THE FINE ART OF SELF-DESTRUCTION - AN INTERVIEW WITH JESSE MALIN
"I was friends with Joe. I became friends with him over a bunch of years, spent many nights drinking with him and hanging with him into the daylight and -- never expected this to happen. He was an inspiration. I didn't go to college, and Joe Strummer was like a professor to me."
Peter Wild interviews Jesse Malin
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3AM: Your debut solo album The Fine Art of Self Destruction seems to be viewed as some great departure from the three albums you recorded as part of D Generation. Is that how you see it -- some great departure?
JM: I was always the main songwriter in the band so, yes, I guess I see things a little differently. When you sing in a group, you're just one of five people and you're conscious of that. There are other people in the group, it's a gang, and that audience we had and -- it was 8 years ago -- I was a lot angrier I think, and a lot of that anger can be really defensive. Now, maybe I'm sadder, happier, I don't know -- but the solo stuff is a lot more personal. Musically, I don't think it's that different. If you listen to (D Generation on) Through the Darkness, we do a Neil Young song on it, there's an acoustic hidden track -- it was always about the songs. I think that the band was always really misunderstood by the press, especially in America, where they'd read the cover and not the book and talk about make-up and hair and not the songs. We'd get compared to Motley Crue and Poison when we were listening to the Dolls and the Replacements and The Clash. I've stripped away the wall of the heavy guitars and I focus more on the songs but we're still a rock band -- you know, I'm here with four guys from New York and we're going to bang it out - but I think it's all about the songs. I did D Generation for seven, eight years and it was a lot of fun but I wanted to try something different while I had the time and the chance. There have been D Generation fans who hate the new stuff -- they say ahw man, you're not hitting yourself with the microphone anymore, where are the dreads and the screaming? -- but, saying that, there have been D Generation fans who come to the show and really get it, so. You've got to grow and change to keep yourself interested.
3AM: Certain names -- Springsteen, Lou Reed -- always appear in conjunction with your own. You're in a grand songwriting tradition whether you like it or not. Question is this: who would you say your influences are?
JM: Definitely The Replacements. Big time. Just the way they could bring it down and then really kick it up, and not be afraid of sad drunken bar rock'n'roll. Neil Young, for sure. The Clash were a big big influence. The Ramones. Songwriting. God, yeah. Early Springsteen. Definitely Lou Reed. The Bad Brains and The Dickies and Cheap Trick were all big influences on me for all kinds of weird reasons. Jim Croce was an influence on me when I was in second grade. Simon and Garfunkel.
3AM: There's another name that always appears alongside your own: Ryan Adams. Are you ever tempted to beat the living shit out of the next person who mentions Ryan Adams?
JM: (Laughing) I just figure that it's going to happen for a few months, and it's okay, and he's a good enough guy -- and he did produce the record, so… I think he did a really good job. There are certain questions that I think I'm going to get every day for the next six months: D Generation, New York City, Ryan Adams.
Ryan is a great kid. We became friends in the 90s when I was in D Gen. We were on tour, I was in Riley, North Carolina at a club called The Brewery. He was in Whiskeytown, he was just this kid, he was just a fan of like a lot of crazy rock music. He came backstage because he was a fan of D Gen. We got talking about Neil Young and The Replacements and Black Flag and Sonic Youth and we kept in touch. He moved to New York, Whiskeytown broke up and D Gen broke up and we found ourselves out drinking and talking about girls and lyrics and records and bar crawling around New York. I was DJing at this bar Niagra which people think I own over here but I just DJ and drink free. When I was on tour, Ryan would stand in for me and DJ there on Mondays. We had this night we did called Sad Mondays where we played everything from Judy Garland to Tom Waits and everybody in-between -- because everybody's got their sad songs, even The Ramones or The Clash or The Stones and you don't always get to hear those. So we spun this night -- sometimes it was called Memory Motel -- and he would just hang there. I think he wrote a lot of the Heartbreaker record there in the back room while that was going on. He moved down to Nashville, but we stayed in touch. I sent him some demos, 4 songs that ended up on The Fine Art of Self Destruction, and he said 'If you ever do a record I want to produce it'. He'd never produced anything before, at least that he knew about or whatever, but he wanted to do this record. We went in and did some demos roundabout September 11 -- maybe a day or two before he shot the New York video, with the Towers in the back, before it all went to Hell. He had some really great creative ideas, and I thought this could be really good.
So, I took what money I had and we went and banged it out in like six days.
3AM: hich has become part of the legend in itself. This album was recorded in six days.
JM: And it was really five days because he didn't show up one day. He stayed in bed and (laughing) -- you know, ate candy bars or something. He did a great job. I was really upset at the time -- as the story goes -- because I'd sing it, I'd just be warming up, I'd be like 'just a run through' and he'd be like, that's it, you're done. I'm like, fuck you -- I want to sing, and I thought it was rubbish. A couple days later, I realised that he'd captured something, that there was a real vibe there, a real snapshot of what was going on.
3AM: This tour is the Death or Glory tour -- presumably after the Clash song you cover?
3AM: Joe Strummer's death was something of a shock.
JM: It was a really sad thing, and really shocking. What it said to me was -- you've got to grab onto the moment and be present in life. Bad things can happen at any time. I was friends with Joe. I became friends with him over a bunch of years, spent many nights drinking with him and hanging with him into the daylight and -- never expected this to happen. My sympathy goes to his family, his wife and kids. He was an inspiration. I didn't go to college, and Joe Strummer was like a professor to me -- The Clash taught me what my country was doing in America, in Central America, taught me about Buddhist Sex Books, introduced me to The Undertones, Reggae, Soul Music -- just a complete inspiration. The Clash meant an awful lot to me -- and then knowing the person, and having him be just as great.
3AM: Have you heard all of this talk about a band called The Finger. They recorded an album called We Are Fuck You.
JM: I've heard about this record (laughs).
3AM: I heard Ryan Adams mention it but he can't officially say one way or the other because his record contract won't let him record for other labels.
JM: I can't record for anybody else either. I mean, I heard that we were drunk one night and some people that looked just like us . . . I can tell you -- those guys are pretty good. There's a guy who -- you know -- looks like me, on bass, name of Irving Plaza. Except I think he's got a bigger nose. It's like a Black Flag, Germs, early hardcore kind of thing, you know? I was never influenced by any of that so . . .
3AM: What's next?
JM: I go back to the States. The record comes out there January 28th with an additional song, "Cigarettes and Violets".
3AM: Which is on the B-Side of the Queen of the Underworld single in the UK and Europe.
JM: Yeah, exactly. Then we're doing some touring around -- I'm going to Hawaii, Australia, California in February and then back in Europe in March, doing the UK and Europe proper. I'll keep plugging away, living out of a suitcase, throwing a guitar around.
3AM: Do you manage to write anything on the road?
JM: I haven't had time to do anything but interviews, try to eat, didn't sleep and sing -- I haven't written nothing -- I've been scribbling stuff in bars on little pieces of napkins and matchbooks and then I get home and wonder what the hell it was I was trying to say.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Peter Wild lives and works in Manchester, England. He's the co-founder of the Bookmunch website, which takes up a whole lot of time, but when he gets a moment free he's writing short stories and a(nother) novel. Either that, or he's catching up on the sleep his 20-month-old daughter deprives him of.