Behind the Music: Interview with Thurlby & Maletka

‘It shouldn’t be overlooked that music is as much about maximising how good you can feel, as it is about lifting you up.’

With their new track ‘Superman’ out tomorrow (19th Feb), we caught up with Thurlby & Maletka to discuss what led to the release, songwriting processes, and why creating a comfortable space for men to address mental health issues is so important. 

Describe your sound in no more than 5 words:
Positive. Inclusive. Uplifting. Energetic. Memorable. 

What are the biggest influences on your sound? 
THURLBY: Influences are always there and I take note of particular sounds in everyday life. The palette is really broad and always increasing. I never want to limit what is influencing the process of songwriting because there is always something on offer to take inspiration from. I also love unpicking songs in my head to see how other writers have shaped their lyrics, looking into rhyme structure and how they use certain syllables in a very percussive manner fascinates me. 

MALETKA: My influences come from everywhere. Whether that be a song on the radio, a book,  a news article, or a photo. I also tend to be influenced by recreating weird and cool sounds that stand out in tracks I listen to. Currently, some of my most influential artists include BICEP, IMANU, DROELOE, and TroyBoi. 

How did the collaboration between you both first come about?
MALETKA and I were both at Hills Road Sixth Form College (Cambridge) and I’d heard he was becoming known for his drum and bass music. I had helped some of our mutual friends with their music coursework by doing the vocals for them, and he reached out to get me involved with his – I think it was a Coldplay tune he was having to replicate. In that respect we managed to get the initial embarrassment phase of working together out of the way as I poorly attempted to match Chris Martin.

After we left college, MALETKA reached out to work on another single, ‘Life After Mine’, which we released in May 2019. We seemed to see eye to eye on a lot of the musical aspects and we were both very open to each other’s suggestions about what direction to take it in. I think that’s the basis of why we work well together. We both understand how to get the best of us both into the work and new release ‘Superman’ worked in much the same way. I had written the song on the guitar within a few hours and sent it to him straight away. I trusted that he would know how to elevate the sound and pull the melodies together in a different way than I would have. 

‘The whole process of number-watching streams or pushing your work for publicity can really impact how you feel about making music.’

So what is your approach when it comes to blending your different musical styles?
THURLBY: It works like a game of table tennis, it’s so much fun. I try to never say no to an idea, and Seb (MALETKA) makes that easy because he just knows how to make a track work. I start everything acoustically, and I don’t want that to change because it leaves so much room for interpretation when MALETKA starts to put his own spin on it. Then we work in tandem to layer it up and start honing in on the particular ideas we want to develop. 

MALETKA: I like to take an open approach. This is usually done by discussing the direction we want to take the track in with Josh (THURLBY), and then combining our musical influences to produce a cohesive and wicked track! We often begin the process by laying down a solid structure and then bouncing ideas back and forth until we’re happy with it. This way we get a great blend of different musical styles, whilst developing our own! 

Turning to Superman, what is the message behind the track? 
No one should ever feel alone. People seem to believe they need to be the only person that is capable of supporting them when they need help, sometimes we should let someone else be our superhero when we need them to be.  

And what led to you setting the message of the track in the way you did?
As a songwriter, it took me a long time to deconstruct my own approach in terms of lyrical themes and over the course of learning how I like to write, I found myself naturally gravitating towards writing about our need for support networks. I’ve been lucky enough to have fantastic family and friends who are always there and as a lyricist, I feel it’s a responsibility to channel that into song construction.
I’m also a massive geek when it comes to superhero movies and concepts, so we wanted to include a few references to the original Superman movie for example Clark Kent catches a bullet in the movie, so we used a snare rim that sounds like a gunshot to break the pre-chorus from the chorus.  

I hear there is going to be a follow-up remix EP. What can we expect from this and will you be collaborating with any other artists?
We are so excited to be releasing the remix EP, especially as it is a new avenue for us to be going down. When we were doing the Superman sessions, we discussed the potential for a remix to be done because I think it’s the type of song that has very adaptable melodies. It was never initially on the radar to have an EP of remixes done and actually, the idea formed at the start of the year even though we had Superman finished and mastered by late November 2020.

We have been fortunate enough to get four different artists to do remixes for us, all completely different genres from one another! They’ve all managed to capture such different aspects of the original mix and translate them in their own creative way. We wanted to leave the remixers to their creative freedoms because we wanted to be able to listen to them as genuine listeners rather than as the people who created the original mix. We are going to announce all the remixes soon, but we can promise they’re going to make you dance.

