Mally Harpaz: my exclusive interview

This is my interview with Mally Harpaz, an excellent London-based artist who is also a great multi-instrumentalist and a very talented musical collaborator, in greater demand than ever before. Many know Mally Harpaz for her long and important collaboration with Anna Calvi, in studio and on the stage, but what they might not know is that at the moment Mally is working on her first solo album and has never stopped performing live both on her own and with many other interesting artists. She talked to me about Blind Dog Studio (the project that she’s been working on for a long time), her past and future interests in music, her recent collaboration with the Italian band Lift and obviously about her friendship with Anna Calvi, with whom she will perform again very soon.

Mally beautiful la portrayed by Barbara Müller

Mally, I know that you are very busy during this period. A lot of gigs around London. How is it going?
It’s been going great, thank you. I’ve been working on an album of my compositions in collaboration with an incredible video artist, Clara Aparicio Yoldi. Last year I also decided that I wanted to bring these compositions to life and perform them. It has been a wonderful journey as well as a challenge to reinterpret the recordings and transform them into a live version. The instrumentation on the recordings varies a lot and I have played a lot of it, but I’m grateful and fortunate to have an outstanding group of musicians. We have played at some great venues and locations and the response has been fantastic. Looking forward to doing many more in the coming months.

Are you considering playing live outside London?
Yes, absolutely!

I know you have a little but very trusty cortege at your gigs. How important is it for you?
However small or big the audience is I’m very grateful to everyone who comes and appreciate what I and my band do. There is a lot of passion and work going into it and you do feel like you give quite a lot of yourself so the support and appreciation is invaluable.

In the past you mainly participated in different projects as a band member or as a guest. Now you are performing on your own a lot. This is a considerable achievement and probably a good step in your personal career, is it not?
Yes, I have been playing in different bands and projects and I feel that composing my own music and leading my own band has been a wonderful journey but I love playing with other artists and feel it’s a hugely important part of being a musician and an artist. It’s inspiring and fulfilling. I’m very passionate about music and give as much of myself whether or not I’m the main writer or composer.

Months ago you revealed that you have started working on a solo album. Is it taking shape? Will you sing on it?
Yes, it’s coming together. I’m very happy with the way it’s sounding. It has taken a bit of a back seat since I’ve started performing live but have taken a few weeks off now so I can focus on it. I’m very excited about the prospects of releasing it and looking forward to sharing it with you. The album is predominantly instrumental and I have some brilliant vocalists guesting on it.

Mally entranced by her music; © Barbara Müller

Recently I read some news about your collaboration with the Italian band LIFT (see my  interview below). You played your Indian harmonium on two tracks in their last release called Il Primo Album in Italiano. How have you been in contact with them and could you please tell me something about the project with them?
Francesco Hewson from Lift contacted me and asked me to guest on their album, which I was very happy to do. I first met Francesco briefly while being on tour in Italy with Anna Calvi. I think they are a great band, very passionate and dedicated, and seem like really lovely people.

How can you combine and find enough time for all your different activities? From the Blind Dog Studio project to all your collaborations: Clara Aparicio Yoldi, Hazel Iris and Ciara Clifford, to mention but a few…
My diary is probably one of my most treasured possessions, ha ha ha. I live and breath music and try and keep some kind of a routine. I have my own studio at the back of my garden and most days I start working on my music – practicing, writing, rehearsing or recording – from 10 a.m. till about 7 or 8 p.m. in the evening. If I have a lot on I carry on later into the night. It’s quite hard to ever completely switch off as an artist but I think it’s also really important to take some breaks and step back.

Do you still have the dog from your studio/project is named after?
Yes! She is a true inspiration.

