Best of SXSW: Meet Mamalarky
SXSW is truly magical for a myriad of reasons — for what seems like the longest week of the year, Austin’s streets flood with talent from all corners of the globe. Likely the closest thing our generation will have to a World Fair, SXSW brings some of the most compelling acts together, amplifying up-and-coming musicians as much as longtime industry favorites. Some our favorite acts from this year span an impressive global footprint, from Australia’s Haiku Hands, Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion, England’s Her’s, Spain’s Baywaves, Japan’s CHAI, and of course, Los Angeles’ Mamalarky.
While Mamalarky currently calls LA home, the founding members all have deep roots in Austin. Amidst the cacophony of internationally-infused sounds, Mamalarky’s music felt at home in Texas. We sat down with Livvy, Noor, Dylan and Michael after their tenth and last show of SXSW to chat about the band’s chemistry, songwriting process and ambitions.
Let's go around and tell me who we have sitting here.
I’m Livvy Bennett.
I play guitar.
Hi, I’m Dylan Hill.
I play drums.
I’m Michael Hunter.
I play keyboard.
Hey, I’m Noor Khan.
I’m the bassist. Nobody else plays bass in this whole word.
Dylan Hill: Honestly, we got REALLY lucky with Noor.
Of all the bassist in the world, you got her!
DH: It's funny how true that is, actually.
Interesting! Of all the members of a band, which position do you think is the most coveted or rare bandmate to find if you need somebody to play?
Livvy Bennett: Maybe even keys? I feel like people don't invest in good keyboards.
Noor Khan: People have also told me that it's really hard to find drummers.
Michael Hunter: Seems like it's completely up in the air based on these testimonies!
DH: But there's definitely never any shortages of guitarists!
NK: But one like Livvy would be hard to find.
What is Mamalarky's origin story?
LB: I was making music in my dorm, and was really shy about it. Dylan was like, "these aren't bad, these are great! You can play them for people!"
DH: I knew we needed to start a band. We had been dating for so many years at that point and we had been doing our own things.
LB: I was really not confident that anyone would want to play my music. Dylan was like, "Let's do it!" We started doing GarageBand stuff — originally it was us two and a different bassist. This bassist ended up pursuing other stuff, and me and Michael were playing in a few different bands that were really strange. I don't even know how to describe the genre.
MH: Yeah, we never practiced, played everything differently at the show.
LB: No consistency, but it was a lot of fun. And I think [Michael] saw us play a duo set.
MH: I think it was after one set we played that you asked me to make "The Wipe Out Gang" a thing.
LB: Really? Oh, sick. I don't remember that!
DH: Yeah, we were originally called The Wipe Out Gang, which was from the back of a Bob Dylan record. And I was really proud of that name, but it's cool.
Why did y'all make the change to Mamalarky?
DH: I don't think Wipe Out Gang was the best fit for our sound. We're not a surf band.
LB: We kind of were — I don't even know.
DH: We were way more raw and rocky at first, but I think we realized that that just was not the thing we wanted to do. It wasn't the kind of songs we were writing.
LB: I kept writing sad songs, so we kind of had to shift.
DH: After a while of playing as a three piece and switching to Mamalarky, we moved to LA for some reason.
LB: I graduated, got a job, and was like "Hell yeah, let's go on an adventure!" I played solo sets out there for a little bit, and then Dylan moved out and we were doing duo sets, which felt like a step back. We needed more sound.
DH: And Michael stayed here, because he was playing with White Denim and a few other groups [in Austin].
LB: Right as I was leaving, that happened. As we were in the studio recording our first EP, and then White Denim was like, "Hey, not trying to steal your player but like, can we?" And we're all from Austin—
DH: —Except for Noor, who's from Atlanta.
JB: And then I made a Tindr looking for bassists — swipe right if you want to play bass. There were some questionable responses, but we went from there, and Noor slid into our DMs.
NK: I was kind of shy about it, because I didn't want them to think I'm like off the Tindr, you know?
JB: But I was on Tindr, so I couldn't even find a place to judge you! Honestly, when you move to LA and you have no friends, it's a good way to make friends. It's a good and a bad way.
DH: It's a risky way.
JB: You know, we took a risk, rolled the dice, and look what happened!
DH: Yeah, we got really lucky.
JB: Pretty much immediately after we started hanging out with Noor, I knew this is the person I want to be in a band with.
NK: I walked in and they had a Switch, so I was like, "Okay, this might work!"
That is incredible! So, this is a question we asked Her's in our interview before SXSW, and we think it might be a good temperature gauge for y'all, too.
DH: Ohh! We actually just met Audun!
LB: They came to our set at Cheer Up's!
Are they not the most kind and sweet people that you've ever met?
DH: Yeah! They are so kind—
LB: —They're really sweet.
We asked them this, and are excited to see your take on it — If Mamalarky was a movie, what would it be?
LB: Ohhhhhh. That kind of intimidates me.
NK: It would probably be really raw.
LB: Pretty vulnerable -- you know, "Shidding and Farding?"
MH: I love that one!
LB: No, sorry hah.
DH: The first movie that came to my mind was that Barney movie where there's an egg from outer space that they find, you know what I'm talking about? It's a rainbow egg that hatches, and it's like another Barney character.
NK: It would probably be a kids movie that is actually for adults.
LB: And it would be called "Best Friends Only."
