From Cats Purring Dude Ranch to the sci-fi action thriller headquarters known as Los Angeles, Dent May guides a tour across the multiverse.
We first discovered your music around the release of The Good Feeling Music of Dent May back in 2009. What were those days of writing, recording, and releasing music like compared to your processes today?
In many ways, it’s the same. The process of songwriting hasn’t gotten any easier. It’s always about paying attention to brief flashes of inspiration, then putting in the hard work. I do feel more strongly than ever that this is what I’m here to do. I literally don’t know how to do anything except write, record and perform music. I can’t even make my own food. Learning to heat up a frozen veggie burger patty saved my life. If anything, I’m more aware that my time on Earth is limited, so I need to get in as many great songs as possible. I’m planning to live like 200 years, but making music is sort of a self-preservation tactic against mortality for me.
Your last full length, Warm Blanket, was released in 2013. What's been going on with you musically since then? What has the time between records done for your creativity or inspiration?
I wrote so many songs. I have more than enough for another album, so don’t expect another long wait for the next one. I feel more inspired than ever, but I can’t pretend I’m not overcome with self-doubt and existential despair from time to time. I sort of hit rock bottom, then I climb the mountain. That’s kind of what all my songs are about. You take some pain, take some joy, mix it all together and end up with this blissful melancholy. I’m not afraid to be sad. I cry a lot. Then I’m in the clouds. I’m trying to figure out how to be a bit more balanced creatively in the future.
You spent some time living in Mississippi early in your music career. What was the music scene like there? How did your time in the South influence where you are today musically, artistically, and creatively?
There was something special going on in Mississippi ten years ago, or maybe that’s how everyone looks back on their early 20s. A group of us were living and working together at Cats Purring Dude Ranch on the outskirts of Oxford, and it was very much a close knit creative family. The family is still the same, but we’re spread out in different places now. Getting older in a small college town is tough when so many are moving away to get real jobs or getting married and having babies and I’m like, can I just live in the fantasy land of my songs forever?
You've relocated to Los Angeles. How does a city with such a rich theatrical culture influence your music? What prompted the move to Los Angeles? For someone who once denounced Southern California lifestyle in your lyrics, how has your time spent there changed your mindset?
I’ve always loved Los Angeles, so when I sang “I wasn’t really meant for L.A.,” it was less of a denouncement and more of a back-handed compliment. I feel like Los Angeles is headquarters for the 21st century apocalyptic sci-fi action thriller America we now live in. That aspect of L.A. rubbing against the crumbling facade of old Hollywood is beautiful to me. There’s an energy that people from all over the world are moving here to experience. It’s a great place to be right now. That said, with Internet life quickly becoming our primary reality, it doesn’t really matter where you live. I just like my house and my neighborhood and my friends, and I plug away on my bullshit.
Your previous releases had a very cinematic vibe and appeal. Was this intentionally? How does film or visual art impact your songwriting?
I went to film school for like three semesters, so I guess that has something to do with it. I’ve always been drawn to the sappy strings in old film scores, and I love library music records from the 70s that were made by studio musicians to pitch for low budget movies and TV. In general, I probably get more ideas watching movies or reading books than I get from listening to music. I’ve been writing a rock & roll musical on the side for years now, so maybe one day that’ll see the light of day and I’ll finally hit it big on Broadway.
The first single from the new record "Across the Multiverse" featuring Frankie Cosmos has a dazzling, late 70s nightclub appeal. How does this song fit into the new record? What was it like working with Frankie Cosmos and how did that come about?
In retrospect, maybe it has something to do with the blatant devaluation of scientific fact that’s going on in large segments of mainstream culture, but I was reading a lot about science and thinking about it in the context of what it means to be human. I started writing the song “Across The Multiverse” after I read The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. “Distance To The Moon” was inspired by an Italo Calvino short story. I’ve known Greta for years, like since way before I even knew she made music. I’d been wanting to write a duet, and for whatever reason I started hearing her voice as I was writing the song. The chorus came to me while I was jogging around my neighborhood. She’s one of my favorite songwriters, so I asked her to help write her verse parts.
The new record, Across the Multiverse, is out 8/18 on Carpark Records. What were your inspirations during the writing and recording of the record? Were you trying new songwriting or recording techniques?
I’m always trying out new songwriting techniques. Like when I wrote “Across The Multiverse,” I pulled up the Wikipedia entry for “multiverse” and started writing down words— “dimension,” “parallel,” “cosmic,” “void,” “extraterrestrial.” There’s cool footage of David Bowie cutting up phrases from magazines and arranging them into lyrics. I’ve done Tarot card spreads oriented toward songwriting. The first card is the melody of the song, the second card is the lyrical content and the third card is the overarching purpose of the song. There’s no shortcuts or secrets to writing, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to try new things. I read a book called Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb that gave me a lot of ideas. There’s a part about writing a song about a geographic place, and that led me to writing “90210.” Otherwise, inspiration comes from literally everywhere. So much about being an artist is maintaining an open heart and mind and taking notes when you feel the universe speaking to you.