The Scottish musician chats about going solo, experimenting with washing machine sounds and her obsession for headpieces...

  • By Lucy Doyle
  • 26 Oct 2017
  • min read
When it comes to musical experimentation, household goods aren't off limits to MALKA. 'I even have a sample of a broken washing machine on this album. Anything went if I liked the sound of it,' she tells us.

Back with her second album Ratatatat, the Scottish musician – aka Tamara Schlesinger – has set the cycle to infectious beats, call and response chants and a rinse of humour.

It's there in the childlike whimsy of Fell for You – an upbeat, bright ditty that deals with the inauguration of Trump. 'Why you giving it all blah blah blah blah / I don’t know why they fell for you, they fell your lies' she sweetly sings, accompanied by an animated video of an orange-faced, white-eyed President.

Tamara first came to attention as the frontwoman of acclaimed alt-folk collective 6 Day Riot, where her prolific songwriting landed syncs for TV series' and Hollywood blockbusters including Skins, Scream 4 and 127 Hours.

Now making waves as a solo artist, her 2015 debut album Marching to Another Beat received steady support at BBC Radio 6 Music from the likes of Lauren Laverne, Nemone and Steve Lamacq.

Thoughtful and feel-good, the worldly pop of Ratatatat looks set to continue that success and sees MALKA embark on a seven-date UK headline tour in November.

Ahead of the dates, we sit down with her to chat about going solo, the political themes on the record and her obsession for headpieces...

What was the thinking behind the new album?

I wasn’t sure whether I would do another album as MALKA or at least not straight away. But then I began working on some new sounds and I could see a new direction for the music. Probably more lyrically than sonically. I think I moved back to my folk leanings in terms of my lyrics and there are more political and social commentary references. I had something to say and I felt the need to get the music and songs recorded and to get them out there.

Ratatatat is more politically driven than your debut – what do you hope people will take away from the lyrical themes?

I think that it is impossible to be engaged politically and to not feel like you wish that you could do something to change what is going on in the world. At least that is how I feel. But I like to have lyrics that can be read in many different ways - and I don’t mind whether someone thinks that I am talking about the break up of a relationship or the destruction of the planet. As long as it means something to the listener and they connect to the song, that is good enough for me.

What got you into music? Was there a specific moment you decided to be a musician?

I was studying fashion at St Martin's College and I was struggling to connect with the course. I knew that I was creative but I hadn’t found the right way to express myself. Then I began singing and it was such a relief to discover what I was passionate about. Once I started to write and create my own songs I knew that was what I wanted to do.

What were you listening to growing up?

I have always loved all kinds of music. I was listening to anything from Kylie to Radiohead.

What's the music scene like in Scotland? Any acts you’re tipping?

I have only just moved back to Glasgow after years in London and it is great to be back up here. I haven’t listened to enough new music yet – but I have heard lots of good things about Be Charlotte and so I imagine she is one to watch this year. Plus Book Group are great.

How do you think your sound is evolving? Has going solo impacted the way you write?

When I was working with my band 6 Day Riot I was the main writer, but there was a lot of collaboration with regards to band parts. And as we had certain instruments in the band, inevitably you would end up using them in all or most of the songs.

Now as a solo artist I am writing to beats, I am writing the melodies first and creating noises and sounds and picking up instruments and playing them all myself on the record. That brings a certain sense of freedom to creating something just as you imagine it and how you want it. I even have a sample of a broken washing machine on this album. Anything went if I liked the sound of it.

What are you obsessed with right now?

I am pretty obsessed with visuals for live at the moment. I mean outfits for stage – I am heading off on tour and I like to have a strong image. At the moment I am obsessing over a headpiece. Musically – Selena Gomez, Bad Liar is on repeat (you can thank my daughter for that).

What artists do you look to when setting the bar for your own success? Where would you like to be in five years time?

I would say Jane Weaver is a big influence for me. In terms of what she has achieved, how fantastic her albums are and how they have been received. For me, filling venues and writing a bit more for TV and film would be a pretty happy place to be in five years time.

What one piece of advice would you give to musicians starting out?

I really think you need to stick to your guns. So many times various managers or record labels wanted to change the sound of my music. I have been doing things on my own for years now. And although I may not have as much success as acts on bigger labels, I am so proud of my musical identity. I think if you can concentrate on making music that you feel is the best you can make then nothing else really matters. That and a strong visual identity to stand out from the crowd can help too.

What are you working on at the moment and what's coming up for you over the next few months?

I run my own record label and so I am gearing up to promoting the release of my new album at the moment. Plus heading on tour. After that I will probably start writing again, I find it hard not to create. But for now I have my business hat on. And so it is full steam ahead trying to make the most of the music I have been creating for the last year and a half.

Ratatatat is out now on Tantrum Records.

November tour dates

01 – Edinburgh, Sneaky Pete’s
02 – Glasgow, Hug & Pint
03 – London, We Are Robots
13 – Brighton, The Walrus
14 – London, The Lexington
15 – Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
16 – Manchester, The Wonder Inn