Mica Levi is an avant-garde pop sensation. The charismatic frontwoman of Micachu and the Shapes is just as comfortable jamming on homemade instruments as playing with the London Sinfonietta orchestra. Wonderland caught up with her about the release of her new album, Never.
How do you feel your sound has developed since 2008’s Jewellery?
Anyone listening to the tunes is a better judge than me, but I guess it’s less energetic. As you get older you start to decompose, you know?
What are your biggest influences?
It’s hard to say because they change so regularly. This week I’ve been listening to Pere Ubu and a compilation that my friend made me. I’m also watching a lot of the TV show Cheers. That’s an influence.
You famously use homemade instruments. How did you start making them?
I was really interested in Harry Partch, an instrument designer who started working around the 1920s. He was a big influence. I also just like making things. I’m Interested in customised and modified instruments which will go with the intentions behind the music. Process is pretty important to me.
You studied composition for several years. Was it important to have grounding in tradition in order to come up with a fresh sound?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve been exposed to a lot of kinds of music and that’s no doubt had a big impact on me. There’s also a lot of philosophy behind it all, but that’s more a subconscious thing that’s behind the songs.
Your work is often described as ‘experimental’. How do you feel about that label?
I’m not massively into it, to be honest, because I feel like it’s a bit vague. I don’t have a problem with the idea of labelling because it makes it easier to find things and get attracted to a style, especially now there’s so much available. I just feel like anybody who’s making something from scratch is experimenting with their material. Whether or not it sounds weird is a different matter. It’s a process as opposed to a sound.
Actually, I think ‘weird’ is a better description for something that isn’t quite comfortable to listen to. If you’ve got ‘conventional’ and ‘experimental’ as the two main labels, I’d replace ‘experimental’ with ‘weird’. Experimenting is important though, because it can help you come to a new conclusion.
The song “Glamour” includes sound clips of an Essex glamour model. What was the thinking behind that reference?
It’s actually about a friend of mine becoming a glamour model, and how people can suddenly turn around and become something like that. It’s about the fantasy of it all. It’s a bit of fun, really – a joke about a friend. I just hope they get it.
You’re making a video for each of the albums tracks. What was the thinking behind this?
It’ a big undertaking, but it seemed obvious to do it. When I look at the record I can’t see it as having any singles, as such. I had a strong idea about visuals and how I wanted the videos to look, though. It all ties together. It’s a lot of work though, blimey.
How do you feel about pop music at the moment?
I feel pretty good about it – I’d like to listen to it a bit more than I do. I think it’s cool that there’s a lot of UK hip-hop based music in the charts.
Never is out now on Rough Trade. Micachu and the Shapes is currently on tour and are playing on 24 July at the Arcola Big Top Tent in London.
Words: Mark Izatt