British singer Mika is bringing it back Stateside in a return tour although more acoustic and intimate than past sold out shows. The artist who released his third album The Origin of Love last year has continually stepped up his game with his impressive vocal range while selling 8.5 million records in the process. This has developed into a large catalogue of work over the years with songs such as “We Are Golden” and “Grace Kelly.”
His lead off single and collaboration with Pharrell Williams “Celebrate” was a highlight from his latest album. He then went Broadway using music inspired by the musical Wicked for “Popular Song” featuring Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande. The composer Stephen Schwartz was so moved by his rendition that it’s the only time he’s authorized its usage.
Mika takes on bullying, Twitter, and The Brady Bunch in this exclusive interview.
Jerry Nunn: Hey, Mika. You are coming back to Chicago again.
Mika: Yes, It’s quite cool. I love Chicago. People dance and lose themselves there. It’s fun.
JN: I noticed at a past concert of yours that people dressed in bright colors and jumped around. It’s a big party.
Mika: Yeah, which I find is funny because often the local crew at some of these places don’t know who I am or don’t know the live show so they are not prepared for what happens. Over the course of two hours the security staff is going, “What the heck?”
JN: The inflatable balls are flying in the air!
Mika: Exactly. This show is different though. It is shrunk down to me and two other musicians. We are all swapping instruments so you have us all singing, there is a clarinet, trombone, sax, marimba, and tons of different sounds. But it is just three of us and I wanted something that was a lot more focused and dynamic that could go from acoustic to very big sounding. I thought that was really important. For the first time really across the United States I will show people how I make my music and by seeing it in this setting you can kind of get it. What is amazing is that I have done shows with the piano and people still kind of jump up and down, while singing as loud as they possible can. I love the energy but this is a totally different vibe than the show we just did in Chicago.
JN: I knew the show would sell out with such a small intimate space.
Mika: It did quite fast actually. I know my friends in Chicago were waiting to buy them in the morning. They waited like an hour too late because they didn’t wake up and buy them in time. They were pissed. I said, “You see? Who are my real friends? My fans are my real friends!” I wasn’t going to give them any tickets then a half hour later I asked, “How many do you want?”
JN: You have always been good to your fans. I know many people who wait until late to meet you but always come out and say hello.
Mika: I always go out and talk to people. I come from nowhere and I try to make my music like I come from somewhere. If someone says they like what I do or relate to it in some way then it is inevitable that I meet them and hear what they say. I want my fans to become a part of my world too. I find that it’s a really nice thing to come across.
JN: Your lyrics are very relatable to people. Tell me about the song “You Only Love Me When I’m Drunk.”
Mika: No, it’s “I Only Love You When I’m Drunk” that’s the song. [both laugh]
JN: Oh, I got it mixed up. What was it inspired from?
Mika: It was written completely as a message to someone I was hanging out with at the time. I was turning into the worst good time lover. I wanted to look at somebody and have them look at me like they are drunk without having to drink anything. That is what I want out of the person that I am looking at. Some people have to actually be drunk to feel like they are going anywhere with someone. I would never have the courage to say it in real life but I can in a song.
JN: I heard it playing at a gay bar recently.
Mika: Really? That’s fucking cool!
JN: Do you have a favorite drink?
Mika: An old fashioned. I was with a friend in Miami at a club with all of these rich people and it was fucking horrible. They were all party people who wanted to take drugs for the weekend to forget their lives. It was so incredibly loud. I decided to have a drink and leave. This was one of those most expensive places. When I asked the waitress for an old fashioned she said, “What the fuck? Do you think this is the 1920’s?” I was like, “Listen up, bitch, this is why people don’t come to your shit hole!”
JN: Well, we will have one after the show!
JN: Is Wicked your favorite musical? Did that make you want to have your own take on “Popular?”
