Talks with Tina Malia
The Lost Frontier
CEV: Growing up with music the way you did what did it come to mean to you and how did it change the way you looked at your life even at that young age?
TM: My earliest memory as a child is of listening to my mother practice piano every day. She would put me in my car seat and place me underneath her grand piano as she practiced up to 7 hours a day. Music was a language that I learned in the same way I learned to speak and write, so it has always colored and shaped the way I see (and hear) the world.
CEV: How important was that first guitar that your father bought you in terms of your songwriting and compositions?
TM: I would certainly not be where I am today if my father hadn't given me my first guitar. It was the place that I was allowed to find my own creative voice. I have come back around to using piano and keyboards for composing now, but in my first years of being a songwriter the guitar was where I felt free to express myself the most.
CEV: You were listening to a lot of great women folk musicians about the time you started to write your own songs. Do you feel that they were role models for you on how to be a strong woman performer even in an industry that tends to lean towards male performers?
TM: I definitely feel that the great female musicians I listened to were mentors to me. Being an aspiring songwriter in my teenage years, these female icons felt like friends that understood me and showed me how to express emotions that I felt through song. I think in those years I was oblivious that the industry was so male dominated.....I was just enchanted by these strong, wise, vulnerable, beautiful female voices.
CEV: What was it that you learned from those women performers that listeners might find infused in your own compositions?
TM: A lot of my guitar finger-picking style I learned from listening to Joan Baez!
CEV: How has having a classical and choral background helped you in achieving your goals with your songwriting and your performances?
TM: The songs from Shores of Avalon were some of the first songs that I ever wrote. I was very immersed in studying mysticism and also dealing with a major loss in my life. The circumstances of my life at the time gave the album an emotional depth that probably reached further than my teenage years. I had also just finished a sound engineering course and was using my new knowledge to create the album along with my co-producer, John Alevizakis.
CEV: It was after the release of Shores of Avalon that you met Jai Uttal. In terms of your music and your growth as a person and a singer what did meeting Jai Uttal mean to you?
TM: Meeting Jai was my introduction into the world of Sanskrit mantra. He hired me to sing background and record for the Pagan Love Orchestra and we became close friends and allies. We have had many wonderful years of performing and singing together, but it was learning about his spiritual teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, and beginning my own mantra practice that had the most profound influence on me. I will be forever grateful to Jai for introducing me to those teachings.
CEV: Why is it important to you to that your music reflect a wide range of styles and genres from world to singer/songwriter material?
TM: It was never my plan to have such a wide range of musical styles, I just genuinely love many types of music. I do enjoy being able to reach a diverse range of audiences through different kinds of music, and it's always fun to see where people cross over in their tastes as well.
CEV: Do you find that you have fans that divide along genre lines or do your fans “get” all of the music you put out there regardless of what style you are working with on each new release?
CEV: You write, sing, engineer and produce your albums including playing many of the instruments. Do you enjoy having complete control over what will eventually become music that represents your thoughts and feelings? Why?
TM: Growing up in a classical lineage, I was taught the importance of quality within the execution of a musical composition- starting with pitch and rhythm, and ending with feeling and precision. Through the process of writing, producing and eventually recording my own albums, I was always striving to learn how to create the highest quality sound in the recording process. Yes, I do like to have the final word on exactly how the finished product will come out, and I intimately know every note and gap of silence on each of my albums. That being said, I also love collaborating with other musicians and producers and hearing their ideas and feedback.
CEV: Do you instinctually know when you have just the right mix for your music or when to stop tweaking a song because it is as perfect as it is going to be? Is that something you develop by repetition or perhaps by living with your music after it is conceived until you know it inside and out?
If I open the door too early and let other people's thoughts come into my creative state, their opinions may color my feelings towards the song, and sometimes those songs never quite inflate.
CEV: You recently released a new album called The Lost Frontier. With your background in a variety of genres how do you decide about a project like The Lost Frontier and what direction the music will take?
