Malaya Blue was bubbling with excitement last week when we spoke. A singer-songwriter who wears her heart on her sleeve, keeping secrets is not something she is good at. That said, she quite casually dropped her big news into our conversation…
It has been about three years since we last spoke, back then you were just about getting used to being a live performer having spend your life hiding in the studio. Is it still scary on stage?
Well, no it isn’t actually. Its exhilarating, maybe I’ve found my stage confidence. It was a very difficult barrier to cross initially, that whole change of technique and being so exposed. Having been in a studio for such a long time you have a real safety blanket – if you make a mistake you can stop, you can start again – of course you can’t do that on stage. I still get nervous, but its a healthy nervous, its an excitement, its wanting to perform well, to connect with the audience, to really deliver the songs. What I have found over the years is that it requires more and more energy, because it means more and more each time. They say you are only ever as good as your last performance and I am beginning to realise that it is really important that every show is your best show.
Do you find that a strain? Do you ever need to switch off?
Yes it does. Unfortunately I have been quite badly ill twice in the last four years, both times with pneumonia. Just as we finished recording ‘Heartsick’ I had been really ill for about three months, we had to keep delaying the vocals. I think that what happens is that you have a flurry, you’ve got lots of energy, you’ve got all the gigs in the book, you go, you do it all but what people perhaps don’t realise is that when you come off stage at eleven or twelve o’clock at night, it can be a two or three hour drive home – you get home at maybe three or four o’clock in the morning, then you still have to go to work, run a house and all the other stuff. and sometimes I say to my manager, Steve, I just need a month off. Especially when we are writing a new album because I need a lot of energy for that as well, it is very energy hungry.
Your fans have not seen a great deal of you live lately, but you have not been idle, have you?
No. Absolutely not. We have been super, super busy. We have put up a few posts up to say sorry its been quiet on the gig front but we are working so hard on the third album. Having the opportunity to work with Dennis Walker is something that has to be taken extremely seriously.
Hang on – Dennis Walker? – The Dennis Walker?
Eh – yes, to work with Dennis is just such a thrill, such an accolade. Whilst I know the Malaya Blue fans are out there thinking she said she was going to do this album, whats happening we can now tell everyone what’s been going on in the background.
There has been a lot of lot of work. I have been desperate to tell everybody the exciting news, I am terrible at keeping secrets – as a songwriter I wear my heart on my sleeve, not being able to tell everyone what is going on has been driving me nuts!
I know everyone who has been behind me since day one will be thrilled to find out that this is happening and the great thing is that we are half way through this album. We have been working really hard already getting these songs figured out – very exciting.
How long have you been working with Dennis?
We have been working together since January. Five or six songs are pretty much agreed and will go on the album. There is a lot going on in that process because, there are two sides to it: one, I am writing songs that Dennis is helping me develop, teaching me his skills and passing his knowledge on which is amazing because if I can understand it properly I will always have that gift which I am forever grateful for.
But he is also sending me complete lyrics and my new role, instead of writing them is interpreting them. Making sure that even though I haven’t written them that I’m inside the story – it really fascinates me, it is really interesting process and its not something I’ve ever done before. When you work with someone like Dennis Walker who is a very, very disciplined songwriter, writes songs every single day. He is sending me songs – I said to him at the beginning, if we could get one song a month that would be great – within a couple of weeks he had sent me four songs! He must have smiled when I said one song a month, that’s my turnaround rate and I think I’m doing really well! He is just an incredible song factory.
Have you met the man in person yet?
No, we have Skyped a lot and when we can’t Skype because of internet issues we speak on the phone. Meeting Dennis and giving him a hug is now on my bucket list. Whatever happens with this campaign I hope I can one day sit down with Dennis Walker and have a cold beer with him and say: this songwriting malarkey – its not easy is it?
Most people wouldn’t know who he was in a pub in Norwich but I would have a big banner saying THIS IS DENNIS WALKER! Form an orderly queue.
I don’t suppose he is likely to play a little bass on any of the tracks is he?
Well, one can hope. In meetings with my manager Steve, which usually involves a glass of wine, we visualise Denins over here, we are all together in a big studio, with all our favourite musicians and Dennis is playing bass. But in the real world we are going to ask for one thing at a time so we don’t run out of luck!
To make this third album happen you launched a pledge campaign yesterday.
Yes the pledge campaign went live yesterday. It is the first time we have ever done anything like this, the two previous albums were self funded. This is an opportunity for fans to get involved, to help us get to where we want to go. There are all sorts of things on offer in the merch shop – there are just two potential outcomes, we get a fantastic response we raise the money and Dennis comes to the UK or it doesn’t happen… Now if it doesn’t happen that will tell me a lot more than just we haven’t raised the money, I think I would have to think really seriously about investing another big chunk of money into the third album. I’m not saying I’d quit or anything, but hopefully it will be the former outcome, but I do need to manage my expectations.
Now as we said at the top of this interview, your fans have not had many opportunities to see you live lately but one such rare chance beckons when you appear at StowBlues on 9th June. If you have been missing your fix of a live Malay Blue performance, Stowmarket is the place to be to see and listen to one of the UK’s most talented blues performers.