Mika: I think it’s a brilliant musical mainly for the writing. It has been masterfully written. The engineering of how it is written is absolutely amazing. I love the use of the Greek chorus. They have the maddening crowds in the classical theater way. I thought it was really cleaver. I just really loved the song and there was a sweetness about that hook. I always look for things that have that sweet coinable quality to them. I think you put everything in them that is bitter, dark, twisted and you put it next to a hook like that it suddenly becomes palatable. Just like “Lollipop” when you put all of that dark, strange, surreal stuff around it then it’s okay because it’s a lollipop. When I read that it was one of Stephen King’s favorite songs I felt very validated.
It was the same for “Popular.” I loved the song and the sweetness of that hook so I wanted to turn it around. Instead of the cool chick I wanted the loser to sing it to her own advantage. That is why I switched the roles around.
JN: It works well as an anti bullying song.
Mika: Definitely. That is what it’s about but it is more than that. Part of it is about bullying but it also about the music industry. We strive to hard to create something but we are still that same thing that we started off as. It definitely has some of my favorite lyrics on the whole album. “Standing on the field with your pretty pom poms now you are working at the movies selling popular corn.”
JN: I heard you were bullied when you were younger so it must be rewarding to make a statement about it.
Mika: I was absolutely bullied every day, every hour on the hour. It was horrific. I hated school and most of my school life as a child. I was always being dumped on. What the fuck was their problem? How stupid, ignorant, and foolish do you have to be to pick on someone? Especially when it is something they haven’t chosen or can’t change. How much of an idiot do you have to be? Whenever teachers would try to help they would never try to alienate the bully or really them what they thought of them. It is a bullshit attitude. Why didn’t they stand up and say, “You are a fucking idiot and here is why…” It always has to be so soft and the bullying is never soft. All of that shit made me want to create my own world. I wanted to transform myself into something else. I wanted to get my own vengeance. I wanted to be something else, somewhere else, and someone else so I wrote songs that felt like I could be anything.
JN: So it made you into the musician that you are.
Mika: Definitely. On one hand I don’t like that part of my life but it has made me who I am. I like who I am right now so would I be the same if I didn’t have that experience? That doesn’t matter because I came out of it well. I had a good family and a support mechanism. Take that support mechanism away and you are just fucked.
JN: You had a big family didn’t you?
Mika: Yes, I had five brothers and sisters.
JN: So kind of like The Brady Bunch.
Mika: A little bit but as dysfunctional as you could possible get. Well, now that I think about it The Brady Bunch is pretty dysfunctional, [laughs] minus the braces. We didn’t have a budget for braces!
JN: How many languages do you speak?
Mika: I speak French, Spanish, English, and I am about to learn Italian. I am trying to get fluent and conversational in the next few months.
JN: That’s awesome.
Mika: Oh that is nothing. My sister speaks Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, French, and English. The advantage we had was we actually moved around a lot. Language wasn’t the kind of thing that you gleaned off textbooks. You were surrounded by it. It was so much easier.
JN: What has been the reaction of your fans after coming out of the closet publicly? Do they tweet you with their stories?
Mika: No, I have found on Twitter that no one says anything meaningful or very rarely. Usually it is an inconsequential sound bite on Twitter, which is one of the reasons I have a real problem with it. It just trivializes everything. We get messages on Facebook and I read those. That gets really intense sometimes. When I meet people after shows and on the street people tell me their stories and how I play into their lives.
Beyond on that it has been quite amazing. There has been no increase or decrease since I labeled myself. It wasn’t really much of a coming out but more of an affirmation in a way. There has never been an increase to it because people have been telling their stories and relating to me with stories of their lives and stories of their sexuality from the very beginning because they saw that in my music and it was clear. It has always been a part of who I am and my music. It is not all of it but definitely a fabric of who I am as a person and a writer. It is undeniable.
Magic Mika will be at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N Lincoln, on April 3. Visit lincolnhallchicago.com or mikasounds.com for more information on this artist and show.