Popular indie artiste Mali releases Caution to the Wind, her first full-length album

Maalavika Manoj is all grown up. And we’ve followed along on what has been quite the rollercoaster ride – from her first band (Bass-in-Bridge) as a soft-spoken 17-year-old a decade ago to her first single in 2016 (Dreaming) after a move to Mumbai to her first full-length album, Caution to the Wind, released last week. Along the way, Mali, as her fans like to call her, has played on stages from Pune (NH7 Weekender) to the Wembley in London (with music director Anirudh Ravichander) and more recently, released a lockdown-inspired single (Age of Limbo) featuring a video with crowd-sourced drone footage of empty streets from 12 countries.

All set to fly, nay soar – we set sail to find out a whole lot more. This includes, why the cover art of her new eight-track LP sees Mali sitting in what appears to be a flamingo float in the middle of the ocean. Excerpts from the interview:
You started writing Caution to the Wind two years ago. And much has changed since then. Walk us through transitions, beginnings and endings through the lens of song.
The journey with Caution to the Wind began in Feb of 2019 when I approached Arnob Bal to produce my album. It had been a long-held ambition to make this record and I had all the songs written and ready to go by that point. We started an intense four-month demo-ing process which helped us get on the same page since we were both from two different worlds musically. Arnob comes from more of an electronic, hip-hop/soul background and I’m a pop/rock girl. We worked on it over the next two years, through rain and shine, protests and floods, breakups and new beginnings, and it really started to feel like the album was writing my story the same way I wrote it to begin with.

After that rather broad net question, here is a specific one. Which song on the album holds the strongest emotion for you and why?
Really? Not Really. It’s the oldest song on the album and reminds me of a time when I never thought I would get as far as making an album I would be proud of. I was at my lowest point and felt like no one could fully understand what I was going through. This song reminds me of the beginning of the climb.

You’ve said there is not a single acoustic guitar on any of the eight songs. That’s a change from the soundscape we usually associate you with.
This was a conscious choice. We were going for something more gritty tonally and so the acoustic just didn’t fit in with that palette. I will say we were tempted at times but chose to make the arrangement stronger without adding it.

We know that there’s a special story around the cover art. Do tell us.
In October 2020, I was invited on a sailing trip. It was one of the first times I left the house to be at a public gathering since I moved to Chennai during the lockdown. We sailed out into the Bay of Bengal one cloudy afternoon and one by one everyone on our boats decided to jump in. It was then that someone from another boat through their flamingo float into the ocean. I saw that flamingo float on the water against the background of endless sea and instantly decided I had to get on it. I had no plans of getting in the water up until then but that float called to me. I swam towards it, got on and looked up at the sky to see a rainbow. It was the most perfect afternoon and the first time in a long time I’d felt truly free. It reminded me that pandemic or not, there was always a rainbow in the sky if you looked up to notice it. I had someone shoot a photo of me to send to Jan Juhaniak who made the album art, and this is what we got.

We hear you are working on a Tamil track next…
The Tamil song will be an independent release with Think Music slated for later this year. The lyrics were written by the supremely talented Madhan Karky and produced by Harshan Radhakrishnan of the F16s. I don’t think I’ve heard anything like it in Tamil music so I’m excited to see how everyone responds to it.

We are ever intrigued by your Insta grid. From that lightsabre-meets-Christmas tree dress to horror flick vibes to toilet bowls as props!
I often tell people that I may not have been active on social media if not for being an independent musician. That said, I’ve found a way to enjoy it and make it a part of my life. For this album, I chose a very specific palette – pinks, purples, pastels and then hints of others to complement my album art colours, and I try to change it up for every new release. I don’t set out with any kind of social media calendar and just post what I think feels apt at the time.

Why the title Caution to the Wind?
It’s a lyric in one of the songs, Cabaret, which perfectly described the theme of all the songs. It’s also somewhat my philosophy on things since I think of myself as a pretty spontaneous person. Since the whole album is about looking on the bright side of things and continuing to live through all sorts of chaos, this was definitely the most fitting title.

Quick takes:

What is on your playlist at the moment?
Lou Hayter, Bullion, Phoebe Bridgers and then some.

When was the last time you felt inspired?
Difficult to say. I have minor epiphanies every day.

How do you get out of a creative funk?
Discover new music or watch a concert online.

What do you do when you get a melody in your head and you’re in traffic?
I sing it to myself over and over again until I find an opportunity to record it somehow. The other way of seeing it is if it’s not so memorable an idea it may not be all that good to begin with!

Are we ever going to hear a track inspired by the varied felines that feature on your social media?
Never say never. The first-ever poem I wrote when I was seven years old was called ‘My Two Cats’.

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