Interview: Maala talks debut album, supporting Flume & more

New Zealand based musician Evan Sinton, who goes by the name of Maalahad his first big break on a New Zealand talent show but don’t let that fool you because at the tender age of only 20 Maala is creating music that is mature beyond his years. With the release of his self-titled debut EP, Sinton choose to remain an enigma, and was widely well recieved with the like of NZ radio personality and worldwide tastemaker Zane Lowe premiering his tracks on his radio show Beats 1.

A year later, Maala just released the first single ‘Kind Of Love‘ off his debut album which is set for release at the end of the year and you can tell 2016 is gearing up to be a busy year for the musician who will play his debut Sydney headline show tonight at Brighton Up Bar on Oxford St before he heads back home to his native New Zealand to support Flume in massive shows.

Evan kindly took sometime off from his schedule to sit down with Spotlight Report to share with us why he got into music, how he created Maala and the excitement for reaching his dream of playing Vector Arena. Read our interview below


So for our audiences to get to know you a bit better can you tell us the moment you started making music?

The official moment I started making music would probably have been on my fourth birthday, I got a keyboard from the parents and they shoved it in the corner and said you go play that if you want but then you go through all the traditional grades and blah blah blah but then I wanted to sing, so that was just a bit of bedroom practice and then that led itself to songwriting and guitar. Slowly I expanded and then I went down the singer/songwriter path and got a bit bored of that route and I wanted to try new stuff sonically and I wanted to explore textures and I wanted to see what I could do with another instruments and on the computer. So that is what sort of triggered the Maala sound, I suppose.

I love that you picked your name through a random pile of Scrabble letters – I was tempted to bring scrabble and play but decide against it. Did you have alternative names in mind or did you just keep shuffling letters in scrabble until you were happy?

Well the scrabble thing was just a good laugh. It was just writing down lots of stuff. I basically just wrote down the alphabet and saw what looked cool together. So I actually did have a long list of names and that was just the one that made it through the knock out stages.

I did a Google search of what Maala means and apparently, if you are given the name Maala it means that you are given ‘creative, artistic, or musical expression in an original way’ according to Google.

Oh la la la, I didn’t know that.

Your artist bio said you were still working in a factory, at the time how did you stay motivated and I mean did you find it hard to get into the creative flow after a long day at work and still want to make music?

I mean that lends itself to you have to be motivated. It also becomes a tool to be motivated knowing that this is what you want to do full-time. I mean there is also that other thing where you’ve to go manage your time a bit better and make the most of that three hours when you get home but yeah that was motivating. I was working in a tool warehouse and I would be picking and packing which wasn’t the most thrilling work. But sometimes it lends itself for greater inspiration for songs as well, so it was good experience.

So after New Zealand’s Got Talent you signed onto Sony at 17. Was there a reason you didn’t immediately release music to take advantage of the limelight you were given on the show?

Yeah there was definitely a reason. For one signing with Sony meant I was working with a team who were awesome and it didn’t feel like I me verse them off the bat. I was also pretty clear, although a little naive at that age that I didn’t want to use that as a thing. I mean it was a means of exposure but it wasn’t a means of selling a brand so much. So we took our time with the project a bit more, which I’m very thankful to Sony for. They obviously could push out the New Zealand’s Got Talent even since then.

Did you regret your time on NZ’s Got Talent?

No. I think I was bitter about the experience initially, I was a bit like ‘what the hell is this?’ but looking back at it, it was an experience that has helped develop what is now. I wouldn’t want to look back at something like that negatively, it give me opportunities to do other things and it’s a weird structure where you get lifted very high, very quickly but it was important for me to sort of build my own thing.

I don’t really watch much of the Got Talent franchise, but is it like the X-Factor where someone chooses the songs for you, or do you have control over that?

In this instance I got to pick my own songs.

Well that’s not so bad, at least you get to portray the image of yourself that you want.

Exactly! Well at the time at least. I was very into doing cover songs. It was a good experience.

Was NZ Got Talent one of the reasons that you stayed quite mysterious and enigmatic for the release of the first EP, or were there other reasons behind that? Did you just want to let your music speak for itself?

MaalaI suppose it’s a bit of a cliché really. There was an aspect of branding it in a certain way that felt disassociated but I just wanted to put some cool artwork together, It wasn’t really like I don’t really want to show my face. It was just a bit of a cool image and I don’t think it needs to scream the artist behind it. It was just an EP and it was the first stone.

So why now though have you decide to ‘reveal’ more of yourself?

I feel like the music now lends itself more to that. I suppose if the EP was more reserved and more emotive or slower paced than I took from that and grew confidence, trusted myself and my brand more and I’ve just fallen in love with pop music and that was all part of it. You know getting your name out there and being confident.

It’s interesting that you say you have fallen in love with pop music because when I hear your music I don’t instantly think ‘pop’ – I mean there are some hints towards pop music but not so overtly pop. So where does that difference come from, from what you listen to what you make?

I suppose I have come to appreciate strong melodies and you find that in pop music and I love its production aesthetic. I like having at least a broad format to work around, it clears my head a bit more and that is probably why I enjoy about pop music.

