If a British group pulls out a better pop album than Micachu and the ShapesJewellery this year, then we’ll be shocked.

Surrey-born, Bow-dwelling classically-trained singer and bedroom producer Mica Levi has been one of those faces you’ve seen on Ones to Watch lists since 07 – mainly due to the strength of myspace hit ‘Golden Phone’ and her self-released Filthy Friends mixtape.

As we both know, those are usually the sort of faces where a lot of hype materialises into not a lot of good music, a good old fashioned backlash, and the circle continuing with some sort of S.C.U.M. side project. But Micachu, and her band The Shapes (Marc, drums, and Raisa, keyboards), are surely here to stay: Jewellery is brilliant. Produced by Matthew Herbert, it crashes, bangs and wallops its way through sheet after sheet of distortion like a manic puppy; every breakdown, chorus and middle 8 oozing with life. FACT grabbed a cuppa in Spitalfields Market with Mica and The Shapes the day before they signed to Rough Trade:

How did the Shapes form?

Mica: “I was making like hip-hop and garage-y stuff, trying out all sorts really, anything I liked. Nothing too concrete. It was more like a hobby. Last year I decided I wanted to get a band together – December 2007 we had our first rehearsal…”

Marc: “Me and Mica started running through beats…”

Raisa: “I came along a bit later. We had a drunken night and I was like “do you need a keyboard player?” I was a bit like what am I gonna do with my life…”

Mica: “Yeah, it was funny – we got far too drunk, it wasn’t even that late. It was like the afternoon.”

So how does Mica’s original stuff, with the loops and samples, translate into band music?

Mica: “The idea behind starting the band was trying to have something that was totally live and not reliant on electronics – a lot of what we were doing at first was taking the electronic parts that I’d done for the song, even if they were sketches, and imitate them for the instrumentation that we had. At the beginning that was like a few synth sounds, kicks, snares and hi-hats…

“The band started half way through the album was made, so in terms of developing songs after that, we did songs like ‘Guts’ and ‘Wrong’ much more as a band. So I’d come with some vague ideas about the arrangements and the textures, and we’d just work on it together. I dunno. It’s all a bit of a hazy, fuzzy…”

Load of drunken afternoons?

Mica: “It’s not even that – it’s just when you’re working on something; starting with something basic and slowly modeling it…”

Marc: “We haven’t been under the influence at all during our sessions I don’t think – not even stoned.”

Mica: “It’s rare we get to rehearse really, so we need to make the most of it.”

What about live – the songs must be pretty hard to replicate in that setting?

Marc: “I think like a lot of bands who use backing tracks, if you want to see a band who’re gonna play exactly the same as the album then don’t see us – that’s not what we’re trying to do. Like we’ve got a laptop with various synth sounds, so we can replicate the bass sounds, but it’s not about trying to get an exact reproduction – I think interpretation live is far more intriguing and interesting than a band who just perform what’s in front of them.”

Mica: “It also means we have a bit more flexibility to change things. It’s very easy to forget that initial click that you get out of something; when you first think it sounds really good. You know when you just rinse a track, like you’ve just listened to it too much? When you’re playing all the time, sometimes there are dips – sometimes you really enjoy yourself, and other times you feel stuck down to imitate what you’ve got on a record, and don’t have room to develop things…”

How do you feel about Jewellery now it’s done?

Marc: I think it’s got really cool sounds; the way it mixes the electronic stuff that Mica does with the band stuff – making a lot of the band stuff sound sharper, and making the produced stuff softer and rounder.”

Was there anything you were particularly inspired by? It’s pretty unique.

Marc: “The concept of jewellery seemed to come after all the songs had been put together. The next album will be called Debris, and it’ll be a lot more trashy, where as this one’s more like polished pop songs in terms of production.”

Mica: Matthew [Herbert] was great. In terms of ideas, I guess I wanted to make something that sounds… it’s not about one particular object or idea; a lot of it’s distorted, there’s nice, cloudy distortion that runs through the whole thing. I didn’t have a specific direction in mind though.”

Raisa: “Because you didn’t really know it was your first album, you didn’t have a clear idea about it as a package.”

How involved was Herbert? Was it back and forth, hands off?

Mica: “He took a real producer’s seat. If there was structural things or melodic things then he’d step in. And obviously we’d talk about things before we did them, but it was more to sort out the sound of it, putting the bass in… He has all these amazing machines; really nice old army equipment, really nice old 70s delay kits, stuff like that, so we used all that – we messed around a lot to try and give each track its own identity.”

What about the lyrics in Jewellery?

“Neurosis is a big theme. ‘Turn Me Well’s about looking at love in a very realistic way, like a long-term relationship; a marriage or something. There’s no point getting out of it, and it might not be very passionate, but there’s still something there. It’s not all “oh, I love you”, but you rely on it.”

I love the ding on that song. That’s maybe my favourite bit of the record.

Marc: “I think things like that that happen just once in songs are often more effective. Especially when you put it on the beat after you expect it; like you’re fooled by it, and then you’re constantly waiting for it. And then you have to play the song again.”

Tom Lea



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