Micachu Interview

In conversation with Mica Levi...

In a sea of monochrome indie acts, Micachu And The Shapes drift by like a neon-coloured piece of driftwood.

Since releasing her free download mixtape ‘Filthy Friends’ last year, band lynchpin Mica Levi has watched in amazement as her music has steadily found a larger and larger audience. Blending pop with grime and leftfield electronica, she has even crafted her own instruments in an effort to capture the crazy sounds she hears in her head.

Rebelling against a classical background, the singer fell in with a group of beat-heads, who fired her imagination. Micachu And The Shapes – in which Mica is joined by Marc Pell and Raisa Khan – released their debut album ‘Jewellery’ earlier this year on Rough Trade (REVIEW). A cut ‘n’ paste collage vision of British pop music in the 21st Century, it reeks of breathtaking ambition and daring.

ClashMusic caught up with Mica just after a performance on German television, to talk a little about her roots and to found out where she is going.

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Micachu And The Shapes – ‘Lips’

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So, you were just filming an acoustic performance?
Yeah, it was awful! I just played the song as slow as I could and everyone was just bored shitless. I played it really slowly… Just me and my guitar. It was really, really diabolical.

I’ve heard your parents were musical – did they have an effect on you?
Yeah, massively. I was around music, as that’s all they sort of know, and all they could teach me. There was loads of music around, lots of records, and I was quite fanatical about it when I was young.

Was it classical music that interested you at a young age?
More pop music actually, although I was interested in classical music as well. I liked Hungarian and Romanian folk music. Folk music, from Eastern Europe, I was into as well as Michael Jackson… and The Beatles. Bits and bobs.

How did you get to know Eastern European folk music?
My grandma is Romanian. So my dad is half Romanian, so it’s kind of in the blood.

I’ve heard you studied at Purcell and Guildhall.
Yeah, that’s true.

Does this background come out in your music?
Probably. I guess we’re not playing particularly intellectual music. There are things you learn that effect the way you understand music, but I just think the joy for me in doing it is that it is pretty subconscious. We just write things that sound nice, or interesting, rather than intellectualising music with complex rhythms or chord progressions. Which wouldn’t necessarily make it good, just clever. It’s not academically creative, at all.

What make you break from that classical tradition?
Well I don’t know. When I was 14 I just got into garage and electronic music and stuff like that, I got obsessed with that kind of music. My school was full of snobby kids and I wasn’t one of them, I wanted to do my own thing. Anyway, I got really obsessed with writing beats, in electronic music. I had always collected records and been obsessed with pop music and that sort of thing. I’ll be honest, I never expected to be in a band and go touring; I did plan other things and I think that everyone involved has aspirations beyond this band. But getting into electronic music was a seriously addictive hobby.

What type of music was it that inspired you?
2-step, 4×4 and all of that. But hip-hop as well, as I got some mixes from some friends. I went to a club that had a hip-hop room, and a guy there gave me some mixtapes which were really good, but it was more techno, electronic stuff from Warp Records and Planet µ and that kind of thing. I got into that, and there were a few people who were older than me at school who introduced me to out-there electronic music.

Were you surprised by how successful your own mixtape, ‘Filthy Friends’, became?
Is it successful? We just put it on the internet. Pretty much for a year, every day I would make hang out with these guys who lived in the same area as me. I guess they were the local rappers, drug dealers, and it was just really fun to make beats and then they would come in and freestyle. It was a real eye opener for me as our backgrounds were so different, and it was just really fun. One thing I learned was how confident everyone was about doing their thing, and showing off, which is something more to do with the hip-hop world and the electronic world. Like the whole white rock thing being about art, being self-conscious… but the people I was hanging out with were just totally raw and uninhibited. That was really fun. We had all these tracks basically, and I started playing a few guitar gigs, meeting some bands and then shoved it all together on a CD. Mixed it and put it out there. It was just really fun to do. We’ve got another one coming out in a week or so, a couple of weeks.

Really? What’s on the new one?
It was done with a producer called Qwes. We’ve done remixes, some songs; there’s some guest vocalists on it and it’s sort of sketchy. It’s very different to the other one, it’s much more chilled out.

Sounds great. Do you find collaboration to be important in your music?
Yeah, I think so. In terms of being a producer and writing hip-hop beats and so on it makes sense to collaborate. I’m not going for a minute to rap, as that would be really awful. So it’s necessary to get a lovely singer, a vocalist to do stuff. So collaboration can really be good, but it can be really hard and unsuccessful as well.

You mentioned that everyone in the band has their own agenda. How do you then work as a group?
Well, I guess essentially I would write a song and have some ideas and then we would just work on it. I don’t know, like every band does. There’s usually someone who writes the first part of the song, and then we work on textures and melodies. It depends on the song. Some of them happen quickly, some of them take a lot of work.

