Walking down the street is a rhythmic tribal routine for Tamara Schlesinger AKA Malka. A pound with the left foot conjures the sound of a djembe drum beating in the dense African jungle. And as the right foot lowers onto the urban concrete, sounds reminiscent of euphonious stamping by the sub-Saharan Nguni tribe are cemented within Tamara’s mind.
Tamara says: “Musically I guess I’m a weird artist who doesn’t listen to anyone else when I’m writing!
“I walk down the street moving to the rhythm of my feet. If I haven’t written a song in a while I feel quite stressed – writing is a great way to ease that. I always think maybe I’ve had enough once the album is out but I never have. I love tribal rhythmic drums so that’s why my sound is very much like that.”
The former frontwoman of alt-folk collective 6 Day Riot, Tamara’s musical past screams teen drama soundtrack amongst other TV series, Hollywood blockbuster hits and online campaigns.
The songwriter’s music has appeared on Skins, Degrassi Next Class, Topshop and Central St Martin’s online campaign, adverts such as Andrex, MTV’s Catfish, Scream 4 and the mesmerising thriller 127 Hours (she co-wrote the trailer with composer Deadly Avenger) starring James Franco.
She first made a name for herself as lead singer of band 6 Day Riot. Unlike their peers, 6 Day Riot didn’t want to blend in and be invisible in the folk scene so their look was perhaps more memorable than some of the other bands.
Tamara recalls: ”Back in the early days with 6 Day Riot we were in the folk scene and didn’t want to turn up in jeans and a folky look so we created a visual identity and I made my own headpiece.”
Though they gained notoriety when their song Run For Your Life was used in the Scream 4 soundtrack, their promised popularity in the wake of Mumford & Sons fizzled out. Yet the energy of their feline tour de force has reared her creative head.
It seems apt that Tamara has now changed her name to her arty alter ego Malka – Hebrew for Queen. Like Lady Gaga, Tamara clearly needs a vessel to express her artistic creations so Malka has been born.
Of course, if the Central Saint Martin’s art graduate hadn’t prematurely ended an amazing Scottish gymnast career then we may have seen Tamara in another form.
Having trained at a young age at an East Kilbride gymnastics club in South Lanarkshire, the talented gymnast looked like she was going the distance during her teenage years but sadly an injury determined her outcome in the gymnastics scene.
Thankfully her time as a gymnast had taught her a thing or two about dedication and deadlines.
Tamara recalls: “When I was five years old I competed for Scotland and the UK in gymnastics and was Scottish champion for the next four years. I’d probably say I’m ahead of all my deadlines so it’s (gymnastics) been really important to me and I guess training as a gymnast has given me confidence. You have to train hard hitting your targets. I still remember the feeling and have a four year-old daughter who’s already training.
“One thing about gymnastics, if you’re too intelligent you might not go for it because you don’t think about the injuries and how you might get hurt! I was kind of daft. All I ever thought I’d do is gymnastics.
“The only other thing I was good at was Art so I studied a foundation course at Cardonald College (now Glasgow Clyde College) and got into Central St Martin’s in London.
“I finished my degree because I thought it was important to finish it but I realised it was music I was more interested in. All the Arts are connected anyway.”
Considering the multi-talented Glaswegian is a cultural powerhouse with enough drive and energy that she could easily single-handedly run her own record company it comes as no surprise that that’s exactly what she did!
Tamara reveals why: “Back in the day Universal and all the majors (labels) were interested in signing our band 6 Day Riot but there were so many restrictions and we wanted to be who we wanted to be.
“We got an indie deal but the record company who signed us went bust. Respected music industry lawyer Anne Harrison said, “Do it yourself” and that’s what I did! I started Tantrum Records. I’m not a control freak – I’ve been let down by different managers and different people. My team at Tantrum does it all for me now.
“Sometimes it’s too much and it’s awful. Everything’s crashing around and I’m thinking ‘I need to do artwork for the vinyl release and get deadlines’ and I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I do this but I kind of love it!”
Though she may have her own team, Tamara’s not too big to do what most artists like Paloma Faith do when they start out – last year at an award ceremony Paloma recalled pasting posters in the underground to promote herself. “I still go around putting posters up when I get a gig. I’m constantly organising booking our gigs. When we started off gigging we would be busking in that city and we’d set up in the street.”
The Glasgow singer and co-producer’s debut album in 2015, Marching To Another Beat, felt like the start of something that was going to grow as big as Florence and the Machine. And if single Falling is anything to go by then her new album Ratatatat released on October 20 is sure to impress her followers and more besides.
Tamara reveals: “Ratatatat is about disillusionment of what’s going on in the world and hoping that something will change. It’s expressing the stuff with the NHS and everything else but it’s a pop record.
“A lot of the songs mean something to me but lyrically they could mean something else.”
Interview by Susie Daniels
Malka plays Edinburgh Sneaky Pete’s on November 1 and Glasgow Hug and Pint on November 2.