“I’ve never been the kind of person who could go against my gut. I’m just not a good faker and I love that about me. But at the same time, if I was really good at faking it, I’d be hugely rich and famous at this point. I could probably have a fake twang and a fake band and let somebody shape and mold me. But that’s just not who I am.”
Michelle Malone makes this statement while picking at a mostly untouched salad. She looks up with a shrug and a half-smile, unapologetic in her self-assessment.
Sitting in Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker – a grungy-cool place that Malone has played many times in her 25-year-plus career – the Atlanta singer-songwriter-guitarist is alternately funny (“The beautiful thing about what I do is I don’t have to worry about getting laid off”); introspective (“The stage is really the only place I was really comfortable and offstage I’ve always been really uncomfortable”); and bracingly forthright (“I’ve never felt so much freedom and confusion at the same time, but it’s so wonderful to not have to make a decision or make that knee-jerk reaction to do something”).
Her last comment is in reference to her new album, “Day 2,” her 11th studio recording that she released quietly late last year on her website (www.michellemalone.com) and at her live performances. She recorded it at Gerry Hansen’s studio in Dacula with longtime friend – and fellow Atlanta well-known – Shawn Mullins handling production.Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell and journeyman musician Randall Bramblett also injected the recording with their talents.
The album, released on her SBS Records, is an intoxicating representation of Malone’s stylistic range, from the wistful rootsy ballad “Marlboro Man” to the boogie-blues-rocking barroom stomper “Other Girls” to the fluttery, gorgeous title track.
“It was an honor to play with her. I’ve loved her stuff for a long time. I just love her effervescence. I had a big smile on my face the whole time during the sessions, and kudos to Gerry and Shawn for their work on the record,” said Leavell, who has known Malone for about 18 years. “I’m so glad to see her back on the scene. She’s a hard worker.”
But while she knows she’s sitting on a solid piece of work, Malone, whose career has included a few record label stops – notably Arista in 1990 – she’s content at the moment to do…nothing.
“I don’t really have a plan right now for the first time ever,” she said, leaning forward and resting her chin on her hands. “I don’t feel like there’s a specific plan or formula or path I want to commit to at this moment. I could sign a deal with a distributor, but I don’t know that I want to. I don’t know that it makes sense given the industry. My big thing is, if you don’t know what to do next, do nothing. And I’m actually doing it. Nothing.”
That doesn’t mean she’s idly watching her career float by. Quite the opposite. She recently returned from a tour of the West Coast and is regularly performing in the region, mostly on weekends. Her songs have found placement in TV shows such as “True Blood” and “Dawson’s Creek” and the 2005 Margaret Cho movie, “Bam Bam and Celeste.”
But Malone has lately been on what she calls an “internal journey.”
In August, she and her wife, Trish Land (who is also in Malone’s band) moved back to Atlanta after two years in Boulder, Colo., “Nashville for five seconds – I call that a layover,” and five years in Alabama.
As someone who grew up in the Lindbergh/Buckhead area, went to Agnes Scott College and lived in Decatur for years, Malone never thought she’d leave Atlanta. But while the change in scenery opened her to new experiences, now she says, “This is my home.”
She’ll return to her musical home of sorts, Eddie’s Attic, Saturday night, when she and her band play two sets at the beloved listening room.
“I feel like I grew up there,” she said. “It’s my old stomping ground. It’s where it all started, really. I didn’t get my start at Eddie’s, but I’m very comfortable there. People come there to listen and they love music. I’m not as interested in playing venues that are less focused on music.”
Malone is an unabashed music fan. She thinks Ann Wilson of Heart is “THE best voice in rock ‘n’ roll” and her hazel eyes light up when she runs down the list of acts she’s seen live recently – Pink Martini, Aretha Franklin, Aerosmith, Gino Vannelli, Madonna. She also happily talks about the influence that her mother, a former professional singer, and Linda Ronstadt had on her formative musical years.
Later, she sends a text to clarify: “Linda was my touchstone, but the Rolling Stones are my cornerstone. Their loose, raw rock, blues, country, is always what I go back to. It’s the music that speaks most to my spirit.”
Malone seems pretty in touch with her own spirit, seemingly buoyed by her new unhurried approach.
“Life is strange and unpredictable and plans don’t always work out,” she said. “I just keep doing what I do. I’m being my authentic self. It could change tomorrow, but that’s where I’m at today.”
Michelle Malone plays at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday (Kris Gruen opens late show). $20 (advance), $22 (at the door), $100 (table of four reserved seats). Eddie’s Attic, 515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur. 877-725-8849, www.eddiesattic.com.
Other upcoming dates:
- 7:30 p.m. May 3. Blue Ridge Community Theater, Blue Ridge, Ga. 706-632-9223
- Time TBA. May 10. Smiley’s Acoustic Café, Greenville, S.C. 864-282-8988.
- 10 p.m. May 11. 620 State, Bristol, Tenn. 423-652-0314.