Talking Music: Michael Malarkey: From Vampire Diaries To Mongrels – Part 1

Vampire Diaries actor Michael Malarkey has added another string to his boe as an alt-folk musician. Michael has just released his debut album, Mongrels and will be touring the UK during October including a date at Cardiff’s Clwb for Bach on October 23.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Michael is most famous in the acting circles for his role as the notorious Enzo in the hit CW series The Vampire Diaries. Growing up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Malarkey travelled to London to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and alongside his acting career he immersed himself in music.

Andy Howells recently chatted with Michael about his music.

When did you decide you wanted to become a musician?
I used to flip a tennis racquet over backwards when I was like 12 and pretend to play and sing along to my favourite records. The Clash, Rancid, Deftones. I used to imagine I was in my own band. I ain’t ashamed to tell you that. It was small-town Ohio in the 90’s. I was all shell toe Adidas, JNCO’s, frosted tips and braces. We used to skateboard, go out bombing, run from the cops, and drink Dr. Pepper.

I was definitely into the whole punk/ska scene for a while. Operation Ivy, NOFX, Less Than Jake, all those bands inspired me to start making my own music back in the day. I loved all that shit. Me and some buddies got a band together after high school and we just started writing songs and playing shows, just to do it. I always wanted to be the frontman as I couldn’t play any instruments. My buddy Aaron, who also played guitar in the band, gave me an old electric during those years with a practice amp and a distortion pedal and I started teaching myself bar chords.

It began with the heavy stuff and then I started working more on the acoustic years later. I never played covers. I was always more interested in writing my own stuff. Making music was never a concrete decision really, upon retrospect it just happened.

You are very well known for your role in Vampire Diaries. What made you want to side-step and reveal your musical side?
To be honest, over the years I’d invested so much time writing and working on music and playing in bands that it just seemed silly not to do something with it. From the minute I started teaching myself guitar, I wanted to get my stuff out there, but I had a lot of crippling nerves to deal with at first. A lot of self-doubt. It took me a number of years to learn how to channel that energy instead of letting it defeat me as it used to. I used to be absolutely terrified of playing solo live, but I just kept doing it and I kept writing.

Before releasing my first EP to the public, Feed the Flames, I’d already recorded four full length albums worth of material. I’m glad I waited. That old stuffs interesting, but it’s also pretty weird. The lyrics especially. I was a bit of a tweaker back then and the songs were often 6 or 7 minutes long and so cryptic even I didn’t know what the songs were about sometimes. Recently, I just felt that my songwriting had gotten to a point where I was ready to share it with people other than just my friends.

Who are your music influences?
Hundreds of different artists from Cobain to Coltrane. I’m like Rob Gordon from High Fidelity, a complete music nerd. I listen to music almost all day sometimes. My stuff probably lies somewhere between Conor Oberst and Nick Cave. Trouble is once you start naming influences people start comparing you to them and I think sometimes it compromises things. Listen to the album and you’ll probably be able to tell me what they are better than I could.

How would you describe the music you play?
Moody, narrative-driven, alt-folk, something like that. No tricks. No auto-tune. No bells and whistles.

What response have you had to it so far?
So far so good. People will either get it or they won’t. My boys back home dig it, so as far as I’m concerned, I made a great record.

  • Michael Malarkey plays Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach on October 23. Tickets are available from the usual outlets.
  • Read Part 2 of this Interview with Michael tomorrow.
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