It was soon after her opening set for Syd at the Observatory Orange County in Santa Ana when I met with Malia to discuss her future as a solo artist, what inspired her to chase the seemingly impossible dream, growing up in a non-musical household, her hopes for the New Year, and all things in between. With her debut album “Late Bloomer” release on the horizon, her journey as a soul pop singer-songwriter is one you don’t want to miss.
Sarah Woods: So after this tour [with Syd], do you think you will be doing a tour on your own?
Malia: I really hope to, I don’t know if a tour on my own will be directly following this one. I might hop on another, as an opener for somebody else, if it’s fitting just to continue getting my feet wet cause this is my first run. Definitely in the future there will be a “Late Bloomer” tour.
Sarah: So I know you’re relatively new to music… I read some of your back-story and how you picked up a guitar and decided, “I’m going to do this!”
Malia: Yeah, I’m loving it. Everything has been great once I decided to say yes to my musical journey. Everyone started chiming in and saying yes with me, so it has been a really awesome journey. Putting out music and creating music [has been great] up to this point, and this tour has been great for growth, exposure, and I’m just really grateful that I’ve been able to do it. I did get a little sick, I’m a little sick right now, so the road is a bit demanding, but besides that, just have to figure out how to stay healthy and on my feet, and I’m good.
Sarah: Definitely. And were you friends with Syd before you started making music with her, or how did that happen?
Malia: I wandered into Syd’s studio. Her friend Matt hit me up from Instagram, back when Instagram had 15-second videos and I was posting [ones of] me with my guitar singing. So he hit me up from there and invited me to the studio. I didn’t know who they were or anything, [so] I just wandered in one day and said, “Hey guys!” and we made some real genuine shit. We became friends after that, and it allowed me to hang around and I never really left. So we became friends and then we started making music together. She helped me put out my first project and everything.
Sarah: Wow that’s really cool. So obviously Syd has had influence on your work, but do you have any big musical role models in your life that you get your sound from?
Malia: Umm not really. I grew up in a household where I wasn’t allowed to have CD’s or anything. It was kind of strange; I wasn’t surrounded by any kind of music. I always knew that I liked to sing, and I did it in choir and ever since I can remember, but it wasn’t really a music-nurturing household. So I didn’t have a lot of music, but we had VHS tapes and I had “Sister Act 2” which Lauryn Hill was in, and I just remember listening to her sing over and over again in that movie and thinking, “Wow she’s so good and so talented.” She was actually why I didn’t pursue music for the longest time because I was like, “Oh she’s so good and talented. I shouldn’t do this. She’s way better than me.” And I got stuck in that mentality of not thinking I was good enough and just riddled with self doubt, so she’s kind of an influence in a way but also part of my story of why I didn’t do music for a while because I thought [since] she was so great and talented, I shouldn’t even try. But then finally, I decided to change things after I went to school and realized I was really unhappy, and then started to do music. But, I wouldn’t say there was any one person that I’ve been looking up to or idolizing. I’ve been kind of grabbing from here and there. But honestly, people like Syd and the Internet are all so talented and I draw inspiration from them a lot.
Sarah: Oh wow. That’s really interesting. So you knew you wanted to sing during college. Did you do anything like choir in college?
Malia: No I did nothing musical. I graduated from high school, did nothing musical after that. Yeah, I stopped and said, “Okay, this is what you do. You’re going down the straight and narrow.” My mom would say a couple times, “Why don’t you sing?” and I would say, “Oh mom I’m not good enough. Don’t bring that up again, I’m going to law school.” And I just decided to go along with this story for the longest time and it was never right. But yeah, I didn’t do anything music wise all throughout college until I graduated and I was working terrible jobs that I hated. I was so unhappy and so things had to change.
Sarah: So now obviously you have found your niche and you’re really enjoying it. Was there a pivotal moment when you realized you were meant to pursue music fully?
Malia: Well, I was working those jobs that I absolutely hated and I hit a total rock bottom moment. I had just gotten out of a relationship that wasn’t fitting at all and I was just so unhappy. I wasn’t doing anything in my life that was serving me positively [so] I had to restart and reset and ask myself, “What is it that you like to do with fear aside about what people would say or about your abilities to do it? What makes you the happiest?” and that has always been singing for me, and I have always gravitated towards music, but I didn’t think that was a real [possibility] and I didn’t think I was good enough to pursue it as a career. So I hit this pivotal rock bottom moment and that’s when I decided I would do music, and from that point on it was like, “Alright, this is what you’re going to do. You said yes, there’s no more [doubt]. You decided you’re going to do this to move forward, and you have to believe first so that others will believe.” And now, here I am supporting Syd and other people believe too, so it’s great.
Sarah: Yeah you’ve gotten a lot of really positive feedback from the music community too with your singles out and next year now with your “Late Bloomer” album coming out [soon]. Are you really excited for that to happen?
Malia: I am, I’m really stoked for that to come out. I actually recorded that project over a year ago, and it’s been kind of a roller coaster trying to figure out the right way to put it out, if there is a right way. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason to it, and there have been a few hiccups, but definitely really excited to put that out cause I feel like I have grown a lot as an artist and as a person, even since I recorded that project. I’m just excited to put it out, give it to the people, and start creating more new music and good vibes to spread.
Sarah: Since you’re new to the whole musical process, touring and everything, has there been anything while on tour as an opener that you didn’t expect would happen to you?
Malia: No, everything has been pretty smooth. There have been a couple times where they have said, “Oh you’re not going to have time to sound check.” Like tonight was actually one of those nights and I was a little bit worried because I was recovering from this cold and I was like, “Oh shoot.” We’ve had a few days off since the last show. It wasn’t like back to back to back like the other nights, so I was a little worried, but no, everything has been pretty smooth. I think I’ve been really lucky and have had a blessed time [on my first tour].
Sarah: Do you know which month you’re going to release “Late Bloomer”?
Malia: Honestly I hope that it comes out this month, but I’ve been advised to not put out music during the holiday season, so I may end up waiting till January or sometime near the first of the year. Within the next month I’m hoping [for the official release], plus or minus a few days. I’m really trying to give birth to this baby and start moving on.
Sarah: And do you think with the release of the album there will be some festivals that pick you up along the way?
Malia: Hey, that would be awesome. I’m not sure what opportunities are going to arise from this, but I know it will be something. Whether it’s this project or the tour, something is going to happen. I’m just going to visualize it and not close off any possibilities and just know I’m going to continue going forward.
Sarah: So 2018 is going to be the big year for you.
Malia: Yeah, I hope so. And if it’s not, I truly am at a point now where I am embracing my journey at every step of the way. Because when I first started playing guitar, started doing music, I would get frustrated. I would think, “Aw I wish I could play this already and I wish I was doing these things already.” But, it’s not about that. It’s about every day appreciating where you are, what you have, and being grateful. I’ve started to embrace that more in my [new] mentality. So, I feel good, I feel calm, and along the way I’ll just appreciate each day.