Nujazz musical prodigy Micayl granted me early access to his conceptual EP, based, and eponymously named after the Walt Whitman poem ‘Oh Me Oh Life’.
‘Oh Me Oh Life’ is a precise, yet effortless art piece. The self-produced project was created mainly from splicing unconventional sounds to make each track sound equally modern and organic. Toni and I connected over our mutuality as music nerds, hearing certain frequencies that others can’t, and gushing over EQs. It was refreshing to hear a young artist enthusing amidst the debilitated mess that currently is Western society (literally and figuratively). Micayl looks to be “an artistic statement rather than a commercial success”, wanting to give life where usual pop production often feels compressed. “I just want it to breathe”, he exasperates through the crackly feed on my laptop screen.
I spoke to Toni about his conceptual EP ‘Oh Me Oh Life’, the current pandemic, pigeons and everything in between. Check it out below.
Gem: First of all, happy release day! How are you doing considering the current pandemic-climate?
Micayl: “Thanks! I’m ok, I got the last flight back to Germany. Everyone at the airport was wearing gas masks and stuff, it was so weird. It’s like an apocalypse, it’s so scary. It’s alright though now I’m home. I’m safe.”
Gem: I’m very glad you’re surviving because you can actually celebrate release day now! So a bit more about you, who are your inspirations?
Micayl: “I think anything like traditional jazz… I went through a lot of genres as I was growing up. So: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ray Charles as well. Whenever I hear them, it just makes me feel like home. But nowadays, all of those artists that work with Bon Iver, like James Blake. You know that whole group? And that kinda transfers over to Tom Misch and all of those up-and-coming nujazz, experimental, alternative, avant-garde, RnB artists. And that ties into Frank Ocean as well, who is kinda like connecting all of those genres that I’ve just mentioned.”
Gem: What do you look for in music that you seek to replicate in your own music?
Micayl: “Ah that’s a really good question. I never felt like I’m trying to go for a specific style or vibe as an artist. I always try and focus on the song on its own. On this project especially, all songs are so different due to the respective genre of each artist. I’m looking for the mood that the song is trying to express. If [the mood] of the song doesn’t work, then I don’t like it.” *laughs*
Gem: So we could say that you’re putting each song in self-isolation to focus on the symptoms (the sonics rather than the lyrics)?
Micayl: “Ayy exactly, yeah, perfect. I can tell you’re a writer then.” *laughs*
Gem: So, what made you decide to create a conceptual EP?
Micayl: “I often thought I take on different versions of my character in life. Especially moving from Germany to Liverpool, I feel like I have a totally different personality. So, my take on the poem was that I felt like a chameleon, changing its colour all the time wherever it goes. But, it stays the same animal, you know, like you’re always the same person, even if you show different colours to different people. That’s why every song is named after a colour shade. It literally just kept growing, and eventually became a concept album.”
Gem: What inspired this style of production – the sort of electronic-y slide? You produced it yourself, right?
Micayl: “Yep, I did! I produced all of it. It was co-produced with each artist because they’re all producers as well. I went into the writing sessions with ideas because I knew each artist’s like, style, and stylistic approach quite well. I told them ‘I want you to do this and this’ and then I took it away and made it an actual song. It was a conscious effort for sure. The production on all of the James Blake songs, especially ‘Assume Form’ triggered ideas in my mind. Something that doesn’t have to follow pop structures or commercial production styles, less conservative approaches, I like. I drew so many inspirations from Bon Iver. [i,i] came out the same time as I was producing [Oh Me Oh Life]. The EP sounds like something electronic but it doesn’t come from a machine, it just comes from sampling. I have so much stuff on my phone recorded, then I drag that in, mess it up, chop it and try and make it slide-y, like you said.”
Gem: Tell me a little about the artists you collaborated with for this project, and why you chose them.
Micayl: “They’re all from different countries and all from different genres, actually. With happysadmedium, from Austria, I wanted weird vocals. The idea we had for this song was to speed it up, which makes it sound so vulnerable. Actually, the vulnerability of the artist is something that ties into all of them, like they’re all really honest and authentic artists. Music shows our deepest fears and everything we go through and we can just share it through music, which is really amazing… for [‘Crimson’], we just recorded everything that was in the room that we could find: beer cans we could rub together, and salt shakers and there was this pigeon outside the window that we recorded. It pops up every once in a while. It was so fun.”
Gem: I really relate to ‘Oh Me Oh Life’s’ message of changing yourself to suit others but feeling like you always retain parts of yourself – do you have any advice for readers that are struggling with being true to themselves?
Micayl: “It’s scary, but it’s also really helpful to be really honest with yourself in a really blatant way. I didn’t think I was lying to myself, but I realised I’m not being honest, I’m not being who I really am. To be deeply honest, it’s scary. It can show things about your character that are really weird, and you think ‘ah that’s not me’. To me, the most important thing, especially in the music industry, is just to be humble and always willing to learn. To be willing to listen to people and learn in all aspects of life, is a really good place to start, I think.”
‘Oh Me Oh Life’ is now available to stream and buy on all good music platforms now.