An Interview with The Malah

"Vibes in the room forever change the ambiance each and every session, setting the music of The Malah in a class of it's own."

Interview by: Chris Robie

Photo's by: Lindsay Chandler & Buffy Bender

Elliot Vaughn: Bass, Electronic
Brandon Maynard: Guitar, Electronics
Seth Fankhauser: Drums
Chris Mohsseni: Sound


HGMN: So, the last time I really talked to you guys was back at Trinumeral. What's been going on since then?

Brandon: We've been working on a new album. We're going to try and get it done by the end of the year. We built a new studio back in Greenville. We just got a new house...

HGMN: Built a new studio?

Brandon: Instead of spending money on studio time, like a professional studio, we kind of re-engineered our band room/living space. We built a drum room. Basically, it's just fully compassed. It's kind of an odd shape so we get a real unique sound out of it. Seth works at a rink, he's ice maintenance there and he got the whole rubber flooring for the walls of the studio. We used that to line the inside of it. Josh over here, he does photography with us. His Dad does drywall. He's a decent carpenter...

Seth: Jack of all trades.

Brandon: Yeah, He helped with the design and we all just stuck it together and it turned out real well. And we're going to take time to get a really unique dead drum recording and do a lot of live instrumentation and stuff.

HGMN: You guys live there?IMG_9489_2

Brandon: Me and Chris live there.

Elliot: It allows us to take our time in the studio and be really creative.

Brandon: Chris is our engineer and he records and masters everything.

Elliot: So now we got this new drum room and we're getting some really good drum recordings.

Seth: Yeah. It's definitely some of the best recordings we've done.

HGMN: Your last album was recorded live. Is this going to be anything like your last album?

Seth: We did that album in a restaurant that we grew up with in Greenville. We just had some friends come out and we played the show, did the recordings and did a little bit of tweaking to it and that's it. We wanted that raw feel. There is some mastering stuff done for sure but nothing...

Elliot: As far as the performance it's we play.

Brandon: We want this new one to be well written but it's not going to be deterred from what we're actually going to be able to produce live. We're actually going to be able to replicate it. 

HGMN: Do you guys still produce everything yourselves?

Brandon: Yeah, we did everything on all our albums.

Elliot: All the producing, mastering... So we're excited for our third album because it's a definite jump from our first album to our second album, in our minds, as far as sound quality and even the music quality.

HGMN: What do you mean by music quality?

Brandon: Learning (Laughs)

Elliot: Yeah, we're always learning, trying new ideas and expanding on our sound. It's cool to see it progress from one album to the next. We're trying to keep it so we can do an album a year and keep that going so we can...

Seth: We're a little behind but we'll be there.

Brandon: We're almost there.

Are these songs on the upcoming album brand new or have they been road tested?

Elliot: Some of them are re-writes of older songs. We do that a lot. We have a large catalog of older songs that we end up pulling back in and completely re-writing them.

There's only like 5 that we've never, ever played live before.

HGMN: What's one of the songs on the new album that's an old re-worked song?

Seth: Stealth.

Brandon: Stealth and Sonar are two kinds of twin songs. They are different but they really go well together. They've been completely revamped. If you go back to some of our 2005 recordings you can find them.

Elliot: A lot of our older songs are up on archive.

Brandon: We played both of them back to back at the HGMN party. If you hear those, about the only thing the same as that is the samples and guitar and then everything else has been completely redone. We tried to keep the same theme but what we know now we can put into that song.
HGMN: Are you guys using more samples now?

Brandon: Yeah, we're using a lot more sound design samples. We make all of our sounds from scratch and all of our samples. We use some stuff, kind of like Telepath, tribal CDs and DVD's and stuff but we'll sample the stuff that you can't replicate but if I wanted a guitar or flute I'll try to get it myself. 

Elliot: And that's all part of the learning process that we've learned a lot recently is how to work with the samples more, how to interact with them more. Just with the past few albums we're kind of learning to leave more space with the samples and with our own music - learn where we're going to fill in with the drums and the melodies and everything...

Seth: Not so much using more samples but how they actually interact with each song. Instead of having like eight sounds going at one time, have like two or three but making them evolve and stuff to a point where they don't sound the same all the time. It's easier that way, I think.

HGMN: Do you have a release date in mind?

Brandon: Probably fall.

