"Jesus had a comeback," cracks Jesse Malin when told his excellent new solo album marks a distinguished return to the rock biz. "I never made itI was in a failed band." D Generation, Malin's respected New York City glam-punk outfit ('94-'99), rode the punk-revival wave, opening for Green Day and the Offspring, then sank after the advent of teen pop. Many bands aspire to that level of failure, but the Queens-born 34-year-oldwho began his punk-rock career as a preteen fronting early-'80s hardcore faves Heart Attackclearly longs, all cheerful self-deprecation aside, for the spotlight's glare. "Unless you're playing squats, you wanna reach as many people as possible," says Malin.
JESSE MALIN AMELIA, KASEY ANDERSON Tractor Tavern, 206-789-3599, $7 8:30 p.m. Thurs., April 16
His darkly rocking debut, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, has already earned Malin the easy affection of Britain's tabloid music press. Released stateside by indie luminary Artemis, the albumwhich recounts the life and times of a man "with funny memories and a broken nose/lots of baggage and not much clothes"has begun collecting yet more accolades for its gritty, Springsteen-via-the-Replacements anthems.
"My parents split up in the first grade," Malin reminisces on "Almost Grown," his voice weathered but not weary. "My father never did come back/My sister liked John Travolta/but I wanted Billy Jack." "These songs are pretty autobiographical," he volunteers. "Sometimes you change a name to protect the guilty." As in the case of "Wendy," who, the song tells us, "liked Tom Waits and the poet's hat" and left him "all alone/no postcard or telephone." Whether or not it has to do with his preoccupation with abandonment, Malin will gregariously prop up a conversation with rehearsed stories marked by highly expressive hand gestures and colorful words like "fruity." There's the one about getting robbed as an adolescent after a failed search for hookers in Times Square; another concerning the male prostitution ring run out of his high school ("That's why that guy asked me to go to Atlantic City with him"); and the account of being arrested for drinking in public after D Generation's first Madison Square Garden appearance. Headliners KISS kicked the band out of their dressing room, and Malin hit a Giuliani-era sidewalk holding a half-full beer. "I explained that I'm a New Yorker, that I've waited my whole life to play Madison Square Garden. They put the cuffs on me, and I spent the night in jail." He snarkily refers to these narratives as his "Lenny Bruce-Henry Rollins spoken-word thing."
And so Malin relates the making of The Fine Art of Self Destruction: "I was living on Third Street, the safest block in New York, across from the Hell's Angelsthere were no bars on any of the windows. I'd lived there for eight or nine years, and the owners wanted to rent it for $2,500 to somebody with pressed pants and a credit card." Giving up his lease in exchange for a generous check, he bought a week's worth of studio time. Friend and alt-country heartthrob Ryan Adams agreed to produce and play on a dozen of the songs Malin had written since D Generation's breakup. (Former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur also contributed backing vocals.) "We banged it out in six days, like a '50s record," Malin recalls. "Actually, five daysRyan didn't show up one morning. I think he had too many sodas the night before." At first unhappy with the hurried takes ("I thought I'd pissed my apartment away"), Malin knew Adams had captured the songs' rough-around-the-edges intimacy after hearing them over the speakers at his local watering hole.
When we talk, a fully confident Malin is looking forward to making a video for chiming ballad "Queen of the Underworld" the following weekend. "I love that Sum 41 video," he enthuses, referring to the clip for "Still Waiting," which hilariously parodies the calculated slovenliness of return-of-rock outfits. Not only does he own up to Sum 41's unhip merits, but Malin also defends their principal target, the Strokes, whom he rightly credits with making "a fucking great record" (and who, coincidentally, share his shaggy-hair-and-tight-jeans look). What should we expect in his own bid for MTV play? "It'll be the usual," he deadpans. "L.A. Sunset Strip, tits, girls, cars, maybe some weird sunglasses, smoke, a strobe light."
It won't make him bigger than Jesus, but a spot on the charts might just make Jesse Malin feel a little less lonesome.