Photography by Matt Monath
You might say Mika has finally found his voice at 31. That's not to suggest it wasn’t there during his triumphant emergence onto the scene in 2007 (when he released his international hit “Grace Kelly”), and not to say it didn’t follow him through three critically praised records: Life in Cartoon Motion (2007), The Boy Who Knew Too Much (2009), and The Origin of Love (2012). But there’s always been a distinct guardedness about this singer/songwriter.
Now, ramping up to the June 16 release of his fourth album, No Place In Heaven, Mika is freeing himself from past fears and in doing so, delivering his most sophisticated, self-assured, yet whimsical, album to date.
Out: You described your first two albums as having a precocious, child-like quality, while the third album you described as more serious. How would you describe this album?
Mika: The fourth album is the result of a headspace that was a lot more positive—a lot more open. After the age of 30, I made a promise to myself to stop isolating myself so much, and to throw myself into things with a bit more of a care-free, candid attitude. I formed a little design studio with my sister and started drawing again like we used to in the kitchen of my mother’s house. I was basically liberating myself and making my brain work very hard—scaring myself with challenges. As a result, the album is direct, low-down, open, candid, playful, yet a mature pop album which takes its inspiration from '60s pop music, very much the way my first album did.
If we were looking at albums like high school, what would senior-year Mika tell freshman-year Mika about not just making records but about his career overall?
Buckle your seatbelt [Laughs]. For an artist like me–and I would explain this to myself if I had that Matthew McConaughey superpower, jumping through black holes and talking to myself when I’m younger–I would say, “Dare to be bold; dare to be different; dare to not fit in. If it has a reason for being, then it’s the right thing.”
How do you know if a song is finished?
If I don’t think of anything while I’m listening to it. I’m just kind of transported to the place where the song is trying to take me. Of course, I’ve got to be honest with you, once the record is finished I never listen to it ever again. I can’t listen to my own albums because they all feel unfinished. That’s why I always have so much fun performing because the songs are like living things that happen to be captured a certain way on the album, but on stage they evolve with you and with your audience.
The song “Good Guys” really stands out, repeatedly asking the question, “Where have all the gay guys gone?” Can you talk to me about this song?
I found myself in very big business—commercial sessions in big studios my first week of writing for the album. I looked around and said, “My god, you guys basically write most of the pop music in the world.” And they were all eating takeout, two of them had just been to the gym, and I looked at them a minute and said, “That’s great, but… where have all the gay guys gone? And they looked at me kind of blank-faced. But really, where have they all gone in the tin-pan alley part of pop music—the writing and the production? I found it funny. They didn’t find it funny at all.
As I sat down to write, I thought about that conversation and realized it wasn’t as jokey or as dumb as it sounded. It was almost like a message to myself. Where are the people that inspired me when I was 15-years-old, all these heroes that I held up so high? Where are they now? Why can’t I truly dare to be like them? How do I capture that? How do I be in the canon of those men that truly lived their lives without feeling consequences even if they had to deal with them? It was an exciting moment for me thinking, Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll go there. Let me try to be like the person I always wished I’d have the courage to be when I was younger. The answer is not the objective; It’s the process of asking and the self-confrontation.
Where do you think the music industry sits on the queer acceptance spectrum?
Since the 1950’s, music has been…well, forget the 1950’s. Since the 1700’s, music has been one of the few places where, even with an intolerant society, there's been freedom of expression. Even if it had to be more nuanced in certain cultures, and more discreet, music always gave an out—an opportunity for political and socio-political acceptance as far as sexuality is concerned. I still believe that is very much the case today. It’s an area where people can discover themselves as writers and as listeners. You can discover yourself as a fan of what you listen to. I’m an optimist and I truly believe that music as a medium is an incredibly tolerant art form.
Now, from a media perspective, it’s a different thing. I think it’s very good and I think it’s getting a lot better. There’s still further to go, and I’m very cognizant of that. Within mainstream media, the ideal is a non-reactivity and not even a mention. So, no matter the sexuality or the sex that a singer is singing about in a love song for example, it will not affect the format that the song will fall into—it will not infringe upon any part of one's commercial success or exposure. I think the way to get there is great music.
There’s a segment on this NPR podcast that I love called Pop Culture Happy Hour where they go around the table and share what’s making them happy that particular week. What’s making you happy this week?
Something quite amazing happened, actually. We are inevitably hardened by our daily lives, and we all have a certain patina even if we socially behave in a way to deny it...we still have that hardened patina when it comes to the outside world and protecting our emotions. You can see people protecting themselves and I do it too. During my show at Webster Hall this past week, I would look at people and see that their faces had changed– they were open, no longer guarding themselves in their body language against anybody around them. They were receiving and giving in equal measure. That candidness and that sense of openness was both inspiring and rejuvenating. It made me really happy to remind myself of the effect of the music on actual people in front of me. That made me really happy.
No Place In Heaven is Out June 16. Watch the video for "Good Guys" below: