Katie Malco sings with a voice that sounds like it was born in your dreams. It’s warm and inviting, able to spin a delicate web of welcoming emotion, even when she sings about life’s darker moments. Her mixture of passion and vulnerability allows the songs on Failures, her debut album, to slip under your defenses and touch your heart.
“It’s a coming of age record,” Malco says from her home in the English Midlands. “It documents my life growing up. Each track expresses a pivotal time period, or an event, that I felt was a failure. Sometimes those failures led to something positive, to growth and a better understanding of myself. Sometimes they became painful regrets and lessons to be learnt.”
Malco began performing as a solo artist, accompanying herself on piano or guitar. She put out one EP, Tearing Ventricles, singing her songs with only her piano for accompaniment. It captured the intensity of her live shows, but in the seven years since it was released, she’s gone through some emotional and musical transformations.
“I stopped writing for a couple of years,” she says. “I was in a weird reclusive phase of not wanting to play shows or see anyone. When I made Ventricles, I felt the songs carried their own power in their pared down state of piano and voice. To add more would have muddied the waters. With the album, I wanted the songs to be powerful in a different way. After years of playing the songs solo on tour, I wanted them to be as big as they could be.”
“That said, we didn’t go into a fancy studio and record with a big producer,” she continues. “The band – me, drummer Andy Jenkin and bass player Stephen Davidson – recorded the whole thing by ourselves. We basically got into a room and played. We recorded the bass and drum parts first, then I spent a few weeks in the studio with Andy, working on guitars, pianos, accordion, vocals, backing vocals and other flourishes. I was so exhausted by the end of it, I couldn’t even see straight, never mind hear whether it was actually any good or not.”
“I play everything [on the album] except bass and drums. The sound was thought out – I didn’t just plug in and play. We messed around with amps and gain on every track before we laid the guitar parts down, and we’d change the sound for overdubs. We were trying to create a different acoustic space on each part, to sound as natural and ‘real’ as possible. That said, we certainly weren’t overthinking anything. We wanted it to sound live, almost ramshackle in places. I didn’t want that highly polished, clean, overly produced sound. It just doesn’t suit me.”
“The arrangements I did alone,” Malco concludes. “I always have an idea of what the drum part will be, but for the album, Stephen, Andy and I got in a practice room and worked through each one as a band, figuring out what made sense for each song. I perform solo usually, though I’m hoping a full band tour happens at some point, if venues survive this pandemic.”
Pick up a copy of Failures here