With a self-proclaimed bohemian streak, Polish-born London-based artist Malenka has a wealth of experience to draw from. After an unconventional upbringing surrounded by colourful characters, the star-on-the-rise left Warsaw for the British capital, living in what she describes as “a series of dodgy flat shares” as she tried her hand at beekeeping and beer-selling alongside studying psychology and pursuing music.
Taken from her debut EP Creature of Devotion “Pain Makes You Present” is a raw and honest exploration of heartbreak and an in depth-discussion of post-breakup clarity born from the pain. Reflecting on the track, Malenka explains “I wrote it when everything in my life was going wrong. But it felt like the pain of it all gave me clarity about where I was and where I wanted to be (not eating cornflakes)!” Since then her luck has certainly changed, with the singer-songwriter garnering comparisons to the likes of Lorde and Billie Eilish — it’s safe to say we predict big things from Malenka.
Head below to step into her world…
Firstly, what’s something you want the world to know about you that we’d never read anywhere else?
I’m not sure there is anything written anywhere else! This is the premiere of my debut song! I’d like the world to know that I write, play and sing my own songs – I’d be doing that even if no one was listening. “Pain Makes You Present” was mostly written very quickly, in two or three writing sessions. because the heartbreak was so overwhelming, I needed to purge the emotion quickly. As I write, all songs gain their own colour palette in my head. For “Pain Makes You Present”, the colours are generally muted – blues, greys – but with splashes of yellows and oranges. Think of one of those lonely evenings London walks, lights from cars and street lights flashing at you through the rain. That’s this single, but the colours will evolve with the different songs on the EP. We will get through the whole rainbow.
You describe your childhood as arty and bohemian. Were there any key moments that set you on a creative path?
My parents divorced when I was six, so childhood had two sides really – there was the normal part with my mum in a towerblock in Warsaw, getting up in the morning, having breakfast (cornflakes usually, funnily enough), going to school, curling up with our really fat cat and watching TV. Then there were weekends spent with my dad, who was always surrounded by artists and strange characters. He is a musician – among many other things – and having that influence, being in that environment, definitely made me want to pursue a creative life. I remember going to the homes of his friends, seeing the abstract paintings on the wall, drinking exotic teas, eating macrobiotic cake and listening to stories of living in communes. I was enchanted with this bizarre world of writers, musicians, and hippies, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Does your upbringing affect your music?
Absolutely. My music tastes were influenced by my father – Leonard Cohen is revered in our family. In the more ‘normal’ part of my upbringing, I was in a children’s church choir. So there’s that element too, even though I always sing my songs by myself, half of the time I write the harmonies as if at least three other people were singing them with me.
And of course, your upbringing shapes you in so many ways – I’m sure the way I experience and express sadness or joy was affected, and then the more extreme versions of these emotions are what I build my songs upon. So it’s all expressed; every little, or big, childhood event – even if not in very direct ways.
You know, navigating divorced parents, then moving to London at 16 and being largely on my own for much of the time. I felt uprooted many times in my life, changing homes as a kid when my parents divorced, and saying goodbye to nearly everyone I knew when I moved to England. Living in dodgy flatshares as a teen didn’t help with that. So loneliness and trying to find your place in the world are definitely themes in my songs.
You’ve done all sorts of jobs – beekeeper, selling honey-infused beer – is there anything else you’d like to try if you weren’t doing music?
Ha! I was nearly a beekeeper – I worked at an apiary and spent a lot of time with bees and would love to do more training and become the real deal. I only donned a beekeeping suit every once in a while. I mostly just fed people lots of honey and honey beer (Hiver Beer, shoutout!) and kept the bees away as best as I could.
I remember being three and considering two potential paths in life – being a singer or a kindergarten teacher. I studied psychology, which is definitely a second passion for me, maybe even child psychology. But there is so much I’m curious about. I’m a naturally curious person! I love the thought that when I’m 70, I’ll go back to university and study something like biology, architecture, or malacology. Who knows… maybe there will be a late-in-life career switch and I’ll become a snail expert!
Your lyrics are very vulnerable and raw. Do you find songwriting cathartic?
Definitely. There are situations when it’s the only thing that helps! Being freshly heartbroken, and having moved to a new city where I started from scratch was definitely one of those moments. You can’t lie when you write, if you try, it just doesn’t come out right, and the song doesn’t want to stick together. Maybe that’s why it helps, you’re forced to be completely honest with yourself, which is hard to do otherwise. And only then do the emotions really flow out. And suddenly you feel a bit exhausted but better.
The music video shows a woman desperately trying to win a competition. Do you have any hidden talent you’d be able to whip out in a competition?
I wish I had an impressive hidden talent. When I was 12 I won a class-wide ping pong tournament and I’m still proud. But I’ve not played in years. But if you fancy a game with me, I’m ready to dust off the cobwebs!
You’re eating a lot of cereal in the video! Do you do this in real life? Any particular kind?
Not since filming! I’ve had so many while making the video I’ve developed a complete aversion! I was snacking on grapes throughout the day to wipe the cornflake taste out of my mouth. These days, if I had to eat breakfast cereal, I would choose cocoa puffs, or something more exotic. Anything other than cornflakes really!
The track tackles heartbreak head-on, what are your best tips for getting over someone?
I would like to say I have it all figured out now and have a 10-step emergency plan in case of future heartbreak… But I don’t. It’s a delicate, rather desperate situation – you just do whatever you can to get through it. I’d say, be gentle with yourself. Let yourself be in pain, give yourself time. I found it much easier to get through my day when I wasn’t lying to myself that I was fine. The world becomes very soft, and tender when you walk around and you’re all torn up inside because of love.
Somehow, there’s actually something quite sweet and vulnerable about it. Having said that, I also think it’s healthy to get angry at some point! Let yourself get completely petty and write the most furious letter/poem/song possible. Break something (sticks, mugs… do your best to stay away from complete destruction though!)
Lastly, what’s next for you?
I will be releasing more music very soon, all from my upcoming ‘Creature of Devotion’ EP. It’s filled with vulnerability, heartache and the kind of hope you get when the sun starts to shine after a gloom. I hope that listening to these songs can do for someone else what writing them did for me – hug your soul and feed it enough fire to get through whatever it is you’re getting through. But as emotional as these songs are, I try to not treat it all THAT seriously. The video for this single is quite tongue in cheek because it was important to me that there’s also some humour in what I’m doing. There’s more of that coming! I can’t say much more right now but I am very excited!