Jesse Malin considers his video for the new track “Room 13,” premiering exclusively below from his upcoming Lucinda Williams-produced album Sunset Kids, an impressionistic “little tribute” to some favorite films, including Midnight Cowboy and Paris, Texas.
Directed by Dito Montiel, a friend from the punk rock scene (Gutterboy, Major Conflict) turned filmmaker (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Empire State, The Clapper), the clip also nods to Malin’s habit of booking himself into hotels to do some songwriting in isolation. The various character plots pay homage to those older films and feature cameos from friends such as Malin’s D Generation bandmate Howie Pyro, the Dickies’ Leonard Graves Phillips and more.
“It was just a great time to make a video in there with (Montiel) and his eye,” Malin tells Billboard. “Hotels are a place I sometimes go to write in to get that blank canvas feeling. It’s just this empty space. We’re in such a world with distractions, your phone and computer and all the social media. Sometimes if you get far away, in another time zone, you’re in a place where you’re forced to deal with yourself, thinking about that matters in life, who you care about, what really sticks when there isn’t as much noise to deal with. That’s what I’m getting at there.”
“Room 13” is also special to Malin because it’s the first song he and Williams worked on for Sunset Kids, which is due out Aug. 30. The two have been friends for years, since Malin’s days in D Generation, and while having dinner in Los Angeles during the summer of 2017 (after Williams opened for the late Tom Petty’s final concert at the Hollywood Bowl), they began talking about having her produce Malin’s next project.
“Then Tom Petty’s (death) happened, and then what happened in Las Vegas (the Route 91 Harvest Festival shootings), and there was a very heavy emotional kind of pause for everybody,” Malin recalls. He and Williams finally got together, with engineer David Bianco, the next February and began working on songs, knocking out “a handful” and continuing to write throughout 2018, negotiating their two schedules as they crafted the 15-track album. “She has a real fearlessness and attention to detail — just a combination of hard work and gut instinct,” Malin says of Williams. “She’s very free, and I think there’s something to that, but yet really worked hard on the writing and crafting of the songs. Every time I’d see her I would have a couple new songs, and if they hit her she’d go with her instinct. ‘Listen to your heart’ was something I got from her, don’t be so over-analytical. We’d do three takes of a song and then go into the control room and see if we nailed it, and it was like, if she was moving her hips to it, that was the one we went with.”
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, another old friend, co-wrote and sings on the Sunset Kids‘ track “Strangers and Thieves,” while Joseph Arthur appears on three tracks. Malin will be doing some dates this summer with Justin Townes Earle and with Arthur, while an album release show is slated for Sept. 14 at Webster Hall in New York City. And while Sunset Kids‘ title is a salutary reference to Petty and other artists and friends who have passed away while the album was being made, Malin says there’s also an implied salute to those who are still around.
“We all have people we look to, like Keith Richards — of all the people, this guy keeps going,” Malin says with a chuckle. “I sang at Shane MacGowan’s 60th birthday party thinking ‘Oh, this guy’s not going to make it,’ and he’s still here singing — and drinking. And from the hardcore scene…New York was a pretty tough place. A lot of us came from dysfunctional families that didn’t give you the tools to deal with pain and stuff. So when you see anybody who’s still here and made it through, that makes me happy.”