‘We both understand how to get the best of us both into the work and new release ‘Superman’ worked in much the same way.’

So why did you decide that this version of the track would be released first?
This mix felt like a perfect blend of what I had originally composed and what MALETKA elevated it to. It went through so many alterations and rewrites in order to get to the finish line, but MALETKA’s musical architecture manages to open up the sound so that the build through the instrumental elements feels natural. There’s no point at which the song feels like it’s overloaded with instruments, but we worked really hard to give the song variation throughout – having those light and shade moments keeps you interested in the song with the vocal melody being pretty predictable. The second pre-chorus, for example, is the only time we broke up the vocal with a layered sample with the word ‘hey’ (which screams pop-music), but it gives that extra colour to aid the progression into levelling up a gear for the bridge.

Looking beyond the track itself, how big do you think the link between music and mental health is?
Music is a catalyst for comprehending your emotions, the link is huge. And I think that the music’s importance to people’s mental health differs for everybody which is a lovely thing. The reception of music is individual but the sharing of it is universal. I read something a few months ago that in music ‘we don’t sell a product, we sell emotion’, so for creators, the heart of what you are putting across in the art is driven by what you feel.  

People are so dependent on music to be a supporting influence on their everyday lives, there is a reason people keep going back to the same songs. It’s because it makes us feel something and we attach meaning to them because they were playing when something happened to us. It shouldn’t be overlooked either that music is as much about maximising how good you can possibly feel as it is about lifting us up from a bad state of feeling. When people talk about mental health, there is an immediate trigger to assume it is always about someone feeling low, but mental health is also about embracing feeling the best you can when you’re in a good state of mind.  

With your tracks reflecting the impacts of mental health, how much of this comes from personal experience?
I’ve never thought of myself as someone who has suffered from severe problems related to poor mental health, nor do I have the expertise or experience to understand everything about how individuals are affected by it. My role as a songwriter is to try and communicate emotions that I’ve experienced through music. However, like anyone, there have been periods of my life so far that have been extremely difficult to deal with emotionally. It’s only because of a fantastic support network that I have that getting through those periods has been possible. And in all honesty that is what inspired Superman’s lyrics. In those times, I realised that I wasn’t in a good place and that’s when I needed not only to support myself, but remember there are superheroes around you in the form of your friends and family.  

As a songwriter, creating music is a form of escapism which can be the most fantastic way to understand how you are feeling at a certain moment. It can be a great tool for maintaining a good mental state because it doesn’t need to be created with the intention of promoting it publicly, it can just be for you as the creator to better understand yourself. In fact, the whole process of number-watching streams or pushing your work for publicity can be the most morally draining time and can really affect how you feel about making music as a whole. In terms of keeping yourself in a good frame of mind as a creative, I find it best to not think commercially until all your emotion has been released onto the work.  

Linking with this, how important do you think it is male members of society in particular to speak up about mental health issues?
I think whatever gender you are it is important to be as upfront as you feel comfortable being about your mental health, but it has to be said that men have a tendency to avoid speaking about issues surrounding it. I think it’s key to encourage men to find means of discussing their mental health rather than pressuring them into doing so. Creating a safe environment where no one feels alone, and is based on togetherness, should be the way for men to feel able to discuss their emotions. It is a stigma that men harbour their feelings, but it is also very much a reality that needs to be combatted and there is lots of fantastic work being done to create this space in which men can feel comfortable in talking about their mental health.  

What is your earliest musical memory and why has this stayed in your mind?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint one moment; I just remember music being omnipresent at home. My dad used to be in a function band and would be teaching too. Also, I have been going to musical theatre productions in London and locally since I was young, so the performative nature of music has always been in my life. That’s why I’m so keen on live music and performance, it just cannot be replicated and there is nothing that beats the feeling of when the kick drum goes straight through your chest. Moving to London has enhanced that feeling too, and COVID hasn’t hindered anyone’s love for live events. If anything, it’s made them more popular – when everyone gets their jabs the live scene is going to explode! 

And finally, what are your 3 go-to tracks, albums, or artists?
TRACK: Gold in Them Hills – Ron Sexsmith. ALBUM: Hypersonic Missiles – Sam Fender.
ARTIST: Oh Wonder. They’re just awesome.

Thanks Thurlby and Maletka for chatting with Listen to Discover

You can find out more about CALM, as well as get support and advice on issues mentioned here.

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