As the digital age continues to erode the record industry, more and more indie artists are emerging with the tools to create their own music careers. It seems that anyone with a computer can record a passable demo these days (I’m looking at you, Bieber), but the democratization of media doesn’t necessarily equal stardom. You still gotta work, girl.
Mikela Jay knows about working a career from every angle. The former model writes and produces her own music as well as handling her own press and marketing. Jay has also received notice for a growing career in voice work, including a gig as the narrator of The Corporation, a high-profile Canadian documentary for which director/producer Mark Achbar credits Jay as the “creative and organizational catalyst.”
Her documentary work is an important piece of Jay’s commitment to media activism. In addition to The Corporation, she’s also narrated the films Psywar and Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space and is editing Alison Duke’s documentary about Ugandan activist Victor Mukasa.
“It’s my own form of human rights defending,” says Jay. “We don’t really know what’s happening as civilians unless we’re tapped in, so films like The Corporation really spark a lot of grassroots movements. They connect people.”
On the music front, Jay recently released her first solo album. The Distance is a collection of 12 songs she crafted with the help of UK producer Fat Benjamin. True to her forward-thinking approach to media, Jay released the album to digital outlets only, forgoing the still-expected step of CD manufacturing.
Yet another clue to the changing face of music production is that Jay and Benjamin have never actually met; they email their tracks back and forth during the mixing process and speak by Skype.
There’s one element to the music biz, however, that still requires an artist to be physically present, and Jay is approaching it with her usual vigour.
“I’m gearing up to perform live for the first time in five years,” she says. “I don’t even know what my audience is here.”
That’s a little daunting, perhaps, but Jay feels the current musical landscape is ideally suited for what she calls her “melodramatic pop music.”
“Because I’m a dancer and a model and actor, it’s hard not to clump all of us together: Madonna, Kylie, Lady Gaga and me,” she says. “Not that I’m comparing myself to Lady Gaga!”
There certainly are similarities. Jay’s video for “Crypto” highlights her polished flair for the dramatic, while her androgynous look reminds me of last year’s brouhaha over Gaga’s rumoured hermaphroditism. It’s a look that comes honestly to Jay, who was born intersex — a fact she kept under wraps during her modelling days.
“It was something I never talked about or discussed,” she says. “I never wanted it to eclipse anything else I’ve done.”
There was also the danger of being treated like a freak show. Jay was badly shaken when a well-known publication bypassed her artistic work in a profile, instead focusing on salacious personal details.
“When I do discuss myself, I have to be mindful,” says Jay. “When I was younger, I was so shut off from the beauty of it, how the divine hermaphrodite is worshipped in some cultures. Somehow it became so degraded and changed.”
“One in 2,000 children are born like me. If you’re going to have those kinds of numbers, then why not talk about it?”