Tamara Schlesinger has been making music for 15+ years, first as the leader of the acclaimed alt-folk collective 6 Day Riot and since 2014 as an artist under the name MALKA, releasing three brilliant solo records which garnered praise from BBC 6 Music and numerous respected magazines and blogs, and and its music being featured on Hollywood blockbusters and TV series such as 127 Hours, Scream IV and Skins, and across MTV and Netflix. MALKA has also featured on the lineups of festivals such as Bestival, Glastonbury and Green Man.
Following a gap of over three years since her last MALKA record I’m Not Your Soldier, during which she launched the female and non-binary songwriting/production collective Hen Hoose (who were shortlisted for the SAY Award), 2023 sees the return of her solo project with an astonishing synth-based album - Anatomy of Sight - that’s Schlesinger’s best body of work to date.
The Hen Hoose project was, arguably, the catalyst for a new MALKA record, something that Schlesinger admits wasn’t always a certainty. The idea behind Hen Hoose was to highlight the talented pool of songwriters in Scotland (and now beyond thanks to funding from John Lennon Foundation) and to upskill the writers to become more confident to produce their own music, and for producers to become more confident to mix themselves and others. However, Schlesinger also discovered that this gave her a boost in her own confidence in terms of production and music-making, and it led her to the conclusion that she could make another MALKA record…and that she could write, play and produce it all on her own.
Part of the struggle to consider making another album also came from Schlesinger’s struggle with Long Covid, something that’s been with her since basically the beginning of the pandemic and impacted every part of her life. But these experiences became the foundations for Anatomy Of Sight, and the first single “Flashlight” was the place where it all came together. “It is a lot about the emotions of the rollercoaster of dealing with that,” says Schlesinger. “It probably sounds totally corny but my husband has really got me through these last few years. ‘Flashlight’ is about him being there and helping me through the darkest days. But it could really be about anyone who supports you when you need them the most.”
“This was the first track that I wrote and when I realised that I had found ‘a sound’ for what would become the new album. I really enjoyed getting into my synths, I always find it inspiring to change up the instrument that I write with. And this time, I was led by all the fun sounds and moods of the synths that I had bought over the last few years, like my Microfreak and Grandmother Moog.”
While there may have been ups and downs in her personal life alongside the positives of the Hen Hoose project, Schlesinger says that “the album is very much about looking at life through other people's eyes, telling their stories by taking on the emotions and feelings that you feel when you hear about a tragedy or something joyous. I’ve not been able to do as much as I used to, and so this felt like a great way to bring other people's stories to life, rather than make an album about feeling sorry for myself and my illness!”
There are, of course, themes that ring true to Schlesinger’s own life in the album, such as the song “Matriarch” (“that feeling of racing around the house after the kids and trying to do too many things at once!”). ''Tramlines' is written about Schlesinger’s grandmother and her sisters when they lived in Austria, and “War Coffee” which is inspired by someone that Schlesinger follows on Twitter, living in Kiev, Ukraine. “She’s creating a very normal life for herself and her son, she blogs about it, so you really feel like you can understand how she is going through her day to day life. This song was written from the perspective of hiding the dangers of real life or the sadness or tragedy of reality to protect someone else.”
Although Schlesinger played everything on the record, and wrote, recorded, engineered and produced it, she decided that other ears can be of a huge benefit. “I definitely learnt that through the collaborative process of Hen Hoose,” she explains, “and I brought in Orvar Thorvaldsson to mix the record and Katie Tavini (3 times mastering engineer of the year nominee) and Stephen Kerrison to master it.”
She adds: “I am really proud of this album, I always say every release feels like my best, and I guess you should always feel that way. But I think because this is all me, I feel it even more this time.”