock material Malin has recorded since his days with D Generation, yet still have more in common with the Replacements than the New York Dolls. There’s eclecticism to his sound that owes as much to singer-songwriters as it does to the history of punk, which is a hard bridge to cross for most. Yet Malin is one of the few to actually pull it off. Malin is able to sum up his viewpoint without citing any influences that have been done to death. “I like country and western. Heavy and metal,” he cracks.
That said, he’ll be right at home on his new record label, Adeline, which is partially operated by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, and is home to long list of gritty punk acts. After demoing thirty songs for the new record, Malin now looks forward to finally hitting the studio this week and eventually “hitting the road like a crazy traveling circus” after the album is released in September.
Malin owns a share of the Niagara bar and nightclub in the Lower East Side, which is his own personal exercise in wish fulfillment. “I took some publishing money years ago and wanted to have a Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack clubhouse fantasy. When I’m on tour, I meet people all over the world and they come and visit me there. Guys will show up from Finland or Ireland and leave notes or packages for me. It’s [a] good little office to have.”
Office indeed. As the band works its way through the encore, Malin sheds his guitar and rolls onto the concrete floor; fans huddle around his head as he sings. The song comes to a close and he shouts, “We’re all going to the Niagara and getting so drunk that we leave on rollerskates.” The crowd cheers. Yep, this going to be a good record.