As one of the most promising alt-R&B voices that the UK is producing right now, Mahalia has felt the shockwaves of the coronavirus like many touring artists whose lives suddenly came to a grinding halt this March. Having toured Australia in late January/early February for Laneway Festival, it was just weeks later that Australia and the world bunkered down to help flatten the coronavirus curve and stop the spread of the fatal virus. While Australia and many parts of Europe have started easing restrictions now, the UK still appears to be in the thick of the pandemic.
The UK's coronavirus death toll currently sits at just under 40,000, with scores of people still testing positive every day. Though Mahalia's hometown of London is still in lockdown, she caught up with Cool Accidents to chat about what isolation has been like, releasing the Isolation Tapes EP as a gift to fans, getting to know her new puppy Loki and how her life will never slow down this much again.
So I hear you’re moving house!
Yeah, I'm moving in four days – I was supposed to move house on Saturday and then I think probably just because of what's going on it's just going a bit slow. I’m now moving at the weekend, I’m getting everything, and trying to deal with my music life as well as all that stuff. But it's going to be good!
Are you upgrading to a bigger house or a different area?
Slightly different area, and slightly bigger. There's currently two of us living in my flat in East London and now four of us are going for a house together which is going to be lovely. So I'm going to get to live with my friends finally, because I wanted to for so long, and I’m gonna be in a house with a garden which is nice.
How good. A lot of people have been getting into gardening in isolation! How have you been feeling through isolation? The UK has been hit really hard obviously and it’s quite scary watching from over here, are you coping okay or is it all a bit much?
It’s been two months now. So I think most of us now, I think we're all maybe a little bit used to it? I think in the beginning I definitely found it really hard. I think because I’d just come from Australia and then I was like thrown into lockdown, it was all very weird after being away for so long. I've definitely sad that I'm not going to tour for a while because I think that's gonna go on for quite a while, but other than that I try to focus on all the things that I can control as opposed to everything that I can't control because that will just make me really sad!
How are you self-caring right now and what are you doing to keep busy? Your puppy Loki is the cutest! How old is she?
Other than writing and trying to do music stuff, I've been mostly playing with Loki. She’s about five months old, which is amazing. She's amazing, her character’s just getting better every day. That's been a massively fun part of this whole experience for me. When I got a puppy, I knew in my head, “okay I’m probably not see her for the first bit because I'm traveling so much, but we'll see how it goes.” And because everything got cancelled, it's really nice and really amazing to just be able to stay here and watch her grow and also have her know me as her owner, and not just random people looking after her. So for me, it's been really nice. And then it also means that the next time I go away, at least she’ll know me when I come back.
I've always been quite a stubborn person anyway, but obviously, I don't like being told that I can't so something. I've always wanted I've always wanted to have a dog. I used to have a cat. Yeah, and then realised that it wasn't really the right thing, but I've always wanted to have a dog, you know? She's gorgeous.
So you gifted us with Isolation Tapes on your birthday, when you would’ve been playing Brixton Academy! It must’ve been disappointing but it’s nice that you gifted fans with a bit of new music. Were these three songs always planned to come out in a little EP or were they supposed to be part of a larger project?
There's one song on this project and it’s called BRB, which I think probably would have been a part of a larger project because I love that song and I only wrote it in January. I was in the second album headspace when I wrote that. Yeah, and the other two, I honestly think they might’ve never seen the light. I don't know if they would’ve ever come out because I think you know, a lot of the time as artists, we don't really get to look back. We're always kind of focusing on moving forward and what's next and what are we writing about next and what does the world want to hear next, but I think, to me, it was really nice to be able to go back and choose those songs I wrote and put them out, because I don't feel like that ever really gets to happen.
It kind of reminds me of what Charli XCX has just done, because she's done her whole album how i'm feeling now in isolation, so it's almost unfiltered. You get to put out songs that you normally might not have.
