Music is true love of Mica Paris
Emma LeeThis month Mica Paris releases her first studio album for 10 years. To mark her return to her true love of singing, she's heading out on tour, including a date in Norwich as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival on May 12.Emma Lee
Mica Paris's new record is called Born Again. The name couldn't be more fitting. It's a decade since the star released her last album and, as she tells me while grabbing a chat during a cab journey across London, it feels like she's been reunited with her first love.
The record is out in a couple of weeks, and to mark her return to singing she's embarking on a string of live dates, including a show at Norwich Theatre Royal on May 12 - set to be a highlight of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
Mica (it's short for Michelle and pronounced 'Meesha') was a teenager when she burst on to the music scene. Her powerhouse of a voice was discovered when she was 10, singing gospel music in church. A few years later she was signed to a major label. The single My One Temptation made her famous in the UK and America and led to her working with her heroes such as Prince and Dionne Warwick.
It turned Mica's life upside down.
'It was really heavy,' she says. 'I was just 17. And I got this massive chance to make an album, to choose the songs. It was a great feeling. What I wasn't prepared for was the song blowing up so quickly. Every time I left my flat in Hackney, people were chasing down the street after me. I was just a normal person. I couldn't go to the shop and buy a packet of crisps. It was a head rush.'
Then, at the end of the '90s, she went on hiatus from making music. And she's refreshingly candid about the reason.
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'Basically I didn't do any music because I couldn't get a deal,' she says matter of factly.
But Mica reinvented herself by branching out into TV and radio. Her credits include co-hosting the BBC's What Not to Wear with Lisa Butcher following Trinny and Susannah's departure, appearing on reality shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, presenting the Radio 2 show Soul Solutions and dabbling in acting.
'The music industry didn't want to touch me, so I went where the love was. In a funny way I feel that I got so caught up in radio and television because that's where the work was.'
Then she got an offer to make a new album, and two years ago she went into the studio with super-producer and good friend Brian Rawling.
'I worked with the best producer in the country,' Mica enthuses. 'It's a dream come true. He's worked with lots of great people, like Cher, Lemar and James Morrison.'
The album was a two-year labour of love. She had a clear vision, but the creative process was a slow one. The title track turned out to be the catalyst to unlocking her creativity.
'When we went in the studio I said I wanted to make a record that was fresh, completely new material, nothing in the way of cover versions. To go into a room with the best writers and see what happens. It ended up being two years of us doing that. For the first year I wasn't really feeling it. In the second year it started to happen.
'Paul Barry, who wrote Believe for Cher and Hero for Enrique Iglesias, played me Born Again and that song turned it round. Every song started to come,' she says.
Mica comes across as straight-talking, strong and confident. She has the sort of self belief that's born out of weathering the toughest things that life can throw at you. Six years ago her brother, Jason, died in a shooting.
'After all the ups and downs it's amazing I'm still standing,' she admits. 'The album was very much a journey of what's been happening to me over the last three years. I guess there was some sort of cathartic release that I needed to go through.'
And she's incredibly proud of the result.
'This album is the best I've ever made.
'I've not made an album in 10 years. To be back doing my first love and the thing I'm most passionate about is like a rebirth. That's why I called the album Born Again. I feel like it's my new start. People have probably forgotten that I do music.'
Mica has likened discovering her voice to an 'out-of-body experience'. And she passionately believes in the power of music.
'When you come from a gospel background of singing in church you don't sing to gratify your ego. It's not about you. You sing to touch and inspire people. I can't make a song without that being the reason,' she says.
Performing is still a spiritual experience. 'When I do a performance I'm not really there.'
She will be accompanied at the Norwich date by a band made up of Pino Palladino on bass, Jason Rebello on keyboards, Alex Carpetis on drums and Adam Philips on guitar.
'It's going to be a powerful experience, very moving, very dynamic,' she promises. 'I've got an amazing band and it's really really good, organic soul music. There will be some pop, gospel and jazz. It's a journey through all the musical experiences I've had in the last 22 years and beyond. I'm just really in love with performing music again.'
While the music side of her career is currently her main preoccupation, she admits she can't sit still for long.
'I'm one of those people who's on to the next thing, always thinking what I'm doing next.'
And her family is a major driving force. She has two daughters, Monet, who's in her teens and Russia, who is nearly three. She puts her ability to juggle home and work down to growing up with a positive role model.
'It's something women have been doing for hundreds of years. We're multi-taskers. My grandmother had 11 children and she had three jobs and dinner was always at 6pm,' she says.
'I make it work. They're great kids. And I have a really great family that help me. My family keep me sane. They are amazing. They tell me when my head gets too big or when I'm wearing too much make-up. You need that to keep you grounded.'
On TV, Mica seems to have found her niche in makeover programmes. As well as co-presenting What Not To Wear she was a judge on Miss Naked Beauty - Gok Wan's quest to encourage women to unleash their inner beauty queen. Having worked in the ultra-competitive music industry, she knows the pressure women are under to look good. And she's not afraid to speak her mind. It's a combination that seems to work.
'I've always been the sort of person if you go on a night out I'm first to tell you you look crap. I know what I'm talking about when it comes to looking good.
'I think women have a very hard time. If a famous guy doesn't look his best they don't say anything,' she says, adding that she worries about the effect the constant bombardment of images of super skinny celebs on TV and in magazines is having.
'I find that quite disturbing. I'm size 14 with a real body and I look good. I don't have to starve myself to look good. If you've got children you don't want them to be a victim of that based on what they see in the media. I believe in women celebrating each other, looking out for each other,' she says.
t Mica Paris plays Norwich Theatre Royal on Tuesday, May 12. Tickets cost from �5 to �20. Telephone the box office on 01603 766400 or visit www.nnfestival.org.uk
t Her new album, Born Again, is out on May 18, and the single, Baby Come Back, is released on May 25.