Maalavika Manoj talks debut album Caution to the Wind and the wide range of musical inspirations behind it

·3 min read

The music video of 'Live Again' by Chennai and Mumbai-based singer-songwriter and pop artist Mali gets quite intense €" in the midst of trippy visual effects in monochrome, we see a torch-bearing protagonist seeking something. Mali herself is not so much an active part of the song from her just-released debut album Caution To The Wind. She says, "This video is a dark one and really edgy. I'm literally a dead body in this."

The grim visual narrative directed by Richard Wyndham, reflects the artiste's ideas of life, death and rebirth with great emphasis. It's one among a few new turns we've seen and heard from Mali €" whose real name is Maalavika Manoj €" as she created a synth-pop informed album like Caution to the Wind. The eight-track record was co-produced by Mali and Arnob Bal starting late 2019. "The good thing was that all the recording and tracking of instruments happened in person. The final session was in March last year, a week before lockdown," Mali says.

Unbeknownst to Mali, the demo tracking sessions that took place with producer-guitarist Apurv Isaac involved doing mic tests and they found a good fit with a Shure SM 7B microphone. "I found later that I got a cult mic, that the SM 7B has a cult status; apparently 'Thriller' was recorded using this and it's also associated with metal and hardcore vocalists. I just felt like never say never," Mali says, laughing.

With all post-production work of fine-tuning filters, track levels and the likes taking place remotely, the artiste decided to release three singles before announcing the release of Caution to the Wind in April. There was the somewhat prescient lead single 'Age of Limbo' which offered solace for those in lockdown (although it was written in early 2018) over the stirring trip-hop like production, while 'Mundane' played up shimmering synth-pop and 'Absolute' was Mali taking a page out of The Beatles' foolproof pop songwriting.

The rest of Caution to the Wind combines Mali's love for artists such as Giorgio Moroder, Pet Shop Boys, The Carpenters (gleaned from her parents' taste in music) and modern indie pop, thrown over co-producer Bal's ability to bring in electronic and synth elements. 'Cabaret' is more of that reverb-drenched mix, while 'Horoscope' is a slow-built indie rock song featuring pedal steel. 'Sitting On the Fence' comes across the perfect blend of the modern and "pan-retro pop palette" that Mali dives into for inspiration. "I wanted to make music that made me love music," she says.

The sparse guitar-centric closing track 'Really? Not Really' was originally written in 2012 in Mali's college days as one of her more intense songs that she performed sparingly and stowed away until she knew an album was the right place for it. Mali released her debut EP Rush in 2017 and by then, she says it didn't make sense to release 'Really? Not Really'. She says, "I wrote this at my lowest point in a way and it's definitely a song I consider a deep cut among my material."

Mali describes Caution to the Wind as a record that was created from music and references that were like "patchworks". She adds: "There was a hip-hop influence, a bit from The Carpenters and a wide variety of influences." It's how she explains the intriguing choice of album artwork by Jan Juhaniak, in which the artiste is seen on a flamingo float deep in the ocean with the moon and lightning. She explained the cover in an Instagram post: "The colour purple reflects everything this album sounds like to me €" a confident shade of confusion between hot and cold, a place of pause between calm and chaotic. And to me this artwork is a true testament to [sic] the idea that anything that's worth it takes time."

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