Sunday, 8 July 2007

MIA Interview

This one was for the XL labels in-house magazine.

Reflecting Come What May {MIA}

Brave, fearless, always changing, always different, always challenging, always creating. Since exploding into the inert collective unconscious in 2005 MIA has not only done all of these things but lived all of these things. Her music is her, a mess of beats and a discordant hodge podge of sounds that only a life so hecticly lived and willingly embraced could shine out. She is not scared and she will she prevail. Her new record, Kaya, continues where Aurular left off, it’s mix skittish mix of styles, tempo’s and lyrical deliveries all ready to stun and seduce but are we ready yet for MIA?

So, the albums all done and the singles sounds great, are you excited about how this record will be received?

I don’t know! It’s weird; one thing just follows another to a certain extent. I am very excited about the video. It was my first time in Jamaica and it was amazing but it was really intense. We had to audition all the boys for the video and we only had five days to get the whole thing done. In that time I was also trying to have fun and go out and party and keep up with the dancers ‘cos they basically never sleep, they come to the shoot all day then they are straight out to the parties that don’t end till midday then they are back at the shoot again. It must be the rum, it keeps them going!

How would you compare the sound of Kala to the sound of Aurular?

Aurular was definitely my sketchbook, MIA was the first song that I ever wrote over in the Caribbean and Galang was the first song I wrote when I got back to the UK and both of those stuck. All the mistakes I made went on that record. This one is far more about the effect of environments. It’s my environmental record!

What happened with the recording sessions and the whole Visa situation?

Well apparently Bono has taken my case to Condoleeza so I should be alright now, ha-ha! Basically I had a month booked with Timbaland in Virginia and that was the only month he had booked away for me and that month was the only month I had booked away for him. That period was basically going to create whatever it was that this album was going to be. But… they denied my Visa into the USA. The whole time I had just wanted to be in a single place that was mine surrounded by my things: my records, my clothes, my photos, all the things that inspire me and allow me to be creative and all of those things were locked in barrels in customs. My life was in all these bits all over the place, so for ten months I just went to various countries and recorded here and there and just thought fuck it, it is what it is. I talked all this shit on this first record about art as a reflection of environment and suddenly I was living that out under a different set of codes that I just had to make work for me and that is what the album is about.

Is the angrier, harsher sound of Kala your reaction to this set of circumstances that you have been placed under?

Yeah for sure, I was pissed off a lot of the time. A lot of people were saying that the whole visa situation was being influenced by my Dad’s background. Whether or not that was the case I was just angry that there was no means of raising these points and having a discussion. You can’t have a conversation with these people; they do what they want to you. They were telling me that my identity matched someone on the wanted list and that they had to clear me from that list and it was that sense of guilty until proven innocent that amazed me because if they actually checked into my life they would see that I was just a Sri-Lankan refugee who came to England at 11 and went to St Martins and became a musician. I never had my Dad around in my life and even then if they checked his background they would see that he is not associated with the (Tamil) Tigers. He is associated with the revolution in Sri-Lanka but the Tigers also killed his movement so it is all a bit ridiculous. I originally wanted to go to every anti-American country in the world and record a pissed off angry song at America but it didn’t really work out like that, ha-ha.

The new record retains Aurular’s sense of genrelessness. You kind of hop between styles in a very carefree way. What music influenced you early on?

Well everyone always writes that I just met Peaches and Justine and decided that I wanted to do music but I had been hanging around people who make music for years, I had just never wanted to do it. I used to listen to a lot of dancehall so when I got to Jamaica that just sounded like water to me. I listened to a lot of Hip Hop because I went out to stay with my cousin when I was younger who lived in LA and she was a Sri-Lankan girl who thought she was black in a big way. She picked me up at the airport looking all thugged out and I had the best time just listening to all this gangsta
rap with her and hanging out with all these rappers and real-deal gangsters. It was crazy, there were all these guns and drugs around but compared to all the jungle raves I had been going to in the UK with all the Brick Lane Bengali kids there was just nice vibes, good people, loads of barbeques and hanging out and this was in South Central! Maybe it’s the sunshine.

What finally inspired you to make music yourself?

In England I constantly felt burdened; my brother was in and out of young offenders, my mum was getting evicted and I was on the dole. Although I had gone through St Martins and got a degree, which supposedly meant I could do anything, I was just making art and not really making any money from it. When I was doing the artwork for Elastica I’d go and take a photo, go the pawn shop and pawn my camera in for £50, go to Snappy Snaps, get the film processed, get paid £50 by Justine and the process would begin again. I’d never made money until I managed to sell a few paintings, Jude Law bought a couple and suddenly I had £1000. It was the most money I’d ever had at once and by chance one of my friends needed to get away ‘cos she needed to clean up so we went to the Caribbean in 2002. Every day I was waking up to soundsystems going off and by 6 everyone is getting drunk and there is a party here and a party there and I was working in the bar and dancing in the clubs and for the first time it felt like I had space and didn’t have to think about anyone or anything. I felt totally integrated into that culture and welcomed by the whole local scene. I just felt totally embraced by the people and the music and once I was there in that moment I couldn’t help but be in it. Before I left I’d had these ambitions to be a filmmaker and I’d been nominated for the alternative Turner Prize and all that stuff but once I’d come back I became obsessed with making music and exploring this new territory. Suddenly it was like I didn’t need to do anything else. It was the first time I had been able to minimize my life, I didn’t need to go out anymore or hang out with people. Music was all I did for 6 months; I’d wake up at 8 in the morning and not brush my teeth and just write and fall asleep at 5am on top of my 4 track. It was just so exciting, like wow! These two buttons do this and that button does that.

What came out of those early sessions definitely had a serious degree of originality, perhaps such originality that even now some people are still only just beginning to catch up with it.

Yeah, I remember when I was doing that stuff I only played it to about five other people. I just felt almost apologetic about how weird it sounded. I just accepted that that was what I sounded like and I thought that when I was good at it I was going to be better than Beyonce! But instead it went all over the place and everyone just said how different it was, no one said it was banging! I don’t even try and describe it any more, I just need to grow up into this music like a skin and live in it as well as I can. Luckily I’ve got to a stage now where I no longer need to justify it or package it or present as this or that, it is what it is, simple as that.

How will the new record work live?

It’s very difficult because my musicians are from this village in India, if I plucked them out of the environment they come from and take them off on tour I would ruin their lives for ever, they are just kids who have never left their village, I flew them out to Chennai and they couldn’t handle it. I’d just end up getting them in trouble on tour, they’d have to start drinking and doing drugs and coming to after parties, it just wouldn’t work! Even for Birdflu and Boyz though those songs have 25 drummers on them so replicating any of it live is going to be a difficult. But I’m playing Glastonbury so watch out!

Would you still like to go and just record somewhere cut off from the world for a month?

Oh for sure! That is the plan for the next record! A month in Beverly Hills…

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