Genuine, mellow, and soothing; three fitting words to describe Malia’s music catalogue, which are just as accurate when it comes to the burgeoning singer’s own personality. Supplementing her honeyed vocals with relaxed instrumentation that includes her own work on the guitar, she’s wasted little time in making a name for herself now that she’s finally pursuing her true passion.
Malia’s newest EP Late Bloomer encapsulates her state of mind when it comes to her music, and is an impressive step forward as she looks to craft a bigger sound. After taking a more acoustic, bare-bones approach to her previous releases, she worked with a fuller band on the project, a creative choice she plans to continue going forward.
The intro song, “Simple Things,” showcases what she can achieve in the group setting, with laidback production that’s still engaging thanks to a bevy of sounds that enliven the background. The tranquil vibe takes hold of the listener immediately, as Malia yearns to bypass the fancy formalities and focus on what truly matters to her. Elsewhere on “Naked,” she further taps into the realm of neo-soul with a hazy, minimalist groove that never fails to ease the stresses of the moment.
Malia honed her talents in the studio with The Internet at the outset of her career, and the band’s influence certainly shines through on Late Bloomer. Lead singer Syd appears on the closing track “Dirty Laundry,” where the two vent their disgust at a former lover who’s run out of second chances. The bridge that follows the second chorus is perhaps the angriest 30 seconds in all of Malia’s discography thus far, as she ratchets up the intensity on her electric guitar before returning to the familiar groove that permeates the rest of the project.
The undeniable earnesty on the studio recordings is only more apparent in the concert setting, and drew positive reactions from the audience at the recent Soulection Radio show in Los Angeles. Malia made the most of her time on stage alongside fellow guitarist Evan Mathews, opening with a fresh rendition of Miguel’s “Come Through and Chill” before jamming out with her own material. We were honored to host Malia at our March Baño Flaco showcase as well, where plenty of fans were singing along to her music. Her sound is beginning to resonate with listeners and will only continue to grow moving forward.
The rising singer recently stopped by our Hollywood office to talk about her journey thus far. Press play on Late Bloomer below, and read on to see what she had to say!
OTW: What made you decide to go with the Late Bloomer theme?
Malia: Just because I am a late bloomer, I got started a little late in the game to do music and pursue my dreams. I feel like I’m kind of a late bloomer in all aspects of my life, I’m very cautious and not really the person to just jump in feet first. It’s just an overarching theme for my life, and my journey with music.
OTW: It was a very mellow, hazy groove throughout, with really impressive instrumentation. What inspired your sound?
Malia: I love live instrumentation, and I love jazzy roots and blues. The first couple of projects I put out were along the same lines, but just a little more stripped down, so I think it’s always been my vibe to have that hazy, jazzy, R&B-type style. But this was just a step up, because I used more instruments and had drums on all the tracks.
OTW: Were you working with a band this time?
Malia: What happened was I went into the studio and did demo tracks with my producer Nick Green and songwriter Rose Tan, and then decided later on that it would sound really cool to put some live instrumentation on it, just as a follow up. So I worked with a few musicians and we knocked it out in a couple of days, they just played over what we already had and enhanced it a little bit.
OTW: What was that like for you, creating that bigger sound instead of your previous acoustic tracks?
Malia: It was a nice growth and development, like the next step to the music and the sound progression. It was cool starting on an acoustic guitar, like that’s where you have to get your roots and find your base, but it was nice to have a little more of a groove. I know people like to feel it a little more sometimes; the acoustic stuff is really nice too for specific settings, but [Late Bloomer] embodies more of the type of music that I want to keep doing.
OTW: Syd was on the EP, I know you’ve worked with The Internet a lot in the past. What was the biggest thing they helped you with when you were getting your career started?
Malia: Actually, I would say meeting [Matt Martians] and Syd and the band a few years ago was really the jumping point. Matt hit me up from Instagram, like back when you could only post those 15-second videos, I had just picked up the guitar and was like “I’m going to put myself out there and see what happens.” But I started posting those videos and he hit me up; I genuinely didn’t know who they were. I just saw “studio, come through” and I was all about it. So I just wandered into the studio and it happened to be Syd’s, and met the band and it’s really all history from there. [Laughs] I kind of forced myself on them, they adopted me and I hung around every day, trying to learn from them and get inspired. That was a big part of it, she allowed me to record my first project there, and it just kept building.
OTW: You recently performed at the Soulection Radio Tour stop in Los Angeles, it looked like your music was resonating with a lot of the fans. What’s the reaction you’ve seen to Late Bloomer compared to your first EP?
Malia: I still got a good reaction from my first EP; I was just so nervous, and wasn’t really sure if people were even going to listen. Even the first single I put out, I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be, but my heart was like just do it and see. But I think I’ve gotten a good reaction from Late Bloomer, the Soulection show was the first time I’ve seen people singing my lyrics a little bit, so that was really cool. I’ve never experienced that before and I know it’s just going to keep growing, but it was awesome just to see, “Okay, people are listening and I do have an audience somewhere.”
