Fast and Furious
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Natural Disaster: Tell me a little bit about how you got started performing? Do you have any formal training or come from a musical family?
Sam Mickens: Not really a musical family exactly. My mom was a stage actress when she was younger, but by the time I was being raised, she wasn’t really anymore. I just played music a lot when I was a really young kid, and I kind of started writing my own music. And then instead of high school I went to community college in Seattle and studied jazz formally for a couple of years. And then when I was done with that, I was like 17, I started thinking about and kind of going through the process of applying to and checking out a few places to [study] jazz in college. But at the same time was already beginning to play a lot, and I started going on tour a lot. I could already start to feel the potential grift of college, and that if you don’t have the means to pay for it, it’s just going to put you in this lifetime of debt. I also just felt like I could teach myself anything I wanted to know, if I had discipline, and so I just started playing in bands and touring a lot, and over the years have continually tried to fill in more of the gaps in my theoretical knowledge. I taught myself how to read and write music.
ND: You have a chilling yet soothing falsetto voice, and a lot of journalists have compared you to David Bowie. I think you also site Prince an inspiration on an old Wikipedia page, if that’s correct?
SM: I do like Prince.
ND: Who else has inspired you as a singer?
SM: I guess some of my favorite singers are Prince and Michael Jackson, David Bowie. Really probably the biggest influence on me as a musician was this guy Jimmy Scott. He was a jazz singer with this really crazy voice. He was born with a genetic condition by which he never went through puberty, so basically he has a female voice, but he’s an old man now. I think he’s in his 70s, and he also had a really intense, crazy life. He only sings ballads, and his singing is really fantastic. If I to say my single favorite singer, it’s probably him.
ND: When I first saw you perform, I was completely mesmerized in a variety of ways. Do you do your own choreography?
SM: Yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily say there is really any choreography at all in my show. But certainly, all my movements come naturally from within myself and my life of, whatever, a drunken dance party. I’d definitely like to take my dancing in the Showband further.
ND: So you’re backed by eight musicians, Sharon Jones is backed by nine…I heard that you challenged her to a little showdown.
SM: Yeah, but she was yellow.
ND: Are you worried that she’s going to take your title as reigning soul champion of Brooklyn?
SM: I mean if she wins in honest combat, she’s welcome to. Some folks that I know misconstrued that I was talking shit about her, or hate her or something like that, but I think she’s totally rad. What I said in the first place, was that I think that forms are only pushed toward higher and higher peaks by healthy discourse and competition. Not competition in like a sporting sense. It’s also just a spectacle. I also feel like the musicians in my band are really some of the best musicians in town.
ND: So Kayfabe: Game of Death went up last weekend. Tell me what really particularly fascinates you about professional wrestling…is it the concept of kayfabe itself?
SM: It’s a lot of things. You know, it’s not even just professional wrestling that it’s involved with and referenced in the show. I started started to really look at the piece through pro wrestling stuff, and part of it’s just like fascinating to go back and really understand more about the reality and underlying operations of the things you were into as a kid. Cause that era back then, was just like the era of lunatics, like Hulk, Macho Man, Ultimate Warrior and things like that. Their vibe in their interviews is just going as fucking buckets as possible. Just thinking about the kind of mania those guys have to work up. It’s this sport that’s completely fictional in narrative, and fake in the fact that they’re not actually trying to win against one another. But by virtue of it’s surrounding demands and all the attributes of the business, it ends up being the most destructive and fatal of all sports. All these wrestlers died in their 30s and early 40s from heart failure. They were all just taking insane amounts of different drugs, and not just in a recreational way, and not even just steroids. They were taking all sorts of crazy pain pills…they’re just so fucking juiced up and adrenalized that they’re taking all these pills to fall asleep at night and all this coke to wake up, and it’s just like a super intense lifestyle. They’d also just get physically fucked up a lot.
ND: Ok, so talk to me about this slitting of the eyelid thing you did at one point during Kayfabe. Was it real blood?
SM: In Kayfabe it’s real. That’s the kind of thing that wrestlers did back in the past. They would keep a blade either in the tape on their arm, in a kneepad, or under their tongue a lot of the time.
ND: That seems stupid.
SM: It’s apparently totally safe, somehow. Just to get the audience more hyped out they would get the blade out and cut themselves. Allen and myself in Kayfabe, we turn towards the audience and sort of explicity do it, clearly doing the thing that wrestlers would do in a secretive way. Sometimes in the Showband I use fake blood. I think I’m kind of into just real blood for now.
ND: You have this crazy presence. It obviously has to do with energy, like when I was at that show at Zebulon the guys I were sitting next to were like, “Who is that guy?” Then you disappeared backstage and came out with this beautiful, red seqined sweater. What happens when you “put on the sweater?”
SM: I don’t really feel like I wear a costume when I’m performing with the Showband or the Dead Science. It’s just like the most heated up and heightened version of just my normal self and attire.
ND: I notice you wear a lot of red and a lot of tuxedo-style cropped pants. I feel like you should be wearing cufflinks and shit like that.
SM: I like cufflinks, also, you know just like the Sex Pistols, a lot of my fashion is regrettably dictated by the fact that I’m a real broke person and I end up wearing a lot of shit for a long time.
ND: Do you have any style icons?
SM: Uh no, I think there’s a lot of people who’s style I appreciate a lot. Michael Jackson obviously…Batman villains.
ND: Do you ever wear masks?
SM: In the Showband sometimes. Generally it’s only at the end or for one song, coming back onstage or something like that. I don’t ever wear masks if I’m just going out to eat burritos or something like that.
ND: Yeah me neither, but maybe I should.
ND: What’s your favorite late night meal?
SM: Probably just macaroni and cheese. Pretty much all I eat is macaroni and cheese with tuna or ramen with an egg in it. It’s good man. I’d say over the past few months, that’s pretty much all I eat. But certainly over the course of my life macaroni and cheese would be the thing I’ve eaten the most.
ND: What are you striving for ultimately in your career?
SM: It would be great to be able to make the work that you most wanted to and dreamed of with all the money and resources to make it to it’s true potential. Those things would be great, but I’d probably just say glory. That’s probably my main answer.
“You might say that I already perpetually wear fur, but I really needed this rabbit-trimmed wool hat. (And yes, I did kill the rabbit.) It’s already snowed here in Omaha, plus I go on like four walks a day. That’s four chances to strut my (working) title as the best dressed pooch in Dundee. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some rabbit bones to gnaw on before walk #3.”