Chris: One of the mistakes that we have made with the other albums was "stamping" a date and then as it gets towards the end you find yourself rushing the last couple weeks.

Elliot: Yeah, we don't want to rush this one and we're going to be traveling a good bit in the spring. But hopefully late in the summer we'll have some time to really get in and focus on it and try and get it out in the fall.
HGMN: Any guest musicians on the new album?

Seth: You never know, really. It seems like they always just kind of happen when they happen. Like 'Voyage of Radiowaves' was actually Chris's sister producing vocal tracks for us. It just kind of happened and we stuck with it. It was good but who knows... It would be cool to have something thrown in there but I guess we'll just see.

What other sort of instrumentation would you be looking for? Horns?

Elliot: Yeah, that would be cool, a horns track, vocals.

Brandon: Something that we can't replicate. Like, we really want his (Seth's) mom to play the harp. That's always been our dream.

Elliot: Some orchestra stuff.

HGMN: Wait, you can't even get your own mom to play on the album?

Seth: (Laughs) She would.

Brandon: She would do it.

Seth: We just haven't figured out the track yet.

Elliot: Aw man, I think it would be great.

Seth: I always had the idea that if we ever did that it would have to be like the perfect track. Yeah, it will happen for sure some day.

HGMN: Do you guys have a title for the album yet?

Elliot: No. We just want to take our time and really be creative with this one. The last one was a live album. It was not necessarily rushed but all the tracks were recorded in one night and then we just kinda mastered them.

Do you already have all the tracks in mind or are you still working on material?

Seth: We have three or four that we know that we're going to put on there and then we've got an idea of a couple...

Brandon: Whatever seems to work out with it.

HGMN: Do you guys normally play them live first?

Brandon: Yeah.

Elliot: Our tracks will go through different phases. We'll write a track and then start playing it live. After a couple weeks of shows we'll go and change this...playing it live is like the test grounds for all of our songs.

Brandon: We'll see how the people respond to it. We've got to move people.

Seth: And their never the same, either, when you write a new track. Getting enough practice time to where it's like perfect right before you go play, that's impossible to do sometimes. Playing it live you have to play it. It forces it out of ya. And then at the next show I'm like, "Ah, I did that last time I'm going to try this this time. So it's never really the same. Sometimes we'll play a version and we're like, "That's it right there".

Elliot: And it helps so much having Chris, our sound engineer. He records all our shows at every show so we can just go back and listen to it.

HGMN: I'm really impressed with the quality of the recordings.

Chris: It's funny you say that because I actually had a problem for the first couple years of recording. I wanted to make every show sound so good that I would spend nine or ten hours mastering that one show.

Brandon: And then filed and uploaded.

Chris: And I finally quit doing that and that HGMN show was the first show that I literally listened through it once, because we get multi-tracked recordings, twenty different tracks. I just listened to it once and kind of leveled it off. When we released 'Live from Earth' which we released four previous, three which are available and one will be available on down the road. When we released those, those I actually go back and do, just like we did with the last album, do all the mastering that we possibly can without changing any of the sounds. It's exactly what it is live.

IMG_9492Brandon: Clear.

Chris: Yeah, exactly but with as much mastering as possible. Hours upon hours of fine detail and the ETU's and compression and stuff and getting it to sound as good as possible because it is a product that we're selling. But just to the giving something away part we're trying to get it to the point where...instead of trying to make it sound as perfect as we could we try to get it to the listener as quick as possible. We try to get them up a lot quicker.

Seth: That's something that we've always paid attention to, though. We have decent recording equipment and the way that these guys run direct it saves a lot of like, that buzz of amps and all that stuff. Even just a basic recording that we have sounds pretty good. We realize that's crucial because you are your biggest critic. Being able to have every show at your fingertips and listen to it, you realize what's bad and what you don't want to do and what you do like. It's nice. It's like having a manual.

Elliot: It's great from a fan's point of view too. When I go see a show and then I see it up on the archive it's great to be able to download a show you were at. You remember all the songs.

HGMN: Are all your shows recorded that way, digitally?

Chris: Yeah, every show. I mean, there's obviously a few instances where...

Brandon: Shit gets fucked up.

Seth: Too many glitches.

