Interview

Mikhaela Faye just dropped her debut single “Body” and gets candid about reinventing herself, going solo, and not always having her shit together

The first time I ever saw, nay, experienced Cape Town-based vocalist and jazz composer, Mikhaela Faye, I did a double-take and thought, “Damn, she a bad bitch!”

She was playing alongside an equally badass guitar god and producer, Greg Abrahams, as the electronic dream pop duo, Floors Live, and they were ripping the Rocking the Daisies 2017 Red Bull Stage a new one.

I’d since met Mikhaela on the local music scene, but a level of respect and admiration (read: intimidation) had me keeping my distance. But here she was, sat in front of me at Tiger’s Milk on Kloof street, on a scorcher of a day, to talk about the launch of her solo project, Mikhaela Faye.

Faye has collaborated with the PHFats and Ryan Murgatroyds of the world, but her inclinations to electronic music are more recent. She has a BMus in Composition & Arrangement in Jazz Studies, having graduated seven years ago.

We talk about the good and the bad experiences at the SA College of Music — the syllabus, certain members of faculty, the sexism and the high snobiety in jazz. She explains that there was this sense that female instrumentalists were lesser, like, “Ag shame she’s a girl, and she plays an instrument, we can’t hold them to the same standard.”

She speaks of Amanda Tiffin, an incredible jazz vocalist and pianist, and head of the jazz vocal faculty, as her saving grace, “And if it wasn’t for people like Amanda Tiffin that were really vouching for vocalists and really vouching for vocals as an instrument, I don’t know where I would be.”

I ask about her transition from jazz into electronic music, and she exposes the harsh realities of being a jazz musician in South Africa, “I think unfortunately jazz musicians fit into this kind of category like R500 for a background gig, like you practice your entire life to play weddings and funerals. Like what the fuck?”

Faye shares a sad but true realization, “I’d spent four years of really trying to learn this skill and hone the craft and it was very specific and very in-depth, and then realizing that the rest of the world that doesn’t care.” She elaborates, “There was definitely a moment when I left [college] that I realized if I kept on doing the jazz thing, that I would not make ends meet. And so I had to reinvent myself.”

A big part of Faye’s six-year exploration of music outside of jazz was electro-pop duo Floors Live. The music that she and Greg Abrahams composed and performed was powerful and masterful and expertly produced. The live show was lights and smoke and virtuosic guitar and synth and vocal performance. And I ask about their career, and why it seems to have come to a halt, “So we started writing together, and we created this EP and it took us a long-ass time. Way too long, but I think it’s because we were so precious.”

Faye and Abrahams were equally new to the business of music, “We made this EP and were kinda just like what do we do with it? So we just put it out there and had a big, yay, family and friends moment and that was it.”

But Mikhaela Faye’s gone solo, and she’s just dropped her debut single, Body, one of six tracks you’ll find on her upcoming EP, “Not Now. Later”, due for release on the 24th of April.

I ask her about her new direction as a solo musician and her response is genuinely refreshing, “Mikhaela Faye is about never feeling like you have your shit together, you know? Like dropping the Long Life milk on the floor in Pick ‘n Pay and it’s splattering everywhere and then getting home and you haven’t washed the dishes in five days and your fridge is empty”.
Her confessions have me in stitches, “It’s about the fact that I had to buy deodorant on the way to this interview. It’s like the failure to adult, that is literally what this EP is about.”

I ask, more specifically, about the debut single dropping today, “So it’s definitely tapping into that feeling of being in a new relationship and kind of dating someone and being really pumped on having a lot of sex but also not knowing really where you stand with this person. There’s this feeling of sickening naïvety to it, not quite knowing, needing answers,” she concludes.

Co-written alongside Omri Dahan, with Dahan co-producing it alongside Luc Vermeer, “Body”, is vulnerable lyrics communicated through sexy, pitch-perfect vocals, chilled out but catchy melodies and layers of warm synth, well spaced out over comfortable chords, before dropping into a bass-heavy forward-moving synth sound. I’ve played it so many times since she slipped me the preview that it’s already part of my staple musical diet.

Mikhaela Faye is the hottest thing to happen to 2020 and you better get hip to it.