Friday, June 13, 2014

Listening In: My Studio Visit with Jesse Malin



To thank the fans who contributed to his Pledgemusic campaign and who have been faithfully awaiting his next album, Jesse Malin held a contest.  First prize: a studio visit.

I entered the contest, and, to my amazement, I won.  If you've read any of my other posts about Jesse, you might have noticed that I'm kind of a major fan.  So this was a huge deal.  Wednesday morning--very early so there was no chance I'd get stuck in traffic and miss my visit--I made my way to the Lower East Side, and, much later, all aflutter, rang the doorbell of Flux Studios.


Jesse greeted me and gave me a quick tour of the studio.  Then we sat down in the mixing room with multi-talented musician Derek Cruz and engineer Brian Thorn.  The three of them were fine-tuning a song called "Stay Clean," listening to several different versions, trying to settle on a favorite.  Did it sound better with the background vocals punched up?  Should the vocals be warmer or cooler?  At one point Jesse even asked my opinion, and I had to admit that to my untrained ears all the versions sounded equally good.    

"Do you ever reach the point where you can't pick a favorite between one version and the next?" I asked him.  His answer was an emphatic yes.  

Brian Thorn, Engineer
I marvelled at the complexity of the process as we listened through most of the album, song by song, version by version, and they picked out the best parts of each to be reassembled into the finished product. 

In between songs, Jesse caught me up on the album's history so far. An album's worth of songs had been recorded in Virginia, but Jesse decided the songs weren't yet telling the story he wanted to tell, so he resumed writing.  More recording sessions followed, first in New Jersey and then in New York.

"What will happen to all the songs you don't use?" I asked, distressed to think of the gems that might be lost to the public for good.  But Jesse assured me that some of them would most likely make it onto a future album or EP.  



As for the new album, based on what I heard, it's going to be varied but unified, with some rootsy touches.  Many of the songs will truly rock live, and there will be at least one haunting, piano-based ballad.  The lyrics were evocative and complex, multi-layered and poetic, as Jesse's lyrics always are.  In other words, it's going to be an amazing album, and I was dazzled by my sneak preview.

Two and a half hours later, I said goodbye and started the drive home to Philly, but not before grabbing a few last snapshots--one of Jesse and me:



And one of Jesse's very long to-do list:







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