SOLO FLIGHT: Micka’s music unfolds at a natural, emotional clip that’s more primal incantation than one-man-band gimmickry.
It’s a lazy weekday afternoon, and we’re finishing breakfast at Kevin Micka’s house in Jamaica Plain. The kitchen table is spread with drafts of liner notes. Micka, the beard and glasses behind Animal Hospital, has added a song to his new album, Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues, since he first wrote the notes, and now he’s trying to figure out where to fit it.
“It should probably also say ‘Mutable Records’ somewhere too, right?” The liner notes go along with the CD/R version of the record, which he’ll be selling at shows, in addition to the otherwise on-line-only release. The additions are getting pasted on top of the old version; the project will be hitting the copier glass at Kinko’s later on in the day.
Micka’s music develops in much the same sort of residual, countertop way. Animal Hospital has achieved a hermetic place in the city’s musical landscape with a deep collection of minimalist rock chamber pieces built from live drum-and-guitar loops. He’s been piling tracks onto his recordings for four years, and that’s culminated in two albums: Good or Plenty, which Mutable released digitally on February 14, and Memory (Barge Records), which he’s releasing next Tuesday at Great Scott in a show with Big Bear and Big Digits.
Micka, who grew up in Newton and who’s made a living as an electronics fix-it man, audio engineer, and part-time movie-theater projectionist, started Animal Hospital in 2004, toward the end of his time in the instrumental trio the Common Cold. “I wasn’t lacking in anything artistically — I just wanted to go on tour more without having to rely on anyone. It was an experiment. It evolved into something I was creatively content with later.”
Outfitting his mini-van with a custom loft and gathering a small army of effects pedals and mixing equipment, he’s fulfilled that goal with Animal Hospital, going on several one-man tours. Two years ago, he traveled in the UK as Beirut’s soundman and brought his rig along to pick up some shows of his own. Next month, he’s leaving Boston to tour Europe in a rented car.
For recording, this mobility means the chance to turn any temporary spot into a studio. Micka recorded himself while hibernating in an abandoned bank in West Virginia, a studio in Oakland, the West Newton Cinema, and his living room. “The recordings are all built up over time. It’s hard to remember where a lot of the tracks are from anymore.”
Memory is the more polished of the two albums, with songs like the tightly wound anthem “ . . . and ever” (with some triumphant climactic vocals) and the pulsing, orchestral title track. Good or Plenty is a bit more of a grab bag, with spacier melodies and more ambient arrangements.
Live, the idea of Micka sitting behind mounds of equipment and instrument cables with a guitar and a drum set might seem like a tech-fair demonstration, but his performances unfold at a natural, emotional clip that’s more primal incantation than one-man-band gimmickry. Which is fine with Micka: “I really like it at shows when it’s too crowded for kids to see me and they just assume it’s a band.”