Michachu is Mica Levi and her band, The Shapes. Last year Mica blasted into electronica consciousness with her debut album Jewellery, an album that is either discordant or cute, or both. Speaking with Mica in London, we find it is definitely both.
Music Feeds: How you doin?
Mika: I’m alright, how are you?
MF: I am awesome. First question, is it Meeca or Mike-a?
MF: What are you doing at the moment?
Mika: Right now I’m standing in a kitchen in West London, everyone’s gone to work and gone to school. I’ve just come off a really insane tour, I’m pretty exhausted.
MF: That’s great, but I was asking about your music.
Mika: Oh, right, go ahead, go ahead.
MF: So, are you producing anything at the moment?
Mika: Not today. I’m taking a sort of break, to relax and forget about being in a band for a minute. In the last few weeks I’ve been planning on doing a few bits and bobs, some new music.
MF: I read on Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, that you used to be involved in London’s grime scene, DJing and MCing, what sort of stuff were you doing then?
Mika: Right well, wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, is actually false. I was never an MC. I think I rapped once in my life and it was a bad thing. I’ve never done it. I used to produce – well I still do a bit – I used to hang out with these guys… When I was at college these guys who lived in the area, I did a lot of beats with them and gave them to my friends. I just did that, I wasn’t in the scene as such. It was a bedroom thing, singing in a bedroom.
MF: I noticed there were a lot of contributors on that mixtape.
Mika: That was just mainly a couple of guys, they were brothers. There’s a whole bunch of those guys, there’s loads of them.
MF: What was it like working with Matthew Herbert on the Jewellery album?
Mika: Amazing. He’s a really amazing magician, an interesting guy. Real mental. Taught me lots of stuff, was really encouraging, told me to book for myself and things like that. But he also especially taught me how the technical aspects of producing a record will make a huge difference to the final product.
MF: The album Jewellery has a real rawness to it. Is that a sound that you consciously went for or is it serendipity that came out of your methods?
Mika: It’s a combination of badly recorded stuff of mine and things like that. The recorded album was half live and half recorded in my bedroom. I used a lot of the shitty logic express 808 drumkits and stuff, put lots of gush on them, and that’s the grime thing really. It was quite raw, a bit trashy in that way. But because we had to use live recordings and we had this stuff that was done in studio, the challenge was to try and blend them together cohesively so there was one consistent sound of the record. We kinda dirtied up some of the bedroom-produced stuff and cleaned up some of the live stuff, made it sound a bit more electronic, in an attempt to blend the two sounds together. I don’t know if it worked, but that was the idea. So it does have a kind of distorted sound to it.
MF: Because of that unique sound, you’re provoked a bit of criticism, both positive and negative. Do you pay much attention to the critics?
Mika: No, not really. I mean, it’s good that it’s got positive and negative criticisms, that’s the best thing in my eyes. If you make something that people are going to either love or hate at least it’s distinctive. It’d be the worst if you write something that no-one cared about and was boring to people. At the same time we don’t read reviews or anything like that. I just don’t think it’s very constructive. I take musical advice, but reading reviews is either insanely narcissistic or like really bad for the confidence. It’s really weird, you can get a general feel from audiences, from moving around, how people accept the record. And also what’s going on in other music and how your music relates to that and how people feel about you in the context of what’s new and happening, that kind of thing. It’s personal as well, sometimes I like the music that we do and sometimes I don’t like it at all. When you play it all the time you just have to find a way to be ok with it. You know what I mean?
MF: Well, I don’t play music, but I do some creative work and I know when you have to do it over and over again you start to lose that original feel you had for it.
MF: Speaking of that feeling, in the interview you did with The Invisible you said that you “weren’t totally behind that record,” meaning Jewellery. What did you mean by that?
Mika: That’s not really what I meant. What I meant was that because it feels like it was such a long time ago I can’t wax lyrical about it now because it was all connected to stuff at the time. That did come across pretty badly, but that wasn’t what I meant at the time. Oh well!
MF: You make your own instruments as well, how many of those have you got now?
Mika: Only a couple, I’m making some more with my friend Dave at the moment. Made a few, made a few.
MF: When did you start making your own instruments?
Mika: About a year ago…
MF: What inspired you to do that?
Mika: I bought this extra guitar and it was very cheap. I just sort of dicked around with it. I’ve been quite interested in the work of Harry Partch for quite a number of years and I just thought it was something to try. I’m sure a lot of people do that sort of thing in different ways. It still sort of seems like the obvious thing to do.. People focus more on making synths as opposed to acoustic instruments. A lot of people make synths and different software and work on sine waves to get the sound they want, but no-one seems to be going with the acoustic instruments.
MF: Would you say you have a musical philosophy, or some goal with your music? Why do you make music?
Mika: That’s a massive question. I’ve done music all my life, I love it. I just really love writing music. I don’t really like the practicalities but I just love making it all the time. I’m still trying to work out my taste in things. I guess I’ve learned that if you don’t do what you’re interested in it’ll probably sound not great. You’ve gotta make it for yourself, cos then you can’t fuck it up. Try and be yourself, try and write good music. It sounds really cheesy, but unless you’re doing something really abstract I think honestly is the best policy.
MF: What do you think of music today?
Mika: I think there’s some stuff that’s interesting because it’s been really nostalgic. It’s kind of been a massive summary of everything since the beginning of pop music. We’ve had the revival of electro, and now it’s the 90s.. It’s pretty freaky. I think there’s some really great music out there at the moment. I think there’s a lot of shit. The internet has been really amazing… No-one’s selling records at the moment which is interesting.
MF: What do you have planned for the near future?
Mika: I’m just going to try and relax and make good music. We’ve just come off a tour, we’ve got a couple of weeks off, then we’ve got some dates in Spain and Portugal, then nothing until we hit Sydney in early January.
Hopefully you caught Mica on January 2nd at the Civic Hotel, it was an awesome gig. Stay tuned for more from this creative quirkster!