“Shane MacGowan came up and put his arm around me and he says to me, ‘Come on, me and you, we’ll do Helpless’… I could hardly understand him, he was pretty far gone.”  That would have been one hell of a Neil Young cover. 

 Jesse Malin, from Queens, New York, has been supporting Ryan Adams on his ‘Acoustic Nightmare’ tour, from Dublin to Scandinavia to Britain and finishing in Amsterdam. He’s now back in the Big Apple. But over a cold beer at the New Theatre in Oxford, at the end of the last show on the UK leg of the tour, he talked to The Rock Club UK.

 Anyone who saw Malin on this tour or at previous shows will know that he’s a slick storyteller. He’s a natural comedian and admits he recently considered stand-up as change of career. Mostly his tales are about family and growing up ‘in the Boro’ and many of the tales reference his musical influences and heroes – especially the Ramones.

 A punk rocker at heart and with a recording and performing pedigree to back it up – look up D Generation – his solo career is, however, defined by his first album, ‘The Fine Art of Self Destruction’. It was produced by his friend, Ryan Adams, and it’s an excellent record that he drew upon frequently on this European tour.

 We’ll get to the record it in full later this year when Jesse brings the St Marks Social band over to perform the whole record.



 So there’s a sort-of coincidence in June 2011: Ryan Adams spent the acoustic tour revisiting songs that were mostly from his ownfirst solo album, ‘Heartbreaker’. You might argue otherwise, but many fans would point to these first records as each singer-songwriters’ finest.


I got to know Jesse a little from the stalls before we met properly in Oxford. I’d just seen him play – just him and a guitar – for the fourth time in two weeks. Three times he was supporting Ryan Adams and once was an impromptu belter of a show at the sweltering and tiny 12 Bar Club in central London.


A fortnight before we met, in Oslo, the news of the great Clarence Clemons’ death was fresh. But at the New Theatre in Oxford, as on that night at the Folkteateret in Norway, he dedicated a song to ‘The Big Man’. This sums up Jesse to some extent. Apart from his remarkably laid back, affable nature, the most striking thing on and off stage is his passion for music.


So next time he’s in the studio, will he consider doing something radically different? Do I want to evolve? Should I do a metal album? Maybe change, like the Flaming Lips? Or Lou Reed … but he did that record [Metal Machine Music] to get out of his recording contract. You gotta stay true to your school - you keep to who you are and you add to it.”


 I may have asked, but without prompting he says there’s a possibility that he and Ryan might do something again.  The two go back a long way. In fact, back at the 12 Bar Club, I heard a great tale about him and Ryan in Paris - supposedly ten years ago - running through alleyways, ending up in a bar and playing a couple of dozen Neil Young songs until the wee small hours. It’s a lovely story. Too good to be true? I didn’t ask, just in case it was spoiled.


 At 11.45pm in the New Theatre the crew are packing up Ryan Adams’ sparse stage belongings – upright piano, guitar, monitors and an ever-present coffee cup. Jesse Malin, punk rocker and a gentleman, goes to check “what time this band is rollin’ tonight” and returns with a couple of cold Peroni beers (the bar is closed). His own touring paraphernalia is even lighter: a guitar and a hat.


 Jesse’s earliest musical influences are well known. To his credit, on stage they rarely take over his distinctive delivery, but you can tell where he’s coming from. During stage repartee he affectionately reels off the names of the bands that matter. And sitting in Row V at the back of the New Theatre stalls, it’s no different.


 “Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ was the first,” he says. It’s clearly still important to him, but it’s the punk bands that really got him.  “Bad Brains and Reagan Youth, these are great bands,” he says. “Now, I like The Kills, The Hold Steady are great and Willie Nile. Wilco are always good too.“There’s this great new band, The Biters, and I love Lucinda Williams – man, she has the songs and everything.”


 The Clash and the Ramones hold a special place for Jesse. I mention to him that Tom Waits blew me away when I saw him in Paris some years ago, and that Elvis Costello, someone who Jesse admires, was there in the Paris audience too.


  “I love everything Tom Waits has done,” says Jesse, “all of his different phases. I saw Tom Waits play in New York and Elvis Costello was there as well - and Keith Richards was watching, right down the front.”   Jesse makes a point too of mentioning Waits’ wife, Kathleen Brennan’s contribution to the Waits catalogue. He doesn’t mention Bruce Springsteen though, probably because there’s really no need – nowadays, it’s the Boss in whose spirit Jesse seems soaked. It’s a heart-warming influence.

While Jesse was warming up the already sweaty Oxford theatre ready for Ryan Adams’ set, Beyonce was limbering up at Glastonbury. So, are festivals his thing?   


 “Sure, I’ve done Glastonbury and T in the Park,” he says. “But I love playing great old venues like this one and the others we’ve done on this tour… I like them all, the Barbican and that 12 Bar Club - it’s great to play those different places. Back home, they just tear them down when they get old.”


 I suggest that back in New York City, Brooklyn seems to have something special in the water that leaves music critics fawning over the creativity.


  “Yeah,” he says, “but I’m from Queens.” The notion of gentrification doesn’t seem to sit comfortably with Jesse. He doesn’t think it’s coming to Queens any time soon.   “Brooklyn’s got a Starbucks on every corner, if you like that kind of thing. There are parts of Queens that are a bit more cultural, like Astoria. But Queens is very different to Brooklyn. The bands I like, and the bands I grew up with, were Queens bands, punk rock bands.”


 He asks what I thought of Ryan tonight. Aside from being musically more compelling than ever, I suggest that he seems to have been genuinely enjoying himself on stage throughout the tour, something that’s not always been evident.    Jesse nods, says” Ryan can speak for himself" but he thinks so too. He says no more about Ryan, but he doesn’t need to because his respect and admiration is clear.


  That’s the lasting impression of Jesse Malin: he’s like any of us who loves music. Okay, so you and I don’t have his tales... “I was walking in the Rockefeller with Joey Ramone and Bono...” but it is still all about the music for him. He talks about proper record shops heartfelt nostalgia. Gig after gig, he reels off the names of so many old and new bands, dissing The Police, praising Elvis Costello, and usually coming on stage to Frank Sinatra’s ‘Summer Wind’.


Rock ’n’ roller and raconteur, Jesse Malin also seems a genuine ‘goodfella’. Signing vinyl and CDs at the merchandising stalls from Oslo to Oxford, he finds the time to chat with fans.  “That’s for having the best shirt I’ve seen tonight,” says Jesse, giving one bloke a signed tour poster in recognition of his Ramones T-shirt.


June’s European tour over, Jesse Malin is on the road in the States with the St Marks Social band. There’s no rest yet. He says he’s “bringing the ‘Love it to Life’ circle to a close”, then there’s a D Generation comeback tour in the US before a return to London with the St Marks Social to do ‘The Fine Art of Self Destruction’ (The Scala, November 28th).  Everyone’s doing whole album thing at the moment, right?” he says, signing off with a mention for The Pixies’ [Doolittle] recent tour.


Scala tickets here


Conversation and beers shared between Jesse Malin and Nigel Watts