We caught up with singer, songwriter and part-time music lecturer, Tamara Schlesinger – more commonly known as MALKA – to talk about her upcoming album release and her new song Tiny Fires. We also got an insight into the meaning behind the name, the inspiration behind the identity, as well as learning a little more about the singer’s involvement in the academic side of music.
Malka is Hebrew and Arabic for queen. My first two albums were quite tribal-pop, so the idea behind the identity was kind of tribal warrior queen. I have released stuff under my own name in the past, but I wanted to do something different and have my own identity. After having kids it's really nice to come on stage and feel like a different person and to have a name other than my own.
I don't tour as much because I've got two kids now and I run the label, so I've got to make these choices about whether it's worth it, but I love it. Being in the studio and gigging are my absolute favourite things. I love performing on stage and that connection between the audience and the music. It's definitely a happy place for me.
I used to be in a band called 6 Day Riot which was quite folk/world music and I would always pick up an instrument – an acoustic instrument usually – and write from there. When I parted ways with the band, I really didn't want to sound at all like that anymore, so I purposefully moved away from it. With the band I would still write everything myself, but I would bring it to the others and we would arrange and develop it together, so there's always people pulling things in different directions. The drummer wants to drum, the violinist wants to play, everyone wants to have a part. I certainly miss that collaborative nature, but I feel a sense of freedom in being able to do it my way. I had absolute control over everything I was doing, I wasn't trying to keep people happy, I was just trying to make music that felt completely right for me.
I'm Not Your Soldier
With my first two solo albums, I was creating loops and drumbeats because I just wanted to write in a different way and sound different. With this album though, I felt confident in knowing what I wanted to do with my sound, and I didn't feel afraid to hark back a little to what I've done before. This album is probably a really happy medium between my old stuff and the new stuff, so it has some acoustic elements but not a lot. The last album was mainly a commentary on the political climate, whereas this is very personal, about where I am in my life right now and a really honest reflection of what's going on for me. It was recorded with a producer called Paul Savage who played drums on my album as well, so it was also collaborative in the studio in a way that the other albums weren't.
You often get asked what the song is about, so there’s a kind of vulnerability about putting it out there. When you're writing, it's a personal thing about whatever you're going through and you don't necessarily think about people trying to understand it or wanting more depth into the stories behind it. In some ways I write lyrics which can be interpreted in different ways because I think it's great if it means something different to someone else than it does to me, yet still connects to them. I think that way of interpreting things differently is great, and I love it. If I then explain what it's actually about, then it might suddenly it lose that connection.
Releasing 'Taking It Back' on Mental Health Awareness day
That was completely intentional. I just felt lyrically that it was about… now I'm telling you what my lyrics are about – it's about taking back control of my own mind, so it just felt appropriate to put the video out there on that day. I think it's great that there has been a rise in the awareness of mental health, but I don't really talk about the fact that I've suffered from panic attacks and gone through various things in my life. The video shows kids having their own yin and yang. It’s the good and the bad of your own personalities. You've got the evil kids and the nice sweet kids I suppose, and it plays on your own personality or your head creating these demons.
Giving Something Back
A guy called Alan McBlane who managed me a long time ago – he had worked at some pretty big labels but also lectured – had asked if I'd come in and speak to his students. I'd never done anything like that before, but I loved it. I got asked back to be on a fresher’s week panel and then to guest lecture on various things, so from there I built up a portfolio career. I'm now the programme coordinator for a musical business degree at SAE in Glasgow, so I’m lecturing part-time. I’m doing mentoring as well. I love seeing the students grow, it feels like you're giving something back, some of your knowledge of what you're doing. They watch my releases and see what I'm doing so it's a great process which I really enjoy. I did my degree in fashion at St Martins so I can talk to my students a lot about branding and visual identity, which I think is so important. By teaching them about it, it’s been really positive in pushing me further.
I've always been a big Kylie fan, but I don't know if that's too ‘back in the day.’ St Vincent, Tune-Yards, Lizzo – there's so many amazing, strong female artists who inspire me. I like Jane Weaver as well; she's an independent artist and I just think everything she releases is incredible. I think having other women doing great work is inspiring. Not that there's not amazing men out there too but I think it's important to have someone you can identify closely with; who you feel you'd like to sound like or have the success of. I don't go out of my way to sound like anyone or to be influenced by anyone, in fact when I'm writing I tend not to listen to any other music and just create my own stuff. I think that people often want to pin a sound to you, to define you. I like to think I sound like myself, but then everyone does. They want to be able to say, 'this person sounds like that person', because if they don't have someone to compare you to then it's hard to find your sound. Sometimes it's frustrating because you think ‘No – I've not been influenced by anyone, this is just the sound I've created.’ Depending on who it is of course, it can be flattering. Things do seep in though, influences come in from all over, but I don't try to emulate; I just try and do my own thing.
MALKA’s third album I’m Not Your Soldier, will be released on Feb 28th via Tantrum Records on all DSPs, CD and unique eco-vinyl.