Army of One: MALKA on I'm Not Your Soldier

Faced with personal and geographical upheaval, MALKA’s Tamara Schlesinger looked inward to summon her most striking and sanguine solo statement yet

Feature by Joe Goggins | 21 Feb 2020

“The difference this time was that I didn’t want to be a character any more. I wanted to be me.”

For Tamara Schlesinger, that’s amounted to a musical reinvention. It’s meant expanding beyond the deliberately narrow parameters that she set for herself when she first struck out solo as MALKA, after the apparent dissolution of her old band, folk five-piece 6 Day Riot. It’s meant opening herself up to the possibility not only of bringing in outside help, but of genuine collaboration, something she’d done her best to hive herself off from since going it alone.

It’s involved genuine introspection, too, and the tackling of her own thoughts and feelings head on, rather than leaving them to one side whilst she concerned herself with the issues of the wider world. The axis around which the transformation has revolved is a casting-off of concerns about the opinions of others, and the unapologetic following of her own path.

I’m Not Your Soldier, then, is an appropriate title for this third MALKA full-length, one that sees Schlesinger very much the commander-in-chief of her own creative army. It’s arriving via Tantrum Records, which she runs single-handedly; sometimes sunny and sometimes stormy in its sonic makeup, it’s thematically an irrepressibly positive paean to self-empowerment, independence and grace under pressure.

After years in London, where 6 Day Riot were based, Schlesinger has returned permanently to her native Glasgow, a decision sealed in part by her desire to work with the renowned producer Paul Savage, who now adds MALKA to a CV that reads like a who’s who of Scottish indie royalty, which runs from Franz Ferdinand to The Twilight Sad via Mogwai and King Creosote. “Paul was a big factor, but I was also really eager to embed myself back in the scene here,” she explains. “I’m Not Your Soldier is my coming home record, in that sense, but it’s obviously the start of a new chapter of my life and career, too.”

Key to that has been a marked change in musical direction. When Schlesinger first began work as MALKA, she was sufficiently keen for a clean break from the twinkly acoustic fare that represented 6 Day Riot’s calling card that she disregarded traditional instrumentation entirely, instead making beats and samples the basis of her palette on 2015’s Marching to Another Beat and its 2017 follow-up, Ratatatat.

“I’d been running away from 6 Day Riot a little bit, not wanting to be defined by that sound, and I think this time, I finally felt comfortable enough in my own skin to pick up instruments again and find a happy medium," Schlesinger admits. "A lot of the demos were done in my home studio, so it was a case of picking up and using whatever was around, whether that was an acoustic guitar I hadn’t used in a while, or my kids’ toys off the floor.”

Schlesinger is a mother of two and that’s something that hangs heavy over I’m Not Your Soldier. The dreamy final track, Close Your Eyes, serves a double purpose as a lullaby, whilst the abundance of playful vibrancy elsewhere (I Know, You Know and Don’t Leave Me, especially) evokes the kind of striking melodic simplicity you might associate with nursery rhymes. Get Up, meanwhile, is a triumphant reflection on the poise with which she’s juggled the personal and the professional in recent years.

“My eldest is seven now, and when she was born I remember being really nervous about whether I’d be able to carry on making music," Schlesinger tells us. "I wondered whether I’d be able to handle being a mum and this workload of writing and running the label, and I didn’t know whether the inspiration was still going to be there – I was scared it might dry up. Even recently, coming back up to Scotland, it was a daunting prospect to start afresh, and Get Up is really about how everything feels like it’s aligned in this lovely way. It’s a struggle at times but I know now that I can manage it – I can be a good mum and be creative. They don’t have to be exclusive.”

Her success in terms of that particular balancing act seems to have brought about an equilibrium in everything for Schlesinger; I’m Not Your Soldier is a record defined by the measure in its musical choices and by a palpable emotional stability, one that lends an innately upbeat air to proceedings. “It’s so easy to focus on the negative, especially at the minute,” she says. “You look at the world, and there’s no shortage of things to bring you down. I just feel like there’s so much magic and joy to be found in the little things within your own life, and the more I worked on the album the more I felt like those were the ideas I wanted to put forwards. I’m glad I did.”

I’m Not Your Soldier is released on 28 Feb via Tantrum Records
MALKA plays Stereo, Glasgow, 6 Mar