Already one of the rockabilly queens of Ireland, Imelda May widens her reach with Live. Love. Flesh. Blood. – an album of moody, gorgeous Americana. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the record arrives April 21st, reintroducing May as a big-voiced songwriter whose roots run through soul, blues and folk-pop territory.
"I just made the album I had to make, you know?" she tells Chris Shiflett during the latest episode of Walking the Floor. "You have to do that – to follow your instinct or your heart – and just go for it."
Taped one day after the kickoff of her current tour, the podcast covers May's past teenage performances alongside Ronnie Wood to more recent collaborations with Jeff Beck. Here's four takeaways from May's chat with Shiflett on Walking the Floor (listen to the full episode below).
A fashion icon overseas, May is pairing her new sound with a new look.
"I don't know if I was put into a box, or put myself into a box, but either way, it felt claustrophobic," she says of the attention she's received in Europe, much of which has focused not on her music, but her blonde-streaked hair and retro style. To refocus the buzz on her art, she recently dyed her hair black, cutting it into a fringed 'do. The irony? People are now talking about her makeover, repeating the problem she's been dealing with for years.
The trick to making a good album? Hiring good people.
"I wanted that beautiful, velvety, glassy sound, but with a dose of kickass attitude that [T Bone Burnett] does," she says. "There's always a twist to it, which is what I love." Guests like Jeff Beck and Jools Holland make appearances on Live. Love. Flesh. Blood., as well.
Growing up in a cramped household, May – the baby of the family – was surrounded by a wide range of music.
"There was seven of us in a two-bedroom house, with one record player," she remembers. "My dad listening to big band stuff – Glen Miller, Louis Armstrong – and mom loved all the crooners, [like] Bing Crosby and Judy Garland. Because I was the youngest, I was lucky with all the different music that I got. There was everything from the Specials to Meatloaf, Elvis, Johnny Cash, the Carpenters, the Rolling Stone, the Beatles. I absolutely soaked it in."
May played her first gigs in high school, sharing the stage with Ireland's musical elite.
At 16 years old, May began sneaking her way into weekly jam sessions at a local bar. Touring musicians generally had that night off, so the place would fill up, with everyone from Ronnie Wood to the Hothouse Flowers getting onstage to play impromptu sets. "They kind of adopted me," she says of the bar's community, whose members were some of the first to watch May belt the blues. "My dad would turn up, sometimes at 5 or 6 in the morning, and pick me up at the end of this set. I'd be there all night, and he used to pick me up on his way to work, and drop me off at a bus stop."