The Darkest Place in Portland: Malekko Heavy Industry

Co-founded by visionary electrowizard Josh Holley and entrepreneurial industry vet Paul Barker, Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation is a company that fends guitar pedals, among other things. Peruse their catalog though, and—perhaps with the exception of the Omicron series that was, lest we forget, a particularly pioneering concept way back in 2010—you’ll find a bevy of, shall we say, unique offerings.

From the flagship B:ASSMASTER octave fuzz to more recent offerings like the stuttergasm that is the Charlie Foxtrot and havoc-in-a-box Scrutator—Malekko has little interest in the existing state of affairs. Rather, there are always sonic boundaries to be violated, so why not dropkick those limits in face?

Read on to get in the know about Malekko.

TRW: Tell us your backstory—how was Malekko born? 

Paul Barker: Josh and I met in Austin, Texas when I replied to a want ad looking for broncos to play a year-long once-a-week residency at a drag club doing appropriate cover songs. 

I was thinking Sylvester; he was thinking Bronski Beat. Or was it Madonna?

Anyway, after a fair amount of finger pointing and bitch-slapping, we realized the club scene was really lame—so we started working on original music with two other people. During this time of inactivity, Josh and I became friends and somehow discussed making a joke version of one of my effect pedals; that is, the pedal would work perfectly, but the enclosure would be a joke.

…which is how the B:ASSMASTER was born.

TRW: What’s behind the name?

Paul Barker: Malekko was the band project we started in Austin. Josh was researching a crazy person's attempt to write a children's story based on a character by the name of "Malecko the Gecko" and wouldn't stop talking about it. I said Malekko is a great name because "mal" means bad, and "echo" is a sound. This same logic applies to music related products.

TRW: So is Malekko still just the two of you?

Paul Barker: Now we have foremen, secretaries, drivers, divers, hole-punch operators, needle-threaders, etc.—just like a real business. Originally only Josh had the mental capacity to use hand tools, but then everyone watched closely and followed suit. Josh thinks stuff up. I stop in front of every mirror.

TRW: Let’s talk philosophically—what is Malekko all about?

Paul Barker: We want to try to come up with unique sounds through simple, interesting functions. We know our pedals are not for everyone but we trust our voice and vision.

We strive to make pedals that reflect our sense of fun and adventure. Sometimes we do that. We are really trying to satisfy our own ears. We want our pedals to achieve the same maturity as we ourselves have: 10 years. What does a ten-year-old look like?

TRW: From the B:ASSMASTER to the Omicron series through today, the Malekko product line has taken a few twists and turns. Talk me through the evolution.

Paul Barker: Yes, we have attempted to come up with pedals that are unlike others, and possibly even inspiring for users. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes no one gets the joke. And sometimes we succeed.

TRW: Is it fair to say Malekko has an obsession with synth gear?

Paul Barker: Absolute fascination from the time I heard [Kraftwerk’s] Man Machine when I was 3. I started telling mom I wanted to look like a mannequin. I still do. Actually, I think I do, still. A telling part of my lifelong interest in synthesizers is the sheer number of dead synths I've left behind. Sort of like how Dr. Frankenstein created a monster, except not fictional.

TRW: Malekko collaborated with Roland to launch the System-500 for Eurorack at Musikmesse 2015—how did that happen?

Paul Barker: I met the excellent people of Roland in Tokyo at the Festival of Modular. We had a great time together.

TRW: We hear you’re getting ready to go back on tour. Do you use a lot of Malekko gear on the road?

Paul Barker: I've been playing bass with Puscifer and yes, needless to say, my rig is fairly Malekko heavy. 

TRW: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Ministry? Do you still play with [founder] Al Jourgensen at all?

Paul Barker: Of course, that was a very intense time and extremely rewarding. That was quite a while ago and I rarely think about it. I'm still fascinated with the heaviest, ugliest music and it's now hard to find the time for those pursuits. Thanks for asking. I am not in direct contact with Al these days.

TRW: Back to pedals—tell me about your new DSP platform and what’s come out of it. 

Paul Barker: It's a multi-use platform and currently we are using it for the Scrutator bit rate/sample rate filter and Charlie Foxtrot buffer/granular pedals, with more modern designs on the horizon.

TRW: Speaking of new designs, the Sneak Attack and Lil Buddy were released through Pro Guitar Shop last week—what was the inspiration behind such a "swell" pedal?

Paul Barker: We always wanted loved choppy tremolo and always wanted to be able to have manual envelopes with selectable slopes, so we realized we could get that with tap tempo so we went to work. LFOs are in our blood—so we let some out.

TRW: Since we’re talking about pedals—whatever happened to the Ekko 919?

Paul Barker: We were not able to make it sound the way we wanted it to sound, and even we know when we've thrown too much money into the fire.

TRW: Malekko was featured in the February 19 issue of Tone Report as one of the pedal makers that rule Portland, Oregon. What’s the PDX scene like and how do you fit in? 

Paul Barker: We are people who appreciate a clean, cool environment. I don't know that we fit in, but we have many friends and want to help them in their endeavors.

TRW: We hear you’re getting involved in the community.

Paul Barker: Yes, we have been in contact with the local School of Rock. They had a walk-through and now we are trying to coordinate an upcoming build day with the school.

TRW: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made so far? Conversely, what’s been the greatest success?

Paul Barker: Not knowing when to throw in the towel, and not throwing the towel in.

TRW: Wrapping up here, what does the future of Malekko look like? What’s the plan?

Paul Barker: We will sell out to Nike and make performance-based products for iWatches and smart homes.

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