Image for Abbe May – Rock N Roll Education

Abbe May – Rock N Roll Education

Written by Jason Strange on July 14, 2011

The West has always been a hotbed for talented musicians. It seems like every new artist to emerge comes from W.A. Abbe May has been making music for the last few years, touring extensively throughout Canada and Europe and fine tuning her brand of dirty rock n’ blues. Her music is sexy and honest. Her new album Design Desire has dropped and a national tour is about to kick off, I caught up with Abbe to find out more about this University dropout with a fondness for PJ Harvey and Moroccan musicians

Music Feeds: Give us a history lesson of Abbe May?

Abbe May: I grew up in a coastal country town in Western Australia where, if you were a boy, you either surfed, skated or played music. If you were a girl, your boyfriend either surfed, skated or played music. I played music and never had a boyfriend. I left home at 17 to go to university. I was also living a pretty wild lifestyle while playing in my brother’s band ‘The Fuzz’.  It meant that I really only got half a degree before I realised it was rock and roll or study. I chose rock and roll.  In spite of the hangovers, it was always much more fun than the lectures and essays. Now that I am a few years older, I’d like to go back to study.

MF: The new album Design Desire is awesome, tell us a bit about the album?

AM: I wanted to write a really heavy rock and roll record after spending the last few years working on blues punk music. I wanted to work with Sam Ford (Producer/engineer on Design Desire and bass player for The Silents and now for me) because I had found his previous recordings displayed a confident independence from the LO-FI trends that were popular at the time and probably still are. I was over low fidelity sounds and I loved his style. Together, we wanted to record dirty sounds in a clean way and make a heavy rock and roll record that sounded raw but modern.

MF: How did you approach the songwriting process for this album?

AM: There was definitely a more conscious, deliberate approach to songwriting with this record. Lyrics, melodies and initial chord structures are always accessed by me in an kind of unconscious way, but then I consciously approached refining the songs and their structures. This record is much heavier than my last recordings, and the vocals are more restrained and ethereal sounding.

MF: I really dig the track Feeling Like A Man, Looking Like A Woman, what’s the story behind that song?

AM: When I was very young and in primary school, I was very androgynous. Mostly the other kids weren’t bothered, but it seemed to disturb some adults. In particular, my year 5 teacher. In his class, if you wanted to go to the bathroom you would have to pick up a toilet pass – blue for boys and pink for girls  – and take it to his desk before he would let you leave the room. So I would go up to his desk with a pink pass and he would say loudly “you can only go to the bathroom when you bring me the correct pass”. Initially I was confused and remember being so embarrassed that I would leave his desk and return with the blue pass without fuss so as not to draw more attention from the rest of the class. Then he would let me go to the bathroom. He would also make me stand in the boys line when he checked our uniforms every morning. I was too young to know he was being a complete arsehole. It took me  about 5 years to actually tell my parents. For years it disturbed me . I’m totally fine now! I see it as his problem. He had tried to condition me into thinking I was not female. Even as a kid I knew I wasn’t a boy, but It meant that I became acutely aware of how we can be more gendered by conditioning than we are by nature. Though what he did was really abusive, it afforded me an insight into the mechanisms of our community, especially when it comes to assigning gender roles and attributes … So I wrote a song about that with a drag queen as the protagonist.

MF: Listening to it, I picked up an old PJ Harvey vibe; who or what have influenced you over the years in creating your sound?

AM: I have listened to a lot of PJ Harvey and I am definitely better for it. I think PJ Harvey is one of the most important musicians of modern musical history. Constantly evolving, she seems to me to be one of the last true artists. I also really like certain kinds of rock and roll …like The White Stripes, Queens Of The Stone Age, Zeppelin, and then bands like  Eagles of Death Metal and Ween… I like the humour that permeates their music.. Electronica like Caribou and  LCD Soundsystem have also had a big impact on me as a writer.  I have also been influenced by the novels of Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon particularly) Aldous Huxley and Jeanette Winterson.

MF: You’ve travelled a fair bit of the globe performing now; who have been some of the best bands/artists to play with?

AM: I’ve played with some awesome bands, but the best music I’ve ever heard was in Morocco where I saw  these two traditional musicians making percussion with their hands and feet while playing these great stringed instruments made from goat skin and bone. It sounded so unique and gorgeous and at the same time I could hear small links to Western music. I guess it’s all connected in some way.

Design Desire is out now.

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