Late last year, we spoke with Joe (frontman), Aleandro (keyboards) and Ivan (bass) from one of Malta’s most exciting bands, Red Electrick. Their blend of upbeat, melody driven guitar pop has won them a sizeable fan base stretching across the island nation, and beyond.
For over ten years the band have experienced first-hand the development of Malta’s music scene. With Malta often omitted from touring schedules, there has been a rise in home-grown talent, with bands like Red Electrick capturing the attention of local music fans – roughly one in four Maltese have streamed their music videos on YouTube.
Red Electrick have grown into a tight-knit, intuitive group of writers and performers, each member bringing to the table a unique set of attributes and influences.
The coronavirus pandemic put a hold on their touring schedule, allowing them more time to work on new music and developing their sound in the studio. Over a Zoom call, we discussed life in Red Electrick, and the unique challenges and opportunities that bands from Malta experience.
M: What have you been up to through lockdown? How did you find it as a band – did you find that you could be creative in that time?
Joe: That’s one of the only things we have been able to do. During the summer we’re usually very busy with performing and don’t have too much time to work in the studio. We’ve been really keeping busy on the creative side. That’s all you can do right now. You can never write too many songs. Aleandro: It’s also our way of compensating for the lack of live performance.
Ivan: There wasn’t a full lockdown in the summer, but we were wary of booking gigs.
Joe: Nothing was official. They weren’t cancelling gigs or saying no gigs could happen. Bands were put in a position where they had to decide whether it was safe or not to put on a show.
M: Have you found alternative ways of connecting with your fans, rather than playing live gigs? Has there been much of a ‘live-stream’ culture in Malta?
Joe: At the beginning of the crisis, we were doing a lot of live-streams. There were some companies, some restaurants and venues, which were putting on their own live-stream gigs, whole organised concerts online. There was so much of that going on. I don’t know if people were fed up with it, but there was almost too much at once.
Aleandro: At first it was great, but then you’re seeing live streams every day. It got kind of old.
M: Do you think it’s hard to achieve the same level of excitement on a live-stream as an in-person concert?
Joe: It’s extremely different. We work from the energy of the crowd. Obviously, we do what we can to connect with people and we’d just released an album. We wanted people to hear the songs live. We still wanted to play those songs to the fans. At the time, this was the only way we could do that.
Aleandro: It’s a very unique situation. It’s a point in time where everyone in the world is sharing a common situation. We’re very lucky in some ways that this happened in 2020 where we can use live-streams and have hundreds and thousands of people still joining, each in their own location. Twenty years ago, bands would have lost a year of promotion in a situation like this.
M: Has the current situation impacted the way you write songs?
Joe: We’re definitely exploring some areas which we might not have done without the current restrictions. I feel like the level of songwriting has gone up. We’ve had a lot of time to explore new things,to explore individually too, then bring that together when we’re able to meet in the studio.
M: Do you have a typical song writing process? How do you create music together?
Joe: It varies so much.
Aleandro: There’s almost no answer to that. Each song tends to have its own story. Usually, one of us comes up with an idea, even if it’s a very short idea for a melody. We rarely have songs where one member starts and finishes it all by themselves, it's always collaborative. One person tends to kick start, then it opens up to the whole group.
The more we write, the more collaborative it becomes too. The more we write together, the more we understand the nuances each member brings to the band.
M: Do you think your relationships have changed and developed much over the 10 years you’ve been together?
Aleandro: We’ve been in the studio so much, it’s inevitable that we have a very close understanding of each other and what we each bring to our music.
Joe: There’s always that moment where, for instance, if I come up with a part and it needs something else, I know that Ivan might have a great bass idea for a certain part – I can almost hear what he’s going to do. It’s a sixth sense, I guess.
Ivan: There’s a sense of intuition that you develop with each other over time, like when two footballers are playing and they know where the other player is without having to look.
M: Why do you choose music as a creative outlet?
Ivan: It comes naturally to me. Personally, I never considered anything else. It’s what I always wanted to do. I was five years old when I started playing music.
Joe: I started playing the guitar at about sixteen years old. As soon as I picked it up, I wanted to start writing songs. Again, it was natural to me. I was in college at the time. I decided to pack in my studies and throw myself into the acoustic guitar and write songs. Prior to discovering the guitar, I was set to go into physiotherapy so a complete shift.
