Malina Moye on changing the world one note at a time

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Photo by Joshua Shultz

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine’s Summer 2019 Special Pop Edition

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice about Malina Moye is that she plays her Fender Stratocaster upside down. But that is her style, to do things differently and inspire people along the way. This amazing rocker has continually smashed through barriers to achieve incredible success in only a decade.

And not only has she achieved musical success, but she is also turning heads in the fashion world, especially when she wears her own styles during performances. Her performances also offer her the opportunity to advance her humanitarian work, primarily through her non-profit DriveHope.org.

Recently, we chatted with Moye about what it was like playing for Chuck Berry, her latest single “Enough,” and how she’s changing the world one note at a time.

So you’ve had an amazing career thus far with major performances including playing for royalty. How has that been? That seems surreal.

Oh, my God! I feel so blessed. I mean, you have to understand. I came out here, to Los Angeles, with $20 in my pocket just over ten years ago. I was homeless. I was looking on the ground for pennies to just buy a sandwich.

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Then years later, I mean, you find yourself at Lord March’s castle, and you realize that you’re on top of the castle and that you’re actually about to honor the Queen of England. And as you hit your last note, there’s a Royal flyover. I was like no one would ever believe this. That was the most incredible weekend in my entire life. It was such an amazing experience and just great people.

And then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The time the president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame personally called me. I remember I was getting on a plane and I remember going, “Who is this?” And he’s like, “Hey, I’m actually the president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I just saw your video.” Then next thing I know I’m on a plane to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame to honor Chuck Berry and to have a chance to play in front of him!

How was it playing in front of Chuck Berry? 

It was so cool. I performed, and when I finished, I remember he actually came to me and said, “Your performance gave me chills.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, thank you so much.” Then what was cool is at the end, we all got up together. There was “Lemmy” Kilmister from Motörhead, DMC from Run DMC, Ernie Isley, and Merle Haggard; all these country legends, R&B legends, and rap legends, all these people that make music what it is. When I finished, I remember I went backstage to sit and Mr. Berry sang “Go Johnny Go.” What was crazy was, he literally saw me backstage and then he ended up sitting right next to me with his guitar. I did what anyone anybody would do. I got my phone and took a picture!

So there were some incredible moments. It was such an honor to actually have a chance to play for a person like that. You see the lineage, because then you go, “So this is where Prince got it from. Oh yeah. So this is where Jimi Hendrix got it. Oh yeah. And this is Green Day.” Then you start taking it a step further. Somehow it got in my system and trickled on to, however, I interpreted it, to become Malina Moye. I see where I got it from now…the originator.

And then the role that Sister Rosetta Tharpe had. Once I really started getting into the history, I realized that she is the female who actually started rock and roll! It was so big for me simply because, to be honest, I didn’t know that much about her.

There was a picture of her where she was playing and Chuck Berry actually came to her concert, and Life magazine was doing a story about it, but for some reason, it never was published. It’s actually in Chuck Berry’s book. Then suddenly, years go on, and finally, people start talking about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She finally got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But truly, this woman is the person who started rock and roll.

The next day [after performing for Chuck Berry], they end up making the announcement that she got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was so stoked because I was invited to come to the Philadelphia show, which is where her grave is now. So I performed, and for me to go to represent her, I just felt so proud and so honored. And that was a great moment for me.

On that note, you got endorsed by Fender as the first African American left-handed, upside-down female artist. That’s awesome!

Thank you. I’m naturally left-handed, and when my dad tried to give me a guitar, like a right-handed player, I couldn’t play it. So when he left the room, I just took the guitar, turned it upside down, and then started to play it that way. And he’s like, “That’s backward.” I’m like, “But this feels so good.” And then he was like, “Well, Jimi Hendrix played left-handed, but you’re still playing upside down.”

Then as I got older, he said, “I’m sorry, Malina, I don’t know why I just didn’t buy you a left-handed guitar!” I just kept going, and it became my whole thing. I just wanted to just get better and just kept going at it. I always have played Fender, and they heard about me. It was just a perfect pairing. There are a couple of other great things that hopefully will be coming through the pipeline with them as well.

So I have got to say you seem to have this connection with Jimi Hendrix, your playing style, and as you say, you’re both lefties. 

Jimi Hendrix is like the greatest guitarist of all time. Now, I don’t even put myself on a level like that. I think that people see the comparison because we’re both left-handed. But I would like to think that it’s also the fact that Jimi liked to blur genres of funk, rock, soul, pop, and things like that, which is what I love to do because I feel that music is it. We all play the same notes. Whether it’s country, blues, rock, whatever, it’s all the same notes. I think what makes it different is the effects and how you attack what you’re doing. You know, to me, that’s what makes it the story that you wish to tell. I am definitely trying to create my own style, and hopefully inspire other people to pick up the instrument and to create the story they wish to tell.

Thinking of your latest single “Enough,” what inspired the track?

