Press days must be tiresome. Having to put up with the same old questions about what moved you to record the album, what the story behind your band’s name is, and to top it all of, having some would-be quirky journalist ask if your karma is in check. Still, Micachu & The Shapes proved to be the epitome of patience. At the end of a long day of interrogations, the three Londoners — Mica Levi, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell — remained gracious when asked nonsensical questions and readily engaged in conversation. Even though the connection of our Skype conversation was abominable and my room was filled with an ear-shattering reverb. We’re all pros at this.
After three years spent composing a sinister minimal score for sci-fi film Under the Skin and hosting a consistently unassuming leftfield show on NTS Radio, Mica returned to her band to record an album that was born purely out of improvisation. The avant-garde outfit is set release Good Sad Happy Bad via Rough Trade on 11 September, a collection of drudged pop rhythms, where uncanny samples mingle with jaunty instrumentation. It’s shapeshifting music: prodigious, genre-bending compositions that could just as easily be enjoyed by the masses as by the tall heads. We decided to improvise a conversation about good deeds, getting rich quick and sticking to deadlines.
Hey there! What have you guys been up to today?
Marc: Lots of interviews, photos and things. We’re currently in the Kafri rehearsal studios where we recorded Good Sad Happy Bad. We’re just hanging out here all day, talking to people about how the album came to be.
Ah, a good old press day. What question did you hear the most on this session?
Mica: There is this sound in the song “Unity”, and people are asking what that is. It’s not a pig!
Oh, wait. It’s not?
Mica: No, sorry…
Raisa: It’s close…
Mica: Oi! It’s me!
Haha! I’d like to talk about the album as well, but also about some stuff not directly related to that. Here’s one right off the bat: do you believe in karma?
(All together:) Yeah!
Why are you such confident believers?
Marc: What goes around, comes around, innit? That’s just how life goes.
That sounds pretty down to earth. But do you also believe in it on a spiritual level?
Marc: Well, you know. You win some, you lose some – on some days you find a tenner on a platform, but that means you should do something nice on that day for somebody. Do good you get good!
Raisa: Guess I’d rather do good because of people instead of do good because god is telling me to be good. Karma makes a bit more sense to me than that. Does that make sense?
Mica: You can get instant karma. So if you call someone a prick, you might fall over immediately after that. That happens.
What was the last good deed you guys have done then?
Marc: Raisa made everyone’s tea today!
Raisa: Yes, I put the teabags in the cup, but you added the water.
Mica: And I drank the tea. But I just do good deeds so much it’s hard to pinpoint one particular good one. Hmm… I opened the door for someone?
How nice of you!
Marc: That’s a good one!
Mica: That’s not really a deed though, is it? It’s nice, but it’s also just practical, you know?
Well, you could have also kept the door shut…
Mica: Yeah, but who would do that? Haha! That’s going to give you some bad karma. But a really decent selfless deed… Hmm… I don’t know. When you do a really good deed, it feels kind of gross to talk about it. You don’t really want to admit to it.
That’s true. It’s nice to stay humble. Maybe Marc and Raisa can recall something you did that made them very happy?
(It stays silent on the other end for about five seconds)
Mica: Wow, they can’t think of anything! What a surprise!
Haha! Let’s look at it another way then. Do you guys owe the world anything?
Marc: Well, we were in Bristol and Mica and I found a fiver on the floor. And she said: ‘Ah, I can buy us some coffees!’ And then I said: ‘maybe we should do something good with it. We should give it to someone who needs it.’ But then there was no one around who clearly needed a fiver at that moment in time. We were like: we want Raisa to benefit from this fiver as well. So we were talking about that and it was quite a long walk back to the venue and it got really complicated. So we just put the fiver back down on the floor. Our karma balance is neutral right now. The world doesn’t owe us anything, and we don’t owe the world anything, you know?
Mica: Hear, hear, man.
So you’re not keeping tabs of all the good and bad stuff you’re doing?
Mica: Good and bad makes you remember what good and bad are.
Raisa: And being sad makes you remember what being happy is.
That sounds a little like the album title! I read recording this album felt the most free you’ve ever been. How free can you be as an independent musician, when you want to live off of your music?
Mica: A hundred percent free. If you’re not getting any money for it, you might as well get as much life out of it as you can.
Ever been tempted to change your music to get a bigger audience?
Mica: We would if we could, but we can’t.
Mica: We want people to hear our music. We want people to enjoy what we think is good music. I guess that’s why we put it out because we reckon some other people will like it. If a million liked it, or I don’t know, eight billion people liked it, that wouldn’t be a bad thing though.
How about doing some other kind of art that earns you more money?
Marc: Yeah! I’ve thought about Lego, sketching, videos, cooking.
How would one make money with Lego’s?
Marc: I’d take my boxes of Lego’s to like kids parties or a big fair, to have like the sickest corner and rent unlimited Lego for a pound. Kids will eventually get bored and move on, and then other kids will come. Everyone’s happy, parents can go off and go on the big rides, kids play Lego.
Raisa: You’re onto something here…
Marc: You’d have to pay extra for the gold bricks though – fifty pence per brick.
I didn’t even know there were gold bricks.
Mica: We’ll spray paint those.
That sounds like the perfect get-rich-quick scheme! I had one last question: are you guys good at keeping promises?
Mica: I just never make promises. But I try to keep my deadlines.
You’re actually pretty good at that. I think you’re the first band ever who showed up on time on Skype!
Mica: There you go! Hey, well done, all!
Micachu & The Shapes’ Good Sad Happy Bad is out now on Rough Trade. They play Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam’s The Rest is Noise on 6 October. The show is free for Subbacultcha members.