Chris: Yeah, exactly. We're dealing with computers and stuff, things do happen. Priority number one is the live show so if we have to let the recording go we will but I'd say at least 80% of the time we'll get a multi-tracked recording and every now and then we'll do mix downs, like a stereo mix of just the board.

HGMN: So, everybody went to high school together, right?

Elliot: Yes.

HGMN: Who started jamming together first?

Elliot: Me and Brandon went to the Fine Arts Center together, studying under Steve Watson. And then our senior year in high school me and Seth went on a mountain trip to a camp up in North Carolina together. We were just sitting around with some friends and I was playing the guitar and Seth picked up a trashcan and turned it over and just started beatin' on it. Right off the bat I was like, damn, that sounded good for a trash can. So I told him, you should come play with us, come jam with us. For a while we were just improvising...

HGMN: When you say "us" you mean just you and Brandon?

Seth: There was another drummer too. His name was Brad. He actually went to school with Chris over at Riverside.

HGMN: So you had two drummers?IMG_9476

Elliot: Well, we were going to have a drummer and a percussionist.

Seth: And I had played percussion for a while.

Chris: That was really before it was like an official band.

Brandon: Yeah, we were just jamming out and having parties.

Chris: They didn't really become a band until Seth took over drums.

HGMN: And you guys were more "funk" oriented around this time?


Elliot: And then our first show was in 2003 at Family Gathering, or was that 2002?

Seth: I thought it was at the Joint in Clemson.

Chris: That was our first Malah show. They played open mics and there were also these two festivals - the South Carolina Family Gathering... What were...? There were four festivals...anyways; there were two before we really started playing. Honestly, that's one of the reasons they started to write songs. Shit, we have a festival to play!

HGMN: You guys didn't have any original songs?

Seth: We would just play.

Elliot: We had jams.

Seth: We had certain jams that we would just play over and over again and we just played for like hours. And then these fingers would be bleeding and we would have to stop (Laughs). After the other drummer left that's when we were like, ok, we can really do this. We had played open mics for a while.

HGMN: How did you come up with the name, The Malah?

Just say melodic (laughs). It's easier that way.

It means a lot of things.

Chris: It has many derivatives and many meanings.

HGMN: At Trinumeral you said that it stood for Music and...

Brandon: Love and Healing.

Seth: And it's however you want to pronounce it - The Moolah, the Mala.

HGMN: How is it pronounced?

Elliot: The Mal-ah, like melodic.

Brandon: And in different nationalities it has different tie-ins and stuff.

Elliot: The word 'Malah" is actually a type of strawberry.

Yeah, type of strawberry. It's also a wedding bead for Indian girls; it's a samurai in old Japan... The Malah is also a type of shisha. (Laughs) Yeah, I took a picture of it and I actually have it in my phone. The defining sentence was like, "Yo man, throw some malah in this hookah."

HGMN: So when did you guys decide to go from funk to where the Malah is today?

Elliot: It's been a real gradual thing.

Seth: It was getting the equipment.

Elliot: Yeah, getting the equipment and when we started writing songs more we kinda were structuring our songs out and leaving room/open for improv instead of just improvising an entire song. Using the electronics kinda helped us structure our songs. It's been a gradual thing. Now we're almost kinda finding our balance. We're not trying to go too electronic.

HGMN: How would you technically define yourself?

Lindsay3Seth: When anybody asks me what type of music do you play? I guess it depends on the person, really. For most people its funk, jazz, groove, electronic dance. That's the closest thing I've got (laughs).

HGMN: What's the answer for the other people?

Seth: For the other people...

Brandon: It could be funk, jazz.

Seth: I'll just compare us to other bands. Like if it's somebody that you know who gets down like we do... Like a lot of the people that I work with, they don't go out to festivals. They're not that type of person. For the person that goes to festivals we're like STS9, Telepath, Lotus and Pnuma. Put it all together and maybe you'll find something like us in there. I wouldn't really compare us to those bands individually.

HGMN: Are you guys into other projects besides the Malah?

Brandon: We've all produced separately as well from each other. If you ever listened to one of our side projects you can kinda say, Ah, that's where that element from the Malah comes from.

HGMN: Who does the DJ thing?

Brandon: Oh, we both do. Elliot produces and he also has a...

I also run an electronic music record label and DJ and produce. And Brandon has a project as well...

