Q&A with Jesse Malin

photo by Danny Clinch

New York rocker Jesse Malin has been playing in rock bands since the tender age of twelve, starting out onstage at New York’s legendary CBGBs, he went on to front the glam-punk band D Generation for years, touring with Green Day and others. He has performed as a solo artist for years now, as well as with his band St. Mark’s Social, and has released three solo records. He’s currently on a small solo tour, and is making a stop in DC this Saturday, June 30th, at The Hamilton. We Love DC’s Alexia Kauffman got the chance to chat with Jesse recently, and here’s what he had to say.

Alexia: So you’ve been playing in bands since you were a kid, right?

Jesse: Yeah, I started when I was twelve years old, we did the audition night at CBGBs. Monday nights were the audition nights, and me and all my friends from Queens, New York drove in and piled up in cabs and cars and we did the audition showcase. We ended up starting a band called Heart Attack, doing a few records til I was sixteen, doing some touring, that kind of stuff.

Alexia: What were some albums or artists that first made you love rock?

Jesse: Back then or now?

Alexia: Back then.

Jesse: Back then I guess The Ramones were one of the bands that showed me I could play guitar, and didn’t have to sit there for twenty years getting classical training… that you know, with a few chords you could channel your emotions and create something. So The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols. And then when I was really young I liked early Elton John, like the Yellow Brick Road album, for the lyrics and stuff. And then, as I started to get out there and be around the music scene I got exposed to things like The Replacements and Elvis Costello and Neil Young, and bands like Bad Brains, and you know things like that, it started to spread out wide. Now, you know, I just like music from all sorts of times and places, as long as it has some kind of reality and some kind of emotion to it. So, you know, I can listen to John Coltraine, and then I can listen to Wilco, you know, for me it just depends on the mood.

photo by Stephen Sebring

Alexia: You did a cover album a little while back- how did that idea come about?

Jesse: Well, when I had my first solo album out I only had enough songs for, like, a short set, and I didn’t have that many new ones yet, so I would play some covers just for fun, especially in England, these English magazines Mojo and Uncut would do these tributes to artists, so I did a Clash one, and did Bruce Springsteen’s song “Hungry Heart”, and I started to deconstruct these songs. So on my third record, Glitter in the Gutter, I did a cover of The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young”, and I took it to like, well you know their version’s very rock, into like a quiet piano ballad. And I started to have fun with doing these covers and like really deconstructing songs that I liked, and you know doing it in different ways. Doing the Rolling Stones’s song “Sway”, and doing like the band Suicide, all spooky, electronic. So I decided, like people used to make mixed tapes, and you know, give it to somebody, or mixed cd or whatever, to make like a mix of my schizophrenic record collection and just do it for fun! And I wanted to have everything from Jim Croce to Bad Brains, from The Hold Steady to Elton John, and On Your Sleeve was the record, and it came out, and we got a good response. It was a lot of fun to do, it was a labor of love.

Alexia: Yeah, I love that Pogues song and the Paul Simon one.

Jesse: Yeah, oh cool! But you know, I was advised not to do it because I wouldn’t make any money, you know, because the songs are other people’s songs, and then it got played a lot in, like, chain stores, like Home Depot and CVS and supermarkets, but you know, it was still fun. I think you don’t always do things for money, you know? As an artist we get free beer, get to stay up late, you know, travel the world with a suitcase and a guitar, so it makes a big difference. I think you gotta remember why you started doing things- doing it for fun. And I think that if you’re having fun it will tranlate into other people having fun, and that will translate into money. I don’t know. (laughs) It maybe translates into making a living. I’ve been able to stay out of a day-job for a long time now, so I’m happy about that.


Alexia: That’s a really lucky thing!

Jesse: Well I appreciate it. But you know, you have to get creative, stay creative.

Alexia: So what does “Love it to life” mean?

Jesse: Oh, when I was a kid I went to see The Pogues, with Shane MacGowan, speaking of The Pogues, and he was too fucked up to do the tour, so Joe Strummer from The Clash did the tour, and I went backstage to get an autograph, and he signed my ticket stub “To Jesse, Love it to life -Joe Strummer.”

Alexia: Oh that’s so cool!

Jesse: And when he passed away I had gotten to know him a little bit in New York, and became friendly with him- this guy gave so much to so many people, he’s one of these, really if he came to town you better bring your sunglasses, and be ready to be out all night. You would get so much from Joe Strummer, telling stories about lyrics, and songs, and it was just such a great thing. And I was looking for a title for my last record that I wanted to be really positive, like PMA- positive mental attitude, but really life-affirming, a celebration of life through all the hard bullshit, terrorists, George Bush, whatever, all that shit, recession, you know, I just wanted a record that was uplifting and survival-oriented, and I found that ticket stub, and that title came into play. So that’s the “Love it to life” story.

