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Issue 1084

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MICA PARIS: Back for good

Mica Paris @bluesandsoul.com
Mica Paris @bluesandsoul.com Mica Paris @bluesandsoul.com Mica Paris @bluesandsoul.com Mica Paris @bluesandsoul.com

Pete Lewis speaks to established UK soul Queen Mica Paris about her new LP âBorn Againâ - her first album of new material in over 10 years.

Produced by British global hitmaker Brian Rawling (Cher; Tina Turner; Enrique Iglesias) and boasting song-writing input from the likes of soulful chart-topper James Morrison (the uptempo single âBaby Come Back Nowâ) and Rihanna mentors Evan Rogers & Carl Sturken (the pounding âBreathlessâ), the varied musical moods of âBorn Againâ cater to the diverse audience Micaâs more recent radio and television work has brought her; while vocally remaining faithful throughout to her early, deep-set roots in soul and gospel.

Indeed, born Michelle Wallen in April 1969 in South London, Mica initially started out singing gospel at her grandparentsâ church before, at just 17, signing her first solo deal with Island Records. With her big-selling 1988 debut album 'So Goodâ spawning the transatlantic Top 10 single âMy One Temptationâ (plus a Top 20 duet with Will Downing on a cover of Roberta Flack & Donny Hathawayâs âWhere Is the Loveâ), Paris would go on to release two more studio albums with Island (1990âs more-street oriented âContributionâ and 1993âs largely-American-recorded âWhisper A Prayerâ) before singing to EMI, where in 1998 she released the notably less-successful LP âBlack Angelâ.

While always retaining her credibility as one of Britainâs most renowned soul singers, Micaâs public profile through the Noughties has nevertheless centred more around radio and televison work - most notably her BBC Radio 2 âSoul Solutionsâ show; her co-hosting of BBC TVâs consumer style programme âWhat Not To Wearâ; plus her acting role as fictitious American jazz singer Amelia Walker in the 2007 television mystery drama âMarple: At Bertramâs Hotelâ. Meanwhile, in addition to regular ongoing TV appearances via such high-profile shows as âLoose Womenâ, âStrictly Come Dancingâ and âSongs Of Praiseâ, late 2007 also found her releasing her semi-autobiographical book âBeautiful Within: Finding Happiness And Confidence In Your Own Skinâ.

Nevertheless, itâs this monthâs release of the aforementioned âBorn Againâ (whose soulful highlights include the string-laden, Eric Benet-penned ballad âYouâre The Only Oneâ; plus an acoustic remake of her aforementioned debut hit âMy One Temptationâ) that reacquaints Mica with âBlues & Soulâ. As an ever-talkative and down-to-earth Ms. Paris speaks openly to Pete Lewis about such relevant topics as her new LP; her ongoing multi-media presence; plus todayâs new UK soul movement.

PETE: Why has it been over a decade since you last released an album of new material?

MICA; âWhat basically happened was that I just couldnât get ARRESTED when I left EMI after the (1998-released) âBlack Angelâ album. But, while I couldnât get a record deal, at the same time I was starting to get a lot of love from TV and radio. You know, people kept putting me forward for things like the Radio 2 show I had called âSoul Solutionsâ, which I ended up doing for five years. Then âWhat Not To Wearâ came about for BBC1⦠But over all that time I still wasnât getting any love from the music industry. So I basically just went where the LOVE was.â

PETE: So how did the new album âBorn Againâ come about?

MICA: âThough I didnât allow it to mess me up in any way, in hindsight I think the rejection I was getting from the music industry did kind of hurt. I do feel that subconsciously there was a painful feeling inside of âOh, I really wish I could make a bloody RECORD!â! So, when shows like âWhat Not To Wearâ started to become really successful, Iâd often talk to Brian Rawling about how Iâd love to make an album with him. Mainly because weâre mates, plus I also think heâs absolutely one of the best producers this country HAS. So, when he called one day and was like âMeesh, these people have come forward with some money, so I think weâre gonna be able to make that recordâ⦠I was like âOh God, this is a GIFT!â. So he and I went straight in the studio, and decided to just start from scratch, by making an album that was both song-based and organic.â

PETE: Why did âBorn Againâ then take two years to complete?

MICA: âThe first year was really tough. Because the songs I was writing, co-writing and taking from other writers just werenât CUTTING it, if Iâm honest. And I basically just ended up throwing them all out, because they just werenât good enough. But then, when Brian came to me with the Keyshia Cole song âI Rememberâ and I went in the studio and recorded it, something just HAPPENED! Because after that, suddenly all these amazing songs just started to FLOW! First there was âBorn Againâ, then there was âHold Onâ, âThe Hardest Thingâ, âNothing But The Truthâ⦠You know, just song, after song, after SONG! So that one song - âI Rememberâ - did prove very much a transitional point. Which was weird, because it only happened after the first 12 months had gone by and Iâd thrown out all the earlier songs Iâd done.â

PETE: Youâve said this new album reminds you of recording your first LP (1988âs âSo Goodâ) for Island Records, when you wanted to bring a lot of the church into your musicâ¦

MICA: âWhen I say âthe churchâ I donât mean in a RELIGIOUS way. What Iâm talking about is the SENTIMENT of the message - you know, always making sure that you inspire and touch people with the music. Which was the mentality I had doing the âSo Goodâ album, when Iâd just come out of the church. And to this day I say that, with the exception of this new record, it remains my best-ever album. You know, because I had artistic freedom at Island to choose the writers and producers, I ended up being surrounded by the most incredible team of people who just really believed in my dream. And Iâd never been able to capture that âteamâ feeling again until this time round, working with Brain Rawling and his production company Metrophonic. You know, everyone involved with this album really believed in what I was doing and what THEY were doing. And itâs that kind of team spirit that makes it HAPPEN, and makes you a success.â

PETE: So what for you is so special about Brian Rawling and his Metrophonic writing/production team?

