Interview: Jesse Malin
I miss it every day. Playing live is an interactive sport. It’s not the same as playing to livestream cameras or being in my room writing. I miss the people. It’s the connection that we live for.
Jesse Malin has been a mainstay of New York music since his early teens and has released a vast collection of uplifting and heartfelt music both as a solo artist and with his many bands and continues to do so regularly. Gavin Brown caught up with Jesse to talk about his recent single, a tribute to his lost friend Todd Youth and its video and reaction as well as his forthcoming new solo album, his New York hometown both past and present, life during the pandemic, live-streamed gigs and his time in Heart Attack and D-Generation. Jesse also has an upcoming Christmas livestream on December 22nd entitled The Fairytale Of New York, which will feature appearances from everyone from Lenny Kaye to Brian Fallon with tickets available from Rolling Live.
E&D: You released your single ‘Todd Youth’ a couple of months ago. Can you tell us about it and what it means for you?
Jesse: It’s a tribute to my friend and guitar player that I’ve known since we were kids. We played in a lot of bands together. We tragically lost Todd two years ago and I wanted to celebrate his life but also not forget the tragic darkness that he struggled with.
E&D: HR from Bad Brains features on the song. How was it working with him and what did he bring to the track?
Jesse: HR is a special soul, there’s just some kind of magic when you’re around him. He was one of Todd’s favorite singers ever, and they knew each other. He’s part of the story from the memorial we threw in NYC where HR and Dr. Know performed. HR has a wonderfully unique voice, and when he sings it’s like a blessing on top of the song.
E&D: The video for the song features Jimmy G. from Murphy’s Law. You must have a long history with him, how did it feel having him in the video?
Jesse: It felt natural to have Jimmy there, especially since we were doing a homage to the Rolling Stones ‘Waiting on a Friend’ video. Jimmy and Todd were best friends, and Jimmy and I have been great friends since we were 14 years-old.
E&D: There are also many New York musicians in the video too, including John Joseph. Did you want to pay tribute to the history of NYHC as well as Todd with the video?
Jesse: NYHC is a close-knit family. We all go through changes, sometimes little wars, but in the end, we will always be connected.
E&D: What has the reaction to the song and the video been like?
Jesse: Mostly positive so far. I wanted it to be upbeat to celebrate Todd, even though the lyrics are a bit sad. I like real things that move with a rhythm but also shed light.
E&D: You played with Todd in D-Generation. How was it having him in the band and what are your favourite memories from that time?
Jesse: My first overseas tour was with Todd. I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing. Todd showed me the ropes and made it fun. We were roommates. We got into some good trouble but always landed on our feet.
E&D: How did you meet Todd in the first place?
Jesse: Probably standing outside the A7 club, snarling at each other with great juvenile judgment.
E&D: I was in contact with Todd to do an interview that sadly didn’t happen, but he seemed like a great guy. What are your favourite memories of him?
Jesse: Seeing him play on TV with Glen Campbell, seeing him play with Ace Frehley and Motörhead, doing the Kill City nights at Continental, and riding around through North America in the Silver Machine (my Econoline van) in the St. Mark’s Social days.
E&D: You have also just done a video for your cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ which is the B-side to the single. What made you cover that Lou Reed song in particular?
Jesse: We had been playing it for years because of its dirty funky groove. But with all the nightclubs, venues and bars closed down, I’ve been dancing around my apartment wondering if we’ll ever have a chance to dance again. It seemed appropriate during this pandemic and lockdown.
E&D: You’re going to have a new album Lust For Love coming out too. Can you tell us a bit about that and its creation and when we can expect its release?
Jesse: The new record – which might be titled that or something else – will come out at some point next year, probably closer to summer. We were supposed to be finished now but it was hard to get together and be in the studio with each other for obvious reasons. I look forward to finishing it. I’m really about excited about the songs.
E&D: The album is going to come out on Little Steven’s Wicked Cool records. How are things on the label and how did you hook up with them in the first place?
Jesse: It’s a very artist friendly label. Little Steven is the real deal. He wears his heart on his sleeve. I’ve been on many labels before, and this is one of the best homes I’ve ever had. Wicked Cool has the best team of any label I have ever been on.
E&D: How is it living in New York City with all the craziness of this pandemic going on?
Jesse:It was pretty scary at first—apocalyptic, dystopian, Mad Max—but it’s kind of leveled out. New Yorkers are tough, we’ve lived through other things before and we will survive it. New York is bigger than the pandemic.
E&D: How else have you been keeping busy during this lockdown period?
Jesse: I’ve been taking piano lessons from my old piano player, Christine Smith. I’ve been writing new songs, working on ideas for a book, keeping fit, watching a lot of old foreign films, reading some good books, and missing my friends.
E&D: Have you ever thought about bringing out a book detailing your life and experiences?
Jesse: I’ve been thinking about it a lot and jotting down ideas. More of a slice of life, character driven story than a straight up rock and roll memoir.
