It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since Mica Paris last released an album. But after numerous TV appearances and a massively successful Radio 2 ‘Soul Solutions’ show, the UK’s first lady of Soul is about to release a new record and head out on a nationwide tour. Throughout the 25 years of Mica’s career she has been lucky enough to taste the highs that fame can conjure, but she’s also, at times, been a victim of the lows that ‘celebrity’ can bring. Currently in great spirits, Mica drops us a line to tell us all about balancing a life as both a mum and a high flyer in entertainment business…
So you are back with a new album, which has been getting great reviews. Although you’ve been on our TV screens on various shows throughout the last few years, I wondered why you’ve been so quiet regarding the music side of things?
Around ten years ago I decided to walk out of EMI ‘cause they kinda messed up one of my albums, and I just got a bit sick of it… all the politics and the other stuff that goes on within that industry. So after ‘Black Angel’, which I had worked so hard on – it’s like having a baby putting an album out – after all that, they didn’t promote it and didn’t appreciate it, I found it really painful as an artist…
I can understand that if you’ve poured your heart and soul into it…
Totally…when I left there, no one wanted to sign me. I decided that the music business didn’t really want me anymore so I’d just have to wait and see what happens next. I’m very much a person who is quite optimistic and just gets on with things really. I got approached to do my own radio show on Radio 2. I was like ‘but I don’t do Radio… I’m a singer’. My sister said to me, “just get a grip and do this”. After I went down there to do my first recording I took the tape back to my sister and she was like, “why are you talking like that?” I was like “what do you mean”, and she said I was “talking all weird”. I thought it would be best if I didn’t come across all ‘Sauf’ London. You just think in your head that you should try and talk a bit differently than you normally do. She said to me “just be yourself Mica”. So I tried being myself and Lesley Douglas and all the others at the station started telling me that they loved my show. Then I started getting guests like Mary J. Blige and Bobby Womack – all the big people. Then I had my jingle sung by Jill Scott – who is also now one of my good friends and an amazing singer. All the people that had loved me over the years came in over those five years to be on the show. It was great. So after doing ‘Soul Solutions’ I got approached to do TV. Then Lisa put me forward for this ‘What Not to Wear’ thing and it just took off. It went really mental. If I’m honest, everything I’ve done has just fallen into my lap other than the music. It’s not something I had ever really pursued; it was just a case of people putting me forward for this stuff. As I said, at that point I wasn’t getting any love from the music industry; it just didn’t want to touch me. I was thinking at this point, ‘well I’m a mother, I’ve got to pay my bills (laughs), I gotta go where the love is’. Deep down in my heart I was hurting though, ‘cause really I’m a singer. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the other work (presenting), ‘cause it’s easy for me to be me… I don’t have to be someone else. Music is a very different thing. You can have an outer body experience; it’s very spiritual, I come from the church, I was raised in the church six days a week, my grandparents were Ministers, I was singing in Church by the time I was ten. When we sang in Church it was all about touching the people, it was never about self, and I always brought that to the music, even when I got signed at seventeen to Island Records. I told them I only want to make an album that touches people rather than just making manufactured stuff. That in a way kinda killed my career earlier on, not wanting to be manufactured – I pissed a lot of people off.
Please tell me a little about how your new album ‘Born Again’ came to light?
Yep, I got approached by the Headfront people and they said they wanted me to make a record. They put up the money and gave me my favourite producer Brain Rawlings, who is also a really old friend of mine. He just stuck with me. When we were working on the covers album, Soul Classics, for the Radio 2 ‘Soul Solutions’ show, we were both saying, “God, we wish we could make our own album of original songs”. He told me it would happen again one day. We stayed friends; I’d sing backing vocals on other projects he was working on. So when they came in and put Brian up as part of the deal, we knew we were going to get the chance of making the album we always wanted to make. I went down to Guildford, where he’s got a great place and told him that I just want to make an organic sounding record. I wanted to start from scratch. We ended up being in the studio for nearly two years. In the first year I wasn’t really feeling the songs…
Good on you for admitting that. I can imagine after such a long break from the business, and with your desire to do another album that must have been a both daunting & challenging realisationto admit to yourself?
It just wasn’t working for me. My feeling is that the British public have known me for so long – it’s been nearly 22 years by now, so it was important I didn’t come out with something that is manufactured or which sounds contrived, or something which has just be thrown together. It’s got to sound really real and it’s got to sound really organic, otherwise people just ain’t going to believe it. So we decided to throw all those original songs away and we started again. We recorded a song called ‘I Remember’ which is one of only two covers on the album, but it’s an amazing ballad. As soon as I did that, it created the fire that really started everything off. All the songs then just started to come. We started to write some wicked tunes after that. It was just so great. We both sat there and thought ‘we’re cooking now, we’re cooking’ (laughs) and this was after thirteen months of slog, then suddenly it just turned around. The second year was great – the songs are just incredible. I think it’s the best album I’ve ever made. Now I’ve got the maturity, the experience and all of that… I have nothing to prove, I just want to make great music. With that kind of feeling you are just going to do your best work…
Describe your feelings in that period between finishing an album and it coming out?
