She’s been hailed as “the female Jimi Hendrix”, and if Malina Moye has her way, she’ll usher in a revival of funk, rock, and R&B into mainstream music.
Moye’s vibrant performances and unorthodox playing style (she plays left-handed and strums upside down) have attracted significant buzz from newcomers and industry veterans alike. Her latest single, the funk-filled “K-yotic,” features legendary P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins and climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 in November.
This isn’t Moye’s first appearance on the Billboard charts; her 2004 single “Alone” reached No. 93 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in August that year and was included on her 2009 debut, Diamonds & Guitars.
Since then, Moye’s musicianship has landed her a series of prominent gigs, including playing the National Anthem at an NFL game and performing for Queen Elizabeth II.
Billboard caught up with the “K-yotic” singer as she prepares for Rock & Roll Baby, her sophomore album, slated for release in spring 2015.
Billboard: You play guitar left-handed and upside down, a pretty unusual combination. How did that begin?
Malina Moye: My dad first gave me a guitar when I was 6, and I tried to play it right-handed, but I wasn’t feeling it. I tried again when I was 9, but I flipped it upside down. He said, “What are you doing? That’s not right,” but I told him it felt better, and that’s how I mastered it. On top of that, I strum upside down, so it’s not how anybody really plays. But it works.
Being unique, though, has scored you several performances most artists can’t book.
Absolutely. When I played the [National] Anthem, it was cool because they usually don’t let guitar players do it, since we can go on for 10 minutes (laughs). But they let me, and it made history — never before had an African-American female guitar player done that. It set everything off. Then, I’m playing for the Queen of England in a private plane flying above a castle. Or then, all of a sudden, I got a call from Terry Stewart, the president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I’m like, “how did you get my number?!” He called to say that there would be a tribute concert Chuck Berry, and they wanted me to perform. It’s crazy to be up there with legends — playing with Ernie Isley, Merle Haggard, and others. Insane.
It wasn’t all instant success though.
No way. When I moved to L.A., I had twenty dollars and I was homeless. I used to sleep in my car and curl up between the front and back seats with some clothes, the Bible, and a knife. During the day, I’d wash up in gas stations, and then move the car to a quiet spot and post a sign up saying, “Car doesn’t work.” I used to drive and wish that I lived south of Ventura [Boulevard], and now I do. I’ve made it — so I really believe in that mantra that if you believe it, you can achieve it. ‘Cause that’s me.
How did Bootsy Collins get involved with “K-yotic?”
We did the [Experience] Hendrix tour together, so we’d gotten to know each other pretty well. I sent him “K-yotic” to get his feedback and suggestions, but when he sent it back, he’d already recorded his part and added it on.
What artists inspire you and your sound?
Prince, definitely. I just love Prince. He’s everything. I also love Michael Jackson. I used to watch old videos of “Beat It” performances, and that guitar solo [by Eddie Van Halen] is killer. Tina Turner. Jimi Hendrix, obviously. I love the energy those guys bring, when they just pour out every fiber inside their heart and soul. That’s the ultimate compliment. If I finish performing and someone says, “Wow, I really saw you giving everything you’ve got out there” — nothing else matches hearing that.