Tragedy plus time equals comedy

Ross McGibbon catches up with the feisty Brooklyn lad

When I am ushered backstage, I find Jesse Malin dictating what to play between sets from his Ipod. The conversation keeps breaking for him to name a song that pops into his head. Some Weird Sin by Iggy Pop, Pipeline by Johnny Thunders, One Drop by Bob Marley, Come Together by The Beatles, New England Ė Billy Bragg, Ö. Heís got some taste, this bloke.

Having seen him play a few times before Iím interested to see how he absorbs his new work into the already full set.

What can we expect from this yearís show?
Iím digging the band and itís nice having three albums to pick from to write a setlist. Thereís a lot more up tempo stuff and I play more electric guitar.

Thereís a lot of guests on the new album. Normally Ryan Adams pops up as an old friend.
Heís something great Ė always something different.
And how about Josh Homme?
A lot of the people I knew when I was in Los Angeles, which was kinda lonely and weird, were musicians. It just seemed they were the people I connected with and people said ďwhy donít you try something perhaps out of your box and come and jam on this song or that songĒ. It became something the record company could put on the sticker! The track with Bruce (Springsteen) was a bit more of a thing because weíd spoken about it as a duet. Jakob (Dylan) sang some great stuff.

Iídíve thought Jesseíd have avoided Springsteen because a lot of people have made a comparison between them.
He offered to do something on the record and I went and visited him when he was playing the Pete Seeger sessions and he said if something comes up Iíd like to do something. And Ryan had produced my first record and all this association to famous people and Iím still trying to make my bones! But this one song came up and it was written about my Mom and about the radio as a force and the piano style on the demo made me think Ďthisíd be cool for Bruceí. And I sent him a letter and the lyrics and a scratch vocal and I didnít hear from him so I figured he didnít like it. Two weeks went by and he called and said he really liked it so I went out to New Jersey and we did the track.
Now itís playlisted. And itís a dangerous thing to take the focus because I wrote the song. Thereís a video with both of us in it and labels love that kind of marketing. I called him up and said ďthis is the labelís idea, I never thought this would be a single this soon and I donít want to exploit youĒ. I mean, if I donít ask, he might be insulted!

Are you happy with the press for the third album (Glitter In The Gutter)?
I think I started to get a beating on it. Some people get it and love it, some think Iíve turned into some saccharine Bon Jovi or something. I tried to make a record that would still have the same stories and details of my previous records but that was more of a tough pop record. More anthemic stuff. Short and to the point. I canít worry about the press. I read the good ones, I read the bad ones. I try not to read as much press as I used to because it can alter the way you think about your art.
The Heat, I thought was a bit too abstract and the songs werenít as tight. Lyrically I loved them but the choruses and the point of itÖ.
I grew up on pop like Elton John and I wanted to make a power pop record. I worked thirty songs up for this one and picked thirteen.

How come you re-worked Since Youíre In Love?
The label in America went out of business so you couldnít get that song anymore. The new label really liked it and encouraged me (to re-record it) and I said ďif I can rewrite itĒ. And the girl I wrote it about didnít get the point, I donít think it got through to her so I thought I try it again and play cupid on my guitar and I donít think it still got through to her but the song is special to me and I figure if Glen Danzig can put Mother out, like thirteen timesÖ.

I first saw Malin play support to Ryan Adams, all alone on the huge stage at Manchester Apollo five years ago. What does the journey feel like from there to here?
That was real exposed. I was scared to be there without a piano player but he helped me to be a solo artist. Ryan said go and do it and donít be scared. Iíd been in bands all my life, it seemed weird to call it Jesse Malin Ė thatís just too much emphasis on myself. But between being a solo artist and learning to be a band leader you learn a lot Ė how to put a band together, how to produce my own album Ė but what I got the most was songs that were very personal to me; that were written in my apartment. I went on the road that first year and people in, like, Australia, were singing High Lonesome and Brooklyn and Queen Of The Underworld and itís relating to their lives and it affects the way I wrote. Write locally but think globally, ha!
Finding different ways to break the barriers in a live show and connect to people. And be able to have records where you come with one idea but be able to build. I always liked bands that grew from record to record but didnít go metal or change completely. Like The Beatles or Oasis or Nirvana or The Clash or The Jam. Not that Iím as good as those people but I follow that each record should be different but still the same. Then thereís artists that I love, like The Cramps and Motorhead, that make the same record each year but worse and I donít want to do thatÖ.. for a while!
The beginnings are real exciting but now I have higher expectations, I want to reach more people.

And how about politics and music?
I think rock and roll is a force to say whatever the f you wanna. Not that I want to make it curricular like school but I want to talk about whatever is in my head, like if Iím watching the news in my hotel room and Iím hearing about shit and Iím frustrated. Iíll find humour in things that are painful. Tragedy plus time equals comedy. Iíll be planning a way to talk about things people donít normally talk about. I think a rock show should encompass the whole spectrum. At least for me The Clash did and that was like my Beatles.
Weíre living in very fíd up times, especially in America. I mean, all around the world and weíre affecting the whole world.

We talk about spreading a message.
I think that people like Bono and Neil Young and Sting have a bigger voice and different responsibilities but someone like Billy Bragg does a lot in that respect. You do as much as you can do. I think it works really well when Bono pulls it off.

You donít hear that in his music so much. Itís more like Bono the speechmaker.
But itís in there. The message of human connection and love. For this record I listened to a lot of writers who were positive. Every artist that I really like has a record that says itís going to be alright. Whether itís Ike and Tina, Jeff Tweedy, John Lennon, Bob Marley, yíknow.

And Malin goes on to deliver an uplifting show, a blend of story-telling and philosophising Ė see our live reviewsÖÖ.