Yeah, The Aquarium Project. That's more kinda aimed at...not aimed at but settles in with the Eliott Lip kinda style but can still get all over the place. I don't really set one groove. I like it all. Elliot's project is pretty much psytrance and some chill out too. Seth produces chill out worldly style music and even Chris produces some shit too.

Elliot: Most of our shows, if we're doing a show and it's just the Malah we'll have one of us open up and then one of us will do the set break. So the whole night it's still the Malah even during the set breaks. We don't just put on a CD. One of us will be DJ'ing or performing live.

HGMN: You guys did that at the HGMN party.

Elliot: Yeah, towards the end.

Then our music had to get cut off. I would have kept going all night.

Elliot: (Laughs) I know, we should have.

Seth: That's when "Cowboy" came up.

HGMN: The neighbors did just kind of pop out of nowhere and they were asking why we had cut the music off (Laughs).  It was decided to stop the music around midnight because we didn't want to upset the neighbors. It turned out that some of them were actually diggin' it from their houses.

Seth: I think I was the first person to meet those people. As soon as I quit playing I had to go to the van and I started to find some dry socks and these two guys came up. (Seth does this voice impression that sounds very much like George Bush) "Hey Man, what's going on?" I told them we were just playing some music. "Music! I'm Cowboy." And I said, nice to meet you Cowboy (laughs). He said, "Can we hang out?" And I said, I don't see why not. I guess they were living across the way and they heard the bass and drums. "All we heard was bass and drums but we had to come over here and check it out. It sounded cool." That's cool that they're cool neighbors. Instead of people coming over and complaining they wanted to come over and party.

Chris: You think you fit in one genre and then you find people that you would never expect that are like all about, all about their music. A lot of middle aged people like it in their car rides or like it when they're doing stuff at home...

Elliot: A lot of business guys.Lindsay4

Seth: We had, like; this older couple comes up to me after a show, "Ya know, ya'll play sex music."


It was hilarious. I didn't know what to say.

Elliot: They were so excited. They bought a CD, "We're going home and making out to this!"


Seth: You never expect that type of stuff, you really don't. If you think about it we don't offend anybody. We don't sing. We don't have terrible lyrics. I feel like we have a lot of different styles. You can pick one song and like that one but hate another one because they're so different.

Elliot: Music is music. It's a universal language. You're never too old or too young. Anybody can enjoy it.

HGMN: Are there any songs on any of the albums that one of you loves and the other just hates, or songs that you're tired of hearing/performing?

Seth: There's no hating.

Elliot: There are favorites (laughs).

Seth: There are some songs that we may need to add more stuff to it or take stuff out.  Just because it's on the album...

We change stuff all the time.

Chris: An album is nothing but a snap shot in time.

Seth: Exactly (Laughs).

Chris: As a matter of fact, we'll re-release the same song multiple times because they would be entirely different.

HGMN: What songs do you currently want to improve on?

Every song.

I would want to say 'Low & Behold'. That's off the last album. I've got some good ideas for that.

Chris: 'Low & behold' is a very full track and it's very complicated too. It's got a lot of harmonics and a lot of different melodies, replicating that live we found to be a little difficult. We're constantly trying to change a few things here, change a little bit of mastering there. We're trying to make it sound as good as it does on the CD.

Seth: There are sounds that you get tired of hearing - That can be better or this could not be there at all.

Elliot: It's hard to say when a song is completely finished.

Seth: I don't even think that we have a song that's completely finished. With improvisation you can always change something. It doesn't always have to stay the same. That's the way we like it, though.

Brandon: It can always be better.

HGMN: What's the ideal time to write music?

Seth: 3 AM

We do a lot of stuff in the morning. That's when me and Elliot are the most productive. These two are real productive at night. They'll get shit done at around 3AM.

IMG_9495Elliot: I like studio time in the morning but it's still nice to work on music late night because that's when we're actually playing/performing. We're kind of a late night band.

Seth: A lot of the writing is done live. I would say around 80% of it.

Chris: When you do it live certain things happen that don't happen in the studio. There's certain energies, there's certain...

Seth: Responses

Chris: You just never know. It's just the experience at the moment and then recording that and then taking it back into the studio and then improving on that. Then looking at that, what do we do here that we like?

HGMN: How do you normally write songs? Do you guys write stuff individually or is it a group effort?

