JESSE MALIN – ” Sunset Kids “

Posted: February 14, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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His third solo album, 2007’s Glitter in the Gutter, saw singer-songwriter Jesse Malin pay tribute to a friend and fellow tunesmith with a song he called “Lucinda.” It took another dozen years, but Malin and that song’s inspiration, Lucinda Williams, have finally found the time to collaborate on a full-length project. Sunset Kids, Malin’s recently released album on Little Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool label, was co-produced by Williams and her husband, Tom Overby, and it’s easily the most potent collection of Malin music since that earlier breakthrough set.

Sunset Kids arrives a full four years after New York Before the War and Outsiders, the pair of albums Malin released during a particularly prolific period in 2015, and three since Nothing Is Anywhere, his 2016 reunion effort with D Generation, the glam-punk band he co-founded in 1991. He hadn’t planned on taking this long to make a follow-up solo recording, but life, as it often does, had other plans for him. One after the other, Malin lost important people in his life, including his father, Paul; his West Coast engineer, David Bianco; former bandmate Todd Youth and others. “When you’re hit with all these heavy things, you either get beaten down or you find a way to jump back,” Malin says. He weathered the losses and chose the latter path.

“When there are hardships, I look to life and I look to music and say, ‘Let’s make the best of it and try to find a way to smile through it a little bit because there’s a lot of dark shit.’ It reminded me of when I made my first solo album and I came out of being in bands,” he adds. “As scary as it was, there was something liberating about it. This batch of songs started to pour out.”

Williams was an obvious choice as producer yet, at the same time, she wasn’t. Malin was born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens and quickly gravitated toward punk and, later, what’s now called Americana. Williams, more than a dozen years his senior, was born in Lake Charles, La., and grew up largely in Arkansas before embarking on a career that has landed her three Grammy wins and another dozen nominations.

Malin recalls first hearing Williams around 20 years ago on a duet she did with Steve Earle, and while neither of them quite remembers where or when they first met—it may have been at a Charlie Watts jazz concert at New York’s Blue Note—at some point, they came into each other’s orbit and a friendship ensued. As Malin began gathering songs for what would eventually become Sunset Kids, the notion of working together popped into his head.

“My manager would come to my house every couple of weeks and say, ‘What do you got?’ and we’d sit around my kitchen table,” he says. “Then, once he felt like we had a good amount of songs, he said, ‘Think about producers.’ That same week, Lucinda Williams had invited me to come out to LA to see her open for what turned out to be Tom Petty’s final concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I said to my manager, ‘What do you think of Lucinda Williams? She’s somebody I really admire and look up to, and it might be an interesting thing.’”

“It just felt real natural,” Williams says. “Tom [Overby] and I had been working in LA with David Bianco, at his studio, and Jesse really liked the sounds we were getting on my albums that I was doing with David. Jesse said, ‘Do you guys want to help me do my next album?’ We said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to.’ But it wasn’t like this out-of-the-blue thing; it happened organically.”

“As people, we’re different,” says Malin about Williams. “We come from such different places. We’ve met up on the road a lot and, if we are in the same town, we’ll go out and listen to music. And Tom is a really great guy. He’s a real fan and a deep listener of music and he had a lot of input in the record.”

Williams’ involvement wasn’t limited to sitting behind the board. She co-wrote two of the album’s key songs, the harmony-rich “Room 13” and the swampy rocker “Dead On,” and contributes vocals to those two as well as “Shane,” the album’s richest ballad. She also offered some sage advice on the lyrical content of the songs, which vary dramatically in style.

“He writes like crazy; he’s so prolific,” Williams says. “He would bring a song to me and have the melody and the structure of the song. He’d have a whole bunch of lyrics and a refrain. He brought ‘Room 13’ to me and said, ‘I’ve got all these lyrics. Can you help me go through and kind of narrow it down?’ So I asked him: ‘What are you trying to say in the song, exactly?’ I wanted to wrap my head around it and get inside of it. We’d go back and forth.”

“She’d be talking about this line or that line,” recalls Malin about the shaping of that same track, “and the next day, she took my six verses and said, ‘These are the three you should use.’ There’s something really open about sitting around with an acoustic guitar and a drink and just going through your stuff. But I was nervous. Even though she’s my friend, I was like, ‘Whoa, the body of work she has.’ But when you have somebody like that it makes you want to do better.”

Once they settled down to actually record, “There were different things going on in different studios,” says Williams. “He was still finishing songs and writing new songs as we were recording.” Most of the music was cut live in the studio, with some overdubbing. Several of Malin’s pals, including Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, lent a hand with vocal or instrumental parts.

“With her instinct—from being around music or just having that kind of deep soul or some kind of Southern thing—we’d go in and record a song and do three takes,” says Malin. “We’d record to analog tape. Then we would listen and see if we nailed it, and if she was dancing and grooving her hips and moving, then we knew we had a take.” They recorded about 25 songs in all, with 14 finding their way on to the finished album.

“I know I was involved in the album, but Tom and I think this is the best album he’s made,” says Williams.

Jesse Malin’s official music video for “Room 13 (featuring Lucinda Williams)” from his new record “Sunset Kids”, available now on Wicked Cool Records.

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