Rockabilly icon. Versatile vocalist. Candid lyricist. Established producer. There are an infinite number of threads to Imelda May’s dress, and her latest album confirms this.
Having taken a step away from the limelight for a few years, the Irish songstress is back with new single, Call Me, taken from her upcoming new album Life Love Flesh Blood, due to be released in early 2017. During the last year she has penned some of her most honest, heartfelt songs to date and the nostalgic black and white music video for Call Me debuts both her new sound and new look. Gone is the trademark blonde-striped rockabilly quiff, replaced with softly styled bedhead bangs. Her appearance these days is one of a more demure, understated Imelda May, a woman whose candid confidence is conveyed through her frank and fearless lyrics. A voice like Imelda’s allows her the freedom to be a musical chameleon and this latest release acts as further proof she can try her hand at practically anything. On the latest record it’s not just her vocal range which is varied, but also the series of genres featured on the album. Fervently rejecting the preconceived idea this new material is a “Break Up Album”, it should instead be described as a “How To Guide” of soul, blues and gospel ballads.
This week she showcased snippets of Life Love Flesh Blood at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, a venue so intimate and romantic it felt purpose-built for the occasion. With new band-mates in tow, all of whom were smiling from ear to ear throughout the performance, results were magical. May’s performance was equal parts endearing and empowering; her ability to convey such raw emotion and passion, and packaging it up so beautifully, is ingenious. She has taken life experiences we would all identify as tender, personal and often painful, and created a number of songs which can be perfectly defined as easy-listening. Joining her on stage for a rendition of Black Tears was long-term friend, collaborator and rock legend Jeff Beck. It is clear to see she is embracing change and facing it head on, and following the show GIGsoup’s April Summers was lucky enough to speak to the Dubliner about the past, present and future endeavours of Imelda May.
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Both your music and your look has undergone a pretty big transformation as of late, did you consciously decide to change it up or was it just something that happened over time?
No it’s just what I felt like, I always try to go with what I feel like. If I’m not feeling something anymore I’ll change it. It wasn’t some big music plan you know, ‘New Look, New Album’ I just felt like a change. Life changes and you just go with it, I think it’s good for any artist.
This new single is very different to any of your other music, is this a reflection of recent musical influences? Are there any artists you are really inspired by right now?
Yeah, well I listen to a huge variation of music, always have done, always said I did. I kind of got pigeon holed into the Rockabilly-box, but I always raised my hands and said “I love all kinds of music; blues and funk and soul” but nobody really wanted to hear that, they just liked me doing the rock n roll. But I’ve sang all kinds of music over the course of my career. Everybody has said this is a Break Up Album and it is SO not a break up album. It covers everything; love and lust and life, just everything. People are saying “Oh, she’s written a whole album about her divorce” but I really haven’t. People like to assume that. I mean obviously there are songs about it in there, but I’ve had many happy times as well. I’ve fallen in love again, out of love again, I’ve had the best friends and family around me; this just captures it all. I’ve written it over the course of the year, and it captures everything.
How does performing a song like Call Me compare to previous other singles, do you feel a sense of heightened sense of vulnerability or do you find it liberating?
For every song I’ve written I always feel what I was feeling at that time. That is why I write them, to connect with that part of myself. Even if I’m singing a cover, which I don’t do often but when I do, I like to feel connected otherwise there’s no point. But it feels great to do new stuff. Yeah, it is quite a vulnerable song but I wanted to write honestly, I really wanted to say it how it was, how I felt exactly at that time. I did all of the stuff that comes through in the song, it is a lot of what was going on at the time, sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for the phone to ring. Everybody’s been there and when I listen to other bands I want to connect to them. Music is something you want to connect to and this is what I hope to do with this album, this single. I was broken-hearted at the time and I think it comes across. It’s a simple song. I didn’t want to write a complicated song, I wanted to not say too much and still be saying everything.
So we’ve heard T Bone Burnett has been involved with this album, how did his input influence the way you worked?
I really enjoyed working with him, and when we met to begin with he was asking me how I worked and I told him I wanted to learn. He is a great producer and I love producing – I produced the last record – and I wanted to get back into that. T Bone’s one of the best and I wanted to see how he did it, and he has got a different approach. He does a lot before he even gets in the studio; he makes sure it’s the right studio, the right musicians, his preparation is amazing. And then he steps back, he gets a real sense of what you don’t do and what you do. He gives you a lot of freedom which was good for me because I wasn’t sure what kind of record I wanted this to be. He really was letting me do my thing. Funnily enough, because he wasn’t breathing down my neck we actually recorded 15 songs in 7 days, and I think that was a result of me feeling so comfortable. He’s got a beautiful classic sound, which is what I’m about.
What are you most looking forward to in 2017? Are you touring the album?
Yes, there’s a tour planned for May 2017. I don’t mind when the album comes out, it’s ready, but I think it’s going to come out in March. I am just so grateful because my fans have been so open minded, and if they don’t like it, they’re actually really quite nice about it. They are fans who are all about the music ya know? Some of them are like “this isn’t for me” and some of them say “at last she’s back”, I’m lucky to have them.