OTW: Is it stressful, or is it still an exciting rush getting on stage?
Malia: There are some elements of stress for sure, like eventually I would love to add some more sounds to the show. Right now it’s just me and my best friend holding it down, but I would love to add some drums or a bass player, just to enhance it, and find people who are down and might be willing to go on this journey. It’s been a little hard, but it still is a therapeutic experience as well, putting things together. I rehearse on the daily, and I always want to make sure that when I get on stage I give people something that’s genuine, something that I have curated and isn’t just thrown together.
OTW: So I know you started your music career late, but growing up, what was your experience with music? Were you singing at all?
Malia: Oh, man. I actually didn’t grow up in a music household at all, my mom did not encourage me to have music or CDs. For some reason she was just not about it, so my only experience with music was just in school when we would have music class every so often, and then I joined the choir once I got to middle school, when they offered it. That was always my favorite, but I was told it wasn’t a real class, and you should choose one of the “actual” subjects, like math or science. So I was kind of confused, and I didn’t have any music surrounding me growing up, there’s no musicians in my family. It was just something that I swept under the rug, like “you really like to sing, but you’re really shy, so it’s probably not feasible for you to pursue this.”
OTW: What kept you from fully letting go of that dream?
Malia: I think I was just born a songbird, like I can remember in pre-k, our little music class that we would have, singing was always my favorite thing to do. I was always so amped to do it, and as early as I can remember, I’ve always loved to sing. It was kind of a natural ability that I’d been developing, and once I’d went through the motions of college, and going through jobs that just weren’t fitting at all, I just kind of realized I couldn’t run from this anymore.
OTW: What career were you trying to pursue while you were in college?
Malia: I graduated with a degree in political science and sociology, I was telling everyone I was going to law school, the safe route. [Laughs] I was really involved in politics and social justice when I was on campus, and it was my passion for a while, but after four years I just got burned out, and I knew it was a dead-end thing I was doing to band-aid the situation until I was ready to take the leap of faith and go with what my heart was telling me.
OTW: Do you ever think about trying to combine social justice messages in your music?
Malia: I haven’t really been too involved in the social justice route since I graduated, I was just that burned out of it. I was the girl on campus who was working in the office of social justice, and in my spare time I’d be on my soapbox trying to get people to vote and come to my events about talk circles and socio-economic inequalities. There was just a widespread apathy on my campus, and it was kind of like, “How long can I do this for?” I definitely still care, I’m a humanitarian and I really do feel for people. I think with my music, like me actually pursuing what I actually love, I feel like that’s going to be my therapy to the people, because I’m doing it from a genuine place and I think people can feel that when they listen. But yeah I might try to find a way to merge it even more and spread awareness, that’s a good idea. [Laughs]
OTW: So you had never played guitar until after college?
Malia: I actually picked up a guitar for the first time in high school, after one of our choir classes. I didn’t do anything with it, I could just strum one note and it’d be very elementary. That was the first time I was introduced to guitar, but I didn’t really take to it at that moment the way that I did picking it up later. I still didn’t believe that I could do music professionally, so it didn’t really click. But after it was all said and done, when I finally picked it up, that’s when i really honed in on it and practiced everyday, like “alright, I’m going to do this.”
OTW: Why guitar?
Malia: I started on piano when I was younger, I took lessons when I was eight or nine. And I like the piano, but I also didn’t take to it the way that I did with guitar the second time around. There was something about it; it’s mobile, so I can take it with me anywhere. For some reason, even when I’d picked it up in high school and didn’t know how to play; I’d always had an interest.
OTW: How did you finally learn how to play?
Malia: I got this nylon acoustic guitar, it was easier for my fingers at the moment, because you have to get them kind of calloused before you can really start working on it. But I just started watching YouTube videos, and then once I wandered into Syd’s studio I met my best friend the first day, and he’s a legit guitar player since birth. I started working with him and we’d go jam everyday, and I’d just learn things from him. I was really inspired the moment I was learning new chords and wanted to learn how to accompany myself playing different covers, because I wanted to keep posting on Instagram.
OTW: Initially, you were pretty nervous about the pace of your career, but now you’re more at peace with it. How did you get over that hump?
Malia: It just kind of clicked one day; of course as humans, we’re always going to be striving to be better, and we have different goals that we want to pursue and rise to the occasion. But if I’m constantly thinking about, “Oh man, I wish I was here,” when I’m really here, I’m missing out on the moment. I have to just be grateful that I have ten fingers and can pick up the guitar, and that I’m able and healthy. Just being in the moment, like I can see where I’m going, but if I’m always looking to tomorrow, I miss out on what’s here.
OTW: Last question: Who are some of your Ones to Watch artists?
Malia: Well, Daniel Caesar’s been a big one, and of course Syd, she’s been a big inspiration for me. I also really like Sabrina Claudio’s voice a lot; I guess Gary Clark Jr., he’s not exactly on the rise anymore, he’s pretty established. I mean, all these artists are established, but those have been some of the main ones where I’ve loved their sound and the energy they give off when they’re doing their craft.