Nelke Roose

20 Nov 2020

Mali-Koa: “I Wrote My Debut Record as an Encourage Letter to Myself”

Born in Australia and based in London, singer-songwriter Mali-Koa just released her debut LP, Hunger, which could put her on the map, big time. This year, she’s dropped five instant bangers, with her the latest single “Some Things”. With music, Mali-Koa want to share stories, and beware: she has a lot of important things to say.

Your music gives listeners something to think about.

It’s easy to write songs that just make you forget about life, but I wanted my upcoming album to have a greater meaning than just “Hi, this is me, I’m a singer and I sing whatever.” (laughs) My music has to be purposeful and meaningful, you know?

So, tell me about this LP, Hunger?

When I wrote this album, I needed to tell something that felt authentic to me. And I’m proud of it and of the story it tells. Hunger is about the duality in life: the good and the bad. It highlights so many different emotions and stages of my life. To do so, I mixed country music’s storytelling with more commercial, pop elements. Hopefully, people will listen to this album from its beginning to end because there’s a story when you put all tracks together.

Hunger could encourage people to believe they can do what they want if they put their mind to it. For so long, I dreamt of releasing an album, and now I get to watch it come to life, which feels surreal.

What’s the title track “Hunger” about?

 Well, I went to Nashville in the United States last March, because I felt like it was calling me and would inspire me, but it wasn’t. (laughs). Anyway, I went there and wrote “Hunger”, about the ambition and drive that push you to be uncomfortable, to walk straight into rejection, or judgment, all to achieve your goals.

I really loved writing that one, just as I loved “Revolution”, because they both tell lessons I’ve learned about standing for something and speaking your mind and your truth. Because of that, “Hunger” is actually my favorite song on the album.

As I was writing about overcoming these challenges to chase my dreams and stand for what I believe in, I did what I was saying in the songs. So, I’ve grown as a person and it’s really served me. That’s why the album Hunger is an encouragement letter to myself. I hope young people can listen and think “Oh cool, no one ever spoke to me about that or encouraged me in that way.”

Good that you mention it because I wanted to ask you about your activist anthem, “Revolution”.

Oh yeah, last year, in October I was in Sweden to work on the album. As I was walking towards my writing session, I saw “Revolution” written on a sign. And just like that, I turned to my manager and said: “I’m going to write a song called ‘Revolution’ today.” And she goes: “Okay… Seems like a cool title.”

There I sat in this writing session with the title “Revolution”, having to connect that word to my life to make it personal. For me, having a platform comes with some sort of social responsibility. Who I am, the things I believe in, my foundations, always led me in the direction of trying to make a difference with what I have and what I can. I also genuinely care about issues around race, climate change, human rights, so it felt natural to talk about it.

I thought of how I had been struggling to finish the record and to believe in myself. The people I worked with that day said: “Well, that’s a personal revolution in you.” So, “Revolution” is not necessarily about one political movement specifically, although it can be about that, and I would encourage that perspective. But it’s also about a revolution in yourself, about being the change you want to see, whether that’s in your personal relationships or in a bigger perspective. That way, we made a song everyone can connect to, even if you don’t particularly want to change the world.

There’s a lot of variety on the album, but which were your favorite to make: the slower songs or the more upbeat tunes?

Well, before this album, I released the singles “Pretend” and “Honest” and they were really sad songs that came from a vulnerable place. People would joke around online and say: “Will there ever be a happy Mali-Koa song?” But looking back now, I see how much I’ve grown as a person and how much happier I’ve been, but also how sad things have been. Overall, it’s always fun to write an upbeat song, because it makes you feel good, no? But I also like sad songs, because it moves people, so I can’t choose, really.

Now, you’re not the only musician in your family. What is it like being the older sister of Calum Hood from the famous band, 5 Seconds of Summer?

We’re best friends: I share a lot of music with Calum and we even write songs together, which is super exciting. But we write very different music and took a very different path in life, I’m sure that people sometimes compare us, but it doesn’t come up a lot.

Seven years ago, I moved to England, and he’s in America now, so we’re very far apart, which is more of a sad thing because I’d love to be closer. I’m a big fan of my brother and his band, I’m so proud of them and I’m glad to watch them grow to their success.

But you know, it’s what you make of it: anyone can be a victim to their circumstances. I could say that if anything that didn’t go my way, is because I’m related to a great musician, but then I wouldn’t be taking any accountability. Moreover, I don’t see my brother’s success as any disadvantage to me, I wish him all the success as he does for me with my songwriting and singing. So, big thumbs up for Calum Hood. (laughs)

With the new lockdown in the UK, how are you keeping yourself busy and sane?

We just went back into lockdown, which is crazy: my album will be coming out and I’ll be in my house, but everyone needs to do their bit to make sure we’re as safe as possible. I had finished a big part of the record before we went into the first lockdown, so I was very lucky with that. I made a few music videos from home, which was an interesting experience, but since coming out of that lockdown, I got to film another music video, but not on my own and not on my iPhone, which was good because I was running out of ideas at home. (laughs)

But just like the last lockdown, I’ll be working on writing songs for other people, which is really cool to be working on that side of my career. In the future, I would love to have some chart success with my songwriting for others, and luckily, I can collaborate on Zoom and connect to people. The internet is amazing, right?

Will the internet also be the place to be for your record’s release party?

We’ll do some online content to involve everyone and thank everyone. Of course, it’s not as I had planned it, but true to style for me, things always come in very different shapes and styles as to how I imagined it. (laughs) So, we’ll do some Zoom parties and put together behind-the-scenes content to share how I made the record, so people feel included. It’s great because the people who follow my music, are genuinely interested in what I’m interested in, they have that social consciousness and they care about feelings and vulnerabilities as well. So, I’ve been really lucky that they’re on board and I want to do something for them. Once Hunger is out in the world, it’s no longer mine, but for everyone else.

Hunger is out 20 November worldwide.


Photos by Josh Nesden and Rosanna Jones

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