Jay Malinowski knows a thing or two about starting fresh. When the Bedouin Soundclash singer needed to take a break, he packed up his life in Toronto and moved back home to Vancouver. It was a troubled time – Bedouin was on hiatus following the leaving of former drummer Pat Pengelly, a seven-year-long romantic relationship had just ended, making music didn’t hold the same charge for him as before, and an ambitious new project was falling apart.
But it seems to be a universal truth that you can’t know where you’re going until you recognize where you’re from, and that turned out to be the case for Malinowski. Encouraged by his friend and Bedouin Soundclash co-founder Eon Sinclair, Malinowski regrouped following the move and returned to form with a stellar solo effort, Bright Lights and Bruises, a deeply personal album that plumbed the emotional depths of his recent past. This album, released under the Pirates Blend label run by himself and his Bedouin bandmates and manager, Dave Guenette, was followed by 2011’s big news of a collaborative project with Montréal songstress Coeur de Pirate (aka Béatrice Martin) called Armistice, with the self-titled album featuring acclaimed L.A. hardcore band The Bronx in their mariachi alter-egos, El Bronx.
With Armistice, the Malinowski-Martin pairing was hailed as the indie powerhouse couple of the year, but it was still just a part of the transition, and wasn’t destined to last. But now Malinowski seems to have found his musical centre with a new band, Jay Malinowski & the Deadcoast (a West Coast string trio known as The End Tree in their alternate lives), a new sound, and a relatively new outlook on life.
He remembers how things felt when he first returned to Vancouver. Music was the last thing on his mind and, in fact, for a while he was almost certain that that part of his life was over.
“I was actually planning on going back to art school. I was going to get my masters,” he says. “I just felt like, you know, what you put out into this world is really important, and when it comes to music it’s one of those things that if it’s not real then you’re just working for someone else. And the worst music, and the worst things you can do that happen in this music industry, are people working for someone else. You can hear it, it’s autotune. And so I was like, I don’t want to be part of this, and I also don’t want my output to start to become about that negativity.”
A trained artist, Malinowski has been doing the Bedouin Soundclash covers since the band’s inception in his Queen’s University days, and the bulk of his formal education was more artistic than musical. He even held an exhibition in the early days of the band’s creation. But when Bedouin Soundclash took off in popularity, he discovered that being a working artist and a touring musician were distinctly at odds with each other.
“You can’t apparently. A lot of collectors won’t buy your stuff. Because it’s based on, “Oh, he’s not taking it seriously…”, or whatever,” says Jay.
“I mean, that’s what my first art dealer told me. Because I had a solo show here in Toronto before Bedouin was doing really well, and she’s like, “Well are you going to go on tour, or are you going to do this?” Because I’d just done a solo show, and then I said, No, I’m going on Warped tour. And then after Warped tour, we came back to Canada and people were like, “Loved ‘When The Night…’ ” So I just never stopped after that.”
As a result, art was put aside while the music took centre stage. But now that his future in music was undefined, Malinowski seriously considered returning to art school to get his masters.
“I used to paint a lot; my major schooling was painting. So I’d like to get back into it, you know, people that I know, like a lot of teachers are like, “When are you going to start painting again and stop doing this music thing?” [Laughing] Because they’re like, you should be a painter, you shouldn’t do this.”
However, things changed again when, playing the piano in his Vancouver home, he realized that he wanted to return to music, to try his hand at working with a viola player – and that led him to the music of Elliot Vaughan.
“One day I was playing piano and I was like, I want to play with a viola player, but I want to play with someone young…I want to play with someone real. So I just went on Google, I was like yup, viola player, and Elliot Vaughan came up, and Elliot is in The End Tree, and he is a composer, just weird stuff, like, he was doing a ballet, then he’s doing this, and he’s like 26, and then I find on his site, ‘The End Tree’, and it was these three guys and they were making the most dissonant, beautiful noise, like Kronos Quartet, right? With a bit of Warren Ellis.”