Alexia: That’s really cool. How did the Rodeo Queens collaboration with Green Day come about?

Jesse: I’ve known the Green Day guys for a long time, since my old band D Generation toured with them in the late nineties, and we did two tours with them. And I always stayed friends, we always hung out when they came to New York, or if we were in the same city. They like to have fun, they’re a real fun group of guys, they love to play all the time. So, I’d been on their label, I made my Glitter in the Gutter record for Adeline Records,  and they’re just great people. We were out really drunk one night, so drunk that we probably couldn’t stand or play, some of us, maybe not me, but that song just came out of a late-night joke. And then Billie came back to town for American Idiot, and he was doing the play, and he finished up the song with me and then we got it mixed, and yeah, it’s just a fun thing. Refreshing time. And maybe some day we’ll do some more, but we were definitely just having a blast, at like seven in the morning! (laughs)

Alexia: Do you have plans in the works for a new album?

Jesse: Yeah, I’m writing all the time. I’ve been touring a little bit with Alejandro Escovedo, and I’m doing a couple shows where I’m trying out some new material, like in DC on Saturday, Philly on Friday the 29th. I’m planning to make a new record, my fourth solo record, and I’ve also been writing with my old group D Generation, doing some stuff with them as well.

Alexia: Oh, that’s exciting!

Jesse: Yeah!

photo by John Cheuse

Alexia: I know you’ve toured so much in your life- do you have any favorite moment or story from tour?

Jesse: Oh, boy! If I can remember them! I think the first time I went overseas after making The Fine Art of Self Destruction when people like actually were singing along and knew the songs. I had grown up in a little crappy tenement apartment in a little crappy bedroom, and then suddenly I’m in, like, Finland, and Russian and these people are singing all the words. I think that was a real big thing for me. Songs that were written as a personal exorcism or a love letter to some girl, or some kind of form of redemption or forgiveness or cleansing, and then hearing, you know, people singing along, quoting me lyrics, or seeing people with the lyrics tattooed on their body…

Maybe also almost getting arrested, being threatened by the police in Texas for being naked on stage… my pants ripped and I was trying to do a song, and then the cops came up to the stage and said “Cut the naked crap, or you’re going to jail.”  Also I guess I got to, in England, play drums onstage with my penis, with Green Day…

Alexia: Oh shit!

Jesse: Keeping a beat…that was kind of memorable for me… but I have to say probably, you know, touring with Ryan Adams on my first album, going out acoustic, solo, after being with a band for so many years, and being up there alone, just me and my guitar, scared shitless, and finding a way to get through it tops it.

Alexia: So it sounds like you’ve had some dream collaborations already, but if you could collaborate or play a show with anyone, who would it be?

Jesse: Neil Young, for sure! Neil Young, yeah. I mean it was an honor to collaborate with Green Day, and with Ryan Adams of course, always great, and I’ve had other people I really admire on my records, like Pete Yorn, and a bunch of others, but it’s really great to have done those other things. But you know it’s also great to play with people that aren’t big, successful, famous artists, they’re just friends, people you love. I love playing with the guys from D Generation because of our family history, us growing up together. You know, St. Mark’s Social, my band, has been a lot of fun. It’s the connection to people . But yeah, some people it would be pretty insane to play with, like Neil. But who knows?

Alexia: So you have these two albums you’re working on- that’s gotta be keeping you busy. Is there anything else on the horizon for you?

Jesse: Mostly that, that’s the main thing. There’s been a little bit of a documentary being made of my first album- The Fine Art of Self-Destruction, by a filmmaker named Joe Quever, he did the “Archer” video for us, and traveled with us, that’s been going on, but mostly just focusing on the new Jesse Malin record and the D Generation record. That’s enough for me, in between tour dates, and you know, going to see other great music, getting out there.

Alexia: Is there anyone that you’re really excited about listening to these days?

Jesse: I like this new band called Hollis Brown, they’re out of Brooklyn, it’s like a really good rocked-up roots band. Um, I like this band called The K-Holes a lot.

Alexia: Ooh! I’ve seen them, they’re fun!

Jesse: Yeah, I like the K-Holes, I like Don Dilego‘s new record, he’s a songwriter out of New York, I like the new Best Coast, and the new Regina Spektor.

You can see Jesse Malin live this Saturday, June 30th performing at The Hamilton!

Jesse Malin

w/Vince Scheuerman


Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

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