JESSE MALIN – ” Sunset Kids “

Posted: May 29, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Jesse Malin had a shit year in 2018. His father, former guitarist, and producer all died. So his new album Sunset Kids, his first in four years, could have been a major bummer. Instead, it’s a celebration of survival that finds the New York City hardcore troubadour reflecting on life’s precious and fleeting moments.

“Shining Down” is inspired by Tom Petty’s final performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 2017, which Malin witnessed firsthand. “I act like nothing hurts/The bar becomes a church/A limousine or hearse and you don’t look back,” he sings over jangly Heartbreakers guitars and a euphoric chorus. In “Strangers and Thieves,” he teams up with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong to memorialize their punk glory days, delivering a blast of power pop that floats along on a curlicue guitar lick. And in “Shane,” Malin salutes the longevity of the hard-drinking Pogues singer Shane MacGowan, blending his nasally whine with that of Americana chanteuse Lucinda Williams.

It’s the presence of Williams, who co-produced the LP with her husband Tom Overby, that ties Sunset Kids together. A master lyricist, she helps Malin refine and focus his own words, especially on the introspective “Room 13” and on their duet “Dead On,” a slashing blues-rocker that evokes Williams’ own kiss-off “Changed the Locks.” The seemingly odd-couple pair — he’s from Queens, she was raised in Arkansas — slap their way through the verses. “You talk like an angel/You spit on the floor,” Williams growls, before Malin answers, “but you look just like the girl next door.”

There’s some repetition on the album, three of the 14 tracks, including “Revelations,” have appeared in various forms on past solo projects, but only fans who’ve followed Malin’s career closely will notice.

“Meet Me at the End of the World Again,” released as a one-off single in 2017, benefits from the redo. Elevated by Catherine Popper’s funky Lower East Side bass groove, it’s a soundtrack to the apocalypse, a command to reconnect before it’s too late, and makes you believe that the P.M.A. (positive mental attitude) that Malin has been preaching for decades just might be enough to save us.

Growing up in Queens, Jesse Malin was all of 10 when he made his first public appearance with a band, performing Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” at his public school—“I spit ketchup for blood,” he remembers with a laugh. He was a member of the Kiss Army in his teens but eventually graduated to punk, forming a band called Heart Attack—all of whose members were under 16—only to be told that punk had already peaked. “We went to an audition night at CBGB and they told us that we missed it all. Bad Brains had broken up, The Ramones were going power-pop, Blondie [was going] disco. They said, ‘Try something new like rockabilly or New Romantics.’ I said, ‘I’m not dressing up like a pirate.’”

He soon discovered that the genre wasn’t dead. It had simply sped up, grown more outspoken and morphed into hardcore, with bands like the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks taking the music to the next level. Heart Attack stayed together for four years, after which Malin founded the band Hope, which carried on until 1989.

But it wasn’t until he joined D Generation that Malin truly became a force to be reckoned with. The band not only opened shows for Kiss but also those other Queens natives, The Ramones (Joey Ramone became a close friend). They released three full length albums, an EP and numerous singles during their initial eight-year run. It was while making their self-titled debut in 1994 that Malin first connected with Bianco, who produced and engineered it. (The second album, No Lunch, was produced by The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, and the third, Through the Darkness, was produced by David Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti.)

“We wanted to make D Generation into a band that we felt we missed; we felt music had become really safe and funky, with people dressed up like they were farmers from Seattle with no style. We wanted to be in a band that was like a gang,” Malin says. The band was respected but never did cut through commercially. “The people that liked us loved us, but we became more of a cult thing and an artist thing. We had a few bad breaks, but also internally it was so intense. It could be like a five-headed love affair or a five-headed war.”

Malin eventually started growing creatively restless. And punk was also moving in a direction he wasn’t entirely comfortable with. “People thought punk was about swastikas and fascism until the Dead Kennedys said, ‘Nazi punks fuck off.’ Sometimes people misunderstand things,” he says.

