Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts, Kelley Swindall
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Jesse Malin — whom the London Times says “writes vivid songs with killer tunes and sings them with scary conviction” — and Lucinda Williams — the southern troubadour once named “America’s best songwriter” by Time magazine — first met in the early 2000s at a jazz club in NYC’s West Village. In a joint 2017 Rolling Stone interview, the two discussed their “shared love of miscreants, misfits, the misunderstood and the mysteries of everyday lives binds them across the Mason-Dixon line.”
“From the early frontier days of hardcore in New York to all the punk rock and singer/songwriter touring,” says Malin, “it’s all been about survival and reinvention. I wanted to make an open-sounding record with the space to tell these stories. I like to write about characters and people I meet along the way. The dreamers, schemers, hustlers, romantics, lovers, leavers and believers.” Many of the dreamers, schemers and so on from Jesse’s own life contribute to Sunset Kids, his new album of highly personal songs being released August 30 on Wicked Cool Records.
Sunset Kids first took shape at The Hollywood Bowl, when Jesse accepted Lucinda’s invitation to see her open for what turned out to be Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ final concert. The bittersweet experience inspired one of the new album’s highlights, “Shining Down,” a rainy day jangle about “keeping alive the spirits of the ones we’ve lost.” During that same visit, the idea came about of three-time Grammy-winning Lucinda producing Jesse’s next record.
“Lucinda has a great eye for finding the beauty in broken things and a knack for always picking the right take. Once she started dancing in the control room, we knew we had it.”
In addition to this rare turn in the producer’s chair for Williams, she co-wrote and sang on the evocative Country-flavored “Room 13,” which Malin calls “the heart of the record in a lot of ways, about those meditative moments far away from home, where you’re forced to reflect on the things that really matter.”
The album also features “Chemical Heart,” an upbeat pop basher located at a mythical point on Queens Boulevard where Paul Simon and The Ramones intersect, namechecking Bernie Taupin and Jake LaMotta among others. “Shane” is a gentle ballad about one of his heroes, the lovably shambolic Shane MacGowan of The Pogues.
“My first album, The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction, was about finding glory in the wreckage,” says Malin of the album which was upon release Uncut’s “Album of the Month.” “Sunset Kids is about owning it. The failures, the victories, the moments. And moving up from there.”
After reflecting on his life while walking the streets of London, jamming riffs in an East Village basement and writing songs in Florida hotel rooms while visiting his ailing father, the ambitious 14-song album was recorded on both coasts between the two artists’ touring schedules.
It opens with the pre-apocalyptic confession “Meet Me At The End Of The World Again,” which includes backing vocals by Malin confidante and collaborator Joseph Arthur. Another key guest contribution comes courtesy of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, who co-wrote and sang on “Strangers & Thieves.”
“Billie Joe was in town and I showed him where we hung out when we were kids in the hardcore days,” Malin recalls. “A couple days later, I got a text and he had finished the song. He went into the details of his experience in the Bay Area with that scene, and also my experiences, which were very parallel in New York.”
Those early days found a young Jesse “riding the subway trains from Queens to the record stores and nightclubs in dirty, pre-Disney New York City” and never looking back. His band Heart Attack put out the first New York hardcore single “God Is Dead” when Malin was 14 years old. He later went on to acclaim as the frontman for the fast and loud D Generation, whose albums were produced by Ric Ocasek, Tony Visconti and David Bianco.
Bianco is one of the Sunset Kids referenced in the album’s title. The engineer who won a Grammy for his pristine sonics on Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and produced the first major-label release of Jesse’s career passed away suddenly after overseeing the initial sessions for Sunset Kids in his L.A. studio.
“Playing music is something I need to do. Singing under those hot lights every night is a great exorcism. We get to put together this pirate ship of characters and go around the world making trouble and singing our guts out.”
As the line in crucial cut “When You’re Young” says, “Don’t waste your life on things that don’t get better.” Malin concludes: “It’s about finding ways to survive and navigate through all this stuff. Being compassionate and loving in a world that will break your heart. But you’re still here. You wake up again and put one foot in front of the other and live every day like it could be your last.”
If rock is dead, someone forgot to tell Tuk Smith. After cutting his teeth -- among many other things -- for nine years as the frontman for the Atlanta rock band Biters, Smith’s solo debut sees him further expanding the reaches of his musical vision into an album that unifies his love of rock, punk and glam into a unique amalgam that’s missing from today’s musical landscape.
Produced by the legendary Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance), the album is the culmination of Smith’s already impressive musical career and showcases the versatility of his songwriting. From instantly infectious anthems like “What Kinda Love” to intricately arranged rockers such as “Neon City Blues” and Americana-tinged ballads like “Born A Rebel."
