April 4, 2013 at 6:00 am EST | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Stripped-down Mika
Mika, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Mika returns to Washington next week. His show at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue is sold out. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Sixth & I Synagogue
600 I St., N.W.

Gay pop singer Mika was in Vancouver when we spoke by phone two weeks ago. He was in tour rehearsals for a stripped-down 17-date mini tour behind his latest album “The Origin of Love,” which dropped in October.

There’s good news and bad — he is coming to Washington but the show is sold out. He’s slated to be here Wednesday night for a show at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue. A review of his March 27 show at Los Angeles’s El Rey Theatre drew raves. A blogger (Neon Tommy) said he spent much of the evening at the piano and, “as great as his voice may sound in recordings, it is unbelievably smooth live” and “beyond impressive.”

WASHINGTON BLADE: What kind of instrumentation will you bring?

MIKA: There are three of us playing everything from piano to clarinet to sax to accordion to marimba to vibraphone — we have all these different instruments being played and we’re trying almost to make it sound classically influenced almost. We’ve done some scoring on a lot of this stuff just for this tour.

BLADE: How do you take highly produced dance pop and make it work with that kind of instrumentation?

MIKA: You take it back to the way it was written, to its most essential things. Things start out very basically, like maybe just piano and bass, and then build and build until you get the more dance stuff. But there’s loads of different ways to do it. It almost sounds more tribal on stage. It’s kind of like you’re getting people up and dancing and singing without all the bleeps and blowups.

BLADE: Is this where you are musically now or is it just a way to contrast it with the touring you did last fall?

MIKA: It definitely will affect the sound of my next record. We’re testing new songs and it’s already happening. The new stuff is a lot more sparse.

BLADE: The transition in your vocals from your natural range into falsetto is so seamless. With many singers it’s so much more pronounced. Was that just always the way it was or have you worked to develop and refine that?

MIKA: It’s really the result of growing up being trained by Russian classical musicians. It was like really serious professional singing. I can flip really effortlessly because I’ve been doing it since I was about 11. At the same time, my full voice range is actually quite limited. I’m technically a baritone, so pop just doesn’t work for that kind of voice and I had to develop a way to have more range. If you listen to Freddie Mercury or Prince, you see how we try to stretch it as far as you can and make it so it’s almost unnoticeable.

BLADE: Now that you’ve been out a while, what differences have you noticed career-wise?

MIKA: There’s been no change whatsoever in the people coming to the shows. It’s exactly the same demographics … I have always had this very crazy mix. Press wise, people talk about it, but it’s only one question that comes and goes because I’ve never lied or pretended to be anything I wasn’t. I refused to label myself. And the music hasn’t changed. Beyond that, I think there’s definitely a different sort of person now who comes up and talks to me on the street. That happens in a very different way. I think it’s made me slightly more approachable to some people.

BLADE: Are you in a relationship now?

MIKA: Yes I am but it’s hard. Beyond the traveling, this desire to constantly be creating … I think takes its toll on a relationship. … Relationships are about stability and that isn’t necessarily the most conducive thing to the creative process.

BLADE: You have such great hair — any tips?

MIKA: Wow, relationships to hair — that’s quite a change.

BLADE: Well, I’m trying to move fast.

MIKA: The hair thing, I don’t know. I hate washing it. I feel like you lose a bit of your brain or something every time you wash it.

BLADE: How often do you wash it?

MIKA: Maybe like once a week or something. It’s kind of skanky.

BLADE: How easily do the hooks come? Is there a large discard pile of songs that just aren’t hooky enough or can you make the hooks tighter as you write and tweak?

MIKA? With the last record I think I wrote 16 or 17 songs and I put out 15 so no, there’s not a lot of waste. It’s a very efficient writing process. I try to write like a child, to write as someone who’s allowing himself to be a child. I don’t really chase hooks, but I try to capture that feeling of being an 8- or 9-year-old girl or boy on a holiday. … I’m obsessed with the craft of thrill building.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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