When Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mali Velasquez traded her Texas panhandle home for the verdant foothills of Tennessee, she did so with a newfound perspective that mirrored her environment, culminating in the lushly raw edge of her folk-rooted indie rock. Wistfully openhearted and incisive, Velasquez tips the fulcrum between reflection and remedy with melody-forward unction and lyrical tenderness. Her forthcoming debut, I’m Green, is a perennial introspection into the wild animal of young adulthood and the renewing realization that the person we’re most often seeking permission from, crucially, is ourselves.
“I know you’re delicate / But so am I,” sings Velasquez on “Medicine,” her voice a subtext of her disposition, warbled yet controlled, uncertain but sharpening over a fuzz of guitars that crash into epiphanic clarity. Like rounding a mountain road to that first sunlit outlook, Velasquez’s vocals begin to hit you: building, winding, closing in, and then opening, the expanse unfiltered and strikingly primal.
Lead single “Tore” sees similar themes of biting candor as Velasquez confronts a tendency towards shame and self-sabotage over distorted brass and a steady, pastoral groove.
“Being comfortable in my skin is something that feels out of reach a lot of the time…What all of these songs are about is my relationship with myself, but also the relationship of ‘self’ as a reflection of my relationships to other people.”
I’m Green sees these familiar feelings of discomfort as an opportunity for release, the through-line being both the hesitancy that precedes the acceptance and the acceptance itself. It’s a restorative exhalation of stored energies and a practice in stretching the limbs to that which we’ve deemed unreachable.
This through-line is never clearer than on opening track “Bobby,” which sees a high school-aged Velasquez attempting to catalog memories following the loss of her mother. Computerized blips and glimmers cut through the sparse guitarwork like bytes of fleeting recollection, the data of hospital bed imprints and the sacred nature of shared phrases flooding back in a crescendoed wash of swelling percussion.
“Getting these songs out has been really healing for me. Before, the way I was grieving was just kind of holding it all in, waiting for it to release. These songs have given me a new perspective on grief. At one time, I didn’t think anything good could come from this. There’s nothing left of my mom on the planet, and that can be super strange to talk about, but I do feel like there are little pieces of her living in these songs, which is very comforting to me.”
In reaching for healthier coping mechanisms, Velasquez realized a reborn appreciation for nature and nurtured a more disciplined love for oil painting.
“I love to paint, and I love to paint outside, especially coming from such an arid place. Moving here to Nashville, I remember saying out loud, all the time—it’s so green! The cover art for ‘Bobby’ is a photo of my grandparents holding me as a baby that I painted, and that’s something that I absolutely want to keep doing, is just painting old photos.”
She also found producer Josef “Jos” Kuhn (Samia, Annie DiRusso, Venus & the Flytraps, Hannah Cole), who, after seeing a video of Velasquez performing an early version of “Bobby,” reached out about recording the song. The pair hit it off, and recording one song quickly became recording an album. “It’s been so helpful with Josef, because I would come to him with the songs, and it’d be us sitting on the couch or me sending a voice memo and his response would be so unexpected, and welcoming, and appreciative, which is really new for me.”
On closing track “Death Grip,” Velasquez muses about the passage of time and whether her efforts to reconcile the turmoil of a long-term relationship are futile. Like grief, her outward frustrations often turn inward as a mirror and as a chance to reflect on her longest relationship to date: the relationship she has with herself. I’m Green is the result of these reflections becoming meditations on the transformative power of both loss and shame and what emerges when we allow ourselves to surrender to their potential.