Exactly. I think in a normal world, you know, particularly if you’re a signed artist, and it's interesting that you mention Charli because we're both on the same label, we work with a lot of the same people. And it's funny because I've been watching her so much and like, if anything, I feel like artists right now are trying to use this opportunity as a way to do that [put out more music]. In the real world, particularly in my instance, I feel like there's always so many opinions and I don't mind that because I've gotten used to it, but it is definitely nice to just be writing music and saying “I'm going to put this out because we’re in isolation and I feel like it'd be really nice thing to do,” and not have anybody question that. I'm definitely enjoying that part of it.
There are no rules right now, there's no rulebook. This has never happened before! Have you been feeling creative in a positive way during isolation or are you more writing as a way to offload emotions during this time?
I think I'm just enjoying being able to write alone and like, I’m so used to being in the studio with so many people, not always being the loudest person in the room. Or some days I might be leading a session, or some days, I might be quiet, depending on my mood, but it's really nice to be on my own. I have to force myself to just get on with it. And I'm really enjoying it and it's really challenging! And I love that about it.
Too Nice has a real Santana – Maria Maria vibe to me, a bit Latin. Is that what you were going for?
100%! When we wrote it, we were definitely searching for that nostalgic, cool, kind of American, kind of swing beat! Doo - doo doo doo doo. It’s that really heavy like ‘90s inspired beat and bass. Yeah, I love it.
You also just dropped a new song called All I Need with Jacob Collier and Ty Dolla Sign, how did that one come around? Did you guys all write together or remotely?
I got a call from my manager saying that Jacob Collier wanted me on a song and I remember asking, “are you sure? Does he really?” I've always watched Jacob for the longest time and it’s not that he’s been out of my league, but he’s been this kind of musical genius prodigy. I just never expected him to want me on it. I think it surprised me. So me and him got on the phone finally, and we had a chat and we basically got on FaceTime, talked about the song and then I got on it. I sent back, we get on FaceTime and it was so funny, he was like, “I really want to get a rapper on it.” I was like, “who are you thinking?” He goes, “I might just hit up Ty [Dolla $ign].” And I was like, “you fucking what? You’re gonna just hit up Ty Dolla $ign?!” And it really just fell together. I must have been on six or seven FaceTime calls with [Jacob] in the past week. He’s just a great guy and we've all been in like, we're all in our own spaces, it was all been done remotely and he just made it really simple.
It sounds super collaborative, not like you sent your verse off and then suddenly you never hear from them again until the song comes out.
Loads of back and forth, like even as I was sending him stuff, he’d be on FaceTime talking me through stuff. It was constant and even though we didn't get to be in a room together, it was definitely just pure communication and constant back and forth. Constant phone calls and emails. So it was good. Yeah, it was a really great process. He really is amazing. He's amazing. I think it's exciting because we're three artists of completely different genres and worlds, we can draw into each other's fanbases and each other spots around the world. I think it's a really great collaboration for that reason.
What are your thoughts on how the world will change forever once we’re out of the woods of this lockdown – how do you think the music world will change in the long run?
I don't know about everybody else, but I definitely think in my world, I think artists are going to want to work like this more. Because the amount of freedom that you get to just be an artist is like, out of this world. It’s definitely the first time in a long time that I feel like how I felt when I was a kid. A 13-year-old kid writing songs on my guitar. I think this time made me a little bit nostalgic about that time and about how I feel, you know, it’s made me go back to basics. And so I think maybe that's going to be something that we walk away with, everyone’s a little bit more independent. I know that I've seen a lot of people saying things like as soon as lockdown’s over, I'm going to go crazy or I'm gonna go out all the time but I don't think that's gonna happen. I think this type of thing has been really humbling for a lot of people.
My mum called me the other day, and I was saying, “I can't believe that I've been in the same place for two months.” Never ever ever. As somebody who travels, I have to count my blessings because when I'm away, all I want is to be home. Of course I get homesick and miss my friends, so I think we've all wished to spend more time at home for so long and we’re never going to get this time again. I think after this is done, I'm going to be back on the road again. So I think, particularly me, I'm trying to really take every day as it comes and grateful to have the time.