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Mallrat's first full album 'Butterfly Blue' is an arrival more than a metamorphosis

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Some artists transform from album to album, creating virtually unrecognizable versions of themselves with each effort.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUTTERFLY BLUE")

MALLRAT: (Singing) Lullaby, lullaby, lullaby, lu. Lullaby, lullaby, lullaby, lu. I'm butterfly, butterfly, butterfly blue. Lullaby lu.

RASCOE: But for Australian singer Mallrat, the transformation has been one of becoming more herself, a journey she's been on since she started writing songs in high school. After three EPs, a relocation to LA and several tours, Mallrat's full-length debut "Butterfly Blue" is out now. And it's more of an arrival than a metamorphosis for Grace Shaw, who performs as Mallrat and joins us now. Welcome.

GRACE SHAW: Thank you so much for having me.

RASCOE: So you started releasing music as Mallrat when you were a teenager. Tell us how you landed on that name.

SHAW: Grace was taken. There are lots of Graces already. And I liked Mallrat because it felt '90s, and I liked that it would give a misleading first impression to people that hadn't heard my music yet. So I think people, before I got popular, assumed that Mallrat was a surf punk band of guys.

RASCOE: Digging into the album, let's talk about the song "Rockstar." Like, for me, this is that big, wait till I get my money, right? Then you can't tell me nothing, right?

SHAW: (Laughter) Yup. Yup.

RASCOE: Like, that song - that's like, just you wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKSTAR")

MALLRAT: (Singing) Maybe I'll fall in love with a rockstar. We'll be married forever. I'll forget all about you one day. Maybe when I've won all the Grammys and I've got my own family, I'll forget all about you one day.

RASCOE: I mean, do you think that's the best way to get over the heartbreak, to think, like, someday you're going to wish you had never left me?

SHAW: It's a nice thought. It's very comforting.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

SHAW: And also just, you know, like, sometimes you have to just focus on the negatives about a person to move away from them, even though you might have so much love and care for them still. You have to, like, trick yourself into - I don't know, to convince yourself you never liked them anyway or something.

RASCOE: So I've read that you are very passionate about producing and want to eventually produce an entire album on your own. Like, what did you learn, working with other producers on "Butterfly Blue," about the process?

SHAW: One of my friends put it a really good way for me because I was - at the beginning of the process, I had my heart set on producing the album myself. And then I kind of realized, like, that was not in service of the music and making the best music possible. That was in service of my ego and, like, this need to prove something to myself or to other people. And my friend put it really well and said, you know, you can produce your own album down the line. But what you're doing right now is you're working with some of the best producers and mix engineers, and these people don't teach lectures at university. Like, you can't pay to learn from them. And, you know, we're lucky enough to be in a position where they'll happily spend time with us and talk us through things and collaborate with us.

RASCOE: I mean, there has been more of a conversation about, like, female producers recently and how they often don't get enough credit. You know, you have, like, The Weeknd and others tweeting about how, like, pop stars like Ariana Grande and Doja Cat are incredible musicians and also really good at the technical and engineering aspect of the music, just like you're talking about, but don't necessarily get that visibility. Like, do you think that women should be getting more visibility for that type of work that they're doing that's - on their technical craft?

SHAW: Yeah, I think also a lot of people are reluctant to actually believe those things about Ariana and Doja Cat. Like, I think there's a tendency to convince yourself that pop music is lowbrow or not intelligent or something, but it's like - it is literally the most refined craft.

RASCOE: You know, speaking of just, like, you know, putting a lot of work into things and into your craft, you actually work with one of your heroes on this album, Azealia Banks, on the song "Surprise Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURPRISE ME")

MALLRAT: (Singing) Why does it surprise me when you find me? Is the night young? Is it like me? Come on, spit it out now. Stay beside me. Pull me closer. Hold me tightly.

RASCOE: And, you know, now, we can't play Azealia Banks's full verse, but it is a fun verse. How did that collaboration come together? And, like, you know, how did that feel to have her on your album?

SHAW: So I have been a fan of her for a really long time, and the first album that I bought with my own money was "Broke With Expensive Taste," which is her debut album. And then a year or two ago, she did a livestream on Instagram, and she played my song "Charlie" in it, and was like, this is this girl Mallrat. She's got some really good music.

RASCOE: Oh, wow.

SHAW: Someone sent that to me, and I was so excited at that acknowledgement. So I DM'd her on Instagram. Then it just went from there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURPRISE ME")

AZEALIA BANKS: (Rapping) It's a piece of cake, cake. I could steal your bae, bae. Eat the cookie up. Sprinkles on his face, face. Said he wanted this expensive taste. Want to travel around the world...

RASCOE: I read something - you said you wanted this album to be, like, a mix between children's choirs and monster trucks. Like, you wanted a lot of contrast, right? How were you hoping to bring those contrasts together in this album?

SHAW: I love gritty textures and aggression, even though that's something that I have very limited quantities of. I also love being able to use a voice as an instrument. And so my own spin on that approach was just those feelings of monster trucks and children's angel choirs. And all of the songs on the album have vocal layers around the lyrics...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEETH")

MALLRAT: (Singing) In my hair. It's in my sleep, with my hands, in my teeth.

SHAW: ...You know, whether that's a hum hidden beneath the guitar, or a chopped-up vocal in the drop.

RASCOE: You finish out with this throwback cover at the end of the album. It's this kind of stripped-down version of "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star. Like, why did you want to close out with that track?

SHAW: So that's a song that we sometimes cover at our shows, and it's also at the very top of my list of songs that I wish I wrote. So I recorded that with my friend Leroy the same day we recorded "I'm Not My Body, It's Mine." So in just, like, 15 or 20 minutes, we recorded a quick cover of "Fade Into You" just for fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FADE INTO YOU")

MALLRAT: (Singing) Fade into you. Strange you never knew.

SHAW: And then when it came time to put the track list together, I thought it would be really nice to have, like, a bonus track for people that bought a physical copy of the album. Just because it's - like, it means so much when people do that. It's such a nice way to support an artist. So I thought it'd be cool to have an extra track on the physical copies of the album, like a secret one you have to skip to.

RASCOE: So a treat for the true Mallrat fans.

SHAW: Yeah.

RASCOE: Yeah. That's Grace Shaw, who performs as Mallrat. Her new album, "Butterfly Blue," is out now. Thank you so much for being with us.

SHAW: Thank you. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.