Since releasing his latest album Sunset Kids in August, Jesse Malin has been peppering tracks from the LP, produced by Lucinda Williams and Tom Overby, into his set lists. On December 19th in New York, he’ll perform the album live in its entirety for the first time, with Williams joining him as a special guest.
The Bowery Ballroom gig doubles as Malin’s annual hometown holiday show and will be broadcast on SiriusXM’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage (Channel 21) and Outlaw Country (Channel 60) at 8:00 p.m./ET, with rebroadcasts airing on Outlaw Country on December 20th and 22nd.
Expect “Chemical Heart” to be a highlight. A bouncy Farfisa-organ-driven rocker, it tells the tale of a toxic relationship via allusions to various pop-culture figures, from boxer Jake LaMotta to songwriter Bernie Taupin. Malin wrote the song with his longtime friend (and childhood girlfriend) Holly Ramos, with whom he has collaborated since he was just 15. He says the song owes a debt to Elton John.
“We were these teenage anarchist hardcore kids, sneaking into nightclubs, going to protests and putting on underground shows and benefits for others in need, trying hard to change the world in our own little way,” Malin says. “We spent our summers days at hardcore matinees and late nights at after-hours clubs, but somehow we found ourselves crying our eyes out at Elton John’s show at Madison Square Garden. We were punks and weren’t supposed to like stuff like that, but we loved him. There was something in those great songs that spoke to us kids from broken hearts and broken homes. Behind those beautiful melodies there was always Bernie Taupin’s dark and pointed blue lyrics.”
Malin cut “Chemical Heart” live in one take during the Sunset Kids sessions, but it’s the writing process with Ramos that he most remembers.
“It’s full of little winks and jabs at each other,” he says, citing lyrics like “I don’t want to be your Ike and Tina, I don’t want to be your remote control, I don’t wanna be your Bernie Taupin, I don’t wanna be your stepping stone.”
Directed by Dave Stekert, the clip for “Chemical Heart” takes a minimalist but madcap approach to music videos, with Malin marching about with his band in front of a white backdrop.
“It’s a nod to those new wave clips from the late Seventites,” he says, “when everyone was trying to ‘pump it up.'”