Tell us a little bit about your musical background.
"Sure, my musical background is actually classical and started from a very young age, really because I'd left school after coming to London, I went to a stage school and when I left I was out of school for half a year, so I just needed something I could do - I ended up doing music. My first gig was at the Royal Opera House, and from there I was doing session work for classical recordings all over Europe. Then I basically went onto the Royal College of Music, which I left about a year and a bit ago, so a year and a bit ago I was doing Mendelssohn and now I'm doing pop music!"
Do you find that a strange transition?
"To me it's been completely organic. I was writing from a really young age - I don't know how to play the piano, so I wanted to play the piano, and the only way for me to do it was to come up with my own tunes, so I did that. I think my music generally transcends a lot of genres. I've always listened to - if you listen to a mixtape of mine it'll have Shostakovich and then some Hot Chip, or something. It goes really well together, it's different forms of the same thing. So to me, it's never been an issue, but some people find it interesting. I think it makes it more fun."
What's your USP? Do you think you have one?
"I think that I've definitely stuck to my guns all my life in terms of what my interpretation of what pop music should be. I've never thought of selling points - if I had, I'd probably not even have a chance at a career. I'd probably try and go onto Pop Idol or something. A selling point's not something I'm really aware of. I was always told that I was too strange or that I was too cheesy by different groups of people, like the record companies said I was way too weird and the indie people wouldn't even let me in their band. I've never really been part of a band, because I was never really let into them, from school up until two years ago. I stuck to my guns, and found a lot of comfort and solace in records from the '80s and '90s where you really had artists who made their own one-man band circus master vision. That's what I delved into as far as rock and pop are concerned. So I don't - it would be a lie if I said I didn't feel slightly different, because I've always felt slightly different, but I've come to embrace that and use it to my advantage. When you're not part of a club you have to find another way of surviving. Musically, socially and in every respect of my life, that's kind of been the case, and I've been able to embrace it."
Obviously your most recent success came from the track 'Grace Kelly'. Can you explain the song to us - it's quite an unusual song to play your friends as your first exposure to Mika!
"It's quite funny, it's the most arrogant pop song you could ever imagine writing, but at the same time it's the most approachable and endearing thing. It came out of a time where I was working with people who really didn't understand where I was going or what I wanted to be. I was really angry, they wanted to turn me into something I wasn't. I came home, wrote this song - I had had to try and write a whole bunch of Craig David songs that made me want to top myself. I wrote it, and it gave me an insight into where I wanted to go with the records I was dreaming up in my head. I typed up the lyrics, which were sort of almost evil towards these people, and I sent them to them, and I sent them the CD, and they never called me back, and about a year and a half later that was the song that helped me get signed. So it was a bit of a statement, you know."
Why release 'Relax - Take It Easy' over 'Grace Kelly', then?
"We're only releasing 'Relax' as 500 copies on 7-inch, it's actually not coming out on CD, which is why we're so surprised we've gotten the support from Radio 1 and all the regional radio stations and press and everything, because it was never meant to be...it was just meant to be a little introduction to everyone - 'this is Mika'. The first real single is 'Grace Kelly', and it comes out on January 29th. This was meant to get the ball rolling, it's just a little faster than we thought!"
Your next clue can be found in an interview with the woman killed off on EastEnders at Christmas
Well, that's good for you, then, because unexpected success is always nice!
"You know, I never thought of 'Relax' as being commercial, it was kind of like - how do you introduce yourself to people? A lot of it came from me, not the record company. I was like 'well, I don't want to be tied down to any genre, so I'd like to release 'Relax', but let's put 'Billy Brown' on there as well.' That's never really going to be a single, but it's a great song, and it completely breaks down the stereotype that I may be stuck into. I'm not really the next Scissor Sisters in terms of sound, and even though there are similarities. A song like 'Relax', which is a dance song, and a song like 'Billy Brown' really fit together well. That's the reasoning behind the 7-inch vinyl that we're doing."
You've been working away for ages at music - what influenced your decision to put 'Grace Kelly', 'Billy Brown' and 'Relax' on your Myspace as opposed to other tracks?
"'Grace Kelly' was a really important song for the record, because it's a flagpole for the record in terms of lyrical content and the whole pop vision I wanted to get across. Again, 'Relax and 'Billy Brown' just complemented. We never really overthought it. It was far too organic and artist-driven for the record company to go too mad on it. That's one of the charming things about the whole project. Most artists don't get the freedom to make the records that I make, with the support that I got, and very few artists get to do their own album art and illustrations on their website. I do them with my sister and a company called Airisde. So from the art to the records and the way that they sound, it's organic and it hasn't been overthought. Money has been spent on it, but we are the anti-X-Factor.