Malinowski, no stranger to experimental sounds in music, had been toying with the idea for a while of including a strings component to his music. In fact, the shelved project he had been working on in Toronto was the original incarnation of The Deadcoast, an ambitious, sprawling punk-meets-strings collaboration.
“I was trying to take Jacque Brel kind of style, and then make a punk rock record out of that, but with strings. So it would be like a romantic punk rock record, with a gravelly voice, with all these other punk rock musicians. The only problem was, we didn’t really know how to play all that well, and the other thing was, I’m in a landlocked area, in Toronto, [starts laughing], writing about the ocean trying to remember what Vancouver was for me. It was kinda hard.”
Finding Elliot – and through him Martin Reisle, and Aiden Brant-Briscall, the other members of The End Tree – was a revelation for him.
“They are from a totally different world, they don’t care about anything that is in the pop world, they just do not care about it. It’s like, the people that they respect is like, Bartók and Rachmaninoff, so you bring up something about [pop] and they’d be like, Well, why do you care about that? There was like, none of the negativity that we can exist in, you know? Like, “Man, I can’t stand that band…” Like, is your life defined by what you don’t like? That’s a really bad way of living. Just generally!” He laughs and continues.
“And so they’re just like, they’re all about positivity – you know, like, within reason, but they are like…we’d be sitting there and a fork fell on the floor, and they’re like, fascinated by it. Like, what sound was that, what tune was that? They’d try to do it again. it was like a fascination and curiosity for sound, and for what it makes us feel as humans. And I was blown away by that, just that spirit. And just the way they live is just different, they’re just different, you know? And they’re simple, it’s a simple way of being, and I just really connected.”
Malinowski was also impressed by how new their sound was; rooted as it was in classical music traditions, they nonetheless had a uniquely different sound and a diverse sensibility in their songs. For him, this felt like the right direction to start anew in.
He got in touch and asked for the chance to work with them, not knowing at the time whether they’d take him seriously as a pop musician.
But as it turned out, they did.
“And so we played one day, and it was just…immense, and Elliot was just the sweetest person I have ever met, and so we started trying to get to know each other.”
Soon their collaboration turned into a full-on working project, and one rigorous European tour later, they’re officially a band.
“They’re not brand new to me anymore,” Jay says. “I told the guys before, going on tour is more or less like going to war…things go wrong on stage and the songs start to come to life, and you also have to rely on each other. So at this point they’re my band. But it was hard at the beginning, for sure. You have to get to know someone.”
With an EP already out (Indian Summer, available through Pirates Blend) and a full length concept record, Martel (described as a sailor-themed record based loosely on the life of his great-great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side, a French Huguenot named Charles Martel) due out in 2013, Jay Malinowski & the Deadcoast are hitting the ground running. But Malinowski has over time learned not to plan too far ahead into the future. He still sees the current project as a band in transition, explaining,
“It’s called ‘Jay Malinowski and the Deadcoast’ because it’s not yet what the Deadcoast will be.”
Regarding the Indian Summer EP, he adds, “It’s kind of me finding my footing with The End Tree and also the kids of St James sing on it – I taught a little music module for kids down in the downtown lower East Side of Vancouver, and so they sing on it – and it’s sort of just a collection of how that community built, with me and The End Tree, sort of what my summer was.”
But when asked how long he sees the band carrying on, his answer speaks volumes:
“I think as long as we love playing together, that’s it. We just did this European tour and it was immense, it was so cool. I love Bedouin too, but we just needed to take a break because it was becoming too much of a brand, like, “Oh, that sounds like Bedouin Soundclash.” It sounds like a great thing that people know the band so well, but I don’t want to be known for one thing. it didn’t feel like it was mine anymore. I felt like it was the property of whoever wanted it, you know? But with this, as long as we’re inspired to play together, we haven’t even scratched the surface of what I think we can do.”
Jay Malinowski & the Deadcoast last played in Montréal on November 27. For more information on the band and future dates, check out the website at http://www.piratesblendrecords.com, and you can also follow Jay online for more updates:
His blog: http://disgeneration.wordpress.com/