E&D: You are supporting Brian Fallon on tour in Europe next year as the dates have been rescheduled . Are you looking forward to properly hitting the road again?
Jesse: I miss it every day. Playing live is an interactive sport. It’s not the same as playing to livestream cameras or being in my room writing. I miss the people. It’s the connection that we live for. Plus I love Brian and his music.
E&D: Have you got any other live gigs planned at all?
Jesse: We have a June 2021 tour of the UK and Europe booked. Hoping it will happen.
E&D: How did your most recent Fine Art Of Self Distancing show go?
Jesse: Doing them every week is challenging but they’re a lot of fun. I’m grateful to my fans for being there with me.
E&D: HR has made appearances, how has that gone?
Jesse: HR comes on every week and gives a positive message and blessing at the beginning of the show.
E&D: How big an influence have Bad Brains been on you as a musician?
Jesse: It changed my life. Musically, the energy and the message. Best live band I’ve ever seen.
E&D: The gigs have featured everyone from your one time band mate Howie Pyro and Tommy Stinson to Fred Armisen, Paul Bearer and DMC. What have been some of the highlights? Have you got plans to do more?
Jesse: We have lots of fun plans with more artists, actors, musicians and thieves. It’s been great to hang with those guys, and I’ve learned a lot talking to other artists and hearing their process and what they’re going through right now. It feels good to know that I’m not alone. It’s good to connect.
E&D: The show was from your Bowery Electric club. Are you trying to get as many socially distanced gigs there as you can at the moment?
Jesse: It’s just a weekly show. It started in my apartment, and now we get to play with the full band every Thursday night. It’s almost as good as the real.
E&D: What have been some of your favourite gigs that the venue has hosted?
Jesse: An Alan Vega tribute, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Norah Jones, Hennessey, Rockabilly legend Robert Gordon, and Patti Smith.
E&D: You also own the brilliant Niagara in NY, how is the bar doing in these unpredictable times?
Jesse: We’re selling drinks through the window outside to go, with mandatory food. We’re being safe but it’s real sterile and generates only a fraction of what these places used to make. Meanwhile the rents are the same. It can be stressful. Maybe I should just have a drink.
E&D: The back room in Niagara was the home of the legendary A7 club. What are your favourite memories of A7 and was it important for you, with Niagara, to keep that history alive?
Jesse: Seeing the Bad Brains play there on Christmas, seeing Reagan Youth back there, The Mob, Misguided, SSD Control. History is important to me. It means a lot that all of this great stuff happened in that room. When we’re allowed, and when there isn’t a pandemic, we still put on hardcore gigs there.
E&D: A mural of Joe Strummer adorns the wall outside Niagara. What are your favourite memories of Joe and what is your favourite Clash/Mescaleros song?
Jesse: Too many good ones to decide! ‘Somebody Got Murdered’, ‘Washington Bullets’, ‘Silver and Gold’, ‘Johnny Appleseed’. Joe was a very giving person. I had a bunch of fun nights dancing around with him until 7 in the morning, on tables, bar tops and chairs.
E&D: What are your favourite moments from your time in Heart Attack and how exciting a time was it in New York with such a vibrant music scene?
Jesse: Putting out the ‘God is Dead’ single was very exciting when I was 14. Playing with the Misfits and the Bad Brains. I’ll never forget watching that scene grow from 50 people to 2,000 people. It was very exciting. I was grateful to be a part of something where we made something out of nothing. I still carry a lot of those lessons and ways of doing things with me to this day.
E&D: What was your favourite gig that Heart Attack ever did?
Jesse: Max’s Kansas City with Reagan Youth, Even Worse and Kraut.
E&D: What are your ultimate New York Hardcore records?
Jesse: The first Murphy’s Law album, Virus, Age of Quarrel by the Cro-Mags, Upset the System by the Mob, and most importantly, anything from Reagan Youth.
E&D: What one song sums up New York the most to you?
Jesse: ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’— just for the line where Joey sings, “New York City really has it all, oh yeah, oh yeah.”
E&D: After Heart Attack, you formed D-Generation, do you have good memories from that time?
Jesse: D-Gen was so much fun, especially in the early days. It was a gang, a party, and a war with the world.
E&D: How did it feel going from being in a band to going it alone as a solo artist?
Jesse: It felt very liberating, scary and exciting.
E&D: From your solo career, what have been some highlights for you there?
Jesse: Touring with Ryan Adams, going around the world to places I’d never been, playing solo acoustic scared to death.
E&D: How big a thrill was it working with Bruce Springsteen?
Jesse: It was like a dream—surreal but yet really fun and inspiring. He’s a very generous guy. Humble and the real-deal.
E&D: What have been the most memorable moments in your career so far?
Jesse: There are so many, it’s hard to remember. Getting arrested after playing Madison Square Garden, having a bottle thrown at me from 4 feet away into the head, losing my pants in a Texas nightclub while surrounded by police, having Elton John in the balcony at the Troubadour, and practicing the downstroke in the mirror for 12 months.