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Orient meets Occident: A short conversation with Malena Cadiz

24 November 2023

Let’s start by telling me about your musical background and perhaps some of the influences and inspirations in your life.

Growing up, there was always music in our home. My mom would always sing around the house, my Dad and his brothers would hang out singing and playing guitar together; they sang Beatles and James Taylor and some traditional Filipino songs like “Dahil Sa’yo.” When I was a Sophomore in high school, I was living with my Dad in Singapore, and he brought home a nylon string guitar after a business trip. He taught me some chords and gave me a songbook, and I spent every day after school in my room learning songs and then started writing my own.

How much do you think moving between parents in Michigan and Singapore has flavored your music?

I think, like anyone’s early years, those formative experiences shaped who I am and what I value in life. Living in different spaces made me very adaptable but also somewhat ungrounded. I often felt like the rug could be pulled out from under me at any moment, which I think is very common for children of divorce. It makes sense that the importance of belonging and community has been central to my work. Those are themes I come back to often in my songwriting.

You’ve lived an eclectic and varied life since the last album. How many of those adventures seep into your songs on this new album?

So many, I’ve been writing very autobiographically over the past few years. But the timeline weaves between the past and present. There are recent details, like my husband’s new tattoo, walking down Division Street, or getting bit by a stranger’s chihuahua. I drew from older memories, too. “Child Again” is inspired by a party in Vermont over a decade ago, and a few songs reference streets and places in New York that were meaningful to me when I lived there.

I love your lyrical style, an ability to match throwaway lines with poignant insights, wit with wisdom…is this something that comes naturally to you, or do you work to craft this unique way of writing?

Thanks so much for noticing that. That’s one of my favorite things to hear/read in other writers’ work, and I definitely make a conscious effort to write that way. When I’ve taught songwriting before we do an exercise around that, where you say something poetic and insightful and then drop something very mundane and conversational, like “Hey, you left the dome light on.”

And what is the main thing that music and creativity give back to you personally?

Making music and being creative always calms my nervous system. It helps me navigate moments of struggle and self-doubt, gives me a place to feel both my pain and joy, and gives words to all the questions I’m grappling with. The art I love best lets me see my own story in a more compassionate, romantic light and helps me move forward.

Hellbent & Moonbound features an impressive cast of players. Can you talk a bit about who features and how you know them?

For sure, there are so many monster players on this record; I’m so grateful to everyone who has been part of it. Some of the musicians you hear on this record I met through the music community over the years, like Jason Abraham Roberts on guitar, who’s played with Norah Jones and Bedouine and many others, and Aaron Stern on bass, who’s played with Curis Harding and has a great studio, Verdugo Sound in Glassell Park. My friend Jenna Maranga and I met a few years ago on a co-write, and they did all the background vocal arrangements. I met a lot of people through my producer Andrew Lappin, who’s been working in L.A. for years and has a really beautiful community here. Like Bryan Senti, who’s an incredible composer and has a gorgeous solo project, along with Matt Musty (Grace Potter, Train), Pat Kelly (Perfume Genius, St. Vincent) and Sam Kauffman-Skloff (Angel Olsen, St. Vincent), and so many others.

Are there any plans to tour the album, and if so, where are you looking forward to playing?

I’ve got the record release show on Dec. 3rd at Gold-Diggers with my full band and Clara-Nova opening. I’m really looking forward to celebrating with our community! And I’m going out to Folk Alliance in February for the first time, which I’m excited about. Hopefully Americanafest in Nashville in September. I’m planning a summer run up the coast of California, and will probably do a Northeast and Northwest leg at some point.

And finally, what does the future hold for you, musically and otherwise?

I’m really just enjoying the afterglow of the record being out; I love hearing people’s experience of it, and getting to play the songs live is such a joy. I’m starting to get back into writing more for myself again. I just listened to a great podcast called “Witch” on the BBC, and some new song seeds are sprouting from that. Long term, I just want to keep building our lives and community here in California with my family; maybe someday, we will move somewhere we have more space, and I can adopt more husky puppies!