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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Malena Smith Reflects On Her Musical Journey So Far

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Malena Smith Reflects On Her Musical Journey So Far

When it comes to artists worth obsessing over – we’re delighted to say our hive is buzzing with options. Our newest Honey Pop obsession, however, is none other than Malena Smith. Malena is a captivating, jaw-dropping, heartfelt, and inspirational singer-songwriter from St. Louis! Her music is like her own “coming-of-age story.” Playing out in a funky and encapsulating way that she intricately weaves for you as you listen, or dance, along!

Currently working on a full body of work produced by none other than her trusted mentor Brian Owens, both of Malena Smith’s new singles have us journalling our hearts away already. Her latest release, ‘18,’ is a funky reflective anthem over the last decade of her life and career. Additionally,  ‘Betray Myself’ is a deep look into the parts of herself that she isn’t the proudest of. But as she lays out the track for us, honoring your better good is always the way to go. Even if it hurts sometimes

We had the honor of getting to talk with Malena about her new releases, triumphs, and so much more! Make sure to listen to Malena’s music while reading along; you deserve a full story, honey! 

Image Source: Courtesy of Brooklyn Basement Records

First off, welcome to The Honey POP! We are beyond excited to get to talk to you. How are you feeling now that you have fully stepped into your role as a solo artist and are making waves?
Hi! Thank you so much for having me! I’m feeling great today! I’m incredibly grateful for this time in my career. I’m learning a lot about myself, my artistry, and the industry in a short timeframe – it’s really a priceless time. Of course, there definitely are times when it’s scary and anxiety-inducing stepping out on my own and putting myself, stories, and songs out there – mainly because of the unknown. But I take it one day at a time, lean into my friends, family, and faith and make an effort to stay optimistic and grateful!

Studying classical music in college isn’t something all artists have in their toolkits! What would you say was the biggest tip or tool you learned during your time studying classical music? And what’s something you’d say to someone considering doing the same?
I feel like the biggest tangible tools that I learned during my time studying classical music in college were vocal and breathing techniques in singing. I definitely learned what I was capable of vocally as well because I was a jazz singer at the time who loved to only use the lower register of my voice. However, my voice teachers in college were the first ones to start encouraging me to explore my range. Beyond that, I learned SO much more! I don’t even think I could cover it all. As a person, I learned a lot about pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, working in creative spaces with others, and opening myself up to new experiences.

Okay so we’d be lying if we said we haven’t watched your An Intimate Christmas with Malena Smith & Friends a handful of times now. We can only imagine the energy of bringing musicians you admire and love to join you for a time of just pure vibes. And not only do we want to know where we apply to become a part of the & Friends bunch, but we want to hear about what that was for you! Can you tell us about what that night not only was like, but also felt like for you?
Aww thank you! Glad you enjoyed it! It was such a special night! Christmas is my favorite holiday for a lot of reasons and one of them being the music of the season!

In 2019, I hosted my first An Intimate Christmas live concert in a small lounge here in my hometown of St. Louis with a trio of my musician friends and sold almost 3 times my ticket sales goal. So with that, I decided to make An Intimate Christmas a yearly tradition. However, the pandemic hit,  so for Christmas 2020 and 2021, I had to go virtual with the show. In 2020, going live from my home on Instagram and Facebook with my friend playing piano along with me. Then, in 2021, I had the privilege of starring in a short film called, An Intimate Christmas that aired on PBS Nine in St. Louis and surrounding areas. So, this most recent show that you saw online from 2022 was my first live Christmas show in 3 years.

The show was a part of World Chess Hall of Fame’s Concert Series, curated by my mentor, Brian Owens. It sold out 3 weeks beforehand, which made me feel incredibly supported and excited to bring the show back in person! And the “Friends” were all amazing! Brian sang a couple of duets with me, my co-writer and dear friend, Sonca Nguyen sang an unreleased original with me, and the instrumentalists: Antonio Foster, Nathan Pence, and Des Jones are all dear friends of mine who happen to be incredibly talented. I felt totally like myself on stage that night and it felt good to get to celebrate the holiday with a room full of people again – I will never take that for granted!

You’ve spent a lot of time in the music industry in a multitude of capacities. When you look back at the last decade, are there any moments or events that you consider massive steps into who you are musically right now? 
So many important moments to choose from, but I land on one massive moment off the top of my head and that was beginning to work with my mentor, Brian Owens.

Mentorship truly changed the trajectory of my career and my artistry. I met Brian while I was still in college and not quite sure what steps I needed to take to achieve my goal of building a career as a singer-songwriter. Brian was someone who had in fact done that as a singer-songwriter and lived in my hometown of St. Louis, which at the time felt like an anomaly. This was 7 years ago and I can honestly say that the majority of what I’ve learned and done professionally since then, I owe Brian a great amount of thanks for. He’s pushed me vocally, professionally, and most importantly, as a human to be my best self over the years. He also produced both of my released singles ‘Betray Myself’ and ’18’ and more to come!

Speaking of the last decade of your career, ‘18’ is insane! We love the way you’re delivering a massive truth bomb but giving it the funk assets so everyone can dance along to their own reflections. Can you tell us about the process behind creating ‘18?’
Thank you so much! I’m happy with and proud of this record for a lot of reasons! It’s so much fun and just feels so good to me every time I listen! I wrote this with my group of songwriting friends: Sonca Nguyen, Joshua “Paco” Lee, and Jack Pordea wrote this song after writing a handful of other songs that we realized had a common theme of me “coming-of-age in my twenties.” So we wrote ’18’ out of thin air after a brainstorming session trying to find another song topic that would coincide with this theme.

