Gear Talks: An interview with rapper Mulalo

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Gear Talks: An interview with rapper Mulalo

Words by Madeline Lo-Booth

Mixdown Magazine meets with Mulalo to chat DIY production, working with friends and dads buying headphones.

Mulalo, the Melbourne rapper proudly repping the west side with tracks like M31 (Racing down the Hume), has taken the local scene by storm, selling out her first headline show at The Curtin last week and playing to a packed crowd at this year’s Golden Plains. 

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

To find out all things Mulalo, we sat down to talk about the song-writing process, what it’s like working with a producer and her equipment essentials for recording at home. 

What’s your songwriting process like? 

I always work in the way of going to the studio or I record it at home. I’ll have a beat that I record the song to. So I just type it on my phone, when I’m there, but I don’t just sit around and write raps, I just do it when I have to do it in the studio. 

For example, with Tracy Grimshaw, there’s so many references in that song, it’s amazing how much you squeeze into that, so you just sit down in the studio one day and you just type that out on top of a beat?

Yeah! Like people don’t know that I am – I don’t know if it’s so shocking – that I’m a very smart girl. And I have very good general knowledge. It’s crazy! You know the show ‘The Chase’ and those types of shows? I could easily go on the show cos I always get the questions right. I just absorb so much information – it’s really weird. I just know all those people and I know what they do. So once I figured out – I’m doing references to Australian people – once that clicks, like that’s the concept, I literally just sat down and was going person by person. I sat there [in the studio] and was like “Wait who’s that guy that really hot blonde chef who’s on the TV!?” It took us five minutes, everyone googling, and then we found it. His name is Curtis.

So say with that song, you already had a beat set up and then you worked out the raps afterwards?

So usually I would go into a session with a producer and we’d go through all the beats that they have or have picked out, or that they’ve already sent me in a Dropbox. Then we pick one and we work on it. So sometimes they’re producing in real time, changing the beat. With Tracy Grimshaw, what it initially sounded like is not what it ended up sounding like. I’m coming up with things while the producer is there. We change things around. 

The right producer seems integral to your work, how do you find producers that you want to collaborate with?

For me, when I first started doing music, my friend who is a producer was like “You should do music” and then I was like “Period… I should!” So he facilitated that for me and we worked together. By the time I started working with other people it was because people were DMing me on Instagram and I’d be like “Okay yeah sure if you send me a beat, we can do something” but I only ever did that for my first few songs. And then I met my friend Nerve. All my songs last year – he was doing them because he was my go-to person and a really good friend. And we just made good music. Oh yeah and then I had management, so I was doing all these sessions with producers that my management would put me in for, and I’d be like, this person just doesn’t get it – you know what I mean? Just because they’re signed to so-and-so as a producer or whatever, to me that doesn’t matter. What matters is the vibe. And since I felt like people who are literally making beats out of their bedroom are making more interesting, meaningful, experimental, actually intriguing music, why would I wanna go to a session with a producer and say: “I wanna make music like Jersey house”, why wouldn’t I just go to a producer who makes Jersey house? Why? Because they’re doing it from their room? Or cos they’re not signed to A, B, C, D, E, F, G? Give me a break! 

When you’re recording with the producer do you let them choose what kind of mic you’re using or are you fussy about that?

Every time I go to a different producer’s studio – it’s so interesting going to their studios because they’re all unique. Especially the boys that are super tech-y, they’re always like “oh my god, this is this, this and that!” They’ll explain this microphone does this and this microphone does that, so I’m slowly learning. It’s interesting. But I always leave it to the professional. I’m just there to rap. 

Yeah, well your profession is being a rapper so that makes sense…

Yeah! Cos when I was thinking about this [interview], I was like…I have stuff! I talk to my producer friends and ask, “What do I need to record from home?” They say: “Mulalo get this, Mulalo get that, Mulalo get this” and then it sounds good when I record from my house. Rarely these days am I in the same place as the people I’m comfortable with producing my music. 

So when you record at home, what are you using?

I have a microphone. Actually I have two of them because I bought a Sony one and it was via USB. So basically, I was just plugging my USB into my MacBook then everyone was saying “Nah like that’s so ratchet you actually have to get an interface, cos the interface will make it sound more amazing, it’ll make it sound more stunning.” 

The thing is, I started making music during Covid so I was never in a studio. I only ever started going to the studio last year. I was always recording in people’s rooms – all these artists are so talented and they are literally making music out of their rooms. When I went to Sydney and I recorded Tracy Grimshaw and a few other songs, that was the first time I ever went to a professional studio. 

So yeah when I first started music, my friend was producing it and I was recording it from my ex-boyfriend’s house on my laptop, on my MacBook connected to this (holds up a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 interface) connected to a mic (holds up an Audio-Technica AT2020). So I have my interface, my microphone, my Ableton – I always record using Ableton, because that’s what everybody uses. And I love recording with these headphones…Look at these ones (holds up a pair of absolutely destroyed Audio Technica headphones). I broke them! I think last year I went through 10 pairs of these cos I’m in love with them and I’m notorious for just breaking things. If I don’t break something, I lose it. If I don’t lose something, I damage it. I just can’t keep something! You know people have a pair of headphones for years and they’ll be in pristine condition. I’ve got these ones because for Christmas my dad – he’s like really weird, if he sees that I like something, he will buy it for me, he’s one of those dads – so he got me the white pair and the black pair, but I left the black pair at a guy’s house…I asked for them back but he’s avoiding me – he’s avoiding me because he is stealing my headphones. That’s how you know these Audio-Technica headphones are the one!

Wait, which headphones are they exactly?

I got you, I know what they are but they all have these weird long serial number ass names. It’s like, oh my god, why can’t they just be called Dope Headphones – Black?! They’re the ATH-M20X. But the Sony ones, the MX4 bra! When people are into equipment – that’s what I’m into. I’m into headphones!  

Lastly, I wanted to ask about translating your set from these studio recordings to the live show. What does that process entail?

For me, when I think about a live show, I used to feel really awkward. But to me, a live show is just like me having fun. Me having fun with my friends. Like my DJ and my friend, Caucasian Opportunities, she talks on the mic and I get all my friends to come up on the stage. In Sydney, there was a girl at the front and she was hitting all the words so I was like “You come up and do the song!” and then we were all hyping her up. I just want people to feel good. It’s not that serious! I do have dancers though now, which is fun. It’s giving professional choreography. I think the live show is just about having as much fun as possible, because my music is fun, it’s not that serious, so why does the show have to be serious? A lot of the times when I talk to people or they DM me, they’ll be like “Oh Mulalo, when I went to your show it was the most fun I’ve had in such a long time!” It’s just like a good feeling. I just want people to feel good like “Yesssss let’s have a good time!”

Keep up to date with all things Mulalo here.