Who Is…Dent May

Austin L. Ray

By Austin L. Ray

on 06.12.12 in Who Is...?s

File under: Synth-led, melody-soaked pop arrangements

For fans of: Jonathan Richman, Beach Boys, and The Animal Collective

From: Oxford, Mississippi

Personae: Dent May

Do Things

Dent May

“Don’t wanna be chasin’ that rent money for the rest of my life,” Dent May sings on Do Things‘ opening track, “Just need somebody to hold me at night.” While the music takes a step toward a fuller, synth-and-beat heavy sound (the titular Magnificent Ukulele of his debut album is long gone), the lyrics hint at the lovelorn loverman persona May has cultivated in his previous output. Aside from the trials and travails of relationships, Do Things, as its title suggests, is a highly motivational record. Its varied instrumentation and May’s can-do lyrics are like an aural shot of confidence with a side of smile, a welcoming vibe he hints at below.

eMusic’s Austin L. Ray caught up with May to find out where the ukulele went, discuss disco and funk’s influence on his new album, and reveal the biggest misconception about his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi.

On shedding the ukulele:

I never intended to stick with the ukulele for more than one album. To be honest, I was surprised how many people picked up on what I was doing, so I felt pressure to stick with it for a while and promote the record. At the time I made the ukulele album, I was also producing electronic music and playing in a country-western band. It was eventually clear to me that I needed to take all the random projects I had going on and combine them into one sound. I love all types of music, and I want my own music to reflect that.

On recording at the Cat’s Purring Dude Ranch and at a lonely cabin:

The Dude Ranch is a big house where I live with four other guys who are also musicians. We throw a lot of shows here, so all the partying definitely rubs off on the new album. I wanted to make an album that you can dance to with your friends and also listen to alone late at night on headphones. That’s where the cabin came in. I had to go there alone to finish the lyrics and record the vocals. I was struggling with a lot of questions about why I wanted to make music in the first place. After all the touring for my first album died down, I went through a period where I truly felt like I had no purpose in this world. So the lyrics have this kind of healing and inspirational feeling, because I was trying to pick myself back up and figure it all out.

On funk’s influence on Do Things:

I’ve been a fan of disco and funk music for as long as I can remember. I grew up listening to my parents’ Bee Gees and Earth, Wind, & Fire records. I especially like disco, because it’s despised by so many rock ‘n’ roll fans. There’s a certain segment of people that will hate on a funky slap bassline, and I want to work all the shit that others find so cheesy into my music. I feel like it’s the traditional rock ‘n’ roll posturing that’s cheesy. Punk shit is cool, but for me, embracing the opposite end of the pop music spectrum is its own form of punk.

On “Dent May” vs. “other bands featuring Dent May”:

Of course, Dent May will always be the real Dent May, but it’s true that for a while there I had so many projects going on that I started to lose my identity. I had to ask myself, “What music do you want to hear that doesn’t exist yet?” The answer was something that mixes funk, hip-hop, country, disco, doo-wop, house, soul, R&B, and anything else I can think of. Also, lyrically on the first record I was sometimes hiding behind goofy lyrics, trying to be clever, when now I just want to be completely honest about what I’m feeling, because I know someone else out there feels the same thing and that’s comforting.

On playing all the instruments on the album:

Yeah, though I’m not great at any particular instrument, part of me is like, “I’m the only one who can play these parts exactly like I want them.” I know what the song sounds like before I record it, so it’s just easier for me to do it alone. That said, the guys playing live with me right now are great musicians and old friends, so it would be super fun to record something as a live band. I also want a lot of instruments I don’t know how to play on future recordings. I want horns, strings, gospel choirs, banjos, harps and other instruments that don’t even exist yet.

On the frequent falsetto vocals of Do Things vs. the croonier vocals of his back catalogue:

I really don’t know why that happened over time. I think part of it has to do with the vocal layering that I’ve become a big fan of. All vocal parts on the new album are double, triple, and quadruple tracked on top of each other. Crooning is cool, but I don’t want vocal affectations get in the way of what I’m trying to say. I just want to sing in the most natural, pure way. Singing is very physical. It’s like running. If you try to run in a stylized way that looks cool to other people, you’re going to lose the race.

On the biggest misconception about Oxford, Mississippi:

A lot of people, around Mississippi and elsewhere, think that Oxford is a snobby place and that the scene here is very insular. I think the opposite is the case. Kids here are aware that Mississippi has this reputation as a backwards place, so they want to do what they can to prove the world wrong. As a result, there’s a lot of open minded people here. Of course, it’s a college town in Mississippi, so there are also a lot of conservative people I don’t relate to at all. I’ve been insulted by strangers more than a few times just for dressing or acting differently, so Cats Purring has a lot to do with uniting the weirdos and turning that into something positive. If you come to the Dude Ranch, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.