You play a lot of different and interesting instruments but when you were very young you started with the piano and the drums. I’m sure drums are the best to find a role in a band. Probably they made the difference in your starting career… am I right?
Drums was the first instrument I have taken seriously and I was passionate about. I’ve spent my first few years as a musician playing drums. Despite having piano lessons as a kid it wasn’t till later in my life that I picked it up again and dedicated a lot of time to it. I love all the different instruments I play, I think it’s exciting to explore sound and texture. Drums are great, as percussion instruments are infinite and you can be really creative with it. I’d say piano is my go to for composing (although I don’t compose everything on the piano) and very useful for writing arrangements for other instruments I use. It’s also a great stand alone instrument and a great escape to just sit and play on your own.

Mally and her ‘stuff’. This photo was taken during the concert by Anna Calvi in Milan on 20th October 2011, at Alcatraz. The full shooting was realized by the Italian online magazine Onstage

I’ve read about your musical influences and I had no doubts they were really diverse and varied, but I appreciated you mentioned the album Hunky Dory, as I am a David Bowie addict. Are there any other albums or songs by the Thin White Duke that you like?
Oh, I’m a big David Bowie fan! Space Oddity, Aladdin Sane, Low, Blackstar amongst others are all great albums. He was such a prolific and innovative artist!

Besides other artists’ music, where do you get inspiration? For example cinema or …?
I love films, yes, and as I mentioned before I composed a lot of my music as part of a collaboration with a video artist, so visuals are definitely a source of inspiration. I also really enjoy contemporary dance and go regularly to see art exhibitions. But I do think that inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere.

Could you please tell me something about your equipment? And which is your favourite instrument?
I’ve got a beautiful vintage 70’s Gretch drum kit. I also have some tuned percussion: a marimba, a vibraphone, a set of cortales, and a large collection of percussion instruments. And of course there is the piano and the harmonium. It’s a difficult question as I do really love all of these instruments and they are all a massive part of what I do and who I am.

In a past interview you said you love both recording in a studio and playing live, but which of these two experiences gives you more an enduring satisfaction, creatively speaking?
Again, it’s a difficult question. Being in the studio is when you get a complete creative freedom. It can be an emotional and painstaking process at times but when you create something you’re happy with and proud of it’s the most incredible and invigorating feeling. I see the live performance as a celebration of this, experiencing the raw energy of the music and an opportunity to share this experience with the people in the room.

Is it better to record in a studio with a famous and talented musician or to play live with a friend with whom you feel comfortable?
I’ve been lucky to have been playing with people that are as well as being talented and extraordinary musicians are also very close friends. I think they are both as important. Sharing music with someone can be very personal and intimate so it is always better when you have a good connection with that person.

The strangest thing that happened to you touring…
Supporting Grinderman (Nick Cave) with Anna Calvi in the early days felt quite monumental as I have been a fan since high school days.

You have collaborated with Anna Calvi for a long time, she is a very powerful vocalist and an amazing guitarist, but your contribution to her music is really key. I actually love the background you create around and inside her compositions. Has your approach changed through the years?
I think you constantly grow and evolve as a musician. I love working and playing with Anna. She is indeed an extraordinary musician and artist and a very close friend. We constantly look for different soundscape and texture. I think over the years I’ve become a lot more aware of the importance of space, subtlety, and detail and the journey within a piece of music.

A recent photo of Anna Calvi in one of her rarest public appearance, when she participated to the live show by Mally’s Blind Dog Studio, on 19th December 2017; © Barbara Müller

You met Anna when you were playing in Lunatic Crash. And the legend says your first conversation was in a bathroom. I always wondered what girls do together in public toilets. Now I know they use them to plan musical projects and to conquer the world! Any other interesting things there?
Ha ah ha… Yes, we saw each other during sound check and I thought she was amazing. We then started chatting in the bathroom and decided to meet for a jam. Anna scribbled her phone number with an eyeliner on a piece of paper. The rest is history.

