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Interview with Imelda May

13 November 2014 Jessica Johnston

“My sound is still not mainstream and it never will be, but I’m fine with that as long as I can make music I love.”

She is ‘Ireland’s reigning musical queen’ who gave Rockabilly its renaissance sixty years after the likes of Elvis Presley kicked it into life. From her bright red lipstick to her slick curl of hair, Dubliner Imelda May oozes the vintage style of a 1950’s rock chick with a peppering of punk attitude. Her signature sound is an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, rockabilly and punk all of which is masterfully woven together in her new album Tribal. We managed to catch up with the charming Ms May ahead of her nationwide UK tour, to find out about her musical inspirations and who she would love to work with in the future.

London Calling: Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in music?

Imelda May: Not really, but it was one of those things where music found me rather than I found music. When people used to ask me what I wanted to be, I would have no idea and yet at that time I was already singing in clubs. I just loved music and singing so much and I was completely fascinated and addicted to it, but I just didn’t think of it as a career.

LC: For those who have not heard your music, how would you describe your sound?

IM: It’s a mixture of all the music that I love, so there’s a bit of jazz, rockabilly, blues, punk and country in my sound. I have always loved those genres of music, from Billie Holiday and Elvis to Gene Vincent, Adam Ant and Blondie.

LC: At the start of your career, did music labels struggle to understand what you were about because of your unique sound?

IM: Yeah, I don’t think they could figure out where they would market me. I understand why they found it hard, because the industry likes to box artists into certain areas, whereas I seem to have a little mixture of everything that shouldn’t work but does. I always knew it worked and even more so when I got my band together and we would perform in Dublin where the crowds kept growing with each performance. There was a real buzz going on and that was without any record company or any big campaign behind us. I just did what I wanted to do and the record companies came later. My sound is still not mainstream and it never will be, but I’m fine with that as long as I can make music I love.


 

LC: Tell us about your new album Tribal...

IM: This album has the sounds of blues and early rockabilly but it kind of leans more towards my punk influences. I wanted this album to capture that raw electricity you get when performing live on stage. I was really inspired by all the great women of rock from Debbie Harry and Patti Smith to Chrissy Hines and Wanda Jackson, as well as great bands like The Crash and The Cramps.

LC: How long has it taken to put this album together? What has the process been like?

IM: It took about a year to put the album together. I took some time off to have my baby and then when she was about five months old, I started to feel the itch to write again. I took my time with it and slowly began to write whatever came naturally, then I called my band and we went into rehearsals, we tired a few of the songs out at gigs and then went into the studio to record. After that we went on tour, then came back and mixed the album, then went on another tour, came back and mastered it and then went on another tour. Maybe one day I will put an album together like a sane person!

LC: When you are composing a song what comes first, the music or lyrics?

IM: It constantly changes, sometimes somebody will say something and I will write it down and think that’s a great song title, other times I will get a melody, most times a melody and a few lines just pop into my head at the same time and I work from there. There are times when songs just fly out of me but then other times I might have to go back and work on it.

LC: Lyrically, what inspires you?

IM: Life, Love and everything!I write about my own life and other people’s lives and what’s great is, if I ever get asked in interviews about any really intimate songs on the album I can just completely lie and say it’s about someone else.  I also like to put humour into songs, I think it’s important to have fun at a gig and I am aware of that when I’m writing.

LC: Who would you love to collaborate with in the future?

IM: There are just so many people I would love to work with! I’ve been lucky enough to have already worked with some of the artists I admire and look up to, but I would still really love to work with Leonard Cohen, Joe Cocker, Chrissy Hines, Debbie Harry and the Arctic Monkeys.

LC: What should audiences coming to see you live, expect?

IM: Oh they can expect a bloody great time and good value for their money! I’m aware of people who work hard for their money and if they choose to come out and see me and my band then we will be sure to give them absolutely everything we’ve got because that’s the way it should be. I’d like people to expect to go home on a high!

Imelda May kicks off her Nationwide UK Tour on 16th November and will be heading to London’s O2 Shepherds Bush Empire on 24th November. Tickets from £33.18, available here.

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