With the release of her latest single, Dancer, which dropped this Wednesday; while in quarantine, we caught up with the incredible Mali-Koa to hear all about her latest release, plans for 2020, and her journey so far. Her first release of the year, Dancer is “about how easy it is to be limited by your environment or the people that surround you. It’s about challenging yourself to be the person you want to be”. With an uncomplicated, infectious, low-tempo beat; the track is an addictive one. Layered on top of this are Mali’s vocals; which switch effortlessly from sultry, to hitting some stunning highs. With beautiful harmonies and vocal runs; Mali-Koa’s vocals are the centre, and stand out focus, of this track. Giving off a new, slightly darker vibe; Mali is back with another incredible track. So make sure to show Dancer some love; and read below for our full interview with the talented singer.
TSU: For those who don’t know you already; how would you best describe your music, and you as an artist, in one quote or lyric?
“But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too”
Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
TSU: What is the most important thing you want people to take from your story and your music?
MALI-KOA: Making music that matters and says something has always been the MO.
I hope that people can relate best when they feel alone in a situation or need a song to turn to. That’s what music was for me growing up, an escape and an answer.
TSU: So congratulations on your single Dancer! Can you tell me a bit about the track and the inspiration behind it?
MALI-KOA: Thankyou so much! I’m really excited. I remember writing “Dancer”, thinking “Wow, this is different…but it feels so good” I’ve always wanted to be an artist that challenged myself and grew with the songs. “Dancer” is about hitting dead ends and having to adapt and change. Breaking out of routine and making a mark, if that’s what you really want. It just felt good and like the next natural step in my mind. The more I listened the more I was like, “I believe in it, I love it. Let’s do it”.
TSU: Your single Sorry is truly beautiful track, with such a poignant and heartfelt music video to go along with it. What was it like filming the video, and having everyone come together in a moment of real honesty and raw emotion?
MALI-KOA: The video was pretty mental for me! I’d gotten used to writing all the songs behind closed doors, I showed up and was half in disbelief. I remember saying “Is everyone here for my shoot?” Something so high production was built as a vehicle around a small idea, that turned into a song. We wrote “Sorry” in a shoe box studio in Acton and I used the demo vocals from the day for the final work. My Mum flew in from Aus and made a cameo, she stole the show! By the end of shoot day she was introducing me to everyone and I was able to hear their stories. I realised that this was a platform for people to share, but I had no idea a handful of them really needed the space too. There was a lot of hope and love on the shoot that day. Also confirmed for me that I cry a lot, I just hope that anyone I might date doesn’t see that video and run for the hills.
TSU: You debut single, Honest, is another absolutely stunning track with such soul and emotion. What was it about the song that made it the perfect fit for your debut single?
MALI-KOA: I wrote “Honest” in my first year as an artist. I had written almost an albums worth of “ok” (average to bad) songs, but I was still figuring what I wanted to say out and how I wanted to say it. “Honest” felt timeless and authentic out of all of them to me, I really wanted to release something that ticked both those boxes early on. It was the best song I had by a mile, and I loved it the most at the time. That and “Pretend” (my second single) were written about the same person, both universal heartbreak songs. Quite funny because for such a long time people at shows or in meetings have said “will you ever write a happy song?”…I’m like, “These are my happy songs! They’re about growing!” Haha.
TSU: Originally from Sydney, now living in London; what’s that like as a creator and artist to move and transition into a completely new environment and culture? How much does travel, culture and your surroundings influence your songwriting and creative mindset?
MALI-KOA: Moving to London really was the game changer for me, I can see it more clearly in retrospect but it was all very hap hazard when I left Sydney. When I moved here I realised I had an opportunity to start afresh and become whoever I wanted to be. That was so liberating for me. I did some other stuff besides music when I moved here, that was the last of my worries. I had renewed purpose and fresh challenges – get a job, make friends and find a house. I’ve been here 6 years now, so a long time. I think more recently travelling to write songs has been a natural progression. I did a trip to Nashville, which was a dream come true for me in 2019. It left me feeling inspired. It encouraged me that the heartfelt music I wanted to make was good enough. That place bleeds authentic music, it completely opened me up and inspired the songs that came afterward. Plus, I love cowboy boots and cowboys -maybe that had something to do with it. Although everyone local said I looked like a tourist and that no one really wore boots. Sold a dream.
