Jay Malinowski, formerly of Bedouin Soundclash, flexes his polymath muscles with his new project: The Deadcoast. It’s a double album inspired by the seafaring life of an ancestor 300 years his senior, Charles Martel. Accompanying the record’s release is a novella, Skulls and Bones, which is both written and illustrated by Malinowski himself.
The Main had the opportunity to sit down with Jay, who was relaxed, unpretentious, and amiable. He looked like the sort of guy you’d keep running into at parties – he’d be among the better-dressed party guest, but wouldn’t judge you if you had come straight from work and looked like a mess yourself. He wore an appropriately nautical double-breasted wool sweater and a cotton pea coat with the lapels up. The dark, dramatic portrait on the cover of Martel, while striking, does not do him justice.
We chatted over the differing beauties of Montreal and Vancouver and the bittersweet nature of short visits to each city, before launching into The Deadcoast and its epic endeavour.
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The Main: What was it about Martel that inspired you? Was it a lightning bolt moment or more of a gradual thing?
Jay: I knew at the outset that the record was going to be called Martel. I based it on Charles Martel’s passage from France to Canada in 1757 and the tumultuous things that happened along the way. There’s a vast set of historic circumstances that landed me here. The questions, “Do I determine who I am or was I predetermined? Do I have the will to change things or am I really just a passenger?,” those were the ideas of Martel. Those were the question of the record.
TM: You said looking at his life there were a lot of choices that you shared – what choices do you think were the same?
J: I looked at some of the career choices I’ve made. With playing in a band, I was just making a lot of allegories to being a sailor. That idea of sailing, not the actual sailing part but the travelling of it; that each day seems like a new day; you’re always moving from port to port; that was the way I drew a parallel between the two.
TM: Which leads me to ask: how much of this project is fiction and how much of it is based on primary sources that you’ve found?
J: I’d say the album was based on personal experiences, and then some songs, like ‘Patience Phipps,’ are based on actual family records. I think what I was most interested in is the narrative you can create. Everyone creates a narrative for their life to try to make sense of what’s happening. It’s an interesting one. It’s starting with the baseplate of Charles Martel and his life and starting with his notes from my grandfather, and then trying to make sense of all these things historically.
TM: In the novella, Martel talks about a curse – members of his family are cursed never to feel rooted, never to feel satisfied. Do you think you’re affected by this curse?
J: Yes. I’m restless. Anyone who knows me knows that. I’ve had a restlessness since I was born; I don’t know why. Any normal person does not want to play in a band. Or they might, but it doesn’t continue. It’s an insane idea, once you start doing it for a while; it’s not normal. And I’ve always wanted to move. If I’m in one city for too long I’ve got to leave. I always want to do more projects, I’ll say oh I like that kind of music, or that kind, or there’s always something new to do … people have mentioned it to me. So I found a form of work that was just travelling all the time.
Whether or not the Martels have a curse has never been stated to me before, but that’s part of the historical fiction of it. What I found was the most interesting part of Charles Martel wasn’t that he was French and that he fought with the British or any of these things, it was more the amount of travel and how he survived, how he changed and morphed to survive through very violent situations to eventually become a justice of the peace in Man-a-Dieu. I found that passage really profound. It’s very human to have to do that. I think all of us have that feeling of adaptability and that animalistic sense of survival. We handle it in very different ways, all of us. Some of us get a mortgage, do things like that, some of us walk across Spain [which Malinowski has, in fact, done].
TM: To talk more about the musical side of the project, you mentioned earlier that you wanted to use all these different styles of music to express how you felt thematically: what made you choose the styles that you chose?
J: Geography. Emotion. ‘Meet Me At The Gate’ is Taiko drums and an epic journey going over the Pacific Ocean. There are more Asian-inspired scales on ‘Singapore Sling.’ Cool Ruler (my friend Jenn Tse) sings on that song. Then as we get through to Bikini Atoll, that area, that’s where we did ‘Sloop John B,’ which is sort of this breakdown of a cover; it’s not supposed to be pretty at all.
TM: It was one of my favourites.
J: Oh great, because some people are very offended by it [laughs]. It was a very pacific north-west take; it was not a sunny beach. We also went through the Panama Canal, that’s where Zachary Richard sings. Then in the Atlantic it had a New Orleans Jazz/Cabaret closed sort of feeling, so the strings get closer. It’s more piano and vocal, with songs like ‘Set Me Free’ and ‘Up The Cross.’ They’re very New Orleans-y and spooky, kind of haunted. It was intentional all the things we were trying to do.
TM: Well you had a good “crew” for it, so to speak. What was it like working with people like Charles Ragan and the rest of the group on The Deadcoast?
J: Chuck’s been a friend for a while. I wasn’t going to do any touring for a while and he was like: “You should come out with me to Europe on The Revival Tour,” and I said okay I’ll come out as long as I can bring these string players I just found called The Entry. I had recently met them; they’re a great, super strange and unafraid of doing stuff. When I met them I thought “they’re brilliant, but they’re weird.” They’re not interested in being normal but they’re super talented. Chuck said “Oh yeah sure, no problem, brother” so we did that tour. Chuck was very savvy to what Martel was about. His lineage is Cajun, from Louisiana, so he just fit in and we started doing the song ‘Carnival Celebration’ on that tour. Eventually he said “come to my house and we’ll record it,” and that’s what we did. Zachary Richard was just such an honour to have on the record, given his whole interest in Acadian past and being from New Orleans. Even though our histories would be very very different, it added a sense of weight. It’s one of my favourite parts of the record, when he sings. [The people who sang] were all very personal choices on this project.
TM: After the record cycle and all the chapters of Skulls And Bones are released, what do you see for the future of the Deadcoast?
J: You know, it’s funny, the name itself suggests there is no future [laughs]. It’s such an all-encompassing project because now I’m writing a lot for Skulls and Bones and drawing for it as well. I don’t try to make as many plans as I used to. I’ve found I just work as hard as I can the day I’m doing something, and then the next day there’s usually something else to do.
TM: That’s very much the attitude of a sailor.
J: The project takes on a life of its own. It was eerie because we were releasing the album on February eleventh, and we realized after that February 11th was Martel’s birthday. I find that each time you do something with this album, there’s something more to do, something more to explore, so I don’t put any planning into it. Something else may happen. If there are talented people around, if there’s something else to do, we’ll do it to the best of our ability. I keep saying that because it’s just one of those projects where you don’t want to do anything wrong, you want to do everything properly.
Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast’s album, Martel, comes out February 11th, followed shortly by the complete companion novella, ‘Skulls and Bones.’
(Image courtesy of Sony)