Interview: Mally Harpaz

Yesterday in Hollywood I had a nice chat with Mally Harpaz, the London-based multi-instrumentalist who plays with Anna Calvi. The band has a few upcoming shows in the US (LA + SF) before heading back to Europe.

Photo Credit: Rolf Neugebauer

Photo Credit: Rolf Neugebauer

After The Show: Now that you’re playing as a 4-piece rather than a 3-piece band, how has the dynamic changed?

Mally Harpaz: Adding keyboards makes the sound a lot bigger and fuller, so that feels really great and fits the new record better. It gives more room for dynamics, for the sound to grow really big and to get really small.

Are you not using the bass pedals on your harmonium anymore?

No, we’ve got a new guy, the keyboard player, to play the bass lines.

You play a lot more shows in Europe than the US…

It’s a harder tour to come to the US because everything is so far. France is really, really amazing for us as a market and it’s really nice to play. It’s harder here technically, geographically…But we always really love coming here.

You play drums, percussion, guitar, bass, piano…but what instruments that you haven’t played in this band yet could you imagine serving the music well, in terms of sound or texture?

We just started on this record using the hammered dulcimer, which is a really cinematic sound, and I think we’ll probably use more of that in the future. Tuned percussion sounds really fit the music. We might use more stuff like organs in the future.

What appeals to you about the songs on One Breath?

They’re really expressive and honest about emotions. I like the soundscape a lot. And the dynamics…It really carries you to different moods. There’s a good balance with really good songwriting and lyrics but also the music carries it, which for me is really important.

The live version of “Love Won’t Be Leaving” builds quite nicely – how much room for improvisation do you generally build into the songs?

That song particularly has a lot of room for it – the whole middle section is improvised. There are elements that come back when we play, but it’s quite free which is what’s great about the song…for all of us, it’s a lot of fun, that moment.

Can you talk about your creative process of recording instruments in the studio?

The first record and the second record were quite different in the way we approached recording them. We had like three years to record the first record, and then a lot shorter span of time [for One Breath], so it was quite different in terms of how we worked on arrangements and recordings.

A lot of the parts I actually used the piano to work out the part, but then I’d transfer it to the instrument that we chose. Some of the tuned percussion instruments, I found it easier to work out those parts on the piano and then transfer them. Some decisions were spur of the moment in the studio, some of the stuff we worked on beforehand before going to the studio. Which was really nice about this record, there were a lot of last minute studio spontaneous decisions.

I think details like hitting a drum with a timpani mallet versus a drumstick, for example, can make a big difference in the overall sound. You’ve been playing with Anna for many years…who makes those little instrumental decisions & how much collaboration is there in the band?

Anna does the writing of the music, but we do work on some arrangements together, and ideas. We get in the studio and try different things and we all suggest ideas and make decisions.

Anna Calvi's Band: Alex, Anna, Mally, & Glenn

Anna Calvi’s Band: Alex, Anna, Mally, & Glenn

The shaker you play in “Blackout” is so important because it really drives the song forward – do you ever play to a metronome at all?

Live, we never use click tracks. Some songs work better recorded to click track, but we try to keep it organic. It’s whatever fits the song best, but I think we quite prefer it without click tracks.

You were the drummer of Lunatic Crash — how did that band come together?

I started it with a really good friend of mine who’s a great musician, Eran, in London and we had different lineups over the years.

Was that band the first time that you and Anna collaborated?

Yeah, she was in that band for a short while. We used to play a lot together…we had different projects, we used to always jam a lot, she’s an amazing musician and I feel like we really connect.

What attributes make someone a good backup or session musician?

I think being a really good listener and being intuitive of what fits the music best, and being free and passionate about it. I always tend to be part of bands rather than play sessions, per se. Play music you can connect to rather than do it as a job…be creative and imaginative about whatever project you do.

How do you continue to grow and challenge yourself as a musician?

I just play all the time, when we’re not on tour usually that’s how I spend my time at home. I try to listen to more music and learn more music. I try always to push myself in different ways in terms of playing, in terms of musicality as well.

Looking ahead, like in 5 or 10 years, do you see yourself still living this touring lifestyle?

Definitely. Music is what I love…it’s my biggest passion, so I can’t really see myself doing anything else. It’s my lifestyle.

Thanks Mally! Anna Calvi plays tomorrow (Saturday November 16) at Royce Hall with Chelsea Wolfe — ticket info here.

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