TSU: With a range of skills from singing to song-writing to DJing; what would you say comes the most naturally to you, and where you feel most at home?
MALI-KOA: Singing and performing is what feels most natural to me and after a few years of songwriting, that also sits comfortably beneath my skin. It feels great to look back on so many forks in the road and be like “remember when you did that, wow! How the hell did you get away with it?” My DJ career is the perfect example of that, it was very fleeting (fortunately)! There was a moment for me when writing music, songs or being an artist wasn’t a part of the plan and so I fell into that one. DJing was so fun, I’m still a big consumer of new music and I love to curate it in playlists and stuff, that’s something I’ve taken away with me. I also met my management that developed me as an artist whilst out on job as a DJ. So it all worked out for the better!
TSU: While we’ve all been stuck in quarantine, I saw you posted some Spotify playlists (with incredible names) – Quentin Quarantino and Isolation Vacation – that feature some fantastic songs and artists. Which artists and tracks in particular have you found yourself listening to the most lately, or gaining inspiration from?
MALI-KOA: Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of music so am always listening out to and looking for new music. I love the idea of listening to albums, and have been doing more of that in isolation. I’ve always loved a full body of work, I’m a big story teller fan so gravitate to artists that execute a narrative. Been recently listening to Caribou’s “Suddenly”, “Living Room Songs” Ólafur Arnalds, “i,i” Bon Iver, “United” Phoenix, “Delta” Mumford and Sons, “Overgrown” James Blake. I am inspired personally by music that makes me feel full and emotional, a part of something greater and uplifted. So Mumford, Coldplay, Sia, One Republic, The Script – they’re all big influences on me.
“I’m a big story teller fan so gravitate to artists that execute a narrative.”Mali-Koa on music
TSU: For those who may not know, you co-wrote a track for rapper G-Eazy; The Beautiful & Damned. What was it like working on that song? And can you see yourself infusing some of those rap/hip-hop vibes on any of your future releases?
MALI-KOA: That felt like a lot of moving parts aligning for me, it was quite early on in my experience as a writer and I had jumped on the session in LA. I knew I was there to write something we would all love, he was great to work with and I was very excited it was used as the title track! I got to go and watch him perform it at “The Roxy” that year and he opened his show with it. That was the first time I had seen so many people singing back a song I’d written. I felt pretty proud in that moment and I remember really smiling a lot -half in disbelief I think.
TSU: As a songwriter, how does it differ when you’re writing for someone else? Is it hard to sometimes give away, or write a song for another artist, when you invest so much time, energy and emotion into a track?
MALI-KOA: I think I had a few years to learn the skill of not being precious with songs and being able to think outside of myself for others. I’m always a big picture kind of person, for example “Honest” was actually on hold for Zayn originally all those years ago. Obviously I loved the song (and it was the best I had) but I knew that would be a great opportunity for me as a writer. He didn’t take it in the end and I released it, but I think it’s always important to think of the big picture. My friends would say “don’t worry, you’ll write another one, maybe a better one.” So I’ve always tried to keep an open mind in that way.
TSU: As well as music, which is such a powerful means of expression and creativity; tell me about some of your other creative outlets?
MALI-KOA: I’ve recently started writing and reading more poetry. Florence “Useless Magic” is beautiful, also a book called “One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem” by Neil Tennant from the Petshop boys. What is said is a big part of what I love about music, the lyrics and context and meaning matter to me. I’ve been putting some time into doing more of that. I have recently really gotten into DIY and painting, out of necessity initially but I’m obsessed! I did my room and my terrace and I’m proud to say I’m pretty good and I enjoy it. I started drawing also, but safe to say that I’m no good at that so it’s just for fun!
TSU: As well as your brand new single, what can we expect the rest of 2020 to look like for you music-wise?
MALI-KOA: 2020 is an exciting year for me! I’ve spent a lot of time putting together the best slices of who I am to share with everyone. I think some of the choices might surprise people and hopefully they’ll be as eager for the music as I am. Post lockdown I’d like to do a headline show and jump on a support tour, but obviously it depends on what the world is ready for. They can expect a few accidental sad songs and more intentionally uplifting ones.
Truly a pleasure to chat to Mali-Koa, make sure to listen to Dancer on all your favourite streaming platforms; and definitely give her other singles and playlists a listen too!
Keep up to date with Mali-Koa on social media: @malikoa