You know what? There was something that I saw, and this really affected me because I was realizing that on certain platforms, we are not being represented at all or not in the right way. But for me, it’s probably more so at all. And so what happened was, it made me realize that maybe they don’t realize what they’re doing is completely wrong. Then I thought I’m going to write about it. So I just started writing and writing, and suddenly there’s this song that came out. It was because this person made me feel like I didn’t matter, and I didn’t count.

What I realized is that no matter how many times I practice, no matter what I did, I would never fit the format of what they thought a certain genre should be. Then that’s when I thought that I have to be okay with who I am, and I’m going to celebrate who I am right now in this moment and not who I’m trying to be, but who I am because this person matters and because what I do matters to me. And then that’s what made me go with the song “Enough.”

Then I realized that I wasn’t alone. That there are many people who feel like that, who feel like they don’t matter. I thought you know what, I want to challenge people to celebrate who you are right now in this moment. During the last week of April and to the first week of May, I was asking everybody to put up #IAMENOUGH.

I was, and am, so blown away because we were doing it for the week, but it’s just turned into a whole other thing. Every day people are just tagging #IAMENOUGH. So I just keep putting the pictures up. Then I realized that it was definitely something that resonated with so many people.

So now it’s just turned into a global movement which I’m just so proud of, because the truth is, I just felt like I wanted to take back my power, to say that I am somebody. Even if this person doesn’t recognize what’s going on, I recognize what’s going on, and I celebrate who I am. I think that everybody should celebrate who they are because you can get lost in the moment of trying to be someone else. I’m trying to get people to just rethink about how they see themselves. Because if you do that, you will change your life.

You do a lot of work with female empowerment and with Drive Hope. How does that kind of shape and influence the work you do with your music?

From touring around the world, one of the things that I love is just to meet everybody. I’m so interested in people. Once, I was signing an autograph, and someone said to me, “Man, after seeing your concert, I just feel like I can actually now become the writer I want to be.” And I said, “You got that from a show?” They said, “Yeah. I’m actually a doctor, but I never wanted to be a doctor. I really wanted to be a writer and a keyboard player.” I get that all the time.

I used to think how can I help people to really live in the moment of doing what they really want to do rather than what other people are telling them they should do? So with my cofounder, we decided that what we needed to do is every time we go out to perform, is let people realize you don’t have to be a Beyoncé or a Janet Jackson. There are so many roles that are available. It’s just a lot of people don’t know about it. So we want to bring in a lot of different people who can tell people how they got to be the people they are. Because the main thing is for everyone to realize that we all come from practically the same places and from some of the same things. And I, myself, am always the first person to say, “Hey, I came here with $20, and I was homeless. I didn’t have anything.” Life is going to break you down. You get up and keep fighting every day.

Through Drive Hope, every time I go out to perform, I invite other foundations, other communities, and people in other foundations to come to the show. We do a Q&A, not just from me, but also people from technicians to my guitar techs, everybody because everybody matters. Maybe you don’t want to be the next Malina Moye or the next Beyoncé; maybe you want to be a manager, maybe you want to be a promoter. Well, guess what. Those are real jobs, and you can be a rock star doing that. You’ve got to do what makes you happy.

That’s an incredible message to have as an artist.

Definitely! I’m always just trying to be nice because it’s the only thing I know. It’s funny because even with the song “Enough,” and my album Bad As I Want To Be because what that person did to me, it was so heartbreaking for me because I felt like I was failing the people who believe in me. How can I look someone in the face, someone who’s 9 or 10 and say, ‘Yeah, you can do this,’ when this is what I’m feeling? But the truth is, every day I’m watching more barriers get broken down, which is awesome for us as women. Every day we all play a major part, and all we have to do is just keep chipping away. And I firmly believe that we all will get the opportunities that we’re supposed to get. Either way it goes, it’s going to work out.

But I’m always telling people that no matter what, take five people with you. And before you know it, we all will get that opportunity. And five is a good number. Five more girls to come, no matter what it is you do, try to get five more girls to get involved. And look at what happens. Now we have, for the first time in 62 years, a female is now the head of the Grammys. I mean this is amazing. It’s sad that it took 62 years. We’ve always been here. Now they’re paying attention, so we are doing what we always did which is kick ass.

So yeah it is just a good time for us right now, I say, to be alive, and to just go for everything that you want because people are listening.

So 2019 is definitely looking like a good year for you. What can fans expect?

A couple of the cool things are in the pipeline, so I can’t wait to announce those toward the end of the year, which will probably be in working with my November tour that we’re gonna be announcing as well. I plan on going out and kicking butt and having fun. But more importantly, I hope that you can be inspired to do something yourself as well. Like I said, I am always so moved by the letters and people reaching out and telling me how a concert has inspired them to do things. I’m always just blown away by that. But I started to realize that this is good. I mean, I love it. So I look forward to seeing everybody on the road. Please say hello. And let’s continue to just start conversations that are uncomfortable and continue to just keep raising hell. Let’s continue to support live music, support women, and support each other. Also, I would say if something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to speak up, even if you’re the only person standing, because eventually, someone will stand with you. I promise this.

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