A Conversation With MAALA

July 20, 2020

First emerging onto the scene with his 2015 self-titled EP, MAALA has gone on to cement himself as one of New Zealand’s leading alternative voices. After a slew of awards and other releases the artist returns with his second full-length album, ‘Water Overhead’.

We caught up with MAALA to talk about breaking into the scene, his songwriting process and how ‘Water Overhead’ came together.

Check it out below.

Tell me a little bit about yourself? Who you are and what you do? 

I’m a musician. But I keep busy in other ways, pay the rent and all that. I’ve been doing the MAALA thing now for 4-5 years and we’re getting on to the second album.

Can you talk to me about your emergence on to the scene in 2015 with your self-titled EP, especially with the tracks ‘Touch’ and ‘In the Air’? What was it like seeing the success from your first major release?

When ‘Touch’ came out, we threw it on Soundcloud with no big push behind it. It was a bit of a throw it out there and cross your fingers approach. It started zooming on Soundcloud and blogs were picking it up. So there was some good traction there in that sense. It showed us who the audience was and who was listening.

I guess that was also when Spotify was kind of first becoming a major player in everything and overtaking Soundcloud.

Yea! I don’t think we even initially released ‘Touch’ on Spotify, to begin with. It certainly has been a while since the EP, it doesn’t feel like that though.

The year after the EP you put out your debut album as well, it was a pretty short amount of time to put out two major bodies of work like that. What was your thinking going into the album?

I guess there was a bit of momentum behind it all. I had started to build a writing relationship with Josh Fountain. It felt like things could move fast and we had the resources at hand to pull it together. It’s a strange time to reflect on really, it feels like it all kind of blurs into one moment. But I do recall feeling quite confident with the writing and it was a natural process.

So now four years later you return with your second album. Tell me a little bit about that four-year gap. What were you working on and trying to develop in that period?

Quickly after the album, I still felt like we were writing quite confidently and fast. We had ‘In My Head’ and ‘Crazy’ come out the following year in 2017, but they certainly felt like just singles. The intention was to build another album. That kept me busy again with those two songs. It was around 2018 where I felt like I had something more concrete. There were songs that kind of triggered the others and I felt the album started to form around then.

It is a weird thing to reflect on it being four years, I don’t think I was in some sort of hiatus or anything. It was more the songs were taking their time. I really feel like I’ve been consistently writing that whole time, it’s more the songs weren’t coming together as fast.

Was there a change in your song-writing process, or a change in how you approached the production coming into the second album? Was there anything you had learned from your previous releases?

Yea, I think that was a big thing. Like I said, in 2018 that was when the dots were starting to connect a bit more. I put my foot down with all doubt and said, look, put a bit more intent behind what the songs mean. Production has always been something that I’ve loved exploring as a songwriting tool, so from there it slowly developed into what it is now.

Production-wise it really is an amazing journey from start to finish. Can you tell me a bit more about your approach and intertwining it with the songwriting?

It was things like sampling, where we were cutting up vocals and using them as leads and pads just to base the song off. That became exciting for me and something that felt new each song. Production-wise that was something I tried to explore. I always felt that my production style is kind of dark across all my music. Looking at dynamics and trying to pull songs right down where there was just a guitar and me. Then other songs were there’s almost too much going on, but that was the point of it. It’s trying to mimic the emotions I was feeling.

Across the album, there are some really introspective and personal moments. What does it feel like tapping into those emotions and sharing them with the public? Do you feel scared or nervous at all being so vulnerable?

It sort of felt necessary just to be able to get the songs done at the time. I finished my first album and it was ten love songs and now I felt like I couldn’t do ten more love songs. So I had to force myself to think about it differently. It’s not so much enjoyable, I mean I love the end result and that’s enjoyable, but I felt it was all necessary.

Do you find the process therapeutic at all? Exploring these feelings and emotions.

Yea. I don’t think like, I’m feeling sad so let’s go write a sad song. Or I’m feeling stoked let’s write a happy song. It’s more of a habit now. I’ve been writing since I was like 12, so it just becomes part of the process. Not so much forcing myself to do it, but it’s something that I always find myself going back to.

We’re coming out of a pretty interesting time in the music industry with Covid. Has that changed the way or affected how you wanted to release the album or any shows?

I’ve never really done extensive touring and been in that kind of world. I’ve always enjoyed being in the studio and my cave writing away. It doesn’t feel too different to me. In a way, I feel as if the songs coming out in a time like this, just after lockdown, kind of felt like the right time to be released. People are at home and to me, that’s where these songs kind of live.

You have put out some singles before the album which have been received really well, what’s the feeling heading into the release of everything? 

The two pretty bland words are excited and nervous haha. I’m not sure really, I think also a relief. In my head, it kind of feels like they’ve been out for a year already. I’ve kind of let go of the songs in a way and allowed myself to move on and keep exploring ideas. Coming up to a release it certainly does bring up thoughts of ‘oh what are people going to think’. I think mainly it’s nice to be able to sit back from them all. Having the songs out also provides a different context. Before the song comes out I’m deliberating on a DB on the vocals or whether this part sounds too sharp or not. As soon as it’s 12 o’clock on a Friday and the songs are out, none of that matters. That happens every time and every release, I never go back and think of what if or anything.

What is one thing you want someone listening to your album to take away from this?

That’s a good question. I think with these songs being so introspective it’s quite a selfish record in a way. I think for me, it was getting across my own frustrations and working through my problems. So I don’t know whether I want people to necessarily think anything, but I hope the songs are clear enough in what I was trying to say.

I think people can draw a lot of personal comparisons to things that have been said or ideas that have been presented. Especially coming out of an uneasy time like this, there’s a lot to relate to which can be quite powerful. It can be pretty hard to put ideas into feelings and I think the album does that very well.

I appreciate that, thank you.

Check out Water Overhead below.

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