The role of the artist according to Jesse Malin is to put you "right there in a time and place so you can smell it” - like a Scorsese film, or a Hubert Selby novel, or one of Jesse's songs. The Heat is Malin's second album and fans of his 2002 debut The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction will find much that is familiar in the potent songs of loss and defiance and flawed humanity. But there is also much that is new as well. "The second record should always be different," he says. "Not in some 'the White Stripes are big so let's make a garage record' way. But as in making progress while remaining true to the spirit of what you do."
The Heat finds Jesse turning up both the temperature and the volume. How's it different? More sonic. More layered. Lots of electric guitar. All this without losing the rough-edged intimacy of his songs. "The punk rock type of singer-songwriter is still where it's at for me - people like Strummer and Jones, Kurt Cobain or Paul Westerberg," he enthuses. "A raw edge with great songs underneath."
Which has to be as good a description of The Heat as it's possible to get. Although the songs were written out on the road, Malin's streetwise vignettes are still pregnant with the imagery and character of his native New York and, in particular, its dark underbelly. Slices of life about prostitution (“Arrested”), incest (“Basement Home”) and urban decay (“Silver Manhattan”) are songs in which you can smell the time and place.
Inevitably given the circumstances, there are also a brace of classic road songs (“Swinging Man” and “Hotel Columbia”). Then there are those about the fucked-up, oppressive post-9/11 world in which we now live (“Mona Lisa” and “New World Order”).
It's a broader canvas than we have seen Malin paint on before. "There are still songs about pain and loss and failed love like on the first record, but I wanted to get away from my personal struggle. Yet I still have to put myself inside the character in the song. Otherwise I can't sing it."
The comment echoes something Ryan Adams once said of his close buddy. "He's a kick-ass storyteller," the wonder boy remarked when he had just finished producing Jesse's first album. "Jesse's songs are so good they hurt my feelings. He doesn't just sound like he's singing the songs. He sounds like he IS that person."
The Fine Art Of Self Destruction was made in six days. The Heat was made during the 11 months of touring, going into Stratosphere studio (owned by James Iha and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger) in New York for a week here there whenever there was a gap in the tour schedule. "We had more time, but less in a way. It was an interesting way to make a record," says Malin, who also self-produced.
Ryan Adams had wanted to produce again but was too busy, although he did find time to play some guitar and contribute backing vocals on "Block Island". Pete Yorn adds vocals on "Silver Manhattan" and Jody Porter of Fountains of Wayne also guests on guitar. But the core of the record is played by Malin's touring band. "I always wanted to make a record that could work live with a band," Malin says. "I loved the acoustic shows I did last year. But these songs can be played with some artillery."
It's been an extraordinary couple of years for Malin, once the singer with hardcore New York punk rockers, D Generation. At the end of 2002, The Fine Art of Self Destruction was praised by press in the U.S. and Europe. Jesse supported Ryan Adams in New York City last July 4th at Battery Park for a free concert to 10,000 people, supported the Counting Crows on various UK tours and played three nights with Bruce Springsteen, whom he met at the Light of Day benefit concert last November.
"I gave him my record. Then he rang a week later and left a message on my machine. When I called him back he just said, 'tell me everything'." The upshot was that Springsteen invited Malin to play his Christmas benefit shows. "He said his band had learned three of my songs and would I sing them. It felt so weird with him standing there singing and playing guitar on my songs."
Now Malin has turned up The Heat. "I didn't want to make the same record again and I wanted to create my own niche and show people I'm not one of the generic bunch of singer/songwriters that have emerged during this trend. I play rock music, and rock n’ roll is a lifestyle, not a fad."
"It's a record about seizing the moment. It's about surviving, about ignoring the people who put you down and finding a way to stick to your dream."