Cork-based singer Elaine Malone on her new Mantua album and the inspiration behind it

From working on her second full-length under her Mantua project, to performing at a Cork care home for Cork Midsummer Festival, to reinterpreting a Nirvana classic, it’s been a busy and eclectic period for Cork-based, Limerick-born singer, songwriter and improviser Elaine Malone. Mike McGrath-Bryan investigates.
Cork-based singer Elaine Malone on her new Mantua album and the inspiration behind it

It’s been a busy and eclectic period for Cork-based singer/songwriter Elaine Malone, who has a new album, Mantua.

Over the past 20 or so months, these pages have borne witness to the many ways in which Leeside musicians have explored new ideas, and different possibilities in the ever-evolving, ever-changing Covid-era state of play.

For Cork City-based singer and songwriter Elaine Malone, it’s been a time to test her boundaries, and explore the contours of performance and connection to her community and her influences.

From the improvisation and recording of her second record under her ‘Mantua’ nom-de-guerre, to streaming/pre-recorded performances for the likes of Hot Press and Dublin alt-folker Aoife Wolf’s Nirvana tribute on Nevermind’s 30th anniversary, as well as in-person performances for Cork Midsummer Festival’s “Art Gifts” programme, and an album launch at the brand new PLUGD Records space on the Coal Quay, Malone has more than kept on top of change and circumstances.

The new Mantua album, a self-titled affair, is a harmonium-driven slab of heavy, reverb-laden drone, that draws on environmental decline, mortality and institutional symbolism to summon a titanic thematic and sonic weight.

If someone listens to it it’s always a privilege for your art to be perceived

“It’s an emotional and heavy thing and I’m glad for it not to be sitting on a hard drive gathering dust. If someone listens to it it’s always a privilege for your art to be perceived - I’m very grateful for the support I’ve been given.”

Self-produced, and self-directed, the album is a definitive statement of another side of an artist whose style under her own moniker has leaned more into psychedelic and alt-rock territory so far - documenting what Malone has aimed for with the project since its beginnings a few years back.

“It began as an improvised music project that featured live and recorded collaborations with Niamh Dalton (Trá Pháidín) and Jack Horgan (Soft Focus, The Altered Hours). This was the second record, and I did it to feel a bit freer and unconfined to songs, and to go from the places that I didn’t want to use guitars for.

“The harmonium is a very spiritual instrument and it resonates in a really intense place in the body. The music just kind of comes along when it wants - I produced this record after getting some inspiration from the likes of Eartheater and Jenny Hval.”

Elaine Malone's Mantua’s self-titled full-length is available for streaming and download.
Elaine Malone's Mantua’s self-titled full-length is available for streaming and download.

Off the back of its release, Malone has had gigs in a variety of spaces - from the relative closeness of an instore launch at PLUGD Records on its second weekend at its new Coal Quay premises, to sharing a Dublin stage with Newcastle psych-rock exponents Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs on their short excursion to Ireland last week.

“Pigs are so good - it was a huge pleasure playing that gig. That was the third show I’d done since the release, so it was funny seeing it translate in different spaces. There are still large elements of improvisation, and the subtleties of comfort can influence the whole gig. It’s nice when you don’t feel terrible after playing - but sometimes that’s inevitable.”

Talk of PLUGD leads to a conversation of what’s happening in Cork at present - and exactly how hard it is to put a finger on anything at present. With smaller venues taking their time reopening, and bigger venues wrangling with pandemic-era realities, Malone name-checks the record shop’s new home as a non-traditional space.

“I’m really glad it’s back, having that space and having (proprietor) Jimmy Horgan is really integral to the city. Same with (Marina-based anarchist bookshop/events space) Rebel Reads.
“Really excited by the bands Pretty Happy and Patty & Selma too. It’s giving me loads of hope for how high the calibre of work coming out of this town is. We’re really missing a smaller venue right now, but Marjie and Jon did a spectacular job on Quiet Lights festival with the limitations of so few available spaces.
“I’m really disheartened by dereliction (in the city), and how often good spaces are left to rot when they could be used for housing or arts spaces.”

Earlier in the year, Malone was also part of a special tribute to Nirvana's Nevermind album on its 30th anniversary under her own moniker, providing a slow-burning, spacey take on punk-rock headmelter ‘Stay Away’. It's such an important album to so many of us - and it was important for Malone to pay due tribute.

Nirvana are really special to a lot of us

“It was a really lovely set of people involved. Aoife Wolf masterminded it, and we just asked friends to contribute if they could. Nirvana are really special to a lot of us and generally for the same reasons.

“(In radically reinterpreting the album’s songs,) I feel like we avoided what could’ve been a clichéd covers album and ended up with these really dynamic and personal takes on a monumental piece of art.”

On the topic of listening and cultural frames of reference, it’s been a lifeline to many of us to keep on top of what’s been happening in music, films and art, to keep stagnation at bay and get as much as a sense of things as possible as the world has continued to change. Malone is no different.

“(Was listening to) Weyes Blood, Jessica Pratt, White Fence then I got really into Alex G and Roy Montgomery. Then there was, like, an intense coldwave period of Boy Harsher and The Serfs. This week has been a mixed bag of Roy Orbison and the Group Listening/Cate le Bon record, Anna Domino and Boards of Canada.

“Filmwise I got really into Bergman and Wim Wenders, and watched Point Break four times. Actually John Wick too, any dog-based revenge I can totally get behind. The Watchmen TV series was really good, and of course, Succession is a delicious car crash. Glad there’s new Curb Your Enthusiasm out too.”

Mantua’s self-titled full-length is available for streaming and download from https://mantua1.bandcamp.com/album/mantuatarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">. Stream ‘Stay Away’ on YouTube: https://youtu.be/-K8ryrW6TLo.

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