This is Michael Malarkey.
The talented singer/songwriter/actor/vampire. Well, maybe not the last one... only on screen. Michael is a great performer and for those who only know him as an actor, his music is just as good.
Finger-picking is his thing and he’s never done covers. His choice to only play original material is a brave one, albeit one that has paid off. His YouTube channel is full of brilliant original songs, including the beautiful “The Bells Still Ring,” which he wrote for his friend’s wedding. I found out what he’s got planned for his future as an artist, his all time favourite album and how he started off in a hard-core screaming band before he got to where he is now.
"I went to high school in Ohio which is where I grew up and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I started up a band with a couple mates from school and just started playing some shows. It was kind of like hardcore screamy type stuff and I was the vocalist so I did a lot of screaming and I joined another band called Shady Side and we kind of ended up touring around the mid-west. We cut an album in Nashville and I played with them for about five years. Around that time I kind of started picking up the guitar I had a friend who kind of gave me this old electric that he had and a little amp and a distortion pedal and I just basically started fumbling around and teaching myself bar chords and writing punk songs. Eventually as time went on I kind of accumulated a flamenco guitar and started kind of started teaching myself on that. I never had lessons or anything, just kind of tried things out and started constructing songs. I never played covers, it was all just stuff that I made up myself and around that time I kind of got bored of all the hardcore bands and stuff and that kind of ignited the passion for acting and so I started auditioning for drama schools."
Getting into the renowned LAMDA the first time he auditioned (the oldest drama school in the UK!), it was clear that Michael was talented and had a great passion for acting. But here was where he also realised his potential as a songwriter and he would write music all through his time at LAMDA.
"I auditioned for LAMDA and RADA here in town and got into LAMDA first time around, and I just got a one way ticket, took off and decided this is what I wanna do. It’s my calling. I always kinda kept music up on the side. When I’m in writing mode, I’ll write a few songs a month and just churn them out. I love to play."
I met up with him before his first gig in a long time at The Islington in North London. Now known by Vampire Diaries fan's as popular bad boy Enzo, his character became a huge hit with the viewers. They even took to Twitter to start a trending topic, pleading to keep Enzo on the show for Season 6.
Would you say acting is more of a passion than music?
Oh yeah, totally. Music has always been kind of a hobby for me before. Now it’s kind of at the point where it’s like you know what? I might be able to wobble both. I’m kind of at that crossroads period where I’m like okay, maybe I can make this work now that there’s a steadiness going on with my acting career. I can kind of balance the two things. But acting is first and foremost my main thing.
Tell me a bit about the song-writing process for you. How do you get into it? How would you describe your music?
My music’s very folk influenced, I do a lot of finger picking. Not too much of it is really loud although I do a few loud and pop-y numbers. But most of it’s very focused on the story telling you know, lyrically driven. Some of it’s rather ethereal but it’s kind of very kind of Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes kind of vibe. The National and groups like that. Tom Waits is a huge influence of mine and Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen so some of those greats but obviously my music doesn't sound anywhere as good as that. The song-writing process is a tricky one cos it’s kind of different every time, depending on what’s going on in my life.
Do you draw a lot from personal experience?
Absolutely. Yeah, I mean what else is there?! I feel like everyone’s music, even if it’s slightly, even if it’s at a very heightened level is drawn from some element of personal experience. But for me, I know when there’s a song inside, it’s this weird thing that happens and I go "I need to write now! I need to write. I need to write." So I get a guitar and I have no idea what the song's gonna be about but I know there’s something there. It’s like a seed or something. Sounds wanky but I’ll just start playing something and I’ll get a couple little riffs together and once I have something that sounds like what I need to explore, then I’ll start littering lyrics over top and then just start to shape it. I don’t write a poem and then put music to that or I won’t write a song with the music and put the lyrics on top. It’s a very give and take process musically and lyrically depending on also the sound of the music influences how I’m feeling about it at the time.
Ideal person to collaborate with and work with?
I’d love to do a duet with Cat Power (Chan Marshall) who I think is an amazing musician and I just love her voice and her sound and just her oddball personality. I think we’d kind of mesh well together in a song.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Today I was just listening to the new War on Drugs album which is incredible, it’s got a real 80’s sound to it you know, like Graceland, the Blue Nile type vibe and I love that. I’m a huge fan of Wild Beasts which are a group from here they're amazing. Blood Orange’s album which came out last year Cupid Deluxe blew my mind, it’s like kind of funk early-Prince kind of influenced sound. It’s really, really good. I like everything. I'm on a huge Nick Cave kick at the moment, he’s like one of my favourites and I've always been a fan of his but you know how sometimes you hear music again later on in your life and there’s a certain different kind of resonance and understanding that you get. So, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen. I went to his last stadium tour and saw him. Bless him, he’s amazing. I keep really down with the music scene, I used to work in a record store for about 6 years and when I was playing in a hardcore band in Ohio, I’d read up on all the magazines. I actually was the one who was ordering new music in cos my boss was kind of this old recovering hippy, he was like "you do it!" So, it’s very much a hobby of mine. Collecting music and being down with the new stuff that’s coming out.
All time favourite album?
