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KiNG MALA on her EP Spilt Milk
WORDS by Majo Aguilar TALENTKing Mala
Free and vulnerable, King Mala gives a turn to personal anthems with her newest release, SPILT MILK, an EP that dives into relationships and discovering what you really want. Filled with emotion and the bravery to venture past safety, Areli Castro, AKA KiNG MALA, talks about this expression through her EP's electric melodies and vibrant visual aesthetic. We talk as she's on the verge of her final tour of 2023, and discuss her creative process and the stories behind SPILT MILK.
Your stage name has a regal quality to it. Can you tell us the story behind your stage name and what it represents to you?
I was trying to think of a name for a really long time and I wanted something that felt powerful and a little bit masculine and a little bit like an alter ego. So, I decided to go with King and then Mala means 'bad woman' in Spanish, and I just felt it was a good combo of masculine and feminine and a little nod to my Hispanic roots. It took a while, but I feel like it encapsulated all the things I was trying to go for with the character.
Let’s discuss your EP, Split Milk, how did you pick up the name?
There's a lyric at the end of the whole EP, in the outro, that says, “they tell me don't cry over spilled milk, but it's seeping out my pores” And that just felt like a really good metaphor for all the songs - all the songs are incredibly emotional. It feels like a sort of purge of a lot of feelings. It's personal and vulnerable and very much my personal voice. And so, I felt like spilled milk felt like a good metaphor for everything.
I read that the EP is all about being unbothered, sort of what you explained in the song “never wanna know." A lot of people find it hard to be unbothered by their surroundings, how do you do it? What’s your technique?
That’s so funny because I care so much what people think, and I'm very nervous about how people feel about things, but I think when I'm making music, I try to just entertain myself and excite myself and do things that are very inspiring to me. There's nothing worse than leaving a session, feeling like you wrote a song because you think everybody will like it and it'll be universally accepted and digestible. That’s mid because you're not saying anything too controversial. You're not doing anything too controversial. You're not being experimental because that might upset people.
But when you leave a session where you've done something so exciting and so funny and so clever and maybe a little bit controversial, that is the best feeling in the world. And I think I'm just constantly trying to chase that song that is exciting, and I think a big part of it is just also funny. A lot of the songs on this project are very tongue in cheek, they're very cheeky and I just find that stuff exciting and inspiring to me.
One of my favourite songs in the EP is "Bug," I love the lyrics “With your loud opinions, it's like you’re trying to get under my skin." What did you want to voice with this song?
I think I was just like, generally really annoyed at men who refuse to let you live a little bit, men that won't take no for an answer and that won't leave you alone, men that won't let you have a good time at the bar. They won't stop asking for your attention and for your approval. And at the time there was someone who wouldn’t stop hitting me up despite me being like, hey, like I don't think this is the vibe, we don't get along. I don't really love what you stand for, this is gonna be it. And he just kept coming back saying give me a chance, and I was like, bro, let me live. I also had a horrible mosquito infestation in my room at the time, and I was like, this is what this feels like. I just wake up with bites and you're crawling all over me and you're invading my space and you're not letting me live.
It feels like a purge of a lot of feelings
Bug by KiNG MALA
In “Sunny side up” you sing about an unexciting routine with someone, how do you get out of this situation when a relationship has turned this way?
Oh my God. It took so many years [which] is the sad part. I feel like you get into this routine and it's comfortable but it's not great and it's not making you happy and it's not fulfilling, but it's comfortable and it's safe. And so, you stay for so long because you're like, why would I leave a safe, comfortable situation when I don't know what it's like on the other side of that? So, I stayed for too long. But I think I finally just started asking for the things that I needed out of that person, and they just simply could not do it. And I think that was the final straw, and it was done because if I'm not going to be able to get what I need and deserve, then what are we doing? That song really captured the idea of comfy, but sad.
Your visual art and music often go hand in hand in your projects. How does your art complement your music, and how do these creative outlets influence each other?
I've always been really interested in film and aesthetics and the way that the visual representation of music ties in so heavily to who you are as an artist. I also love the idea of there being a big juxtaposition between the aesthetic of an artist and the sound of an artist. So, I love when the aesthetic is darker but the sound is lighter or vice versa - I try to work with really inspiring directors and really great teams, I try to tell a story with each visual thing I do for all the different songs. I really love using the visuals as an opportunity to tell a different story and to relay different metaphors and to have more lore, I guess. I love that the visuals are an entirely separate part - they're telling a different story and they're referencing different things in the music. It just makes all of it very dimensional.
That song really captured the idea of comfy, but sad.
You've mentioned the importance of vulnerability in your music. Can you share how vulnerability has played a role in the process of SPILT MILK and specifically in the song "Dirty Dishes?"
I used to love writing from a place of confidence and trying to overcorrect and become the character that I want to be rather than necessarily writing exactly how I feel. But with this project I wanted to be more vulnerable and, I guess, truthful with how I felt, and try to convey my actual thoughts on things and my actual feelings. I feel vulnerability is important and I think also when it comes to connecting with people, there's only so many times that you can be like “I'm the coolest bitch in town." It was important for me and for my connection with the people that listen to my music that I try to be real and try to really tell a story that felt true to me. Especially with 'Dirty Dishes,' which is like, if every other song is KiNG MALA, 'Dirty Dishes' is 100% me.
"Arms Length" feels like such a personal and emotional song, can you share the background of how the idea came to you?
Yeah, I love that song. It's funny because it was a very last-minute addition. We were working on another song for the project and it just wasn't quite getting there. That day I was working with someone, and she was sort of telling me about this relationship that she was in and she had been on and off again with this person for years, and there were moments where they were like, we're soul mates and we're getting married, and there were others where he wouldn't even recognize her in public. I was thinking about that situation a lot, because I feel like we've all been in that situation where the tone shifts with someone that you're talking to. One minute you're connected and it's happening and then the next it's like it's like you're strangers again, but nothing has really changed and only you know that it's happened and you can't be upset because you were never together, and you can't ask for more because that's not what the deal was, and you're just in this weird limbo. It’s heartbreaking. Because it's so easy to break up with someone when it's a real breakup and you can be angry at them and feel all the feelings, but if you were never together then you can't even be mad.
Dirty Dishes by KiNG MALA
Sonically, the record has a very nice sort of electronic beat, but it also uses acoustic resources, so I thought it was an interesting mix. How did you achieve this sound?
Yeah, I mean, I was writing for a really long time and kind of just trying to discover the things that I loved, and all of these songs are songs I've had for a long time, most of them. Honestly, all of them I've had for over a year at least and they have all just been in the vault. This project sort of like built up slowly over time.
What would be the perfect setting for listening to this album?
It's such a good question. On first listen you should sit down in a really calm and relaxing room and put on your headphones or your air pods so you can listen to it really closely and get all the feelings from it. From top to bottom all the way through without stopping with your eyes closed, it’s such a special experience and there's so much detail in everything and it's so sick to hear everything close and upfront. After that I think you should listen in the car, listen on the way to work, listen on the way to road trips. Then, like, listen for fun, but first listen close and with no distractions.
What cities are you the most excited to play in your upcoming tour?
I'm really excited to go back to Seattle - every time I've played Seattle, it's been a really, really special show and there's just an energy there and I'm excited to play. L.A. is going to be my biggest show I've ever played and it's really exciting and we have a lot of surprises in store. I'm just really stoked for that one. It's a hometown show.
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