A shot of Mally with Anna by Spencer Byron, appeared on Magazine in 2012

What influence has Anna’s music had on yours? And vice versa?
I’ve known Anna as a friend and fellow musician for many years and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about music, sharing ideas and playing together. She is definitely a musical soul mate. I think she is a truly gifted musician and very innovative and I love her approach to music. There are albums we’ve listened to so many times together that have a huge space in my heart. Now I’m very, very excited about the upcoming shows with her!

Imagine you are with Anna. You are not touring neither recording in a studio. Nothing concerning your music affairs. What are you doing together?
Hanging out, talking. Going to see a film or an exhibition. Playing or listening to music.

What are some of the obstacles for women in the music industry today?
I think things are improving and it’s not as unusual to have women in bands as it used to be which means you’re not as much of an outsider in the music world any more, but I think there’s still a long way to go. You’d often be referred to as a female artist if you are one rather than an artist per se. I think some people take female artists less seriously and you’d have to prove yourself twice as much.

Imagine you can choose to collaborate with an artist from the past and one from the present… who are the first names that come to your mind?
David Bowie, and Patti Smith. And once I had a really vivid dream that I was playing drums with Jimi Hendrix… and it was super cool!

www.mallyharpazmusic.co.uk

© Barbara Müller

 

My interview with the LIFT

LIFT are Sara, Giulia and Baz. They are the bass, the voice and the guitar  of a new Italian band that has recently released its Il Primo Album In Italiano, in which Mally Harpaz was guested on two tracks. If Anna Calvi has an Italian heart, her musician and friend Mally is probably the only person near her that has already collaborated with a band from the same country where Anna’s father comes from. My site has a double soul – Italian and English – like Anna, and I couldn’t give up the opportunity to interview the only Italian band that has collaborated with Mally. We talked about this collaboration, about music and… horses!

When I interviewed Mally Harpaz, she spent some really kind words about you and your last release Il Primo Album in Italiano, in which Mally is your guest in a couple of songs (Il Cammino and Aspettando quel momento). She also told me that you met each other when Anna Calvi had a gig in Italy some years ago. How did everything start?
We met her for the very first time at Ravenna Festival, in 2014. We went there to see Anna Calvi but we were already Mally’s fans, too. It was the Net to help us to stay in contact with her. To have a collaboration with her was more a wish, than an idea. We love listening to her harmonium in Anna Calvi’s albums and this was the starting point, trying to obtain a bit of that sound also for our project. To see her performing in the live dimension was decisive for us. We didn’t want anyone else. To know and to collaborate with Mally had been a privilege and now we can say how an extraordinary artist and a generous person she is! She has galvanized us, literally.

You have defined your music “horse-pop”. What does it mean?
It’s not a publicity stunt. Horse-pop is for “homemade”. Our style is certainly inspired to pop music, but each of us likes distinct musical styles and in one way or another they are and co-exist in our project. [in Italian “essere a cavallo”, to be on a horse, means to be in and share different things, ]. Then, our members come from two different regions of Italy, Umbria and Tuscany. So we can say that our band is between two worlds. But there’s also another very important reason. Our project and all its aspects were born and developed in our little studio that is located above a stable full of horses (they probably know by heart each of our songs!). To share and straddle different things, to create and play music near these beautiful animals have deeply influenced us. So we can say that “horse-pop” has a triple meaning!

What is the message behind your music?
Considering our lyrics… we can say it’s a pragmatic music, with hopeful messages. Lyrics are the most important aspect of the project, and when they are linked to the music, the resultant has to be a delightful message.

You have already won some musical prizes here in Italy, now this release… What are your projects for the future?
To have guested Mally Harpaz on our album is a prize itself, but also to collaborate with Edo Faiella from the band Kitsch, who played his guitar for us. At the moment we are planning some live dates and reharsing, but we are also demoing some new tracks that maybe will find place in the live dimension…

Sara, Giulia and Baz – aka the LIFT – on the stage; photo by Marco Leonardi

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Interviews conceived, conducted and translated by Matteo Tonolli
(Thanks to Michael Golding, Sara Captain and Barbara Müller!)

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