Malakai and father, Greg Schindel
Malakai and father, Greg Schindel

I have been playing music my whole life but had my first stage appearance where I actually performed—singing one of my father’s songs with him in a duet—for a very large crowd when I was seven. That was my first experience behind a microphone. It was really well received and I was overwhelmed by the waves of joy people were expressing towards my expression. I might have caught the bug there. It was in the Bolinas Community Center and there were probably 300 people there which for a little kid seemed like a whole heck-of-a-lotta people. I didn’t really do a lot with music until the 5th grade when I started playing trumpet, reading music and taking chorus classes at the middle school. This was in a transitional class included in the middle school where I stayed for four years through the 8th grade. That was also where I started doing theater and art in a big way.



Elementary School:

My first art teacher was in 4th grade—Tom Jarvis. He exposed me to the color wheel, the golden mean, proportions of the face relative to features of the face, and gradations of value—giving me fundamental programming at an early age. We even did some basic stop-action animation where we constructed and animated cartoon characters in a moving linear format. It was really cool to do that at such an early age.

Middle School:

In middle school I had Miss Pealatere. She took things even farther—teaching us about the uses of complementary colors, foreground, middle ground, background, three-point and one-point perspective, shading, light source and more complicated elements of visual art and three-dimensional design. We also worked with found objects and sculpture. I had always loved to play in play-dough, action figures, and to animate the three-dimensional world.

It was Miss Pealatere as well who got me into theater. My first stage roll was the part of Robin Hood. I remember being so ecstatic when I found out I had the part because it was just perfect. All my friends were the Merry People—including the girls. It was a musical version so I ended up having to sing as well as remember a lot of lines. This early theater experience threw me right into singing and performance at the same time. Once introduced to theater I performed in more plays. My next roll was The Pied Piper.

High School:

After Middle School I experienced a profound shift in my art direction. My instructor in the arts through four years of high school was Kathleen Kirkpatrick. I took as many classes from her as I could—all levels of visual arts and ceramics that she offered. She brought the culture of art to my education and she brought excitement. She brought life to art. It was thrilling to be an artist. She had a way of bringing together elements that you would never think to put together, giving us assignments where she would take three random things from the world and throw them together. Like she would say, “Eagle wing,” “magnifying glass,” “clock” and you would have to make a picture out of that—or interpret it and make something based on however that statement made you feel. She made me understand that it is legitimate to make art for its own sake and that its value and meaning is subjective—up to you and your interpretation. Historically, she exposed us to the cave paintings of Lascaux and brought us up to Andy Goldsworthy and Alex Grey—right up to now and everything in-between—western art movements and a deep study of the artists behind them. We learned which artists knew each other, why they were creating their art, and the context of change and revolution that was occurring in the world at that time . . . . All of this was paramount in my development as an artist—her encouragement and support was amazing. Every day for four years she had something new and fresh for us to do, a new quote, a new thing to think about, a new angle on art. This brought the understanding that you can always innovate. There is no end to the limitlessness of being an artist. We worked with feathers, bits of metal, wood, old and new things—combining sculpture with painting, collage and multi-media. Kathleen always encouraged me to follow my path.

MUSICIAN FATHER: Greg Schindel — The Train Singer

I was born into a musical family. My father is a song writer, guitar player and was the leader of a band called the Kindred Souls when I was born. That was a band with a lot of instruments—guitar, fiddle, bass, horns and percussion—a very transcendental, eclectic, gypsy, folk group . . . I traveled extensively from town to town when I was little—to festivals, craft fairs and political rallies. I was around a lot of artists and musicians. My father was also a yacht builder and painter, so we also traveled to ship yards where he would paint boats—marine hull painting and bow head filigrees. The band stopped traveling when I was about 6 or 7, but as my dad remained a professional entertainer, I still attended concert and shows.


My father is in his twentieth year (2008) as the California Western Railroads Skunk Train “Train Singer.” That is his persona—the world’s only train singer. He knows more train songs than anyone else in the world and he performs regularly on the Skunk Train—everything from old Americana train music to Ozzie Osborne crazy train songs—from the old to contemporary. He has his own finger-picking and very enthusiastic style of playing. He plays at museums, birthday parties, weddings, funerals, and any other event where music would be appropriate. There is always music. If he is not on the train playing music, he is at home practicing.

MOTHER: Consummate Gardener

When I was born my mom was a switchboard operator for a phone company—an obsolete profession now. For awhile we all lived in a pick-up camper that my father built on the back of an old 1964 Chevy. It resembled an upside-down boat—a gypsy wagon more or less. I have an older brother and a younger sister and the entire family lived in that as we traveled and my mom took care of us full time.

When I was five we moved to Willits, and she started working in a plant nursery. Her passion is plants. She is a landscape artist and a very avid and incredible gardener. She has a green hand and can bring things that look dead back to life. She uses an incredible palette of foliage textures and plant colors in an intentional and planned-out way. We moved to a one-acre piece of land when my father was working as the visual and performing arts specialist in the Willits School District. My mother’s garden on this land of the past twenty-three years has thousands of different plants—shrubs, ornamentals, herbs, food plants, fruit trees, water plants—one of the most extensive collections in the valley.