The Versatile Performer And Guitarist, Who Has Performed At All The L.A. Hotspots And Was The First Korean-American Lead Singer Ever To Play At Milwaukee’s Summerfest, Had A Top 20 Hit On FMQB’s AC40 Chart With Her Debut Single “Deeper” And Just Debuted In The Top 30 With “Sweet Light”
6 November 2007 — Before she even finished her degree in Opera Performance at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, Malea McGuinness was knockin’ ‘em dead as a lead in The King And I on Broadway for eight shows a week after a few years of modeling and doing TV commercials.
Everyone thought she was crazy when she left what seemed like a dream life, packed up and left New York for L.A. in search of her true path as an artist, whatever that would be. While developing her craft as a singer, songwriter and finally, guitarist, she had what seemed like a million crazy odd jobs--bartending, waitressing, coatchecking, housecleaning, landscaping, even selling timeshares.
Fortunately, as the inspiring title of her independently released debut album happily lets us know, McGuinness is a True Believer in herself and her multitude of composing and performing talents. She never gave up on herself throughout the long struggle, and is now enjoying an incredible breakthrough year towards fulfilling a dream that defines her much better than a life singing Rodgers & Hammerstein ever could.
Earlier in the fall, “Deeper,” the seductive first single from True Believer hit #16 on FMQB’s star-studded AC40 Chart, and her current release, the jangling pop delight “Sweet Light” was the most added song to the chart in its first week and debuted at #27, ahead of Lifehouse, Bon Jovi and Celine Dion. She recently shot her first video for “Sweet Light,” which will soon be shipped to VH1, MTV, Fuse and other outlets.
Songs from True Believer—which was produced by Scott Hackwith, who has worked in the past with legendary artists like The Ramones, Pete Townshend and Iggy Pop--have been in rotation on XM Satellite Radio and have been featured on AAA stations across the country; she’s also got over 20,000 friends so far on Myspace (www.myspace.com/maleamcg). Further establishing herself on the indie music scene in Los Angeles, she won Female Vocalist Of The Year at the AAM Music Awards, sponsored by the All Access Magazine. The show was held at the Knitting Factory on November 3.
For someone who honestly describes herself as an introvert, McGuinness has been connecting with audiences everywhere in a huge way. Last July at the 40th Annual Summerfest Music Festival in Milwaukee—an event which attracts over a million music lovers over the course of two weeks—she made history as the first Korean American to ever play the event as the lead singer of her own band. She played to over 4,000 wildly enthusiastic fans while and shared the bill with icons like B.B. King, Bon Jovi and John Mayer.
In her adopted hometown of Los Angeles, McGuinness has become an inviting, regular presence at every hotspot imaginable—The Viper Room, The Roxy, The Mint and The Knitting Factory, among others. She’s also performing at The Key Club on November 17 after the premiere of her video. In its review of one of her shows at the Viper Room, Music Connection Magazine made mention of her “powerful vocal presence” and added, “(her) music is a powerful blend of folk and rock with a mid-90s brand of pop-sensibility (think the Eagles/Creedence meets Lilith Fair)…Her songs possess enough modern pop appeal for radio, but also carry a sense of nostalgia that catches the immediate attention of older audience members.”
Further displaying her musical versatility, the singer does her local gigs in two different musical settings—a seven member full electric band and an unplugged trio in which she plays acoustic guitar. As her performance chops have developed, McGuinness and her band have moved from the rhythmic folk-pop vibe of her studio recording towards an edgier, 70s influenced rock sound. In late October, she recorded a live album that reflects this musical growth at Swinghouse Rehearsal and Recording Studio in Hollywood. The project, which features exciting new versions of songs from True Believer and a few songs she wrote since recording the album, will be released in January.
“On True Believer, I wanted to write about experiences that had shaped me and my life,” says McGuinness. “I had so many discouraging moments when I first got to L.A. and was trying to figure out what to do while working these odd jobs and listening to people who thought I made the wrong choices. The one thing I knew was that I was going to make music, and I kept believing, even on the tough days. The songwriting started with a book of lyric ideas, and all of the concepts were based on things I’d been through.
“Some were good experiences, like ‘Deeper,’ which was inspired by a powerful karma cleansing ceremony I participated in when I went to Bali. ‘Sweet Light’ was inspired by my dad who was a Green Beret, my grandfather who fought on Iwo Jima and my response to the brave men and women who are fighting in Iraq today. It’s like a prayer that they somehow all can come home safely. Overall, True Believer is about believing that we all have a purpose, even if there are times when we don’t know just what that is.”
Influenced by her love for the classic California Rock sound of the 70s that gave the world The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Bread and Fleetwood Mac, McGuinness’ debut was born from the joys, trials and tribulations of her life as well as her desire for the kind of authenticity that’s been missing from mainstream music for so long. Her journey from Fort Hood, Texas (where she was born) to Long Island (where she grew up with her grandparents) and on to Manhattan and then Los Angeles truly warrants a collection of 14 songs, if not a lengthy biography.
With her musical ambitions inspired and defined by her high school music teacher, McGuinness studied opera at the prestigious Tanglewood Summer Music program, which led to two years of study at Oberlin Conservatory, a scholarship to Overland in Ohio (which she affectionately calls a “hippie school”) and finally an invitation to complete her operatic studies at the impressive Manhattan School of Music.
After studying at William Esper and with Ron Stetson of the Neighborhood Playhouse, McGuinness landed the lead in The King and I on Broadway, but the prospect of singing “Getting To Know You” eight times a week, while certainly appreciated, just wasn’t fulfilling her deeper musical longings.
“I just felt my personality wasn’t the perfect fit for the Broadway people I was working and hanging out with,” she says. “I liked to perform, but it ultimately wasn’t my thing and I didn’t think I could live that kind of life. Looking back now, I realize I made the right decision to pursue my dream of making music in Los Angeles. It wasn’t always easy, but in this past year several of my dreams have come true. I always wanted to record my own album and play live with a great band. But even those are simply open doors to what really matters, and that is to connect with audiences and really touch people with the music I write and sing. It’s an incredible feeling to know that they appreciate and support what I do, and that my music can be a source of hope, healing and inspiration for them.”