Indian singer songwriter Mali recently released her debut album, Caution to the Wind. Following the release of her singles “Mango Showers” and “Absolute” (which peaked at #1 Euro Indie Music Chart), the album explores the carefree spirit of youth while facing and overcoming challenging situations in life. “The album is about working through difficult times and looking on the bright side of grim situations,” says Mali, “It is a bittersweet album that very frequently switches between painfully realistic to cautiously optimistic using a perfect blend of both classic and organic sounds as well as a wide variety of vintage and modern electro-pop sounds.”
Known as one of India’s most thought-provoking and innovative lyricists in the indie music scene, Mali’s album was dubbed as one of the most anticipated releases of 2021. We were lucky enough to speak with her about her debut full-length release.
Hi Mali! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. Before we get started, could you please introduce yourself for our Canadian readers?
Hey Cassandra, thanks for having me! It’s a pleasure to be chatting with you.
I’m Mali, an indie pop singer-songwriter and composer living between Chennai and Mumbai, India. I grew up in a fairly artistically inclined family. My grandfather was an audiophile, jazz enthusiast and used to play the harmonica in his younger days. Also, my dad used to be a break-dancer in the 80s. The one thing they had in common was their love for music and so there would never be a time when music didn’t feature in our day-to-day lives. I started learning the piano at the age of 5 and taught myself to play basic guitar at the age of 12. But the real turning point in my life was when I wrote my first song at the age of 16. I’ve been writing and performing my own music ever since. In addition to my recent LP, Caution To The Wind, I’ve released an EP and a handful of singles. Music has given me the chance to tour the country and play some of the biggest festivals in India. Besides my original music, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some big names in the Indian film music space such as Anirudh Ravichander and Oscar and Grammy award winning composer, AR Rahman.
Your recently released album Caution to the Wind is your debut full-length album. You’ve said the album is about “working through difficult times and looking on the bright side of grim situations.” Was this an overarching theme you kept in mind when writing the tracks that eventually made up the album?
All the songs on Caution to the Wind were written over the period of time bridging the end of my teenage years through to my mid 20’s. For most of us, this phase of adulthood is where we get thrown in the deep end of life and have to somehow figure it out. The kind of phase where you would have a terrible day but be able to meet your friends for a drink in the evening and forget all about it. So as much as the songs talk about struggle and overcoming difficulties, they also embody this carefree and youthful spirit for which the title seemed appropriate. The title also happens to be a line from one of the songs, Cabaret.
Looking on the bright side of grim situations seems to be a skill the entire world has been working on in the past 13 months of a global pandemic. How do you remain optimistic when faced with challenges and difficult situations?
I think all of us in this past year reached a breaking point at different times after which we let down our guards and fully surrendered to the situation. If the pandemic did anything, it definitely made the world a little smaller. I’ve learned to find joy in the simpler things and see humour in tense situations, so memes and the internet have also really helped!
The album has an incredible mix of sounds including some ballads, 80s-sounding pop bops, and edgier pop/rock tracks. Yet it all flows together quite seamlessly. How do you balance between making each track unique, but keeping the album cohesive?
What really helped is that all of them were written at different points in time, so each song was influenced by who my favourite artists were at that time. The songs in their raw form were quite varied and the challenge was to keep the album sounding sonically diverse but still belonging to a singular palette. That’s where my producer, Arnob Bal came in. He grew up in a different time and place, so he has a completely different set of influences (hip/hop, electronic music and soul) than I do, so his perspective really helped shape the sound of the album. It was pretty evident right from the start that the one thing they all had in common was a collective nostalgic vibe and were all paying homage to classic pop style of songwriting. So we really explored the use of synths, acoustic instruments, string arrangements and vocal harmonies, making sure to reference each element more than once so as to tie them all together. We also recorded all the lead vocals on the SM7B which gave this whole record a signature grittier vocal sound.
Your co-producer, Arnob Bal, is from Toronto. What was it like working together in different parts of the world?
Arnob is actually from St. Johns, Newfoundland and moved to Toronto in his mid 20s. He had been living in India for a few years when I first approached him to work on the album. We were fortunate to have both been living in Bombay for a majority of the time we spent working together until I had to move back to my hometown of Chennai in June last year. Most of the final touches were done over email and google drive links and so we had both types of working experiences on this project.
“Age of Limbo” was dubbed “India’s lockdown anthem.” The song was originally written in the late 2010s about the war in Syria, then later released in 2020. How does it feel to have the song take on this new, unexpected meaning after you released it in quarantine?
The beautiful thing about songs is that, at their core, they convey a very specific feeling. Swap out the contexts and sometimes they take on new meaning that actually starts to represent something else entirely. With “Age of Limbo,” we had no idea this song was going to be re-contextualized to a lockdown situation until the time had come to release it because it seemed too apt for the moment. Another fun fact was that we had planned to release another single altogether with a music video I was going to film in Japan. But the pandemic trampled over those plans and made it evident that this song captured the feeling of the current moment far better. That was almost exactly a year ago!
You released an awesome crowd-sourced karaoke video for “Mundane” where fans submitted videos singing the track. Some submissions included people singing while doing a handstand or singing in the shower with all their clothes on. How did you come up with the idea to create a fan-sourced karaoke video? How did you select the submissions?
I strongly believe that we as artists have to be able to entertain whether we have a stage to play on or not. I noticed that a lot of my fans found it to be a very singable melody and wanted a karaoke version for “Mundane” and that’s what sparked the idea for the Mundane Karaoke Challenge. I was quite surprised at the kind of effort some people went through for their submissions. All in all, it gave my fans and I a fun little project to work on in the midst of the lockdown and that really lifted our spirits.
You’ve mentioned you have some follow-up content coming that will be supporting this release. What can fans expect to see from you next?
Arnob and I have recently recorded a podcast series breaking down each song on the album which we plan to release soon. In addition to that, my band and I have a live recorded video performance of the album which I’m excited to put out. Hopefully over the next few months I’ll get to make another music video or two as well.
The song itself comes from a dark place. It was written at a time when it seemed like everyone around me was coping with some form of loss and unfamiliarity and so the theme of the song took shape as finding a way to reinvent and move on. When I met Richard Wyndham, the director of the music video, we both imagined a very dark visual with contrasting flashes of light and so we decided to explore a narrative alluding to reincarnation, life and death. We left the video abstract enough to allow for people to attribute their own meanings to it. But in essence, it’s the journey from darkness to the light.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I performed in Toronto a few years ago, playing at venues like the Cavern, Burdock and at U of T. It’s my dream to come back with this new arsenal of songs and tour Canada again. Until that happens, the show must go on(line), so don’t forget to check out my music, follow my channels and stay in touch.You can connect with Mali and listen to Caution to the Wind here.