July 21st, 2009 | Interviews

joe mcgarry

Download: Micachu and the Shapes “Lips”


(from Jewellery out now on Rough Trade)

Micachu and the Shapes began with Mica Levi, a girl in her early twenties who doubles as a composer, triples as a grime producer and quadruples as a pop experimentalist. Along with Raisa Khan and Marc Pell, her band has risen in the U.K.’s indie scene with this year’s debut Jewellery but is already so post-vacuum cleaner. This interview by Daiana Feuer.

What do you like about shapes? Shapes in the band name. Shapes on the t-shirts…

Mica Levi (guitar/vocals/much more): Shapes? They’re simple. And strong. I dunno. It’s quite broad. I guess with Micachu and Shapes we just wanted to have something so that we wouldn’t have to try too hard with fashion—we could just throw a t-shirt on. Something that was unparticular. We picked it quickly and felt comfortable with it. You can’t dislike a shape. It’s just a shape. It was something that wasn’t too particular that we can all just get along with.
What do your bandmates bring to your compositions that give the work new light or new shape?
I’d say good opinions and ideas. Great musicianship! We work on arrangements and things together and I guess everyone has really different tastes in music. We get to argue things out and see where different people are coming from.
Did you meet at music school?
No, no, college. Uni. University. I guess the first song we worked on together as a band was probably ‘Raw.’ Cowbells. I had put it down and we worked on the structure and how we’d do it live.
When you incorporate wine bottles and such live, do you bring them with you or acquire them wherever you are?
We bring them along. They’re a particular pitch. We pack them in our luggage and hope for the best. When we used to bring the vacuum along, we’d pack it in the suitcase but we haven’t used the vacuum for a long time. It made me a bit ill after a while. I had it in my face.
Did it give you a hickey?
Oh, it wasn’t like that. I just had it over my mouth and the vacuum had actually been used as a vacuum in the past so it was quite dirty.
What toys are you bringing along nowadays?
Actually we’re trying to do pretty conventional instruments. We’re trying to use the basics and come up with interesting stuff on them. Try! The synthesizers you can do certain things to but we try not to do too much. My guitars—well, you know. Marc’s drum set up is pretty interesting. He doesn’t have any toms. He uses baby food tins.
Baby food tins?
His sister’s had a baby. He pillaged the tins. Not glass ones—actual tins. And I’ve got the guitar. Although I’m not very skilled at it. I just play guitar in the band. I do a bit of singing.
The girl standing in the front with curly hair doing something on the microphone…
That’s me!
Nice-looking girl.
Aw, thanks. I’m writing more and more with the guitar nowadays because that’s what I have with me. I notate chords every now and then but not usually for the band. Before the band even started I had done a lot of production so I’m quite used to writing on the computer.
Is writing for the band much different from writing for production?
I approach it similarly but when I write for the band I’m thinking about Mike and Reischa and I guess it’s a different outfit. So while the musical ideas are probably the same interest-wise, you can dress it in different outfits. You can make it electronic, or instrumental and a bit more lavish so it’s not diatonic and automatic or whatever. You can dress it up in the band. I guess I have similar taste in music that applies to whatever—within all kinds of music there’s something you like that interests you as a composer and there’s a reason for that exploration, so it’s probably consistent all around.
Where do the lessons you learn from being in the scene—so to speak—pick up from where music school leaves off?
Wow, that is such a good question. The most useful thing I’ve learned from doing my lessons—I learned more sort of techniques and skill from my lessons. So basically the ability to articulate my ideas on the page so other musicians can interpret it as close to the idea that I have in my head as possible. A lot of that is just skills, becoming more fluent with the medium. There’s that. I’ve learned a lot from listening to other people’s music and being immersed in it and trying things out—the confidence to try things out. From being in the band, I’ve learned a lot from Marc and Reischa about getting things to work for everyone and compromising and stuff. I’ve learned a lot of nasty horrible truths about the music industry from being involved in it. It’s a bit depressing but interesting and certainly a lesson of sorts.
Does music suffer by being noticed?
Not exactly. It’s best to ignore that stuff. All of us want to be musicians forever so however we can facilitate that is going to hopefully be the way, so we’re going to crack on and do what we do. It’s interesting to learn about the cynicism of the industry. But I guess it’s part and parcel of it. There’s nothing productive about compromising your ideas in that. You’ll never win. You can’t gain anything or do anything right. That’s the weird thing about it. There’s no right or wrong. So you might as well just do what you want to do. That’s the story of it. Which is interesting to learn from—more of a knowledge about it rather than a creative influence.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from an unexpected source?
I’ve got really shit memory. But recently someone told me to stop trying to do music every single second of the day. Try and have a bit of a timetable to realize what I’m achieving and have a social life. That was quite a good piece of advice. You see, music, I really like it—but I guess if you embrace it too much then you’ll constantly feel disappointed because you can’t actually achieve what you’ve got in your head. Life gets in the way and gets annoyed by it. So it’s best to just climb out and do more. Being a musician can be quite a selfish thing. I dunno—this is not about me but…if you’re a giant star and you’ve got a family or something, actually a lot of your life is all about you and that’s great and you can do stuff for other people BUT it’s good to sort of try and divide and organize your time so that there’s separate time between what you’re doing creatively and being nice to other people.
What’s the most important thing about being alive?
Alive?! Keeping the breath regular. You got to call a philosopher about that. Having a good time? Try to enjoy it as much as possible because no one really knows, I don’t really know what to fucking say to that. Oh man. Oh I know, the most important thing in life is making loads of money and making a hit record. Sorry, I knew I had it in me somewhere—that’s the most important thing.
No, that’s not true! I’m making a joke. That was a joke. Definitely a joke.
Is music a language or something else?
I think it can be. Sometimes that’s used a bit too much. I think—you know what? It really differs from culture to culture but one thing I’ve really learned is that through experiencing other musical cultures, a lot of people socialize and express themselves and find partners and really important things like that through music. The ability to dance and show your style or whatever is how you communicate with people. That can be really important. In the culture I’m involved in, it’s more about self conscious art which is fine and it’s a different kind of—maybe more intellectual, and based on looking at the past and consequence of certain things. Basically what I’m trying to say is in some cultures, things like dancing and singing and making music is how you show your ability as a person and show your taste and yeah, your style to people. If you have the confidence to be that, and are capable to do that—showing off and stuff—yes, it can be a language. But not too much—I don’t think people should think they’re doing anything too important.
If you could put any rapper on a song you produce?
Who is alive: MF Doom. He’s such a sick rapper. I love Big L—he passed away years ago but he’s got a great quality about him. But Doom is the guy. If you know MF Doom and he’s up for it, can you give him my number?