Malea, as she’s known to fans of her pop-rock sound, had no idea when she arrived in Los Angeles that she’d wind up writing songs and performing them professionally - much less touring and opening for artists from Liz Phair to Kenny Wayne Shepherd to Train, or working with high-profile producers such as Prism’s Mark Needham (the Killers).
In fact, she had no clue until she was in high school that she even had the talent to become a singer. “I was not raised in a musical house,” she explains simply. “I had a high-school music teacher who really believed in me, who encouraged me to pursue a career as a singer." That voice, it should be noted, reminded an Orange County Register critic of “some of the best female singers of the ‘70s, ‘80s” – a list that includes Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow and Paula Cole.
It should also be noted that Malea’s voice has been heard on Broadway, MTV and radio stations and stages throughout the country. First, there’s more to say about Prism, a collection of assured originals (and one cover) on which she conveys a spectrum of moods - and a phenomenal vocal range.
Musically, it’s a further step away from her early Cali-folk influences and toward a broader pop approach that seamlessly blends mid-tempo ballads (Light after Darkness) with danceable tunes, such as "Rainbow Girl" and the propulsive first single, “Running in the Desert,” which might remind astute listeners of K.T. Tunstall or similar powerhouse vocalists. She covers a not so disco "Shadow Dancing" written by the Bee Gees. As she points out, all artists evolve.
“If you listen to all kinds of music, you’re influenced by everything around you,” Malea says. “Not just music, but the world. And you change how you want to express it. The musicians you work with can also change you. They have a different point of view, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I like that, too.’” That’s exactly what she experienced with Mark Needham. “Mark really gave me more of a sound,” she says. “My other producers were great. But I just feel like he really got me, he got my sound. He framed my music well.” That music also contains traces of her classical and operatic training at the Manhattan School of Music, which led to her casting as Tuptim in a Broadway revival of “The King and I.”
Performing on Broadway is a remarkable feat for any artist, much less one who didn’t begin training as a child. Born in Killeen, Texas, she divided her time between the Fort Hood, Texas, military base with her Korean mother, an Irish-American Green Beret father, and relatives in Korea. When she came back to the states, Malea was taken away by Child Welfare Services from her mother to live in Long Island, New York with her father’s father and step grandmother. They did not encourage her musical inclinations, and in fact, actively prevented her exposure to the potential evils of pop-culture. “The King and I” led to more acting work, including TV commercials and TV roles.
Malea’s Asian-American heritage caused casting agents to offer the tall, high cheekboned beauty mainly stereotypical Asian roles, which she found frustrating. A visit to L.A. enticed her to relocate from New York, but she admits, “I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought maybe I’d act. I knew I’d always be doing something with music, but becoming a singer-songwriter - that I just slowly found my way into.” She began teaching herself to play guitar while attending songwriters’ nights/open mic at local clubs, and slowly started penning her own tunes.
Eventually, she was ready to record her first album, 2008’s True Believer. Produced by Scott Hackwith (Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop, the Ramones), it yielded the singles “Deeper” and “Sweet Light,” both of which earned significant adult-contemporary and AAA radio airplay. It also contained her cover of the Alice Cooper ballad, “I Never Cry.” Close as Air, produced by Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams, Sheryl Crow) and Michael Patterson (Jennifer Lopez, Beck) followed in 2010. Malea scored more notice with the single, “Spinning,” including a video debut on MTV.
For 2011’s Sweet, she enlisted producer Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco); she co-wrote the title track with Nathan Meckel, and shared credit with Gary Burr for the song “Always Something” (To Believe In) and three other tracks on the album. She also covered the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” While on tours with Kenny Loggins, John Waite, or Rusted Root, Malea has always been able to support a passion of hers - animal rescue - by donating tickets and instruments, and making videos to help raise money and awareness. Malea is an active animal rights activist and she has worked at the Amanda Foundation in Los Angeles, CA for four years where she adopted two dogs.
During her 2012 Save a Life, Adopt a Pet tour, she rescued her dog, TC, while she also worked to spread awareness about animal welfare issues. Malea, with an album release and her first baby on the way, smiles and says, “I didn’t plan it that way at all, but that’s just how life goes.”
Sources: Last.fm, Wikipedia
Malea in the news
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