The universe that Malthus is crafting is at the intersection of where light battles dark, where Lynchian merges with the Royals and where good turns into sheer excellency.
Malthus, in his own prolific words, is the art and music project that he always wanted to execute but never knew how to do it until he found the proper mechanisms to do so, and we thank the heavens he did. Don’t get it twisted, Malthus has always had the intention to work on these kinds of projects, whether it was for other people or composing scores, but it’s clear that Malthus needed the time and energy to accumulate into the divine creation that it is now.
Malthus is the embodiment for everything he simply is as an artist, all in one package. What’s so refreshing about the jack of all trades is the dark and queer spin on antiquity which is often associated with an opposite universe. It’s like the figure of Malthus appears to have crawled from a painting itself, however, the juxtaposition of the heavy industrial sounds mashed and melded with grand orchestral symphonies is something entirely Malthus. The mission is for Malthus to reinvent things that perhaps have never associated with his world, until now.
Malthus, the almost dystopian composer, producer and singer has been lurking in the shadows over the years silently perfecting his craft of creating songs that appear to not be from the heart but instead ripped from the heart. After composing scores for fashion week, short features, and generally dipping his toe into every creative well he could, it’s more than time for Malthus to take centre stage.
A writer through and through, the music Malthus crafts and the heavenly stories he tells are sometimes so brutally honest that your heartstrings aren’t just plucked – they are sometimes ripped from you, and it never sounded so good. In a way, it’s a pure cathartic release for Malthus – they have a darkness to it but it’s not sad music, so to speak. It’s a release of all his energies. It’s important to write what he feels at the time and then to leave it there on the page and then release it into the ether at the stark and poetic live performances by Malthus.
Sonically, Malthus aims to modernise and put a contemporary spin on things that a lot of the time have been out of the reach of queer artists or working-class people, therefore creating the vehicle which he drives. Rather than being a safety blanket, Malthus breaks down the hypothetical wall between artist and human.
With the release of his beautifully cinematic single ‘Sew Me To You’ on Dazed and Confused, we enter the world of Malthus and you should too. With more music lurking around the corner, Malthus’ debut record is set for release in the Spring of 2020.
Is Malthus an extension of you, or is it a persona you take on?
I think Malthus started because I was doing music under my own name and doing a few projects outside of music and never really expected anything to go the way it has done. I moved to London in January with £30 and one bag and was just like ‘Ok, let’s see what happens’. I think very quickly it took over my life, much more intensely than I ever thought it would, or expected it to, or was actually possible with what I was doing. I got to the point where I definitely needed some separation between what was me and what was a project because this can very easily become your life and overwhelm you very quickly – especially if you’re not just a musician, but also directing things.
You’re sitting on every editing session of everything, you’re producing work and composing for other people – what is a job can easily turn into the realm of ego and the realm of just being overwhelming. I think you need some balance and you need an off switch, that’s what Malthus did for me really. It’s a much healthier outlet, there’s a really definite guilt that comes from being a working-class person who works in the arts, or who works freelance because you’re trained from such a young age to have a very definite life path and that probably involves a 9-5 and involves making money for someone else for most of your life.
Again, finding myself in a situation where I’m working constantly for myself, it does give you a sense of guilt, a feeling of alienation from other people. Having a project I can talk about and having Malthus, one degree of separation from Sam, really settled my mind with it. As soon as I made that separation I was able to put all my eggs in a basket and know that was what I was settling on.
For the upcoming debut EP, what was your creative process like?
I’ve been teaching myself how to produce for a few years and coming up with a lot of side projects that I wasn’t really happy with. I was working on a couple of fashion scores for people that I enjoyed doing, but didn’t feel so cohesive to me as a body of work. It happened organically where I found myself feeling it was the right time to put together essentially a presentation of what I’m about musically, what I can do and the level of production I’m at now. I’d never really felt a sense of need to do that in the past.
Music was always something I loved, but it was never the end goal, so I’d never really thought about it. I enjoyed making music for the passion of it, and showing my friends, then actually executing and releasing a project. I started with an image in my head of how the album artwork would look and I based the whole thing around that. I had the idea of taking something really 18th century-esque and adding this strange androgynous and queer character into it – Malthus I guess. I designed the face for the cover and then I sent it to Ricardo Sommer In Luxembourg who repainted the image into what it is now and that gave me the character focus for what it was.
The whole thing is like a grief process from start to end, it goes from being extremely distant to becoming more personalised. Things I do naturally take a story or a crescendo through the writing. It was inspired by so many things lyrically that it’s hard to pinpoint where it all started and came from. It’s family, it’s relationships, it’s the world, it’s isolation. It sounds super negative but the songs are actually upbeat. I listened to everything I wrote over the last 2 years and made a selection of 7 tracks and felt like that was it. It tells the story I want it to.
Going on stage as Malthus completely transformed the way I did shows, changed the energy on stage and now I don’t feel so anxious. Rather than being a safety blanket, it’s like Malthus breaks down a wall for me. People do this every day for jobs, Drag Queens for example. Our society is questioning now what is drag? More and more people dress in drag. I feel like down the line as some more ideas that I have happen, then that line will become even more blurred. We all play characters at some point in our lives but this one is just on a stage.
Do you have a favourite lyric that you have written?
There is one in a track I wrote for the EP, it’s called ‘Softer’ – “Cover myself in metal and reflect you and conduct you.” It’s about obsession.
Is it hard to put all those emotions into words?
It’s super hard sometimes, I’ve cried on stage, often people in the audience do too. I think it’s because when I am on stage in front of the audience and in front of lights, it’s like I just want to tell my truth at that point in that very minute. For people who have been through a lot, truth is quite hard to hear sometimes. The writing process in itself isn’t that hard, it’s quite cathartic. When other people hear it for the first time it can be a lot, it can make me want to take myself off for a minute. I really do give a piece of my soul when I do this, it’s the only way I’ve ever known how to do it and it’s the only way I ever see myself doing it. But it does have an emotional tax to it, you let 50-100 people into your deepest fears, traumas, emotions and then they leave after the show, but I am still left with having just done that. But, overall on balance, it’s a good thing, it’s worth it when it resonates with someone.
In terms of the video for ‘Sew Me To You’, how did the idea come about for the story it tells?
A lot of this album stemmed from violence and anger, specifically not my anger or violence, specifically other peoples. I wanted to relate something that visualises how my brain works around violence and around anger of other people and I think the video tells that story pretty bluntly actually. Maybe a bit more than intended, but it works for what it is.
I’ve always found myself on the receiving end of people’s stuff – you can feel like you don’t get how anyone else’s brains work and you don’t understand why you don’t understand others. These were all the questions I was asking myself when writing the video. Betsy Johnson and I just sat down one day to work out how we can translate the story. I wanted to visualise that abuse without being too ‘this is my life’ – I wanted it to be its own thing and tell its own story.
Is there anything you’ve learnt through writing?
Absolutely everything I’ve learnt about myself has been through writing. I can’t put many things down to things that I’ve said to myself and said I need to work on this or I need to make changes that didn’t come from writing, It is like a therapy for me and always has been, and I pride myself on the person I am for that.