You kind of go through this… Well, I got the masters for the first time last week. I played the album and I just cried… in fact, I cried for an entire hour. I was like a bloody quivering wreck ‘cause it just blew me away. I just cracked. I think that from start to finish it’s just a really good record. Lyrical content is really important for me as well, it had to be a journey of my life; I wanted to talk about what I’d been through.
You’ve mentioned being a parent, so I wondered if the Paris household gets turned upside down when you are away on tour?
No, it’s cool really. You have to remember that I have been traveling all over the world for the most part of my life really. I take the kids with me and fly them all over the place. They are very robust and strong. My daughter, who is seventeen, has traveled to most places in the world with me. My other daughter Russia has also been to a few places now. She is only three so I try not to leave the house for more than a few days at a time now.
And how does she react when she sees her Mummy on the television?
(Laughs) MY MUMMY, MY MUMMY!!!
Ok, so this is a long winded one on my part. Basically, here at Outline we have been dealing with a PR Company in London for years, who we found out yesterday were due to close down because their founder Rob Partridge had sadly passed away in recent months. When I found out more stuff about Rob’s life, I believe he had a massive impact in the early days of Island Records, mentoring the artists and supporting you all, so much so that Bono had come out and said Rob was like a father figure to him and the rest of U2. As you were a big part of the original Island Records collective, can we talk about Rob and your early memories of what’s been immortalized as one of the music industry’s most important pillars?
I’m not just saying this because he’s not with us anymore, but Rob really was an amazing person. Let me tell you honey, he was like a Daddy figure. He was always lovely and warm and caring. I only found out he’d died a couple of weeks ago and I felt destroyed. Number one, I didn’t get to go to the funeral and I hadn’t seen him in a long time. He was wonderful to me. My experience at Island was incredible; I was there eight years and it was one of the best periods of my life. I signed at seventeen and everyone at that place in St. Peter’s Square, that house, was like a family to me. That’s why I had a nervous breakdown when I left Island, ‘cause that had been my home. People like Rob, Bruno, Julianne Palmer, Trevor Wyatt – all the cats down there were like my family. I mean it was a converted house into a record company and it felt like a home. There was Jamaican food cooking in the kitchen and Bono would hangout and Grace Jones and Steve Winwood. But that was the kind of place it was. It was insane; you just don’t get that now. Chris Blackwell did an amazing job; he made that place feel like someone’s house…
From this period onwards you’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the world’s most amazing talents. Which memories from ‘back then when’ hold a special place in your heart?
Ah there’ve been a couple of those. Erm, one was Prince – that just killed me. I’d only just released ‘Temptation’ and he’d heard I was in the audience and he stopped the show and said “we have a girl here tonight called Mica Paris and I want her to sing”. He just got the mic’ and passed it over to me and I had to sing ‘Just My Imagination’, and I sang that song like I’d never sang it before and everybody was in the audience. It was one of those music filled rooms with the biggest names in the industry and it was at the Camden Palace – it was just an incredible night. The other time was when I was with Natalie Cole, Anita Baker, Bonnie Raitt and Patty Labelle doing the Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert. I think he had just been released… that was also an incredible moment for me. I was the only British person on that stage and Wembley went nuts when I opened my mouth to sing – they just went crazy and that’s when I knew I was a Brit (laughs). It was powerful, man. You can imagine the line-up of women on stage and I’m just this little girl in the middle of all of them. It was one of them really. Natalie Cole did that. She’s a really good friend of mine and a fan of my music. She said to me, “look Mica, it’s a crime that you are not part of this line-up tonight…”
You have actually recorded a track with one of my favourite MCs, Guru, back in the mid-nineties on his rap meets jazz concept album series, Jazzmatazz Vol. II – tell me what it was like to work with such a dude?
He was wonderful. It was amazing. He was managed by this guy called er, Patrick er, somethin’… I can’t remember now, but he was a good looking white guy. They called me up and asked me to come down. At the time I was living in New York and working with Mantronix and Angie Stone (who wasn’t famous then). She was doing backing vocals for me on the Mantronix track and we became really good friends. So Guru’s manager Patrick called me told me they really wanted to work with me. I was like “Oh my God”. I remember when I got to the studio he had this big-ass cigar (laughs). He is the most humble down to earth guy you could EVER meet. He’s so not fazed by any of it; he’s just a good guy. He’s really wonderful. We had a great day, it’s just when you are with good people. He’s very calm, almost Buddha-like. Y’know, he’s very, very intelligent. I mean I love rap, but I only like intelligent rap, and this guy is the Godfather of intelligent rap. The conscious rap that he started in that jazzy way is very much his. I mean, you had conscious rappers but not with that jazz thing going on. I found out about him by the way he paid homage to the jazz greats. This guy managed to merge the two together… insane!