You have so many influences, but is there a central theme to your music?
Hopefully they’re alright songs. Underneath they should sound like good songs, have a catchy tune, and a lot of things that the songs have in common is sexual diversity. I say ‘like’ a lot, don’t I? Different sounds, different textures. Since we use a lot of different styles there should be different textures and similarities between the songs.

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Micachu And The Shapes – ‘Golden Phone’

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I’ve heard you make your own instruments.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve started making my own instruments now. I wish I’d never said anything now, they’re not that good. They’re all adapted. I’ve done an adapted guitar, changed it around so you can hit it with a stick. There’s a string attached to a pedal, and there’s some percussion bits there as well. So the idea is that you get bass, chords, percussion, and melody all on one instrument. The other one I started from a CD rack and an electric guitar, and you can play a continued sound like a music box. It’s got a melody string as well. It’s fun to build something – you can keep yourself busy. You make just one slight adjustment to an instrument and it makes a really unique sound. It’s just a hobby, really.

How did you Matthew Herbert come to produce the debut album?
He had my demo of some tracks and I got asked to make a record for Accidental. So I was like “brilliant”, then we went away to his studio and worked on it.

Were you familiar with his work before?
I wasn’t. Not directly, I think now I realise I had some stuff with him on – like his Björk stuff. I wasn’t aware of his stuff, no, but I saw a DJ set of his for the first time – way after we had done the record – the other night and it blew me away. Amazing, man, such a great DJ set. So musical – it wasn’t like he just played really good tunes, it was just so expertly done. It was really impressive.

What did he bring to your music?
I think he gave me a lot of confidence and he showed me a lot of new things. I think this record was different to a lot of the albums he makes as I basically produced it all. We’d recorded and worked out the material as a band, so it was more getting in the studio and putting it through some gear. He showed me how technical decisions about production and sound could really affect the mood of the record. It could really alter the sound of things. I’m not so good at mixing and compressing, that sort of thing, so I was learning all that for the first time. You’ve only got one shot, as a band, artist or whatever, so you just have to be confident otherwise there’s no point in doing it at all.

Is that relationship likely to continue?
Yeah, I think so. For the next record me and the band are going to do it ourselves, but he’s going to help us with microphones and amps. He’s an amazing mentor, he’s given me lots of great advice I think he likes the music so hopefully we will work together.

I would imagine you’re always writing.
Yeah. The difficulty of touring is that you can find yourself wasting time, wasting downtime not being very creative. It’s hard to not have that personal time where you would go through all those shitty ideas that you would never want anyone to hear, and then delete them. So yeah, there’s definitely another record there.

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Mica Levi shot exclusively for Clash Fashion by Ren Rox

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Clash Fashion

Mica Levi is featured in the fashion section of issue 38 of Clash Magazine. So, here we ask her about all things clothing…

Do music and fashion go together in your view?
I think they do, definitely. Someone who says they don’t care what they wear is making as big a statement as someone who wears something outlandish, or making a conscious decision about it. I think they do, but not as much as they used to. I don’t think music makes people want to dress up and wear certain things. A lot of fashion now, associated with music, is quite retrospective. If you like the music and it sounds old then you begin to dress like they used to. If you do something fresh then it makes people come up with some slightly newer styles. I don’t know man… the band onstage always wears t-shirts with shapes on – we’re the Shapes. That’s just so we don’t have to think too hard: we’ve got the t-shirts and we go on stage.

Where did you get the t-shirts from?
This one… a flatmate left the flat, and he just left it. I just put some paint on it. We just got some white t-shirts and put some acrylic paint on it.

Do you have any particular fashion influences?
A guess a tiny bit of hip-hop. I wear baggy jeans quite a lot, and we wear t-shirts which is quite hip0hop. We’ve got quite lazy with the way we dress as we just tend to sit in a van. We just wear shitty comfortable clothes and then forget to make an effort when we leave the van. I really like it when bands make an effort with their look, as long as their look isn’t stronger than their music. Then it’s terrible.

Any pet fashion hates?
I think if people wear what they want to wear as it suits them and they feel comfortable in it then they normally look good. I think seeing people that are dressed uncomfortably, wearing jeans that are too small for them, is a bad look. I don’t like skinny jeans on guys that much, I think it looks unhealthy. I feel worried for those guys. It sounds really mean to say that!

Have you got any favourite place to shop in London?
Nah, I haven’t been shopping in ages, man. I used to do a lot of charity shops, but that gets harder and harder because everyone does that now, so all the good stuff is gone. I don’t know, I’m pretty bad at shopping. You need to talk to my mum!

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Micachu And The Shapes’ current single ‘Golden Phone’ was our Single of the Week last week – find it reviewed by School Of Seven Bells HERE. ‘Jewellery’ is out now and reviewed HERE. Find Micachu And The Shapes on MySpace HERE.

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