If you’ve been walking around the streets of LA recently, you may have caught billboards scattered around town featuring a rather bizarre individual called Mikey Mike. With slogans like “Ginger curious? Send nudes” and “Have you seen this man? Owes 2.3 million in child support,” the mystery man has began to gather a bit of attention, popping up on Instagram and other social media feeds all over the world.
But the truth is, this comical figure is indeed a real person. Six years ago, he was just another songwriter/producer trying to break into the business, facing rejection after rejection as music sent to labels and managers and publishers all went by without interest. Feeling frustrated by the lack of bites, Mikey decided to attempt to submit the same music under the name of a famous porn star and just like that his luck began to change, culminating in him receiving a spot producing on Rihanna’s Unapologetic album.
Over the next few years, Mikey would continue to produce and write music for up-and-coming artists until, through his manager, Mikey’s music got in the hands of Rick Rubin, who decided to produce his first single “Doin’ Me.” He now has a deal with Warner Bros. and a record on the way. AltWire owner and writer Derek recently sat down with the controversial figure and had an opportunity to learn about what makes him tick. Read on for our interview with Mikey Mike.
AW: For new listeners (or those who know you mostly through your posters around LA) could you tell us a little more about yourself? What inspired you to get into music?
Mikey Mike: I started playing guitar in 5th or 6th grade – all my buddies had bought guitars and they all played them for about two weeks. I didn’t buy one at first, because I didn’t want to be the copycat – that’s the worst thing you could be in 6th grade. They all had new guitars and then they all kind of gave up on it. So anytime they would disappear or, you know, go to take a shower or do something, I would pick up their guitar and start playing and I fell in love with it. So I got a guitar and just started playing all the time. This was around 6th grade, so I was really into Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and all that stuff, and I was always trying to start bands with people.
I kept getting into the same problem, where people would want to play for ten minutes and then they get bored and want to hop on AIM and try and talk to girls [laughs]. I remember specifically sitting there and being like, ‘you know what? If you’d learn that fucking bass part, we would be fingering way more girls!’
So that’s where it started, and from there I just figured out that I can’t be in a place where I’ve got to rely on other people, because nobody’s as dedicated. Then by 9th grade I got this program called Fruity Loops that I downloaded on one of my friends’ computers when he was asleep, because I knew if I put it on my computer my parents would probably go crazy.
I stayed up all night just messing around making beats on this program – it was a production program, one of the most basic ones, and instantly I just kind of fell in love with making beats because I could do every instrument – I didn’t have anyone I had to rely on and I could do it exactly how I heard it. Because even when I would play with bands, I always had that production type ear and I’d be like, ‘Let’s play simple notes here!’ or ‘there’s too many words in the lyrics!’
So I always kind of had that producer thing in me.
So when I got Fruity Loops it was like, ‘Oh, I can do everything on my own!’ So that’s when that started, and I’d say 9th grade through college all I did was make beats the whole time and I got really good with hip-hop production and doing pop stuff, and I was still playing a little guitar, but less as I was more into the hip-hop world.
AW: I still use Fruity Loops myself, man. I first got into it back when it was Fruity Loops 9 and I’ve been a fan ever since. It’s just a really simple way to produce and create music.
Mikey Mike: A lot of huge people in the music world still use it. I know Deadmau5 still uses Fruity Loops and a lot of hip-hop dudes use it, and at the end of the day, what you put in is what you get out. You can use any VST so in terms of sonics and whatnot, it doesn’t really change from software to software too much.
AW: The idea to market you through the “Wanna Be Friends?” and “Have you seen this man?” posters was certainly different and unorthodox. How did the idea come about?
Mikey Mike: I always from the start (even when it came to making music or anything I was doing) have been trying to find my own way. If everybody would make their beats sounding like ‘this’ or if they were playing guitar like ‘that’, I was just trying to go the opposite way. Just opposite enough that I could make my own world and draw people in based on that. And that’s been in me since I was little, just finding my own way to do things.
So I remember staying in New York at the time – I was there for about a month- and there was this dude who put out these flyers that had this really creepy picture, and at the top it said ‘Looking For A Girlfriend’. And it turned into this viral story in New York for a second. So I saw those posters and thought ‘Damn!’ and later on down the line when we were doing this song it just came back to me, and I felt there could be a way to use that idea and turn it into something all its own. Because it’s one of those things where now, if you make a song and put it on a blog, by 3O’Clock it’s going to be five pages back. I feel the street is like the new internet, there’s so much noise and I know everybody is out there walking around and doing their thing so it was like, ‘how do I catch their eyes on the street and lead them back to the music?’
AW: Between the random spam comments and offers of nudes, a few people have asked on findmikeymike.com (in the comments) if the claims on the signs were real. Was there any worry that having your face on something like that would mean that strangers would associate something negative with you instead of giving your music a chance?
Mikey Mike: Eh, you know, I thought about it but I didn’t think too hard because I just looked at the flyer and I said, ‘Damn, this is funny, and it’ll make most people smile.’ There’s definitely been one or two people who have said, ‘Wow, that is tasteless!’ or whatever, but I think no matter what you do these days, you’re going to offend somebody. You can go to a soup kitchen and feed people, and somebody somewhere is going to be offended. So it’s something I’ve thought about, but there hasn’t been any kind of crazy backlash.
Before I put out that flyer I took it to some people I knew, where their dad wasn’t in their life a lot, and I said, ‘When you see this, what emotions do you get from it? Is it hurtful? Does it make you smile?’ And everybody I asked said, ‘I see it and it makes me laugh, I wouldn’t even think of it in that way’. So I kind of tested the water because I don’t want to hurt anybody, but at the same time I’m not afraid to potentially offend people.