"Imagine one thing, right? Imagine if I got up in front of Sharon Osbourne and started singing 'Grace Kelly' to her face. That would be excruciating and it would probably be a horrific thing. But you know what, if they didn't say the most horrific things I would be disappointed in myself! Let's put Prince in front of them, see what they see, if they didn't know who Prince was, or Cyndi Lauper or something. It's karaoke-style!"
As an artist that I imagine must have been working at this for a long while, how do you feel about television shows like the X Factor or Pop Idol?
"The thing about anything instant is that it disappears very quickly. I think it's fine if you're up for that, and you want to have a good time. It kind of satisfies a certain section of the market. I have no hard feelings towards it, but I really do see it for what it is. I kind of enjoy Big Brother, actually, and I look at Pop Idol in the same way. It's kind of cruel and I always feel slightly guilty, because I feel like I'm getting pleasure out of someone else's dreams. They should do another Pop Idol show like Pop Idol: The Breakdown, and they should follow these people around, the fall after they rise so quickly. I always wondered if those people were aware of what they were going into."
Surely after the shows having been on for so long you imagine they would be?
"Do you know what, I really don't think people do, and that's the one thing that irritates me - apart from the presenters who quite frankly make my skin crawl - backwards! But, I just wonder...they should have X Factor: Rehab. They could make money."
They'd probably go for it - they love the spinoffs!
"I know. It'd be a good one, though! X Factor: Rehab, I quite like that. Whatever happened to those people in Fame Academy that didn't become big...apart from Lemar? Do you remember that?"
Yeah - David Sneddon's still writing...
"Is he the crazy one?"
He's the one who won?
"He was the really boring one. But what happened to the crazy one, who was a bit of a Pete Doherty wannabe?"
Ainslie Henderson? He's still releasing music, as far as I know. Now, moving on...
You've said that your first exposure to Queen and the Beatles and other artists you've been compared to was at 14 through 16. What is the biggest thing you took from listening to them? the sound, the vocals?
"Different things. Queen - it's almost like a lot of the melodies that Freddie Mercury wrote were in me when I was born. That kind of melodic sensitivity, maybe it's just a problem, a disease or something I was born with. So, when I heard it, it was like BING, that was exactly what I'd been hearing in my head, you know, I couldn't imagine there being anything else, you know, it was quite incredible! It gave me confidence that you could make huge sounding pop records, rock records, whatever, I call everything pop, to me The Fratellis is pop - if it's played on Radio 1 it's pop - it was great. You could make huge sounding pop-rock records that would fill stadiums and still stick to this intense way of writing melody. That was really great, it was quite empowering.
"As far as the Beatles are concerned, they're another band that transcended genre, they tried out so much and that was one thing that kept them going. I also love the way the Beatles wrote their lyrics, I love that they can deal with anything in a pop song. If you listen to a song like 'Billy Brown', or 'Big Girl', which is on my album and deals with fat women, that's also what I've gotten from those bands. In pop music, if you put something in a pop song, you'll be able to deal with issues you wouldn't be able to deal with if you were talking to someone face to face. It gives you a stage to stand on, kind of like cartoons. That's where I came up with the album title - Life In Cartoon Motion, because Homer Simpson can talk about anything he wants, from homosexuality to his problems with George Bush, and it's in a cartoon and everyone can relate to it and it's funny! It's loosely attached to reality, but it also has a serious point to make, and to me that's kind of empowering."
Let's talk about artists like Rufus Wainwright. He's had to work hard for his success - is that the way you see your career going?
"Do you think I'm stealing it? Haha. I've followed his career very closely, and I'm a huge Rufus Wainwright fan. His record is one of the records I've bought most times, simply because I want everyone to own them, so I just buy the record again and again and again and give away copies. Do I see my career going the same way as his? Quite frankly, no. I've worked really hard, resisted a lot of things already, over so many years, that potentially other people would have accepted, gone into music and made records I really shouldn't have made, so I was strong about that. I do relate to him as a writer, I don't relate to him as a performer. I don't see myself anchored at the piano. It's a different ballgame, although musically and specially in our writing, I really feel like I can relate to him. He's one of the best songwriters, whatever you want to call him, around at the moment. He really is genius - and the thing is, I think he really knows it. But he should know it!"
There's an arrogance there that keeps him going, I think.
"It's weird, firstly, I don't come from a lineage like his, so I've always been the one who's never been cool. At the same time, I really have this fascination about pop music through the ages, and I wanted to give myself a debut record that really, really tried to mix the elements of pop to mass market levels and American hip-hop levels, with real songwriting. I think the one thing that's enabled me to do that is the way that I write, sitting at my white piano. I don't know if he always wanted to make pop records, specially towards the beginning of his career. I think they're pop records, but most people don't. It's just different."
You said you're really into Rufus Wainwright. Who else do you like around at the moment?
