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. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, to an Irish-American father and a British mother of Arab-Italian origin, you might know him as the notorious Enzo from the hit TV series, The Vampire Diaries.
Michael Malarkey’s journey started when he began placing guitar parts behind his passion for writing copious amounts of poetry. “I was enraptured by the poets and writers of the beat generation”, he began. “Especially how they used the sound and rhythm of words to create a certain energy of time and place”. Last month, the music video to ‘Mongrels’ was released. In just a few days, his debut album of the same name will be released too. Embracing the use of words to build tempo, ‘Mongrels’ is the scribbling’s of a restless creative.
Growing up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Malarkey travelled to London to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Alongside his acting career he immersed himself in music. He battles to contain his nomadic spirit within his compositions, saying, “I consider it a form of poetic journalism. It’s an endless journey of self-discovery”.
Malarkey’s musical imprint and debut record is a demonstration of an eclectic musical taste. Having recently been described as ‘folk-tronica’, he admits to enjoying the exploration of the darker side. Especially of his nature in an effort to find peace with it. Malarkey then utilises his discoveries to inspire his songwriting; “A lot of what this record is about is the struggle of wrestling with 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 represents the animal within us that is here but never quite from here”, he continued.
‘Mongrels’ is an album of the changing of the seasons, both literal and figurative. It is a journey through the dark woods of this man’s mind. The album hashes out the trials and tribulations of relationships. Yet it always seeks to find meaning in the impermanence of the journey. It doesn’t beat around the bush. The songs don’t jump up and down. They don’t wear fancy clothes. But lyrically, the record plunges you into the depths of a passionate poet. Each song is a new journey, charged with the depth of a man who sees the world in imagery and emotion.
Recorded and produced by Malarkey himself, Tom Tapley and Brandon Bush provide a definitive Nashville influence. The drone of distorted bass discharges the opening notes of the quaintly named ‘Uncomfortably Numb’. Reminiscent more of Nick Cave than Pink 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’.
Michael Malarkey is a firm believe of experimenting in the studio; “You have to serve the song and be open to alter your initial perceptions”, he said. “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. It’s a completely different version to the original demo, whilst ‘Girl In The Moon’ is almost double the tempo to what was originally penned.
‘Mongrels’ is a Towns Van Zandt dusky country-fused track. ‘Dog Dream’ is clearly Tom Waits inspired and draws on the style of ‘Everything’s Burned’ from his 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. Vocally, the new album pushes the limits of previous works. But, it maintains the traditional weathered and wounded Malarkey baritone.
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‘Mongrels’ is out tomorrow on 8th September 2017 via Cap on Cat Records / Kobalt. New single ‘Uncomfortably Numb’ is also released tomorrow.