Steve Sudduth wants to paint a picture.
He wants to construct a fantasy using his most natural instrument: his voice. Behind his intoxicating vocals, he melds layers of sonic dreamscapes, creating moody and ethereal visions with blasts of exquisite post-pop, all released under the personification of his undeniably apropos pseudonym, Mikky Ekko.
Mikky Ekko is a mysterious, face-painted eccentric who Sudduth likes to think of as a “post-apocalyptic kind of tribal character who leads the peasants in an uprising.” The idea behind Mikky Ekko is a half-sarcastic (note the alternate spelling) social commentary on the idea of pop stardom.
“Phonetically, it’s really easy to say in a lot of different languages,” Sudduth explains. “It also references the international pop icon Mickey Mouse, so it’s already globally known. And the definition of ‘echo,’ which is a sound heard but not received from the original source, that inception has created the phenomenon that is the pop icon.”
Mikky Ekko provides a guise under which Sudduth can express themes and emotions somewhat indirectly. This, in effect, allows him to be even more personal and honest in his music.
“I like the idea of writing into a character who says certain things and doesn’t, and then going home for Thanksgiving and not being that [character],” he says. This notion is very telling of Sudduth’s nature, because underneath all the flamboyance and face paint, he remains an entirely dashing and down-to-earth human being.
Literally the son of a preacher man, a Methodist minister to be exact, Sudduth grew up in a strict Mississippi household. He admits he wasn’t always a model child, chalking it up to a basic need to rebel. Naturally, his parents caught the brunt of it.
“I had a season where I hated what they stood for. I hated the control,” he remembers. “Ultimately, it was a combination of being dissatisfied with my relationship with my parents and anxiety in my own life that I’d created.”
Sudduth’s relationship with his folks is now a strong one, and he even cites his early churchgoing days as bearing an influence on his musical tastes. “I have a pretty deep soft spot for traditional church music, that sort of reverent hymn kind of worship feeling,” he says, a sentiment that is reflected in the celestial nature of his music.
Despite his upbringing, Sudduth was insistent upon secretively absorbing as much “taboo” rock music as he could. “I grew up in the ‘90s,” he says, “and a lot of that revolved around me sneaking to make mix tapes of Nirvana and Soundgarden and all the stuff that I loved and couldn’t get enough of and wasn’t supposed to be listening to.”
Comparisons have been made between Sudduth’s style of singing and such prominent ‘90s vocalists as Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley. While the connection is indeed present, Sudduth hopes his own vision outshines and overpowers these comparisons as he creates something completely his own.
“I think that’s where I’m really working musically to try to separate myself from the competition,” he says. “My goal is to be presenting art that I really love that isn’t really competing with anybody in a specific genre.”
While his voice may have the occasional Yorke or Buckley nuance and his character Mikky Ekko may or may not be an indirect tribute to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Sudduth manages to pull from his influences while fully representing himself and incorporating his own emotional and even political experiences.
Sudduth’s two most recent EPs, Reds (June 2010) and Blues (December 2010), are half of a project that was intended to result in a full-length release. He describes the work as individually themed concept pieces that form parts of a whole.
With politically charged lyrics like, “There’s a dirty cop coming / and dirty cops don’t come clean” from “Come Out and Die,” to the almost painfully saccharine refrain of the gorgeous melody “I Love You (I Always Have),” Sudduth juxtaposes the sweet with the sinister, and in so doing seats his aggravations alongside his most personal confessions.
Sudduth is currently unsure what path the latter half of his EP project will take, but what he can be certain of are three solid releases (including his earlier EP, Strange Fruit), more ideas than he knows what to do with—“I’ve got a hard drive full”—and a wealth of passion for what he does.
“I really love being a musician,” he says. “I would starve for it, which is good, because I might. It just takes a different person.”
Just like his fantastical persona Mikky Ekko, Sudduth is leading common people in an uprising against the world of cheap pop stardom and into a place of honesty and originality.