Onetime punk turned alt-country rocker Ryan Adams must've heard the twang in the heartstrings of former D Generation singer Jesse Malin. After nearly a decade of rocking as hard as the stuff that made his hair stand on end, Malin is letting his softer side show on his solo debut thanks to a little help from his friend.
"Ryan heard them and said they were special and sad," Malin recalled of the demos that would become The Fine Art of Self Destruction, due January 28. "He then said, 'If you want me to produce it, I'd love to.' "
Although the former Whiskeytown frontman had never produced an LP, Malin had dabbled in the studio with him and knew he was up to the task.
"That gave me an indication that he had some good ideas for fleshing out the songs," Malin said, "as far as coming up with some good arrangements — and non-arrangements, by keeping things sparse."
You wouldn't know it from Adams' last album, Gold, and Malin's D Generation, whose music sounded as sleazy as the band's name, but the two men have a lot in common. They bonded seven years ago over their mutual love of the drink and have had a shared respect for each other ever since.
It wasn't obvious from looking at him in his D Gen heyday, but Malin says he'd listen to musical storytellers like Steve Earle, Neil Young and Lou Reed on the tour bus just after slamming the microphone into his noggin on thrashy and trashy barnburners like "Scorch" and "No Way Out," off 1996's No Lunch, the second of three D Gen albums.
The Fine Art of Self Destruction, which also features backing vocals by former Hole/Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, reveals, through a series of character sketches, an introspective individual who knows a thing or two about love and loss, isolation and suffocation. Similar sentiments were present in many of D Generation's songs, but fury and distorted guitar riffs obscured much of it.
"As I kid I grew up on a mix of things, from Elton John and Bob Dylan to Bad Brains and the Clash," Malin said. "To me it's always been about stories and characters. I've always been attracted to unsung heroes — people who are striving to do better but are stuck in some kind of tragic, day-to-day thing. A lot of those characters are similar. Those things exist in a lot of D Gen songs. I think I was just writing for a full band — and I probably was a bit angrier."
The Fine Art of Self Destruction was released last month in the U.K., where Malin, sans the band he recorded it with, is serving as Adams' tour opener. He'll embark on U.S. trek around the album's release with his full band in tow. The LP's first single, "Queen of the Underworld," is an indication of what's to come. The song is about entering a new world and being unafraid to expose the unexpected — something the song's author can relate to. Malin admits The Fine Art of Self Destruction is the biggest risk of his musical career.
The title, which reflects the chance he's taking and adds a bit of New York irony, could be misconstrued by those unaware that Malin ditched punk-rock accoutrements like skintight leather and studded dog collars long ago. "Some people think [the title] is about pills and drugs and drinking. ... No, that's a Johnny Thunders, Keith Richards, Kurt Cobain kind of song. This is more of a spiritual kind of place.
"I'm always attracted to these tragic figures who are trying to do the best they can day to day and constantly get beaten down, like the Jack Nicholson character in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' or Al Pacino in 'Dog Day Afternoon.' You know they're not going to get out of this thing alive, but you're just overwhelmed by their humanity and passion for people."
The track list for The Fine Art of Self Destruction, according to Artemis Records:
- "Queen of the Underworld"
- "Brooklyn" (acoustic)
- "The Fine Art of Self Destruction"
- "Riding on the Subway"
- "High Lonesome"
- "Almost Grown"
- "Cigarettes & Violets"