AW: Personally I’m on the side of thinking it’s hilarious. The picture is classic, with you having the messed up hair and giving off the crazy eyes. It’s just perfect!
Mikey Mike: Yeah it’s got the Charlie Manson thing going on! That’s the kicker, if it was just the same old flier and you just smiled in it, it wouldn’t have half the draw. Having those crazy eyes in it, people just see it and Instagram it, and be like, ‘What the hell is this?!’
AW: Let’s talk about your music. What was it like having your first single produced by Rick Rubin? How did that come about?
Mikey Mike: That started with my (now) manager. He came to my house years ago to hear music for a girl he was working with at the time. And before he left I said, ‘Here, let me play you some of my own stuff so you can hear how some of the production and writing comes together…’ I wasn’t even trying to pitch myself as an artist, but just show him how I can do everything and how it comes together. He was so inspired by it in the moment that he said, ‘I’m not leaving your house till you say we can work together in some capacity.’
He was the first person that really took to it like that; he wasn’t just like, ‘oh, I like the beats…’ No, he got the full picture. So before he left that day, right before he walked out the door, he kind of dipped back in and said ‘Hey, is it cool if I play this for Rick Rubin’? And Rick Rubin was one of my musical heroes so I was like, ‘Holy shit! Of course you can play it for him!’
So then, maybe two days later, he called me and asked if I had a minute, and I could kind of tell he was excited and that it was going somewhere, and he told me, ‘Hey, we played it for Rick. He loves it and he wants to meet you immediately! Can you come up to his house in Malibu tomorrow?’ So that’s how that happened.
I would go up there every couple of months and play him stuff and he would help me on songs and kind of give me points and we would just kick it. One time I had Doin’ Me on, and I could tell he loved it because he said that every time he hears it would make him tear up. So I knew how much he loved it and I sat with him and said, ‘Look, I want this to be as good as it can be. I know this doesn’t have to change much from the demo and I’m afraid if I take it anywhere else people are going to try and add too much shit, and they won’t get the song or hear it the way that I hear it and you hear it. If there’s any way we can do this together that would be amazing.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’
AW: Being a producer yourself, what did you learn from Rick Rubin that you’ll apply to your own writing and producing work?
Mikey Mike: The main thing I’ve always gathered from his music is that I like things as stripped and raw as possible, and that was kind of always his thing. Like, I think everything has to have its place in a song, and if it’s not really adding to it then you should probably just take it out. With him, they used to joke that things by him weren’t produced by him – they were ‘reduced’ by him. So that’s one of the big things and it was really interesting just to sit when we were doing it, because we knew it didn’t have to change much from the demo, and he was just listening and he was like, ‘Okay, this needs just a bit more impact, let’s have the volume of this swell out here.’ He’s very meticulous with the leveling of things, in a way that I think while most producers are conscious of it, he was really conscious of it. Another big thing – and especially with that song as it’s story based – is that he’s very big on the narrative of the story. Like, ‘Okay, now we need something to come in the third verse that does what this instrument does, but different, to make it feel exciting and like it’s not dragging.’ Just the way that he saw music in that kind of way, keeping it fresh but not going too far away from the path, it was really interesting to watch for sure.
AW: Your music is definitely a unique style compared to some of the music out there right now. Who would you say are your inspirations?
Mikey Mike: I’d say one that I always have to say is the biggest is Nirvana just because that’s the band that made me want to play guitar in 6th grade. Like, if it wasn’t for Nirvana and the energy of that, and the feeling and the whole attitude, I don’t think I’d know how to play music. So I’ll always have them as one of the top ones.
But it’s literally spanned everywhere. I had years where all I did was listen to Jay-Z and 50 Cent and whatever. I love Led Zeppelin and Norah Jones and I also have favorite songs. I love too many songs and too many artists to say, ‘that person’s number one and that’s two and three’ but in line with that, I think one of my favorite songs is ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac. The inspirations are kind of everywhere, I’m kind of less focused on the artist and more on the songs I love. I think the songs have more power to me than whoever is singing them.
AW: Talk to me about the concept and filming of the Doin’ Me video.
Mikey Mike: The concept actually spawned with someone I knew at the label called Ashley. We had all the billboards and all the signs up and she said, ‘What if you shot some promo in front of the flyers and in front of the bus stops and see if people go by?’ and it was a great idea. We went out with the camera in Hollywood and I would just sit on the billboards or stand in front of a flyer and people would just come up and their reactions were really, really funny… which was cool because we got all this stuff that was so in-the-moment, and it kind of carries the spirit of the song.
It’s not really pretty, or like we did it with this big production team where everything was edited flawlessly to the tee. There’s a rawness and looseness to it. It captured the spirit and the fact that the billboards and all that stuff was up, we got some real genuine reactions of people walking down the street, and then people start running up and taking pictures that we wouldn’t have got if we went out and shot some scripted video that was right in line with the story of the song.
AW: What are your plans for the year ahead? Where do you plan to take this musical journey?
Mikey Mike: So the plan is, basically, as of right now, to put a tune out every month or two until we hit five or so. They’re all songs from the record and there’s a loose narrative. About half of them will come and then we’ll put out the other half altogether, but there will hopefully be videos between everything. There will be tons of content, skits and poems and we’re really working on getting a TV show. The album is called ‘Life on Earth’ and we really want to do a TV show called Life on Earth. Every song would take form in the show and the show would be based around the spirit of the song. It would be comedy but there would be a lot of heartfelt, spiritual and soulful stuff in it too.
So that’s the main thing, just getting these tunes out, and we’ll keep the billboards and flyers out and keep finding new and interesting ways to kind of shake things up. Hopefully playing some shows and just kind of building something there that we can branch out and take to the rest of the world.