After the demise of D Generation, Malin cut an album with a band called Bellvue, To Be Somebody, before making the difficult decision to go the solo troubadour route. “It was kind of nervewracking to call it Jesse Malin,” he says. “I was used to hiding behind four other people and writing for four or five other people. But I think there’s a real connection between punk-rock and folk, from Woody Guthrie to The Clash to Bob Dylan to Crass or the Dead Kennedys. It’s about a message and a couple of chords and an attitude. A lot of my friends that heard me do louder stuff would be kind of surprised when I first did more acoustic-based music. I had people going, ‘What the hell?’ But my real friends knew that I had liked Jim Croce and Elton John since I was eight, and Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen since I was 15. I like songs, whatever they are—the craft.”

His highly regarded solo debut, 2002’s The Fine Art of Self Destruction, was produced by D Generation fan Ryan Adams, whom he’d met in 1996. “It was a very personal first record,” Malin says. He followed it with The Heat (2004) and thenGlitter in the Gutter, which featured a guest vocal by none other than Bruce Springsteen, who took note of Malin’s debut.

“I got into Bruce Springsteen late,” he says. “In the ‘80s, I got into Nebraska, and I was like, ‘This guy’s a millionaire and he’s speaking the truth. It’s real and it’s dark and it’s about people on the street, and it’s believable and it’s haunting and it’s so good. And it’s just him alone.’” Springsteen invited Malin to do some holiday shows with him and agreed to lend backing vocals to Malin’s track “Broken Radio.

From there, Malin’s next move was an all-covers set, On Your Sleeve, featuring favourite tunes by classic rockers like Lou Reed, The Clash, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Paul Simon, and a live album, Mercury Retrograde. His next full studio album, Love It to Life, arrived in 2010; that same year, he and the members of Green Day killed time with a short-lived band they called Rodeo Queens, releasing one song, “Depression Times.” His five-year break between solo albums was alleviated when a reunited D Generation released their first new album in 17 years. That band also embarked on a well-received tour with stops in London and the U.S., among them a couple of shows opening for Guns N’ Roses. One observer of the tour was Lucinda Williams, who had never seen D Generation during their heyday.

“It was a whole different side of Jesse,” Williams says, “and he was amazing. He had his shirt off, like Iggy Pop, and his microphone cord was long enough that he was able to go all the way to the bar from the stage and drink a shot of tequila and still make it back to the stage. He was great.”

Now 51, Jesse Malin still lives in Manhattan’s East Village. “I tried living in Los Angeles but, if you walk in LA, they think you’re a male prostitute,” he says. These days, he can often be found, wearing his trademark suspenders and newsboy cap, at one of the bars or clubs he owns a stake in. “We try to keep a little bit of old New York, New York going somehow,” he says about the establishments, which include popular destinations like Bowery Electric, Lola, Niagara and Cabin Down Below. “Going back to Queens and Brooklyn and places that I tried desperately to get out of, it’s strange to me that there’s now art galleries and gluten-free donuts. But I like that stuff, too. I just love making music and talking about music, then having a few drinks and talking even more.”

As Sunset Kids (titled after a children’s shop in LA—he liked the name, which nodded to his recent losses and nocturnal nature) began making its way out to fans, Malin was looking beyond his own neighbourhood, though. “We’re going to do a lot of touring behind this record,” he says. “It’s a privilege to play live after you’ve worked on a record; it’s an exorcism for me to get up there each night over some dirty microphone and spit out whatever it is. So I’ll be doing a bunch of touring around the world—Europe and Japan and the States—and then another record. I want to do something pretty quiet next time and really keep it intimate. And then I want to do a very physical record— something that can be played live. I want to make something that I can move my body to and that’s just completely fun and rhythmic but still aggressive. That’s what I’m thinking now. In between, as Warren Zevon said, I just want to enjoy every sandwich.”

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