"I like Beck, um, I like so much music, I devour it and I spit it out. It's really hard - I love, there's a little pop band I have an obsession with at the moment. They're called Bodies Without Organs and very few people know about them. They're from Sweden amd they make hilarious pop songs. Next to that, I'll listen to the new Muse record, or My Chemical Romance. The latest single by My Chemical Romance is just f**king genius, it's the biggest thing I've heard in a long time. Who else do I like? I like...this is really hard. I like the indie thing that's coming around. I think it's really fun. I actually did a photoshoot this morning - I had an incredible experience. It was this thing with Mick Rock, the photographer, for GQ, coming out in January. The Fratellis were there, and I went up and introduced myself and they were like 'yeah, hi' and walked away from me."
That's the indie snob thing!
"The indie snob thing basically means they treat me like s**t, and I don't really have a problem with that! But, I still enjoy their music, I think it's fun."
I know a lot of people who are indie kids, emo kids and think they know a lot about music when really they only know about one genre.
"It really confuses me how you can listen to any kind of music in isolation. That's one of the things that really frustrated the f**k out of me at the Royal College of Music! They listen to their own repertoire and their own classical music in such isolation. It's completely demented. I don't see how you could ever possibly do that. How can you be such a snob? To me, being a classical snob in the highest possible way and being an indie snob is just as bad! I kind of want to devour as much music as I possibly can - it's all there, what's the reason for not at least delving into it, just a little bit? Specially going back into the '60s and '70s, it seems that there was a lot more synergy - someone like Harry Nielsen could co-exist next to Joan Baez, next to the Motown records that were almost fabricated at some points. It really worked then, and I think there's a lot of separation now, but it's actually leaning, especially in this country, towards things working together. I think four years ago you'd never have a music issue of GQ with a band like The Fratellis and The Horrors and me, and a couple of other people being spotlighted together on the same issue. It's quite cool that it's coming together. I feel honoured to be part of that."
What can we expect from the album?
"It's due out February 12. I just finished mixing it - I have to remaster it, because I tortured the hell out of my co-producer Greg Welsh, who's been mixing it in LA, and I've made him change things so much - but why not! It's my first one, I have every right. So, we have to remaster it, but it's pretty much done. One thing that I'm really proud about with this album is that I haven't compromised on anything I want to sing about or the kind of pop songs I wanted to put on it. Secondly, it's got some of the world's best musicians playing on it, and I'm completely honoured to have their names next to mine. I've got Matt Chamberlain on drums, Tim Pearce on guitars, who's the world-famous Quincy Jones guitarist who played on all the Michael Jackson stuff. We've got Paul Buckmaster orchestrating strings with the same string players who play on all the John Williams film soundtracks. We've got Jerry Hadrian on horns, who also played on all the Quincy Jones stuff. So it was really a blast - I recorded most of it in LA, even though I pretty much only demo'ed this country. It's kind of a record that hasn't been made in a while, and I'm really proud that it's mine!"
Is there a standout track for you?
"There's a song called 'Lollipop'. It's about telling girls not to have sex too soon, and you'll hear it once and you'll probably never forget it, partly cos you'll be in hysterics, you can't get the Dixie Chicks, almost inane refrain out of your head, it's fun. Also, it's a pop song with a chorus that goes 'sucking too hard on your lollipop/Hey, love's going to get you down into a box'. It's really fun for me to play tricks on people with songs like that. There's also a song called 'Big Girl', which is about a pub in LA called Butterfly Lounge. It's the first size-acceptance nightclub in the world. There are quite a few fat people in my family, on my mum's side, my aunt, so it's a tip of the hat towards them."
You know, I think I saw a documentary on that!
"The Victoria Woods documentary? That's where I got the idea from! I was going to LA the next morning and I couldn't sleep, and at 2am on Channel 4 there was this replay of a Vicki Woods documentary, and she was doing it on fat people in America, and one of the places she went to was the Butterfly Lounge, which was the first size-acceptance nightclub. I saw it and was like 'f**k, this has got to be a pop song, I've got to write them a linedancing anthem!' So I turned off the sound, kept the images going and wrote it in ten minutes."
What's upcoming for you?
"We've got a UK tour in November. We're playing London and a whole bunch of other places, Glasgow and stuff. I'm doing some shows with Jo Whiley for Freshers' Week. I'm doing lots of really cool gigs, some of them haven't been announced yet, in the runup to Christmas, and I just filmed my video for 'Grace Kelly' with Sophie Muller, which was incredible. Just gearing it all up."
One musical recommendation?
"Oh god. One recommendation. S**t, this is hard. You should be listening to...argh...go check out Bodies Without Organs, if anything they'll make you smile! There's a song called 'Sunshine In The Rain', which is just pure genius."