"In the fall of 2008, after signing with, making an album for, then getting dropped by Island Records, Malachai found out they were really screwed. The British psych-rock duo's name, then spelled "Malakai," already belonged to an American rapper. "It was like, 'Oh no, not another thing!' " says Scott (just Scott), who handles the music while his partner, Gee, sings.
But Gee, whose shape-shifting vocals dominate their debut, Ugly Side of Love (now on Domino), had an immediate, if odd, solution: He'd battle rap the MC for rights to the name. Though the situation was eventually resolved with a spelling change, Scott first had to rein in his combative partner. "I was like, 'No, Gee, it doesn't work like that!' "
As it happens, Gee started out as a rapper and Scott a producer in Bristol, England's celebrated trip-hop scene -- though this might come as a surprise to fans of Ugly Side, a sample-heavy mix of frazzled guitar rock that plays like Nuggets' darker cousin. The guys got together five years ago when Scott asked Gee to rap on one of his tracks. When Gee added in a sung chorus, Scott was floored. "I said, 'Drop the rapping, just go with the singing,' " he recalls.
Since they were experimenting with alien sounds, the two weren't initially confident in their output. Fortunately they had a friend who was: Portishead's Geoff Barrow. "I played him 'Snowflake' " -- a scuzzed-up groover "and he said, 'Mate, this is the best thing you've ever done.' " (Barrow ended up giving the album a U.K.-only release on his Invada label last year.)
While Malachai are eager to finally share their music -- look for them at South by Southwest -- they're not keen on divulging personal info. Last names and ages are verboten, and live, Gee wears a monkey mask while Scott hides behind a hoodie. "We're not into hanging out with Diddy," Scott says. "I know it's a cliché, but we believe the music should do the talking."