After three critically acclaimed solo records, dozens of world tours and TV appearances, Jesse Malin found himself back in New York City questioning his next move. From his days fronting seminal hardcore trio Heart Attack and glam punks D Generation, then seven years on the road as a solo artist, Malin had cultivated a devout fan base. He’d shared stages with everyone from The White Stripes to Counting Crows, The Hold Steady to Lucinda Williams, but felt like he was losing the plot.
Malin contemplated going back to school, becoming a standup comedian or a Las Vegas wedding DJ, and even started work on a documentary film about DC hardcore Rastafarians The Bad Brains. For over a year he didn’t play or record. When asked by a Hollywood screenwriter to pen songs for a film about author J.D. Salinger, Malin — a fan of Catcher in the Rye and other Salinger works — traveled to Cornish, N.H. hoping to speak to the famous recluse.
In typical punk-rock fashion, instead of getting the interview, Malin landed at the local precinct for trespassing and was released only after the cops watched his video duet with Bruce Springsteen for “Broken Radio” on YouTube and were convinced he was just a writer doing research. Though he never met Salinger (who passed away this past January), Malin made the most of the experience by writing “The Archer” and “Lonely at Heart”—two songs that would make him want to work again and become the basis for his new album.
Over the summer of 2009, in the basement of Avenue A watering hole Hi-Fi, the songs came forth. Malin, with impresario Don DiLego, drummer Randy Schrager, guitarist Matt Hogan, and bassist/DJ Tommy USA, worked with his newly formed band to bash out an album’s worth of gritty anthems, and The St. Marks Social was born. A solid band, but one with an open door to Malin’s community of musician friends — longtime partner in crime Ryan Adams, pop singer Mandy Moore, fellow label mate Brian Fallon, and former bandmates from D Generation Howie Pyro and Danny Sage — the Social is a group effort to keep the P.M.A. Says Malin, “To me, rock ‘n’ roll is an exorcism that begins every night when the sun goes down, the music starts playing, and the spirits start flowing. It helps to say things in public over dirty microphones. It’s a way to spit out the poison.”
When Jesse met producer Ted Hutt (Lucero, Flogging Molly, The Gaslight Anthem) one drunken night at a local bar, their talk of making a record fast, loose and raw was the beginning of Hutt’s quest to create a record that would encompass Malin’s roots and evolution — from hardcore thrasher to punk/folk singer-songwriter. The album’s basic tracks were laid in three days at Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s Mission Studios, and the rest at Sonic Youth’s Think Tank Studios in Hoboken, N.J. Filled with the characters Malin does best — messengers and misanthropes, hipsters and hypocrites — and as always, his constant themes of redemption, nightlife, heartbreak and survival, Love it to Life — a sentiment taken from a ticket stub Joe Strummer autographed for Jesse — was built with desperate optimism that shouts in gang vocals that no matter how bad it gets, you’re never alone.