Some of the best lessons in life come from high pressure moments. While slow-cooking can result in some mighty fine meals, sometimes you just have to turn up the heat in the kitchen. For the band MALK, this moment came when they stepped into the studio to record their upcoming EP Prehistoric. Meeting with the Abbotsford five-piece, I have a chance to find out more about how the experience catapulted them forward.
As I’m sitting with the band members in Victory Square, I can easily imagine MALK returning next summer to grace the stage at Music Waste’s Block Party. The band’s brand of infectiously dark, surf-pop songs would be perfect for an afternoon spent at the outdoor affair, the noir-pumped vocals of Alex Smith and Miranda Maria sure to delight the crowd.
While Smith and Maria frequently employ a call-and-answer dynamic, the two singers — with the help of lead guitarist Kyle Schick — can often be heard highlighting each other in a medley of three-part harmonies. On top of haunting vocals, much of the band’s distinctive sound can be attributed to Schick’s edgy guitar lines. The guitarist draws from a wide range of influences to craft his own tone.
“I think I have such a weird mixed love of Jimmy Page-shreddy dudes, and then also like Thurston Moore making noise with a drumstick,” says Schick. “I try to get the best of both worlds in there. Try to be melodic and exciting, but also abrasive and rash, frenetic or whatever.”
While MALK still consider themselves as a young group, they’ve been able to accomplish a lot since forming in 2013. In May, the original trio of Smith, Maria, and Schick released a three-song demo — available for streaming on their Bandcamp — with Jaydee Bateman playing drums for some of the tracks. Bateman would become a permanent member of MALK, with Lou Labbe signing on soon after to cover bass guitar duties.
Thinking back, Smith is critical of the band’s early self-titled release: “When I listen back to the demo now, it sounds like a band but it’s very all over the place. We recorded that ourselves very, very cheaply. The equipment we were using was absolute garbage. I think we had pillows and blankets over the drums.”
The inclusion of Labbe and Bateman allowed each member to focus on their own role, resulting in an overall tighter sound for the band. As Schick notes, “Everything feels a lot more cohesive. The songs sound more fully formed with a solid rhythm section.”
With their lineup complete, MALK gave recording another go-around, opting for the studio approach this time. This past July, the band paid visit to Little Red Sounds where they worked with producer Felix Fung. While the band has a lot to show for themselves with their new EP, they left the sessions with a lot more than just the recordings songs.
Smith recalls: “When we went into the studio the first time, we thought they were fully formed and then the producer-”
“-Really kicked our ass, “ Schick finishes.
“He made you want to call your mom for support,” Labbe quickly adds.
The band was jolted into top-form thanks to Fung’s sharp attention to detail and traditional approach to recording. “All of the instruments were done live off the floor,” says Schick. “No overdubbed guitar solos or anything like that. I think there’s one keyboard overdub on the tape and the rest is just the vocals that we overdubbed. The rest is live.”
Smith adds, “[Fung] records that way. He wants the band to be able to play it live. You gotta play the song. It really showed us how to play together as a band and really listen to each other.”
Fung’s old-school approach to recording can be credited with giving MALK’s new release it’s dynamic, breathing sound. The members aren’t short on words for describing how the process influenced them. “It feels like we learned a lot as a band ‘cause we got to play together while we were doing it,” explains Labbe, “as opposed to isolating tracks and doing them on their own and then putting it together and maybe trying to hear what doesn’t work. It really stood out when something didn’t fit.”
“It probably gave us a good headstart.” reflects Smith. “We wouldn’t be as good as we are now if we didn’t go through that then. The evolution would have been slower.”
With the release on the horizon, MALK shows no signs of slowing down. The band is already applying their studio-learned lessons to their next batch of tunes. As Schick notes, “I feel better every time we write a new song. It’s making more sense. Every other practice we’re trying out something new.”
With an eye to the future, Smith adds, “We already have almost enough for another EP. By the time we’re ready to record, we’ll have an excess amount.”
Expect to hear more from MALK in the future as their music spills out through your speakers — and that’s definitely nothing to cry about.
The Prehistoric EP will be released on December 13 through Wiener Records, available on cassette and as a digital download. If you can’t wait that long to hear the new songs, you can check out MALK live on November 11 at The Hindenburg as part of CITR’s Shindig.