Ah, this is a tough one. I love so many different kinds of music but if I had to choose one, and I'll tell you why in a minute… it would have to be Tom Waits, Rain Dogs. And it’s because it was the album that really influenced me to wanna make my own music. The fact that he kind of made such weird twisted sounds and he made his own percussion and stuff like that, just the kind of circus-y vibe that he had going on at the time, amazing.
Where do you wanna be in the next 5 – 10 years? Musically?
I haven’t even thought about it to be honest! I'm a very "live by the day" type dude, I don’t make crazy plans. I just go "I wanna be fulfilled and if what I'm doing doesn't fulfil me, then I’m gonna do something else.” I’d like to get my music out there, I’d like to put an album out… or two. I've got a lot of music and I'd like to start playing some more gigs and make it something that comes to me more naturally cos at the moment it’s something I do every once in a while. That would just be nice.
From the songs you’ve got on Youtube, what are you most excited to perform live?
There’s a song ‘The Bells Still Ring’, I posted which is an acoustic finger-picky song and it’s one of my favourite songs I’ve written and I’ll be playing that tonight. I think that may be the feature of the 10 inch that we’re gonna do perhaps, I’ll re-record that with some strings and stuff so probably that one.
What are you working on at the moment musically? Obviously you’ve been filming...
I’ve been filming yep, for a while and I’ve just got back into town a few weeks ago.
So you live in London?
Yeah, Norrrf London! And musically, I’m basically working with Danny who’s a music manager and works with Sound Diplomacy and we’ve been talking about maybe doing an album or at least getting it going because he’s always been a mate of mine, we worked in a pub together for ages. I always sent him my stuff like and been like "yo, check this out," but I never had any intention of doing anything with it. It was just sitting on the shelf, I was like "I gotta share it with somebody!" So we’ve been talking literally the past two weeks about getting something going so my immediate plans for this are to get into the studio and record probably like a ten inch record, 5, 6 songs and just get them solid. Get a couple of other musicians on board, this girl Alex, Swampmother who’s playing tonight, she plays the cello and the violin as well. She’s classically trained. I’d like to get her involved as well and get some strings on the songs. That’s the immediate plans.
What sort of stuff are you going to be performing tonight? I’ve seen on Youtube you’ve uploaded quite a lot of things recently within the last few months.
I’m gonna play quite a number of the ones tonight. Some ones that aren’t on there, a brand new one that I just wrote a couple weeks ago. It’s just gonna be me and my guitar, very simple fucking humble pub gig and I like it like that. For just a singer songwriter acoustic, having a gig like this is like ideal cos you can just feel the space. It’s intimidating when you go into a big massive auditorium with just you and your guitar, it’s like X Factor, what the hell?
Now that you’re back in London are you gonna be focusing more on your singing and your album or is acting still what you’re focusing on?
Oh yeah, I’m very much pursuing acting, I’ve got something coming up I can’t talk about it yet. Top secret. But I’ll be flying back to the States in June to work on another project but until then I’m just gonna focus on sorting out on hopefully this album and also just hanging out with mates cos I’ve been away for about six months doing Vampire diaries so I haven’t seen anybody!
I am a Vampire Diaries fan I have to admit. I hear you’re dead…
Excellent! Did you see the episode?
No, I haven’t watched it yet!
You haven’t seen it? Watch the episode. It’ll answer your questions.
How was being on TVD? Great experience?
Oh yeah, and that episode was my biggest episode, I had a huge amount of stuff to do and it was a brilliant script. I just had a blast doing it and the team over there doing it are amazing, they’re such great people. From the crew to the actors to the directors, and it just makes your life so much easier when you get into a job and everybody’s just sound as a pound you know? It’s great.
What should we be looking out for from you within the next couple of months? So the album, are you hoping to carry on doing little gigs like this too?
I’m announcing another gig tonight which I think is even gonna be smaller, very very intimate venue, basement kinda gig which I just think is cooler that way. I could go do a big whatever kind of gig but I just prefer doing these intimate gigs. It’s gonna be at the Slaughtered Lamb pub downstairs in the basement on the 17th of May, three weeks time. I just wanna get it in before I go because then I’m off to the States, but I’ll probably do some gigs in the States while I’m there as well.
Do you carry on with your music while you’re over there?
Well, the last time I was there I literally just wanted to focus on the show and then closer to the end, it was like the last month I get really pent up, when I haven’t played in a while and I was like I wanna rock out. So I was over at Ian’s house and I was like "You’ve got like 6 guitars here dude, do you mind if I take one?" and he was like "Yeah dude take one, practise you know whatever, just bring it back before you go," and I was like sweet! So I took one of his guitars and hung out with that guitar for the last month I was there and that’s when I got the idea to hit up my mate Danny here who books gigs to say I wanna do a homecoming gig and just started working through a set and tryna get some stuff going.
The fun “From Z to A” had the whole audience amused and enjoying the quirky lyrics, and there was lots of laughing at the gig at The Islington pub. Michael brought a great energy to the stage and wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself; when he began one of his tracks, he said “Hold on, that was crap” and started again. Other tracks he performed included ‘Dog House Blues’ and ‘Dancing In The Grey’, and his newest songs “Give Me A Reason” and “Perfect”, have both recently been uploaded onto his YouTube channel so make sure to check them out, along with all the other stunning tracks.
Follow Michael Malarkey on Twitter: @MKMalarkey