Mysterious Kiwi singer-songwriter Maala is stepping out of the shadows with the launch of his debut EP. The man behind the project, Evan Sinton, talks to Chris Schulz.

He looks gangly, nervous and a little unkempt.

Yes, that's 17-year-old Evan Sinton wearing a cardigan, walking on stage and stunning New Zealand's Got Talent judges Jason Kerrison, Rachel Hunter, and Ali Campbell with his take on The Beatles' Blackbird.

Once the applause dies down, Op-Shop's Kerrison gives his verdict. "I think it was beautiful ... you've got a huge recording career ahead of you," he tells Sinton, who seems on too much of a high from his successful audition to take the praise in.

Kerrison's prediction seems to be coming true. Three years on from nabbing third place in the second season of NZ's Got Talent, Sinton has re-emerged with a new sound, a new EP, and a new haircut.


But it hasn't been an easy process. Working with Sony, Sinton spent the better part of two years forming his identity, scrapping songs written on acoustic guitar in favour of material worked up on a completely different instrument - the keyboard.

"I've been very unsure of an identity and a direction for a while," he says. "It's been a very long process trying to find the right songs. I guess my music tastes changed and so did my sound."

Last week, Sinton unveiled the results of that process. His self-titled, five-track EP debut, released under the name Maala, showcases the 20-year-old's new-found confidence, delivering stomping electronica and emotionally charged ballads in the style of Chet Faker and Broods.

"It was only a year ago that we clicked with this electronic route of sorts," Sinton tells TimeOut during a break from his day job packing tools in a Mt Eden warehouse. "I'd given up the guitar and the electronic thing was trying to inspire something new because I was going around in circles.

"It felt fresher and I was more inspired to write for that kind of genre."

Backed by Sony, Sinton worked on the music with producer Josh Fountain at Golden Age studios. He'd then head home to write his lyrics, which were often penned just before he went to sleep.

"I'll normally be at home, in bed, almost asleep sort of thing," he says. "I don't know how I get myself in this very emotional headspace. My lyric writing is quite erratic - it's a case of just finding phrases that fit the melody sometimes."

The final piece of the puzzle was the name. "That came pretty late in the piece. I scribbled down a lot of names and they were all pretty lame. I wrote out the alphabet and just picked letters that I thought looked cool together. It doesn't have any kind of deeper meaning. I just wanted something completely fresh and new and different."

Sinton's approach seems to be working. His first single, Touch, has earned plenty of radio airplay, while new single In the Air was debuted by Kiwi DJ Zane Lowe on his Apple Music radio station Beats 1.

"He really liked Touch and he was keen to hear some more music. We sent him through In the Air and he was like, 'Yeah, I like this.' He wanted to premiere it on his show and I definitely wasn't going to say no. It was crazy."

That kind of attention has given Sinton more confidence that he's found his sound - and left his days as a TV talent quest reject behind him.

At first, Sinton was so nervous about his songs that he released them online with little fanfare - just a Soundcloud link posted to Facebook, and a fuzzy image.

"It wasn't about being mysterious. It wasn't even a case of wanting to let the music speak for itself. I just liked the idea of a cool image with a cool song and seeing how it went from there. It lifted off a lot faster than I thought it would. That's when I was like, 'Shit, I'd better get some more songs together'."

With his EP out, Sinton is focusing on putting together a live show - and hopefully leaving his days working at a tool warehouse behind him.

"My job is a way of facilitating my music. If I could leave my job after this phone call I would - but I can't.

"I'd love to play music as a job, that would be awesome.

Who: Evan Sinton, aka Maala
What: Debut EP Maala, out now

- TimeOut