We were all thinking about what we would tell our 18-year-old selves. Personally, I really struggled around 18 years old with figuring out which route to take with college vs. career. 10 years later, at 28 years old writing this song, I realized how much regret and anguish I had been holding onto internally in feeling that the choices that I had made around 18 were the wrong choices for my career goals.

This song was healing for me, in that I realized while writing it that I wouldn’t go back and change anything because I’m so grateful for everything else that I’ve gained along the way. One more fun fact: when we first wrote this song, it had a completely different chorus musically and lyrically. Other people liked it, but I just couldn’t get with it, so 6 months later we wrote a brand new chorus that you hear today!

We had so much fun reading about all the different places you’ve performed in over the years! Is there a specific place that you love to play in the most? Or one you that surprised you the most one way or another?
Yes, Japan! I could ramble for days about Japan, but I’ll keep it short! I supported Brian Owens on tour there in 2019 and when I say they treat you like gold over there, I mean it! The attention to detail was impeccable. I was the only woman in our band, and every night (totally unprompted) the stagehands put a straw in my water bottle specifically, so that I wouldn’t mess up my lipgloss on stage. I’d never seen that at any show in the United States. Everyone there is so incredibly kind and they LOVE American soul music so much over there. Trip of a lifetime!

You’ve mentioned before that this album is only going to get more vulnerable and honest as we get to hear more of it. Is there a specific track you’re looking forward to us hearing the most?
Oh man, that’s such a hard question because each of these songs feel like my children! I don’t have children, but I hear that every parent has a secret favorite (I’m an only child). My current “secret favorite” that I can’t wait for people to hear is a song called, ‘Paralyzed.’ I don’t want to give it away but it’s an emotional anthem to me that I hope makes anyone who sees themselves in the story feel less alone. 

‘Betray Myself’ is absolutely breathtaking, and we love the way it’s like watching you unravel years and moments you might not want to keep with you forever. When you’re working on something as vulnerable as ‘Betray Myself,’ is that something that takes time to create like all healing does. Or do tracks like this come more so in bursts when you’re feeling prompted to look into that part of yourself?
Such an awesome question (all of these questions are great) – I’m realizing that some of my most introspective lyrics have come in bursts. It’s almost like a dam of emotions breaking if you will.

See Also

Verse lines and the chorus for ‘Betray Myself’ really just spilled out so fast and I was driving on a solo road trip, so I almost couldn’t pull out my phone fast enough to record. ‘Paralyzed’ was also this way for me when I started writing it a few years ago. Both of these songs and others that have been introspective lyrically for me, have healed me more in the process of writing them. I’m so grateful too that with ‘Betray Myself’ (and ‘Paralyzed’) I brought these songs to my mainstay songwriting team and talked through my feelings and emotions behind these songs and they created a safe creative space for me, but also could relate personally in ways that made these songs even better.

The struggle that you depict in ‘Betray Myself’ is one that a lot of people know all too well. It doesn’t have to be an “addiction” to be something that you’re using to hurt yourself with. What would you say to anyone who is in a similar headspace that you were before making the choice to be sober?
Great question and yes, just like you said: don’t have to have an addiction to be betraying yourself. First, I want to be clear in saying that my issue with alcohol was an unhealthy relationship vs. alcoholism. I struggled with “gray-area drinking” which is alcohol abuse vs. addiction. I never want to belittle the struggle of people who have fought the disease of alcoholism.

But what I would say to anyone who feels that anything in their life is making them betray themselves, ask yourself how is this thing serving me? One of the biggest things that made me stop drinking was realizing that drinking was no longer “fun” for me, I was harming my body to the point of blacking out occasionally, I almost always felt worse about myself when I drank, and I just started to think deeply about why I was okay with hurting myself in this way. Once I realized that I couldn’t name one way that alcohol was serving me well or adding to my life, but I could name a list of ways that it was tearing me apart, I knew that something needed to change.

Alright, last question we promise! To everyone who is about to get to hear and see you in a brand new light as your art is shared with the world: What do you want them to keep in mind most when listening to ‘18’ and all your other new music?
What I want people to keep in mind most when listening to ’18’ is that every second of life is a gift, even if in disguise, even if it’s conflicting. There’s usually something to learn in the tension. Enjoy your life, have fun, don’t regret a moment of it, and when you look back on things that you wish you could have re-done, try to find a silver lining. Nothing is wasted. You don’t lose, you simply learn. God uses all of it for good. For ’18’ and all of my songs, I just want people to feel seen, understood, and less alone. We’re not meant to be islands as people and I feel like if I can do anything to connect to someone, even through a song lyric, then that’s what it’s all about. 

Image Source: Courtesy of Brooklyn Basement Records

What did we tell you? An absolute powerhouse and *hopefully* our newest honeybee! If there’s one thing we can promise, it’s that the second we get our hands on ‘Paralyzer’ we’ll be right back here to tell you about it. Another huge thank you to Malena Smith for taking the time to chat with us. We had so much not only getting to know her but her amazing talents!

Ready to buzz onto some more interviews? We’ve got you!


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