Aleandro: I was more into sports until I was about eleven. After my first piano lesson, I became so immersed in music. I would go home and download music notation and try to figure it out myself. There was no subject or field that I was so in to. Like Joe, I eventually abandoned everything else, and devoted my time to music.
M: Is that kind of dedication to music something that’s unusual in Malta?
Aleandro: To devote yourself to music, in any country but especially in Malta, you really have to be crazy about what you’re doing. The number of full-time musicians in Malta probably wouldn’t exceed 1,000 people. I’m probably being very generous even with that. It’s a very new and difficult industry.
M: What can you tell us about the music scene in Malta?
Aleandro: It’s actually a very active with a lot of part-time musicians, and extremely varied considering Malta is an island with just around 500,000 people. There’s a lot of stuff going on: there’s people doing pop and rock, but there’s also people fusing things together that you would have never expected to see in Malta.
It is quite hard, especially when it comes to financial support and government funding. There’s always some hesitation when it comes to paying out to musicians. I know it’s not just in Malta, it’s in most countries, but here it seems to stick out a bit more.
Ivan: There’s still the mentality that playing music should be seen as a hobby. Like a lot of places, you still get patrons of venues who ask you to perform for ‘exposure’. That happens a lot with new, budding artists.
M: There’s a strong DIY community in the UK music scene, people running things themselves, putting on their own gigs and starting independent record labels. Is there anything similar in Malta?
Joe: If we put on a Red Electrick concert, which we’ve done for the last three years, we can book the venue directly and do it ourselves. We often sell out our own concerts. Obviously though, we can’t do that every week. That’s more of an annual thing.
M: Do you feel like there are certain challenge that bands from Malta experience in terms of breaking through into other territories?
Ivan: The number one problem is our physical presence. We’re not part of mainland Europe, so to physically get to other countries is difficult. In other places, it’s just a train ride or a van ride and you’re there. Malta’s a small island in the middle of the sea. It’s just more difficult logistically.
Aleandro: I think, on a more optimistic note, when people from the music industry speak to us, they’re always interested when we say we’re from Malta. People do seem to see it as a point of interest.
Joe: It’s quite unique, I think, to people from overseas.
Aleandro: People often ask whether we link Malta to our music. However, it is quite hard to compete with people who come from large cities, even when it comes to streaming and the views on songs. For us, getting 100,000 views on a song means that roughly one in every four people on the island has watched the video.
M: As music fans yourselves, how do you find the music scene in Malta in terms of being exposed to new and upcoming as well as established acts?
Aleandro: When bands from Europe and the US announce tours, Malta is quite rarely included. They go to Italy, which is an hour away by plane. You do get the occasional act. MTV promote a show once a year in Malta, with people like Lady Gaga.
Ivan: We’ve had people like The Hives, Kaiser Chiefs, The Wailers, The Kooks come recently. Malta isn’t really included in the tours, unfortunately. For a lot of Maltese it’s very normal to go on holiday during the summer to go to festivals for live bands, since we don’t get many coming here.
M: If you could bring three Maltese bands/artists with you to tour the UK, who would you pick? Who should we check out?
Ivan: Luke Chappell. He was on the first season of Malta’s X Factor. We love what he does.
Aleandro: Yeah, definitely Luke. We’d need a female presence too - Winter Moods would be cool. They are a classic Maltese band. They started back in the early '90s. They were the biggest thing in Malta. The singer’s now doing a solo thing.
Ivan: Maybe OXYGYN?
Aleandro: They’re currently number one in the PRS charts here in Malta. They’re still very young, made up of a pair of twins.
M: You managed to fit in a live performance last year in front of an audience. How did that feel, after having been unable to play for so long?
Joe: The situation was getting a bit better back then, so the initiative was to kick off events. It was nice. It was done seated and people were spread apart. It was all done safely. We were comfortable playing like that. It was nice to be in front of a crowd again. We did it for two nights. It was super exciting – it felt like we hadn’t been on stage in years.
M: What can we expect next from Red Electrick?
Joe: We’re at the stage where we’re writing a lot of tracks. We’re not exactly sure what will become of these tracks, but I’m sure some of them will be released as singles, some won’t be used. We’re in the frame of mind of writing lots of music and getting the best ones together.
Also, there’s still several tracks on our last album which haven’t been released as singles. We’re in talks about that at the moment!
You can watch Red Electrick’s recent collaboration with Luke Chappell below.