Lookin’ for Love, Ready for War favors dedication over debauchery. In many ways it’s a musical homecoming for Smith that shows that though he’s covered with battle scars from perfecting his craft, he’s come out on the other side with this collection of songs.
Smith’s musical roots run deep. Growing up as an outsider in rural Georgia, he found solace in hardcore/punk acts like Black Flag and The Exploited. From there, Smith branched out into exploring seventies New York bands like The Dead Boys and New York Dolls, which lead him across the sea where he embraced first-wave British acts like The Buzzcocks and the Clash.
Smith wasn’t just a casual fan of these acts, he was obsessed with them and traced their lineage with fervent dedication. “I was always into the Clash growing up and Mick Jones’ favorite band was Mott The Hoople, so through the years I ended up developing a love of the first wave of british glam, power pop and things like that,” he explains. Soon Smith was forming his own acts, toured relentlessly and building a DIY following with his high-energy live shows, most recently Biters, who he fronted for nearly a decade. In other words, Looking for Love, Ready for War is an album that’s a long time in the making.
That said, the album you’re hearing today wouldn’t sound nearly as massive if it wasn’t for the fact that Cavallo, who produced Green Day’s landscape-shifting Dookie , wasn’t such a huge advocate for Smith, agreeing to produce the album on the strength of hearing him perform these songs on acoustic guitar. Tuk explains ...“The way the music industry is going, a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to make a big rock album anymore but that’s exactly what we did.”
Going into this album I had some fear that I was going to be forced by Rob or the label to do something I didn’t want to do ,but he didn’t try to change me or change the songs. I see why he’s so successful because he just tries to pull the best out of you. “There was no ulterior motive or Hollywood bullshit, we just made a rock n’ roll record.”
Smith wrote and demoed 40 songs in his home studio in Georgia leading up to the recording of Lookin’ for Love, Ready for War . While it wasn’t easy to pair it down to 13 songs, the end result spans genres and decades. The backbone of the album consists of upbeat, guitar-heavy songs like “Troubled Paradise” and “Goin Out In Style,” however the beauty of these songs is if you stripped away the massive arrangements they would sound just as powerful in the garage as they would in an arena. “The goal with this record was to write songs as if they were classic songs and use all the elements of rock n’ roll that I love, but the arrangements were to make them really compete with what’s going on today,” he explains. “I call them one foot in the past and one foot in the future.” Correspondingly, deeper cuts like gospel-tinged “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” show that Smith didn’t water down his musical vision on Lookin’ for Love, Ready for War. If anything his musical personality here is more expansive than ever.
Lyrically, Smith also decided to put it all out on the line and not hold back when it came to expressing himself in an authentic way. “A lot of the lyrics are definitely from my own experiences and the people that surround me,” he explains. “When I listen to music what gives me emotion and gives me joy about music is when I can relate to something. That’s why I’m not singing about swords or dragons or drinking Lean or riding in a Lamborghini. For me, it was important to write about real things that I could relate to so they had some kind of meaning and some kind of energy to them,” he adds and songs like “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” are a living testament to that fact. “I spent a lot of time thinking about these songs because you want your listener to understand your lyrics and sing along but you also don’t want to be clichéd -- and walking that line,that was always hanging over me.”
Ultimately the concepts of love and loss on Lookin” for Love, Ready for War are timeless, however what makes them uniquely engaging is the way that Smith comes at these emotions with his own unique perspective and life experience. Whether it’s in the form of a Motown-influenced ballad like “Too Late To Cry” or the Joan-Jett-meets-John-Mellencamp grandeur of “What Kinda Love,” this collection of songs is a testament to the fact that you don’t need to follow trends in order to create art that fosters a connection with your audience. “At their heart the songs are just chords a melody and a lyric , and I can’t wait to share them with fans all over the world “
Kelley Swindall was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where she grew up listening to the music of Kris Kristofferson, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash on the way to church every Sunday morning, because that's what her Daddy listened to. The rest of the week she listened to the Atlanta classic oldies station, because thats what her ride listened to, when she was old enough to drive herself , she added Ryan Adams, Tom Petty, and Dylan to the mix.
Drawing from her Southern roots, her style is a blend of soulful & bluesy folk coupled with a witty, gritty, classic country sensibility, inspired by the outlaw tradition, and deeply rooted in story songs and talking blues, driven by strong female characters who tell it like it is and don't take shit.
You can find her driving around and playing solo out on the road, as well as around her homebase of NYC, with her band, where she's shared the stage with the likes of David Allen Coe, Jesse Malin, Tommy Stinson, Joseph Arthur, and Alan Merril, among others.
Look for her debut album , “You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want ,“ out in 2020, with singles dropping as early as February.
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