That’s not to say the follow-up to 2015’s percussive wonder Marching To Another Beat is a record which is going to get you down.
To get to MALKA we have to follow Schlesinger, pied piper style, down a road which has taken in (cue compulsory mentions of) gymnastics, fashion design, the energetic, socially conscious music she made as part of 6DR, TV and film syncs and vital support from BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne.
Yet after MALKA’s Marching to Another Beat a few years ago it wasn’t certain that she’d follow up with album number eight (in one form or another) quite so quickly.
“It was quite funny…I had a song ‘Wonder Why’, in between albums and it did quite well,” says Schlesinger. It was a track which got on Lauren Laverne’s best of the year list, but she was about to have her second child (son Hal, now one year old) and family was set to put a delay on things. “I was writing with an awareness of ‘let’s maybe do another Malka album and see what happens’,” explains the singer, “but I was writing a lot more at home and I knew what I wanted to do.”
Drawing on reserves of energy, Schlesinger set about the process of making Ratatatat. For those who know MALKA, the music will be somewhat familiar. There are bright synths, loops and beats making a rhythmic core, sing-song vocals which repeat in the most rousing of fashions. But of course Schlesinger couldn’t ignore the darkness of the world around her….and this led to her returning to an old theme. “I wasn’t afraid I suppose, lyrically, of going back to my folk roots,” she reveals. “I would write a lot of social commentary then and I’m quite politically aware; with 6DR there was a lot about what’s going on in the world, and with MALKA I kind of didn’t do that. I’d popped it up a little bit…but I went back to lyrically my roots and found a balance of who I wanted to be on this album.”
Schlesinger combined her family life, her work life and her MALKA life to great effect, taking any opportunity to create: “I went on some kind of post-pregnancy whirlwind weird state where I was saying ‘I HAVE TO FINISH THE ALBUM!’ So when Hal was napping and most normal, sensible people would have a nap I would sit down and write, create loops, sample Matilda (Schlesinger’s eldest child) making odd noises and put them on the album! I couldn’t always get down to the studio so I spent a lot of time developing and arranging it at home rather than in the studio. And that’s different to the last album where we spent a lot of time honing the sound. A lot of it was done by me at home, with additional bits in the studio.”
With less studio time comes an album that’s more organic, more instinctual. Songs are immediate, even taking on more of a live feel in places, and to see MALKA live is to experience one of life’s joys. “There was no time, really, to overthink it, so I think there was a freedom to it because I had other things which were important as well,” says Schlesinger. “It wasn’t about sitting there listening to a song and tweaking one beat which people wouldn’t know existed in the first place! Also I would just walk down the street and hear someone clash some scaffolding and I’d be like ‘oh I like the sound!’ and record it on my phone! I’d sample really weird stuff, so hopefully people will hear some interesting sounds that aren’t actually made in the studio…they’re just sounds that I like and added. I worked with what I got. That sounds like a limitation but you know, sometimes a year in the studio is too much. And it came together easier.”
To return to that “tribal pop” label, the core of the MALKA sound, Schlesinger explains that while it remains a big part of her sound she did try to tone it down a little. “I think it’s still there but I tried to strip it back on some of the songs,” she admits. “In fact there’s one song which I’ve made to show people how I build my tracks. It starts with a loop and builds and builds and builds and becomes really heavy and percussive in the end. I call it tribal pop and it still has that beat and that rhythm, and that’s something quite important to me and always has been – a rhythm to get up and dance and I suppose that’s what drives this music for me.”
When it comes to making those beats, Schlesinger took from whatever was around her. You might think this means being inspired by nature, world events or whatever…but no, it’s a lot more basic than that. “We nicknamed this industrial pop because I’d sampled so many industrial sounds, like washing machines and stuff!” she says, laughing at the memory. “I’m not sure anyone else will hear it, but I know – I know it’s a washing machine. I was in my mum’s house when the drier started moving along the floor and I just recorded it….it just sounds like a synth, probably.”
Joking aside, though, world events did impact on Ratatatat. Schlesinger refused to let the events of the past year pass her by. Doing nothing was not an option: “I think I’ve always done this; the last MALKA album was probably the only one which didn’t have that negativity in my lyrics! In 6DR we always made upbeat music with dark lyrics and I don’t think that’s really changed. This one maybe feels more real to me; I get so caught up by news pieces and dark stories and I can’t shift them from my head – the only way I can is by writing about them. But it still has melody and they’re uplifting…and it kind of works.”
Alongside thrilling technicolour pop songs like the buzzing “Wonder Why” and handclaps and harmonies of “Breakout” there’s lyrics addressing the chaos of the world, and also everyday heartaches. “There’s a song about the NHS and there’s a song about Trump [the biting ‘Fell For You’],” reveals Schlesinger. “So it’s about not letting everything in the world pass you by and trying to do something to change it. But then the video for one of the songs is going to be about a couple breaking up so the lyrics can be read by anyone in any way depending on how it touches them. And I kinda like that about my songs…for me it’s about Trump but for someone else it’s about some asshole who’s annoying them. And that’s okay with me. But there was no plan to make a political pop album and in many ways it’s not really. It is kind of a state of the nation address, it’s about what’s going on around me and surrounding me – that’s the main point of this album.”
Once again MALKA joined forces with Pledge Music to release Ratatatat; Schlesinger values that connection with her fans, and the opportunity to give them more than just a record – you can get anything from a lyric book to an album credit to a special show – is something which means a lot to the singer. And, of course, the connection continues through the spectacular live shows…which I often suspect are an excuse to indulge the fashion designer trapped inside Schlesinger. “I love playing live, I love it! Always the goal with the music is to get people to hear it, and it takes on a different life live as well, which is really nice.”
For an album tempered by an unprecedented period of political and social upheaval, Ratatatat sounds remarkably vibrant and life-affirming. It could be a next-level move, and while the fame is tempting Schlesinger to have her head in the clouds, she’s intent on keeping one foot on the ground: “You can dream, and I always dream, but it’s not like I wanna be massive or do this or do that anymore, I’m quite realistic. But it’d be really nice to get more exposure and get it out there a bit more than the last album.”
To use one of MALKA’s song titles, a Breakout should be no trouble at all.