Elliot: Some songs will come as a collective, all three of us there at one time writing it. Some songs will come more individually. All three us of produce on our own and if we have a song we'll bring it in. If people like it then we'll go ahead and work on it. There's some songs that are more individual and then some that are just really a group effort. You can tell once you get to know our personal musical tastes, you can kinda pick out which songs are whose. Then again, there are songs that we've all started from the get go, all three in the studio. Those are probably our more unique songs, like 'sonar' and 'stealth' right now.

HGMN: What are your musical tastes?

Elliot: I'm more into electronic music. I've been DJ'ing and producing since high school as well. All forms of electronic music from dub step to trip hop to psytrance to drum & Bass. I also enjoy classical music, jazz...really just everything.

I like everybody's music except for bad country and flash rap.

HGMN: Flash rap?

Brandon: Like, "I've got so much money."

Seth: Bling, bling.

Brandon: I call it flash rap because they just flash all their shit, to the same beat. It's been the same beat for like ten years.

Seth: I like downtempo, drum & bass and mid 90's rock.

HGMN: Which of your own songs is the most sentimental?

Seth: I would say 'Jet stream'

Elliot: That's what I was going to say too.

Seth: That's the first real song that we all felt like; I don't want to say perfect, done well enough to where you listen to it and say, "Damn, that's cool!"

Elliot: And that's a song we've played countless times and every time we play it I still love playing that song. A lot of times we'll close out shows with it.

HGMN: How did you meet up with Chris?

Seth: I worked in a kitchen and he was a server.

HGMN: You had mentioned that he was the most annoying person that you had ever met. How did you introduce him to the rest of the guys?

Seth: I was like, Yo, I found this kid who's good with computers (Laughs).

Elliot: It was like a gradual process.

Seth: (Laughs) I'm telling ya, without Chris... I hate on ya all the time but its ok (laughs). You know we're brothers and all that shit.

Chris: I'm very driven in certain things.

Seth: Very driven.


Chris: When I get an idea in my head, I don't want to say a vision, but there's nothing that will stop me in getting it done. The wireless computer thing that I will finally have done in a year...

(Small chuckle outbursts)

Chris: It took me 2 1/2 years to do this, to get all the stuff together.  I'm finally finishing it up and getting it done.

What's this about the wireless computer?

Chris:  Well actually, you saw it at the HGMN party. I was carrying my lap top wirelessly, controlling the sound board from the lap top wirelessly.

HGMN: I remember talking to you. I remember seeing you but I don't remember you showing me all that.


Chris: As of right now I have a computer that sits on stage that runs sound, lights, IMG_9497recording and then I control that wirelessly with a lap top. So, I can set up anywhere in the venue and all I need is my lap top. I'm moving that from a bulky lap top to a 7' touch screen device which I'll be able to just carry around.

HGMN: Is this like 'Gilligan Island' type shit?

  Oh, no. It's a device that I had to purchase. The way it's used, I don't think anybody else does it. I built the computer that's on stage, definitely.

He's built all of our studio computers as well.

But just the concept of a complete wireless front of the house mixing console in your hand, as opposed to just being behind the board...

Seth: He can move to different points in the venue. He can go to the middle; he can go to the side.

HGMN: Is this something you plan to market?

Chris: Ummm...I want to.

Seth: Then everybody's shows will be sounding great (Laughs). I want us to be different.

HGMN: Yeah, but, he could get rich.

Chris: I know... You see, all the things are out there for people to use. It's just putting it together. The problem with the music industry is that most people approach it from a music aspect. There are not very many people that approach it from, not necessarily from a computer aspect, but from a background of doing many other things with computers and then applying that to music.

HGMN: So you're able to run sound with a hand held device...

Chris: And mikes and recording.

HGMN: What's the range on it?

Chris: 350 feet.

HGMN: Do you guys have anything else coming up besides a new album?

'Live from Earth' 08. We're working on that.

Just like all the other 'Live from Earths' we just go through a year of mine and their favorite songs, from that year. We'll think of the best recordings, best performances.

Elliot: That's going to be an all digital release.

HGMN: When will it be released?

Chris: When I'm done with it (laughs).

Elliot: When he's done mastering it.

Chris: It will be out by the summer. You can get them all (Live from Earth) on itunes, e-music, HGMN.

Any major download site.