MICA: âBrian has a stable of about six or seven incredible writers who all work at his place. And being around exceptional people like Paul Barry - who did the title track âBorn Againâ and is just a fantastic writer - is just HEAVEN for a song interpreter like myself. Because it means youâre surrounded by people who are as good as YOU are, but in the WRITING form. You know, thereâs no point in having a great voice and a mediocre SONG. Which is something that has always been a problem for me over the years. You know, after my first album I was never really able to find the level of incredible writing that I needed to match my level of voice.â

PETE: How do you now look back on your early days singing in your grandparentsâ church?

MICA: âWhen I look back on those days, to be honest I feel really blessed to have had grandparents who were ministers. Because whatâs fantastic about that upbringing is that it really teaches you to be a live artist! You know, when I was 10 years old I was always being told to solo and stuff at the front of the church. And I had no idea at that time that I was actually learning my trade and being groomed for the future. I mean, there is NO WAY I could be the live performer that I am today had it not been for that upbringing! Because, when you sang in church back in my day, you werenât singing for self-gratification! As I said before, you were singing to touch and inspire the people - otherwise you werenât allowed to be UP there! So what Iâve got from the church is the knowledge that itâs not about ME! Itâs all about how you make the LISTENER feel, and the fact they must be moved and touched by what you do.â

PETE: So letâs talk about your BBC Radio 2 show âSoul Solutionsâ (which ran from 2002 to 2007), and how it spawned your 2005 covers album âSoul Classicsâ

MICA: âThey initially approached me to do a guest spot, and I ended up staying for five years! You know, the show was really great. I had a really amazing fan-base - like half-a-million people listening every week - and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. So I had guests like Mary J. Blige; I had Jill Scott do my jingle... I had a WONDERFUL time! And the âSoul Classicsâ album was totally the idea of Sanctuary Records. To be honest, I didnât really want to do a covers album. But, at the same time, I thought it might be a nice little treat for the listeners if I made an album based on me singing songs that theyâd personally chosen as their favourites. And so it was really all about me doing what was required of me because of the radio show. And it was actually through making that record that I originally met Brian Rawling, and we first got to talking about making an album of original material together.â

PETE: And what was the story behind you becoming a highly-successful co-host (alongside former model Lisa Butcher) of BBC TVâs consumer style programme âWhat Not To Wearâ?

MICA: âTo be honest, Iâve always been a bit of a clothes freak. Iâve always been one of those girls whoâs like âWhy are you WEARING that? You canât go out in THAT! You gotta sort it OUT!â!... So the only difference with me doing âWhat Not To Wearâ was that the CAMERA was on me! Because I was basically just doing what I always did ANYWAY! You know, Iâd always dressed up my sisters and told them what to wear, even though I was the youngest! And I think the reason that show really worked with me and Lisa doing it was because, with me having never seen Trinny & Susannahâs show, I just went in there and did it my way! Lisa put me forward for the programme; I just went in there with a blank canvas - and I did it like a South London girl WOULD do it! I was just totally being me. Whereas maybe if Iâd gone on there trying to be like Trinny & Susannah, it wouldnât have WORKED!â

PETE: What are your ideas on the new-generation of UK soul artists like Amy Winehouse, Adele and James Morrison?

MICA: âWell, because we had such a long cycle of stuff sounding incredibly poptastic and incredibly manufactured, the sound just HAD to go back to basics. You know, everything goes in cycles and the British soul scene just had to evolve again, come back to where it started, and get RAW. Because there was nowhere else for it to GO on the poptastic front. And I think itâs absolutely fantastic that weâve created this sound in England with artists like Amy, Adele and James. I remember interviewing Amy like five years ago, when she came on my âSoul Solutionsâ show around her (debut) album âFrankâ. And I was championing that girl so much that I even put her on my show at the Jazz Café with Omar and everybody else! You know, she came onstage and everyone was like âWhoâs that little scrawny white girl you got up there?â⦠And I was like âListen, man. That girl? Sheâs the SHIT!â!,. You know, I KNEW she was bad - though a lotta other people didnât get it at the time.â

PETE: So why do you feel this whole movement has emanated from the UK?

MICA: âThe UK is very good at creating new SOUNDS, because weâve got the most multicultural STREET society here. You know, because youâve got all of the different cultures merging, we come up with some really edgy stuff. I mean, having lived both here and in The States, Iâve seen the difference in how WE make music and THEY make music. While they may be more polished in the way they produce records, weâre definitely more edgy in terms of IDEAS. And, with the industry being in absolute agony and pain right now - they had the WARNING about what was gonna happen with the internet but they didnât HEED it - whatâs so exciting about the UK coming up with this sound is that itâs created a whole new generation of live music artists whoâve taken it all, as I just said, back to basics. To where itâs now once again all about going back on the road and performing live shows. Which, for an artist like myself, is great news. Because thatâs what Iâve always BEEN about!â

Mica performs at Ronnie Scottâs, London on June 10/11/12; and at 606 Club, London on June 22

The album âBorn Againâ and single âBaby Come Back Nowâ are both out now through Rhythm Riders
Words PETE LEWIS

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