Interview: Micachu and the Shapes

Interview with Micachu and the Shapes

Micachu and the Shapes

Introduction

Musical polymath and Micachu band-leader Mica Levi discusses ‘The Only Way Is Essex’, recording transvestites and the experimental indie on latest album Never.

Questions and answers

Hi Mica, what can listeners expect from Never and how do you feel you’ve progressed artistically since your debut?

It’s meant to be kinda old fashioned and full-on and a bit trashy: quite messy sounding, quite intense and kinda lo-fi. But hopefully there are some melodies in there – it’s not noise music, it’s just not very finely polished.

Progressed? I don’t really know. It’s been quite a while so presumably a few things have changed. I’m older and more grumpy, probably. It’s funny because, with the first album, I wasn’t looking to do this as my career or anything. I just got invited to make an album and then it ended up turning into my job.

You were quoted as saying you weren’t “totally behind” Jewellery; are you more satisfied with Never?

Ahhh... I was behind Jewellery but I just got sick of it from touring it every day for two years. I couldn’t really stand the music anymore. It was probably quite unprofessional of me to say that, but that’s how it goes. I don’t think I feel like that now. That [quote] does follow me around a bit...

After working with Matthew Herbert on the first record, why did you opt to self-produce this time round? And was it a positive experience?

Because as a band we just wanted to learn how to do it, basically. Yeah, there were things that were good. It’s just about knowing where your strengths are and where being too involved is not productive. So, there are things to take and things to disregard from the experience.

Between albums, you collaborated with the London Sinfonietta on Chopped & Screwed. How did that come about? And how did the creative process work?

Well, they got in touch with us and I’ve been a fan of that ensemble for a long time; I’ve always wanted to write compositions for them. So we tried to find a middle ground between what our band does and what they do.

For instance: we learn our songs by ear, they score. So we partially scored it and partially had to remember structures by ear. In terms of what this orchestra specialises in, it’s avant garde, far-out music, and I’d say prog-rock is part of that world that we could connect to from being in a band.

I wanted to look at speeding up and slowing things down and wanted to make it a continuous piece of music so, in the concert, no one would be confused about where to clap. For me, that structure is kinda like a mixtape so there was a hip hop influence in there as well. And the most psychedelic, experimental genre of hip hop I could think of was “chopped and screwed”.

Low Dogg’ and ‘Fall’ from Never came from those sessions. Has working with the Sinfonietta affected how you write music now?

No I don’t think so... Well, probably in the future but not specifically for this record. I’d say I took quite a compositional approach to ‘Fall’, though. You know what, it probably has but I’m not massively conscious about exactly how. Actually, I’m gonna sharpen my pencil and try to write them a freely-composed concert piece in the next year or so.

You purpose-built an instrument for your collaboration with the Sinfonietta. Does it make an appearance on Never?

No, this album doesn’t use any specifically-built instruments. That’s on hold for a bit. We built that one because speeding up and slowing down things was one of the main focuses of that record. That instrument’s still in its developing stages, I’d say.

Does it have a name?

Yeah, “The Chopper”.

That might be trademarked by a bike company...

Oh no, really? Bollocks. (Laughs) Maybe we’ll have to spell it with two e’s or something. It’ll be fine, we’ll work it out...

You use a lot of found sound in your recordings too. We definitely spotted a hoover on ‘Easy’; is that the strangest sound on the record?

I think the strangest sound is footsteps. It was meant to be footsteps walking up a building but I’ve got carpet on my floors so we used the sound of a transvestite walking up and down the room in heels. (Laughs)

As someone who’s classically trained in violin, viola and composition, what importance do you place on lyrics? Are you trying to communicate a message to the audience or are you more interested in the phonetics?

That’s an interesting question... I love writing lyrics. I’m still getting my head around how I do it actually; there are so many different ways to write lyrics, it’s something I’m so ill-versed in. I don’t have one overriding message; I’m not religious or anything like that. It’d be cool if I did; it’d probably make it a bit easier, actually. So yeah, sometimes the way that things sound probably is really important, and I also like to write lyrics that sound like the way that you speak because you get a natural delivery that way.

There’s one song on the album we’re particularly intrigued by: what’s ‘Glamour’ all about?

That’s about a friend of mine becoming a glamour model. There was a period of time where loads of my friends were getting into that world and it’s about the seedy side of that, I guess... (Laughs) It was a bit of a piss-take out of her, really. It used to have a sample of a phone conversation from ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ in it, actually, but it would have cost a lot of money to use it so I just got my friend from Essex to do it instead. (Laughs)

The thing we love about your music is that you synthesise so many disparate influences and come out sounding like nobody else. Is it important to you that you’re doing something new with each recording?

Yeah. You’ve got to try to be yourself. That’s going to be crapper than some of your greatest musical idols but it will be yours, and I do think that’s important. Ugly or beautiful, you’ve got to put your print on it, otherwise what’s the point? Because, basically, you’re just relaying your tastes and your opinions.

So who are your musical heroes?

Ah man, there’s loads of them. But for this record particularly, I was listening to a lot of T-Rex and The Beatles. And Captain Beefheart is a big thing for me. At the moment though, I’d say my favourite artist is tUnE-yArDs. I think she’s brilliant.

You’re making videos for each of the songs on the album too. Why?

I don’t know, really. Looking back, it’s been a lot of work! We did it because of the sound-effects on the album, and the filmic aspect. I make a lot of music videos and I always have done; when I first started putting music up online, it would always be with a video that I’d made. I thought it’d be cool to have a video playlist, like a movie of the album. There’s no link between the videos in terms of a narrative but they’re based on the songs and come from the same visual world.

Speaking of the arts, you’re the youngest musician to be an artist in residence at the Southbank Centre, London. How did you get involved and how does the arrangement work?

I spent a couple of weeks at the Southbank Centre as part of a project called ‘Collision’ where current artists in residence invited a like-minded person to come along to get involved in conversations and conferences. My friend Ollie [Coates] is an artist in residence there and he invited me along.

I’ve been there for a year or more now, but it’s difficult to know what my role is, still. I’m not very good at programming or anything like that so it’s not necessarily that kind of relationship but I’m doing some work with a place in Bahia, Brazil at the moment. A residency can be whatever you make it; it’s Jedi, it’s seriously fake. If I was working on something that was fairly bespoke that wasn’t a gig, then I’d definitely take it to the Southbank Centre.

You released another mixtape with Kwes this year too; do you have plans to do more with him?

Yeah, I guess so. He lives in the shipping container a couple down from my shipping container so we see each other every other day. We usually do it when something’s coming out, so it’s something extra to give away. Actually, I think that’s just what people usually suggest to us and that tends to be when it gets done...