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The old protest saying is “the personal is political”; that was certainly the case for MALKA, the project of former 6 Day Riot leader Tamara Schlesinger, when she released the politically-charged album Ratatatat in 2017 in the wake of referendums and the election of Donald Trump.
Fast forward a few years and again we find ourselves in the midst of political chaos and MALKA is set to release another album (her third under the MALKA name after Marching To A Different Beat and Ratatatat), I’m Not Your Soldier. Don’t let the title fool you though - this time, the personal is personal.
I’m Not Your Soldier is a reflective record, written by Schlesinger in Glasgow after returning to her home country a couple of years ago with her young family. You might think you know MALKA through bright songs, joyous chanting, colourful stage get-ups and a percussive heart, but I’m Not Your Soldier shows another side to Schlesinger. This is unadorned song writing, complemented by a recording process that embraces found sounds, fuzziness and a disarming intimacy.
And the intimacy is important. “I think it’s fair to say it’s more personal,” says Schlesinger. “When I first started doing MALKA I didn’t want to sound like 6 Day Riot. I didn’t pick up a single acoustic instrument, I didn’t try to emulate that sound. Ratatatat then had a formula which I stuck with...but for this album I just felt more confident. It felt like an amalgamation of the two parts of me. And it’s more honest about the sound I wanted to create.”
The difference in sound and lyrical focus is immediate and noticeable from opening track “A New World”. A gently banging trance-pop gem, the focus is on new beginnings and leaving things behind. There are hints of this again on the psychedelic reverie of “Moving Together” and the drum-centric (yes it’s not completely gone) dirge of “Seize This Moment”.
Lead single “Taking It Back” is a powerful comeback, signalled by airplay from BBC 6 Music, BBC Radio Scotland and Amazing Radio, while The Skinny and other sites have provided sparkling reviews.
“Lyrically it is very much about where I am in life,” explains Schlesinger, “and also not overthinking it in terms of how I’m feeling.” There’s also a frantic edge to some of the tracks on I’m Not Your Soldier, and a fear of losing an unspoken something. “Yeah and also that balance of trying to find yourself again,” agrees the Scot. “There’s a lyric on the album about two worlds aligning, and that’s about the mum ‘me’ and the musician ‘me’ trying to balance in my life again. It is very personal, and previously with 6DR and MALKA there was social commentary or me singing through characters - I didn’t do that this time and it felt nice, actually!”
Sonically, Schlesinger states that “there is a darkness across the whole record, but it still feels uplifting.” The album was created mainly by Schlesinger on her own in her Glasgow house. The production duties fell to Paul Savage (former Delgados member and Mogwai producer/engineer) at his Chem 19 studios. “It was an organic process with me and Paul,” says Schlesinger. “I recorded a lot of it on my own and the weird noises you can hear I created at home. I went into the studio with Paul and said ‘here’s my mess of an album, let’s try and make this into something that makes sense!’ I think a lot of producers would have immediately tried to clean it up - but Paul just said, no. What we had was the album. So we created around what I had recorded. It was really natural, and it was quite personal in terms of the mood of the song, and it felt right to go with the songs as they are. I’m really proud of it.”
The album appropriately closes on what’s the most intimate and personal moment of the whole collection. It’s an almost off-the-cuff lullaby called “Close Your Eyes”, written for Schlesinger’s daughter and son. “I wrote that for the kids,” she says. “I sing it to my son every night - he asks for it and he falls asleep to it. He’s asked his dad to sing it to him, asked his gran to sing it to him - he’s probably going to have some weird thing as an adult where someone has to sing to him to get him to sleep. I’ve probably messed him up for life!”
Whether it’s “joyous or depressing” it’s clear that Schlesinger needs to keep writing, to keep pushing MALKA forward and in new directions - soundtracks, co-writes/collaborations, she’s willing to try it all.
At the core of MALKA is honest song writing. Whether that is day-glo, clattering brilliance or a pared-down hymnal for bedtime, Schlesinger always remains true to herself. I’m Not Your Soldier confirms a talent for all seasons.