TM: I wrote and recorded The Lost Frontier while I was discovering and falling in love with electronic music. Once I opened my mind to electronic sounds and heard music that resembled something I would create myself, I began my quest of digging through different electronic and acoustic sounds and creating a palette for the album. I like to create a general mood within an album, so I will repeat different sounds in different songs and use the same base instruments throughout. For example, on the Lost Frontier I use mainly electric guitar, rhodes, and keyboards as the rhythm instruments. I really like how those instruments blend with electronic drums and percussion.
CEV: How do you decide when the time is right to take the material that you have been writing into the studio and start the process of assembling a new album?
TM: A lot of the time I create the music first and write the lyrics on top of that. I'll hear a keyboard melody, for example, then write a bass line underneath that, then start hearing and creating the beat, etc. Usually lyrics will simultaneously start to form and melodies will reveal themselves. A new album becomes assembled when I have enough of those completed and they start to form a theme and connect to each other.
CEV: Typically where does your inspiration come from for the music that you compose in general and the songs on The Lost Frontier specifically?
TM: My inspiration comes from the beauty and emotion of music itself. Within it, I try to find something to say that captures a picture of my life and my angle of being a human in the world. As far as The Lost Frontier, I wrote the lyrics on top of music created by myself, guitarist Al Torre and electronic producer Random Rab. The song already had so many layers of emotion and imagery just within the instrumental composition. I saw images of being in the desert or plains, and of a young woman running for her life as her home was being taken from her. I saw wheels and helicopters, and images of war spiraling in and out. I saw rivers and wise women. Many of the songs on the album weave stories of this young woman's journey through these places and how she carries her torch throughout.
CEV: What is your mood like as you work on your songs and spend time with them during the actual recording process?
TM: I become like a mad scientist....sometimes I forgo sleep and food and just dig for hours through ideas and melodies. It can be very emotional for me, and it's usually a mix of total euphoria and the most beautiful sadness combined.
CEV: Was The Lost Frontier a completely solo project or did you have others who helped you instrumentally or with production? Who were they and how do they supplement your own skills with their own during the creative process?
TM: I had many collaborators on this project. There were many fantastic live musicians that I used on this recording, mainly with guitar, bass and keyboards. I worked with some of my favorite electronic producers as well- Evan Bluetech, Lynx, Random Rab, and others. With the producers, we bounced different ideas back and forth of our interpretations of a song, then I'd use parts, pieces, and sometimes the bulk of a composition that they'd come up with. Or in a couple of instances, the producer brought me the original piece of music, which I'd then write lyrics over and develop and arrange. It's a very fun process!
CEV: Was there a theme that surfaced during the assembling of the songs that seemed to guide you in how you handled the music or how you molded them into a whole?
CEV: Are you happy with what you achieved with The Lost Frontier? Do you feel like each album is a step in your own growth and if so in what ways did you evolve as a singer/songwriter during the creation of this album?
TM: I'm very happy with what I achieved with The Lost Frontier. I feel it expresses a portrait of my life at that time. It certainly helped evolve my skills as an engineer and producer, as I learned how to work with electronic instruments during the creation of this album. I also felt like it brought out different characteristics and a new style of writing and singing.
CEV: When you send a new album out into the world do you have any ambitions or hopes as to what listeners will gain from hearing your music and your lyrics?
TM: I have very deep, cathartic experiences while writing every song on my albums. It's very personal for me. I hope that listeners will hear some of what I hear within it and have it touch a part of their lives.
CEV: As a closing question what are your thoughts about the strides that women have made in the music business over the last few years? Will there come a time when women will be on fully equal footing with their male counterparts and be recognized for their immense contributions to the musical arts?
TM: I would love for that day to come! I think more women should be encouraged to study instruments, and especially sound engineering and some of the real male-dominated jobs within the music business. I love meeting women who really take charge of their careers and devote themselves to learning even the masculine parts of their businesses. I also feel women receive a lot of love and respect in the business as well. Watching Adele at the Grammy's, it was clear she was respected and revered by everyone in the room. Music has the power to bring everyone to their knees, whether it's a man or a woman at the helm. That's the real beauty of music!
CEV: Thank you for talking time to talk to Cutting Edge Voices and thank you so much for all the emotions and feelings that are so evident in your music. It is always a pleasure to put on your music and spend some quality time taking in your lyrics and your compositions. I wish you much success in the coming years and I will be looking forward to your next release when the time is right.