tirzah and mica levi are two of london’s most prodigiously talented musicians
The best mates and creative collaborators have made an album of poetic, experimental lo-fi love songs and romantic mantras.
Coats Barbour for Margaret Howell.
This article originally appeared in i-D's The Earthwise Issue, no. 353, Fall 2018.
Tirzah and Mica Levi are two of London’s most prodigiously talented young musicians. The former is a classically-trained harpist and singer-songwriter, the latter an Oscar-nominated film composer who sometimes makes music with her punk band, Micachu and the Shapes. Together they showed up on the London scene back in 2012 with I’m Not Dancing – an EP of lo-fi garage-inspired beats topped with Tirzah’s chill af vocals. That was followed by 2014’s No Romance EP, and now, four years on, they just released their first full-length record. Although all are released under Tirzah’s name, it’s really a shared project, they’re committed collaborators, but above all, best friends.
“I’ve learnt peace and love from you, Taz,” Mica says. “That’s what you radiate.” Tirzah seems a little taken aback: “Aw, mate... I mean, likewise! That’s friendship, isn’t it?” Taz and Meeks, as they call each other, have been friends since meeting as students at London’s Purcell School for Young Musicians 15 years ago. The pair’s debut album, Devotion is even more lo-fi and even more experimental than their previous very lo-fi and very experimental recordings. They describe it as a collection of “very simple love songs”. They might be honest, intimate notes to a romantic partner but the relatable lyrics seem just as much introspective mantras or self-reassurance sprung from diary entries.
“If we get interrupted,” Tirzah warns, “it’s because someone might be screaming and need feeding.” Mica jokingly points out that she’s not up for feeding any screaming adults today but it is actually Tirzah’s baby daughter who is being looked after nearby. We’re hanging out in her partner’s busy south London studio where they often work. The gap-toothed pals are both very at home here. Sitting across from one another in office chairs they seem slightly uncomfortable with the prospect of an interview but nevertheless are their brilliant weirdo selves. Meeks has flu. We dragged her out of bed for this. She doesn’t hate us for it.
15 years in, do you remember your first impressions of each other? Mica: I have a memory of your glasses. Remember those thick ones you used to wear? You were pretty quiet back then. Tirzah: I don’t remember them. I just remember Meeks in a Green Day top with her big curly hair. M: Oh my god, I love Green Day so much. I’m listening to them a lot at the minute actually. Are they a big inspiration? M: Huge. I was into Nimrod and then went back to Dookie. I don’t really know how much I went forward after that. That’s what my jumper was – a long-sleeve black Nimrod one. What happened to the glasses Taz? T: I was one of those kids who had to have a patch for a lazy eye. I dunno where that big pair went though. What kind of music were you making back then? M: That was early days. We were in Watford so there were a lot of pirate radio stations and garage and the Destiny club. And now, when someone at customs asks what music you make, what do you tell them? M: Have you ever applied for an American visa before? You’re guilty until proven innocent. It’s not the place to crack any jokes. They asked what kind of music I made and I just said, “loud and noisy” and the guy just looked up with a blank face. I dunno, I guess it’s kind of tinny? What would you call it Taz, what we’ve done? T: Maybe just pop? M: Pop? Alright, sure.
Devotion seems less loud and noisy than your music used to. M: The collection of music that’s on the record is just very simple love songs. The way that most of it was made is that I’d make a really short loop and Taz would improvise over the top with her lyrics. We tried to keep it as close to that as possible. We didn’t want too many bells and whistles. T: I’m rubbish at genres. I struggle with that. No genres! The lyrics are very mantra-like. Did they come from a diary? T: They didn’t, but that’s probably a good interpretation. They just spring from everywhere really; how I’m feeling that day, how I’ve felt before, observations of friends. A mixed bag! Just love songs. Okay, this is a big one: what does love feel like? M: Like the flu, a bit. T: Yeah, cold sweats, shivers, headache, relief. Lots of time spent in bed. M: Exactly! That sort of thing.
Can we talk about the unexpected autotune on Guilty? M: You weren’t expecting it? T: Neither were we! M: We were jamming. I had actually built a totally other song around it. I was playing from the CDJs and Taz was singing. We were just pissing about, 100%. Taz improvised that whole song. Impressive. M: I know! I just thought, wow. So I cut the extra bit out and tried to get rid of the sound of the CDJs and just loved the lyrics so much. And then, yeah: autotune. It’s funny, isn’t it? Once you’ve done something in autotune, it’s like you can’t go back. T: Yeah, not technically, but the feel of it. We had committed and couldn’t go back. When do you feel most confident? T: Probably just recording. Being in a recording studio. A safe space. M: Yeah, same. T: The thing is, I’m always a little bit apprehensive. When you’re singing you can’t hide behind anything. The other day I was playing harp for someone and I was improvising and I realised – this is way more fun than singing, which feels more vulnerable. That’s just me though. M: Do you get more of a buzz out of singing because of that though? T: A different one. How was making Devotion different to your past collaborations? M: We went into a real studio to record this album. M: Yeah, most of the time we’ve been doing it in our bedrooms. Very plain and basic. So we went into a proper studio in Streatham, and for me that was great. Everything sounded nicer and things that Taz improvised didn’t have police sirens in the background, so that was cool. I always find a siren in most recordings I make. It’s just real life.
You killed it at the ICA gig. How does it feel when a show’s over? M: I can never remember it. I have a bad memory, but also I feel like when you play a live gig – unless you’ve made a mistake – it’s all just a blur. T: But nobody knows that you’ve made a mistake as long as you repeat it a few times. M: You do get adrenaline though. T: It cures you of a cold! M: Yeah, 100%. I was once so ill that I almost didn’t do a show, but by the end I was totally fine. You’re in survival mode to an extent. T: It’s not necessarily good for your body. M: It must be though? T: Maybe? Just a rush of help-you-out-antibodies. W hat have you guys learnt from each other? T: Tonnes. I could sit here all day talking about it. M: I’ve learnt peace and love from you, Taz. That’s what you radiate. T: Aw, mate. I mean, likewise! That’s friendship, isn’t it? M: But calmness, too, you know? How to not get manic. Rationality. T: You teach me to unravel things. While I’m like, making things calm, you’re like: actually, let’s take this all apart and look at it. M: That sounds really unhelpful. T: No, not in a chaotic way. Everyone needs an opposite view. If I was calm about everything, it’d be really boring.
Have you picked up any of each other’s habits over the years? M: Taz has resisted all of my bad habits. T: No, that can’t be true. M: Well, anything like, illegal, anything bad for your body. T: Nah, I don’t think you have any bad habits. Aw, Meeks, if you weren’t feeling sick with flu before, I bet you are now. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote? M: I wrote a piece about an ant when I was really young. T: Ant sized! M: That’s kind of weird, right? T: I remember writing lyrics in the bedroom I shared with my sister. I must’ve been about ten. M: Where are they? Was it about a boy in your class? T: I honestly can’t remember. I don’t think I ever actually sung them. M: I’m gonna ask your mum about that! What’re your survival tactics for the rest of 2018? T: Positivity! I want to have a party to celebrate the album. There’s no plan yet though because I’m lucky if I can organise myself to get out of the door at the moment. M: I don’t know man, what month are we in now? What’s gonna get us through the year? I guess having no plan means that you don’t know that sort of thing… you just carry on, don’t you?
Photography Yumna Al-Arashi
Styling Bojana Kozarevic