What comes first? The actor or the songwriter? For Michael Malarkey, the writer came first, then the self-taught musician, rapidly followed by the self-made actor. Michael’s journey as a musician started when he began placing guitar parts behind his passion of writing copious amounts of poetry. ‘I was enraptured by the poets and writers of the beat generation and how they used the sound and rhythm of words to create a certain energy of time and place.’ Embracing the use of words to build tempo, Malarkey’s debut album Mongrels is the scribbling’s of a restless creative, battling to contain his nomadic spirit within his compositions.
Malarkey was born in Beirut, Lebanon to an Irish-American father and a British mother of Arab/Italian origin and is most famous in the acting circles for his role as the notorious Enzo in the hit CW series The Vampire Diaries. Growing up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Malarkey travelled to London to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and alongside his acting career he immersed himself in music. ‘I consider it a form of poetic journalism. It’s an endless journey of self-discovery.’
Described recently as ‘folk-tronica’ (Metro), Malarkey’s musical imprint is inspired by a host of different artists and his debut record Mongrels is a demonstration of an eclectic musical taste. Admitting to enjoying the exploration of the darker side of his nature in an effort to find peace with it, Malarkey utilises his discoveries to inspire his songwriting. ‘A lot of what this record is about is that whole struggle of wrestling with those opposing forces within us; the duality of animal and human’ The outcome is songs that are both lyrically deep and melodically potent, ‘the key is to keep the balance’.
Mongrels doesn’t beat around the bush. The songs don’t jump and down, they don’t wear fancy clothes but lyrically the record plunges you into the depths of a passionate poet with an ear for melody. Malarkey’s writes a mixture of introspective country/folk music or driven, ravenous blues songs with lyrics filled with a haunting beauty, yet displaying a warm soul. Each song is a new journey into another corridor of his mind, charged with the depth of a man who sees the world in imagery and emotion.
Recorded and produced by Malarkey himself in his current hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, alongside Tom Tapley and Brandon Bush, who provide a definite Nashville influence, which is apparent throughout yet doesn’t suffocate the record into the country genre by any means.
The drone of distorted bass discharges the opening notes of the quaintly named Uncomfortably Numb. Reminiscent more of Nick Cave than Floyd with lyrics ‘this transparency is killing me’ and
‘Baby all I’m going to do is bring you down under the water. How long can you hold your bated breath before you drown’, highlighting Malarkey’s uncanny ability to gently bend words and melody.
A firm believer of experimenting in the studio, this attitude opened the door to his peers to support stating ‘you have to serve the song and be open to alter your initial perceptions. The studio is a magical place and spontaneity should be honoured.’ I Just Want You is the light-hearted result of this approach, lifting from the melancholy of Scars to a warm summer smile and is a completely different version to the original demo, whilst Girl In the Moon is almost double the tempo to what was originally penned. Vocally the new album pushes the limits of his previous works, yet maintains the traditional weathered and wounded Malarkey baritone throughout. Mongrels is a Towns Van Zandt dusky country-fused track, whilst Dog Dream is clearly Tom Waits inspired and draws on the style of Everything’s Burned from Malarkey’s debut EP Feed The Flames back in 2014. Feed The Flames was a stripped, minimalistic example of Malarkey’s songwriting but with Mongrels, the progression towards a larger band and filled out sound is clearly underway, whilst keeping the trademark of one of his favourite instrument, the cello, is a prominent feature throughout.
With so many influences on show, Malarkey explains the album concept in more detail:
“Mongrels represents the many-faced animal within us that is here but never quite from here; the dreamer within us, stricken with wanderlust, who is tuned to the frequencies of change; the nomad within us whose roots grow not in the ground, but in the wind. It represents the mystery of our vagrant nature, at times a source of weakness and at times a source of power.”
“Mongrels is an album of the changing of the seasons, both literal and figurative. It is a journey through the dark woods of Malarkey’s mind, hashing out the trials and tribulations of relationships, wrestling with the opposing forces within, yet always seeking to find meaning in the impermanence of the journey.”
Mongrels will be released 8th September 2017 via Cap On Cat Records and you can catch up with Michael Malarkey on the road shortly after for the next step of the journey.