As told to Bob Gordon…
Abbe May performs her 2008 album, Howl & Moan, in its entirety for Hidden Treasures Fremantle’s Winter Music Series at the Navy Club on Thursday, July 26. Here she reflects on the time and the person she was when it was recorded.
I was 24 and for all intents and purposes beginning my career as a recording artist. I was someone who was recovering from the death of my grandmother, we were very, very close and I still think of her every day now, 11 years post her death. I was someone who was experiencing grief in its multifaceted forms for the first time and I was navigating my way through that by writing, recording and producing music.
I was in the band, The Fuzz, and I was having a lot of fun with them, but I was also grieving the loss of my grandmother which was a profound and deeply transformative experience. I was finding that I wasn’t getting my catharsis or my therapy through the music that was being written by the band.
I decided to write my own songs, just on an acoustic guitar. So, I did that, and Adam Burgess recorded me with one microphone in a loungeroom and I put together a bunch of songs that sort of sounded like the records I was listening to, like Patsy Cline, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, but with an acoustic and sorrowful kind of delivery. I recorded that, it was called Gin And A Microphone, and RTR started playing it a lot and people started to like it and stated to get a bit of a name for myself in Perth. So that was the beginning of my career, really.
I started doing more and more shows and eventually I was playing so many gigs that I couldn’t work as well, so I became a professional musician and I have not had a job since. So off the back of that I got a grant from the DCA and I recorded Howl & Moan with Shaun (O’Callaghan) at Couch Studios, who’s now resting in peace.
The difference was really that I had become someone who was very heartbroken over my grandmother leaving. When someone you love and interact with almost daily gets sick and then dies, when you’re confronted with that for the first time, you do start to consider all these things. I accidentally saw her body when she was dead, and I could see in her face that she wasn’t there. I remember being like, ‘well, where is she?’ So it was certainly this huge existential crisis - which I now see as an opportunity to expand your intellect and your heart and your soul - but as I say it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life, so I began to make my own music out of that need for catharsis and a seeking of answers.
After I released it I didn’t like it. I felt quite heavy about it and actually stopped production of it, which is why there’s only five physical copies of it left. When (City of Fremantle Festivals Officer) Bruna Chiovitti asked me to do the show I went back and had a listen. She was my manager 10 years ago and now she’s the mother of my nephew, Jeremiah; she’s been a brilliant partner to my brother Doug, who’s also in the band and who was a part of that record. It’s as much a part of Bruna’s history as it is mine.
I think I was a little bit hard on myself! It’s certainly not a bad effort for a first album, but I was a very young artist and I’m aware now that each album teaches you something. It’s not entirely everybody’s luck or destiny to nail it the first time. In fact, it gets a bit boring if that happens. So I didn’t like it initially but since listening to it and relearning it I’m proud of my life; I’m proud of my expression and honesty as an artist and you can really hear in that record that I was a young artist learning how to work with producers and other artists in the recording studio. Eventually I finished it and I put it out and it did garner attention on triple j and it was a big part in establishing the career that I’m now fortunate to have.
So I’m grateful to Howl & Moan. It’s funny, looking back I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone but myself, and that youthful kind of arrogance really drove me to become a much better artist.
Full details of Week 4 of Hidden Treasures via www.facebook.com/events/187028055282289/