Will that mean you’ll surround yourself with collaborators in the pop world to create this new album?

Well with this album, it was never a conscious thing but there is a lot of collaboration with other writers. I think that has been important just to expand and learn other things from other people. I mean like you say, you can’t hear pop pop in my music but it is just a format I use and I really enjoy that.

So you spent two years working on the EP – was there a reason it took so long?

I mean two years just finding something that worked. It was quite transitional; having just come off that show I was still very much into the singer/songwriter mode. It was just trying songs out and seeing what fit and you know I got given so much time to try find something and I’m very appreciative of that. I think it was within that last six months before it was released that we kind of found something and then we went with it.

Do you think now you have solidly established your sound and your aesthetic?

Right now, I’m confident in my sound and aesthetic right now but I think at some point that will switch and I’m sure I’ll look at things differently in a couple of months. But for now, I’m very happy with it.

So are you far into making the debut album?

Yep, it is in its final stages, just doing the final touches. So it’s exciting

Is ‘Kind of Love’ what we can expect to sound like?

It’s definitely feels like its slightly a development from the EP, but it’s more polarizing. I think the album kind of sits between there. It’s got that in your face attitude but still quite electronic.

Are you worried about having a deadline with this album, because you spent two years making the EP?

Well you have got to be a bit more fast paced and make decisions more confidentially. It does put more pressure to have a deadline. But I think it helps. If I didn’t have a deadline, I would be just taking my time and not really doing anything. So I think it’s a good thing, I also think it is a good thing because I can feel not so great about a song but just sort of have to deal with it and accept it, you know. I guess that sounds a bit pushover-y but I just got to enjoy the aspect that I can release a song that I don’t really like in that in a timeline and it will be a reflection of that.

But it is your debut album, it is the first piece of music (kind of) that you are putting out there – wouldn’t you want it to be perfect?

I think I have lost that perfectionist quality. I’m just enjoying letting go of things a bit more.

You’ll probably find that the things that you don’t find perfect, other people will be really digging…

Exactly. I don’t want to look to closely at the project and then spend ages on it.

Also with it being a debut album, do you worry about the level of other people’s input into it?

I’m at the point where I am finishing off the album and all these questions are constantly racing through my head (laughs) I care and don’t care, because I write it for me and write it consciously because I do want other people to enjoy it. So a bit of both really.

Have you worked on your live performance a fair bit, and are you on stage by yourself or with a band?

It has taken some different turns, we started with a band with a drummer and a guitarist and then it slowly just sort of change, I lost the guitarist and then I lost the drummer and now I’m sort of just on stage by myself. I think the music kind of lends itself to more electronic polished production. At this stage I think it sounds awesome.

Will you want to have a band again at some stage?

I think so. The other thing realistically is cost. I have just come off the back of some shows overseas and I suppose I’m still working my way through it and so it was a good way of just saving on some flights and that as well.

Hypothetically, you have an unlimited budget though – would you still do it?

Oh, we’d definitely get a full band of course.

Would you get some more lights and all that stuff?

Yes, I think that would be my first plan of attack to get a full production and then I’d fill out a band if I had unlimited money (laughs)

And you are supporting Flume next month, anything you are looking forward to hopefully learning from watching him play?

Well I haven’t played big shows with Maala, so it’s going to be brand new so I’m sure I’m going to learn a whole heap. But I think the one thing I’m most excited about is playing Vector, which is the Auckland show. As a kid growing up, I’ve always wanted to play there, even if it is a support.

What’s the capacity at the venue?

15,000 I think but you know as a support everyone sort of trickles in slowly but I think it’s a mental thing for me. I’m finally playing here and hopefully it is a step in the right direction.

Who have you seen at Vector Arena that blew you away?

Well my first show that I went to over there was The Foo Fighters. A great live show, I just remember saying I’d love to play there.

And that was the first concert you have ever been to as well?

Yep, I went by myself.

I mean that must be hard to live up too when you’ve seen The Foo Fighters there…

Now, I’ve got beat Dave Grohl (laughs). The pressure is on.

So just to wrap up, we decided to some fun questions. I was scrolling through your twitter the other day, and noticed you retweeted James Blunts WTF tweet about his album being $1.99, is that because you think it’s overpriced or underpriced?

(laughs) No, I just think love his reaction to things and how he doesn’t give a shit. I suppose it was just funny.

The first was where was the strangest place you ever heard your song being played and what was your reaction to it?

The first I heard ‘In The Air’ was in a pharmacy and I was so excited and I said to the person ‘That’s my song’ and they looked at me so confused as if I was sang like ‘that’s my song like that’s my jam’ kind of thing but no that was my song, so that was funny.

I saw that ‘Touch’ got play on Scream the TV show, so if you have your song played on any TV or film, which would it be?

Trying to think what ‘Kind of Love’ would be paired with. You see my TV scope is really just Game of Thrones (laughs)

 Catch Maala at Brighton Up Bar on Oxford Street tonight