What is your process for making your music? Are all four of you involved from start to finish?
LB: I'll have a song idea, and the second it's pretty much formed, I take it to Dylan and we'll jam it. If it sounds decent, I'll send it to Michael. If Michael thinks it sounds decent, then we'll call it a song and we'll keep working on it. Me and Noor work on harmonies and bass lines after that.
DH: And I think that's the biggest difference in our process now — we think about harmonies when we write a song. Beforehand, it was not really an option — not that [Michael and I] don't have really angelic voices.
NK: Michael can sing, but he doesn't want to admit it!
LB: Too bashful!
NK: One day, all four of us will be mic'ed.
DH: The truth is that y'all's voices just harmonize really well.
LB: I almost started tearing up the first time we sang together because I did not expect to have a vocalist in the band, and it worked. She hasn't sung in any other setting before!
NK: I literally never thought I'd be able to sing and play an instrument. I've tried before, and never thought I'd be able to do it.
LB: We go really hard rehearsing every day.
DH: They warm up in the car, playing the songs on their phones singing along with them. Seriously hardcore.
NK: It's constant work. I feel like we're always improving and finding new stuff to do. And Livvy went to school for singing, and I never did.
LB: That was my "instrument."
NK: Yeah, exactly. She's constantly teaching me new tricks that I've never heard of, and it always helps. So is Dylan, he has a beautiful voice, too.
DH: That's sweet of you to say!
How does being vocally trained impact the kind of rock that you make?
LB: I think I know how shitty I am more than anything.
NK: Livvy told me once that Michael told her that you know you're getting good when you start realizing how bad you are.
MH: Did I say that? Probably.
DH: Yeah, you did! I was there.
NK: You just have the ear to know when you're fucking up, and you can fine tune from there.
LB: I played a set one back there at Electric Church on time and I lost my voice on the second song — it was an emergency. The moment it happens is forever on the record, but more than anything, it helps me to not fuck up my voice. I can do several shows in a day and still feel pretty good and kind of know my bounds.
You sounded great today and you've played so many shows this week! We've been shook by the stamina it takes to get through that kind of SXSW experience. Rehearsing every day and playing 10 shows in a week is so intense. What drives your ambition to hustle so hard?
LB: It's just so fun!
DH: There's nothing else I'd rather be doing, honestly, then playing music with people I love.
NK: I always feel like no matter how long I've worked that day, I'm always down to still practice because it literally gives me energy.
JB: I was really sad when we finished our last show.
NK: Anybody need another band? Can we play another one?
LB: I also think we understand that if we have any shot at making this a career, we have to work extremely hard for a while. And, we also all have music industry experience that is helping us have a good scope and drive, knowing what we gotta do every day.
And Livvy, Michael, and Dylan, you're all from Austin? How has this year's SXSW experience compared to others you've had?
DH: It's been a little different for all of us, for sure.
MH: It's my first time as an official artist for me, so it's been a little busier.
DH: Same, me too. But, I know Livvy's been playing SX shows since she was a kid in Austin.
LB: I started on the bass in bands, but I would say we've been doing it since we were a band, and it was March. We've always been down to take any show, even shows we probably shouldn't take, because we just want to play.
DH: Shows we shouldn't take as in small shows where there probably won't be a lot of people there, the sound won't be good.
LB: In the beginning, we did all co-op parties. And then, slowly got better venues and slots over time.
What is the scene like in LA?
LB: When I first got there, I was like, "Fuck, this is not what I'm used to." I went to weird shows because I didn't know which shows to go to. I'd see DJs, and not good DJs, really bad DJs. Slowly, I started finding pockets, and now, I feel like I'm at a spot where I know where to find good music any night of the week. I would say there's a lot less psychedelic rock and a lot more of "I'm crafting this song with commercial potential in mind," which is kind of weird.
DH: It's a big difference, for sure.
LB: But, the songs are catchy and clean, I guess. Everyone's pretty nice, no one really vibes you out there. Maybe it's fake, but it's kind of nice to feel like everyone wants to be your buddy.
DH: It seems pretty supportive, for the most part.
LB: People are down to support music in LA, for sure.
What other bands did you catch this week at SXSW that excited you?
DH: First, I gotta say Being Dead.
NK: They are sooo sick.
LB: Being Dead are our band best friends! They're so fun and so—
LB: They are so unique and have a really good individual voice — not in terms of vocals, but what they're doing.
NK: They're super fun to watch. And their Instagram is also fucking hilarious. Truly a work of art.
DH: And also White Denim!
NK: I saw Bane's World and literally was enchanted.
DH: And another Austin band that we really like is Smiile.
LB: Yeah, Smiile killed it.
NK: Oh, I also saw Sidney Gish, and she was really good too.
Finally, we have to know: What is the deal with the Mamalarky suitcase that you always have with you on stage?
LB: I don't think it has much symbolism.
DH: We found it at a Goodwill.
LB: My friend Kelly, who I worked at a record label with and generally fuck with on an artistic level, she designed our t-shirts. I just got this suitcase for my pedals, and I thought, this needs to be cuter. And also, people never know how to spell our name. That's the number one thing I can point to — we don't have a drum head or anything. I love it. It actually broke in the airport really, really badly, and we thought we were going to have to trash it. But, we stapled it together so I think it's okay.
She's a resilient queen! Go suitcase!
@mamalarky | mamalarky.bandcamp.com