I read a very open and honest article you’d written about some of the lows you’ve had to face and tackle head on over the last couple of decades. I was shocked to read that your brother Jason was shot dead in South London. I found it particularly touching as I had found myself at the wrong end of someone’s gun at a similar time in the same part of South London. To deal with your loss, I believe you began to work with an anti-gun crime operation called Trident, which has been set-up to raise awareness of what is going on in the streets… are you still involved with this group?
It’s really funny, you know. When you are in this industry and the entertainment world you can be in a bit on an ivory tower and not even know it. I see myself as a very grounded sort of person, but I’m not on the streets of Croydon or South London, or wherever. I wasn’t aware that this stuff was going on. Jason, my brother, was a postman, a budding music producer and he had two children and a girlfriend who he was madly in love with, but he had a ferocious temper and he’s very protective about his family… it was a terrible thing which happened. Unfortunately for him, she (his girlfriend) was standing at a bus stop with the children, a guy came over to chat her up, and she told him she had a boyfriend and wasn’t interested, so he threw a bottle at her with the kids there. And the bottle just missed her. She knew what the guy looked like and Jason went after the guy at another time to ask “why did you go and do that to my girlfriend, it’s not a good thing to go and do”. So the guy went into his house, came back out with a gun and shot him three times. Heavy! Regarding my involvement with Trident, I try to help with the mothers who have lost their sons; I also do stuff concerning domestic rape as well. Everything I do though is based around women. I’m a girl’s girl. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love men, but I just really love the sisterhood. It’s really important that women take care of each other, because we are the ones that create everything in terms of life, so we got to look out for each other. There are a lot of women right now who hate each other, so I try and help out with as many women-orientated organisations as I possibly can, even on a media tip, in the way we are always bombarded with images of anorexia. I was at a function last week and met a women who’s eight year old daughter is anorexic… it’s insane. We’ve got to send out the right signals in the media – we cannot have icons who are anorexic or filled with plastic, it’s just not right. Although I’ve moved on to other things now, the wonderful part whilst doing my four years at Trident, was that I healed myself by helping the women who had had the same situation happen to them.
They say that life begins at 40… so as your 40th is only a matter of weeks away, I wondered if you have any big plans to welcome it in with a bang?
I’m gonna have a dinner thing with my friends. For close friends I’m probably going to do something at one of those little restaurants that I love and then I’m going to do a party at Bungalow 8 ‘cause they seem to love me down there and they just give me so much love. Honestly babe, twenty two years later and I can’t believe I’m still in it. I think if you live from your passion you end up in the right place, but when you compromise that for what you love then you end up in shit. When you have children I think you have to try and do it for them. You just get some people, that even from when they are born, they just fall if they have a problem, and then you got the other type of person that says ‘so what’, I was always the other person… so what, bankrupt… so what, lost everything… so what, I’ve always been that sort of person simply because I like being here… I like being alive.
They say with age comes maturity. Is there anything you would do differently concerning the early years of your career?
When my A & R guy left me on the second album I wouldn’t have gone crazy and ran to America and made contribution the way I did; I would have tried to find another person within that record company to work with, but because Julian was my everything, he and I worked on that first album together – he trusted me to do pick the songs, we were a great team at Island and then he left me on the second album and I fell apart, he left me to work with other people and it killed me. I mean we are best mates now so we are fine. He had some demons at the time he had to deal with, that white powder made him twitch, baby. But it affected my career, so that’s the only thing I would have done differently. Had I had have had Jules there on the second album, then we would have had a much bigger success, but I was on my own…
So you were recently voted in the top 100 Black Brits… how’d you feel about this?
Yeah, I always find that kind of shit funny (laughs)
Me too, I wondered who was on either side of you on the list… like exactly where they placed your importance within society (laughs)…
I know, it’s really funny to me too. Y’know I’ve never really seen myself as a colour, but just as a person. Of course I’m going to have more passion about situations which affect people who are ethnically challenged… because it is a challenge being of ethnic decent; it’s harder for us, but that doesn’t mean that I view myself as ‘Black Britain’. I’m a person and I just love people, but I just happen to have a darker shade of colour – I don’t get into that whole pigeon-hole thing, so I think lists like that are a bit silly. Britain is brilliant because we are a melting pot. Living in America taught me that we don’t want to be too black, or too Jewish or too Italian… we’ve got to get to that place where we are just people. If we keep going on about the difference in colour then it keeps things separate. Really, this country is the best in the world, the only problem is the bloody weather… you’ll never create like you’ll create here…