Mikah Sykes Interview

- Interview by Keba Robinson

Keba: Where are you originally from?
Mikah Sykes: Springfield and Eugene Oregon

K: Were you always interested in music?
MS: I was raised in a musical family.  I was submerged in different musical situations as far back as I can remember.  But it wasn’t until I got a little older that I became “interested” in music.  Perhaps it was 1st or 2nd grade.  Michael Jackson had god-like status, and in middle school I discovered jazz and blues.  I thought Stephane Grappelli and Django Rheinhardt were real cool.  Their virtuosity was what attracted me to them.  I was in band and choir growing up, but I didn’t get really excited about music until I found the guitar when I was eleven or twelve.  I remember in kindergarten I was put in piano lessons — and I hated them.

K: How old were you when you wrote your first song and how did it come about?
MS: I wrote outlines to a few songs, maybe as few as two, when I was eighteen or nineteen.  But the first song I wrote and finished was when I was twenty one.  It was called “I Would Not.”  It came about on accident, late one night. It was a simple two part song in drop D; it didn’t take too long to compose.  It’s funny cause I think it is one of the best songs I have ever written.  It kind of felt like a stroke of beginner’s luck—back then as well as now.

K:When did you start to record things?
MS: I have been messing around with tape recorders and video cameras since about the time I was able to pick them up.

K: What sorts of things inspire you?
MS: I am fascinated by words and phrases that sound nice or fit together in an interesting way, like the way certain arrangements of words can sound sonically.  I am not talking about the literal meanings of phrases.  I am talking about how words can sound together.  Sometimes it’s as simple as the way people arrange their sentences in conversation, sometimes it’s a grammatical error in a sign or an email.  I write things like that down...I especially like it when people use tenses incorrectly but in such a way that it makes sense; when incorrect English sounds correct.  Also, as an amateur botanist, I am real inspired by plants.  Especially the plants that are native to where I am from.  There is some kind of faithful humility in the in-conspicuous flower, infinity of sorts that can be understood when one looks closely.

K: Are you constantly writing music or do the creative juices come and go in segments?  Like for me, as an artist, I can never seem to constantly create art that I like.  I go through periods of creative aridness, and then, all of a sudden, ideas start to rain and flood my mind....that’s when I get something good. What’s it like for you?
MS: I work on music when I feel like it.  I pick up the guitar nearly everyday, but I only focus on a specific project when I’m inspired to do so – I try to never think about writer’s block or how productive I am musically.  I will go for weeks or months without much musical accomplishment. I take advantage of these breaks to let go of the self imposed idea that I need to be constantly creating, or that my identity is somehow validated through being a musician. This is an idea that can kill creative clarity, and keep one from being real with themselves.  I think it’s important to remember that music is for fun, for meditation.  That’s why people started playing music in the first place.  If you’re not having fun playing music you’re probably taking yourself too seriously.

K: As a very big Chili Pepper’s fan, I have to ask, what was it like to work on Bad Feelings in John Frusciante’s home studio and how did that whole thing come about?
MS: John saw me play at my hometown bar and liked what I was doing.  A few months later I had a couple of shows in L.A.  He came to those shows.  Later on during that trip we were talking and he said he’d love to record me at his house.  I spent a day recording, and a year later I came back and spent a month at his house and recorded more.  It was a lot of fun. He has some really great equipment to work with.  We never really finished though; hopefully one day we will.  The whole experience happened because of my friend and his then girlfriend, Emily Kokal.  She introduced us, and she really helped make it happen.  She has always been a real good friend to me, always very supportive of my music, especially through times when I was feeling down about what I was doing.

K: Who are some artists that you’ve been listening to lately?
MS: The album that I’ve listened to the most lately is “The Preface” by Detroit rapper Elzhi.  I also really like “music for strange situations” by Allessandro Allesandroni. Joanna Newsom’s “the milk eyed mender” is really good.  But my main interest always has been jazz music.  I love anything by John Coltrane, Sun Ra, or Louis Armstrong. The album “Sonny Meets Hawk” has been getting played a lot lately; it’s an Impulse! release from the 60’s by sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins. I love anything by Alice Coltrane, her music really speaks to me.  And I definitely cannot forget to mention Reverend Frank Wright-all of his albums are mind blowing.