Jesse Malin was supposed to be onstage at the U.K.’s massive Glastonbury festival this year. Instead, he’s doing solo shows every Saturday in his East Village apartment, trying to raise money for his band and crew whose incomes have taken a beating by the coronavirus pandemic. For the meantime, he’s doing OK himself — his last album, Sunset Kids, was well-received and earned him a busy year of live dates and radio play. But he’s coming to terms with the reality that he may soon be performing gigs in his apartment for his own benefit too.
Dubbed “The Fine Art of Self-Distancing,” a cheeky nod to his debut album The Fine Art of Self-Destruction, the livestreamed gigs have found the New York City fixture playing songs from throughout his career, telling stories about Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer, and even doing a show-and-tell routine with the pop-culture bric-a-brac that lines the walls of his pad.
“It’s like Mr. Rogers meets a rock & roll show,” says Malin, who admits he was originally dubious of the livestream trend until he saw how Elvis Costello, Brian Fallon, and Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner were using online gigs to comfort fans. “The message of all of this is to say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone. There’s other people going through these feelings, people who are scared, depressed, lost, and lonely.'”
On Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, Malin will host the third installment of “The Fine Art of Self-Distancing.” While he played a few songs that weren’t his last week — including Squeeze’s “Up the Junction” and Neil Young’s “Pocahontas” — this show is dedicated entirely to covers. Once again, money raised will go to his band and crew, but he has plans to solicit donations for bartenders in a future concert (Malin co-owns a number of bars in New York). “The idea of being like a Bob Hope, entertain the troops, and having a way to give back to my team, that’s the thinking behind it,” he says.
Malin is also using his quarantine time to finish a new record. He already has a title — Lust for Love — and a first single, “Backstabbers,” premiering today. Produced by Lucinda Williams and Tom Overby during sessions for Sunset Kids, the lilting “Backstabbers” conjures images of running free through city streets, headlong into the harsh reality of life.
“The story is pretty much autobiographical: coming of age, getting out of your small town, and coming into the city searching for something,” he says. “We were these anarchist kids trying to question authority and change the world. And at the end, we’re looking for answers by calling up shrinks while people are offering you drugs. What’s going to make you feel better?”
“Backstabbers” will be released April 24th, along with a B-side cover of Tom Petty’s “Crawling Back to You.”
Still, Malin isn’t getting ahead of himself. Staying sane in pandemic times is a day-to-day process, he says. “If you look too far ahead and try to figure it out, you can’t, because no one knows the answer.”