Pic: Thom Perry
In the first of our Retroperspective series – where an artist looks back on one of their older works – Abbe May gives us an insight into her 2008 album, Hoodoo You Do. With a new album, Bitchcraft, forthcoming, there’s also some now in the zen. Catch Abbe May at State Of The Art on Monday, June 5 – Ed.
I have found myself here on the last day of a three-year process of recording, hiding in the most hidden corner of my local cafe and drinking too much coffee even though I shouldn’t because it can give me terrifying panic attacks.
I am biting my index finger nail. I’m nervous. I procrastinate, go on Facebook and find myself reading a message from Bob Gordon pleading me for the 100th time to send him my bloody article about the album I am most proud of making.
It’s funny, in a slightly discombobulating way, to be bracing for a long, hard day finishing three years of work on a current record, while also being asked to look back to an era of my life, about eight years ago, when I was in love with a married woman and making a fucked-up blues record called Hoodoo You Do. I am struck by the realisation that I have no idea who that person was except that she is a younger, more naïve version of me who was lonely, closeted, heartbroken and felt she had something to prove. The only similarity we seem to share is that writing and recording music is our grace and we sometimes drink a bit too much.
Of course, I’m doing everything I can to avoid writing this article. I’m reading books about Quantum Physics (reading, not necessarily understanding). I’m clicking on random phone apps; I take a Snapchat filter selfie to send to the woman I’m seeing because I love it when she laughs. I see my bank account app logo and my stomach knots a little. I decide to avoid looking at my bank account because I certainly had no issue ignoring my financials while buying a series of double whiskies last night with a close friend. I’ve spent all my money on whiskey and my new album. I’m broke. “Shit.” I think as I chew on that nail.
I’m suddenly flushed with gratitude with a slight spattering of smugness as I realise I have miraculously escaped the no doubt monumental hangover that is certainly due to me. I’m drinking too much again. I know it. I have a tendency in this regard, but also my best friend is very sick and I am so worried about her I sometimes I go completely numb and find myself drinking excessively. This is not a particularly new coping mechanism for me. I’ve danced with varying levels of alcoholism for almost my entire life as a professional musician. I have to go to the studio shortly to finish my new album. It has taken three years to get to this point. I have no idea if the radio will play it, I have no idea if the audience I have slowly gathered over the past 10 years will like it, all I know is that *I* like it.
It is without a doubt my best work. The culmination of 10 years of study and practice in writing, performing and recording music, learning to let go and collaborate. My producer, Matt Gio, is a force to be reckoned with but so am I. We seem to have made it through this three years as more than just collaborators. I actually really like the guy. I am immensely excited about this new record. However, 2009’s Hoodoo You Do will always be my favourite album.
I was in a terrible place when I made it. My heart was broken by love for the first time ever and I felt I had something to prove after the release of 2008’s debut, Howl And Moan, a too sheeny production of the dark blues sound I was aiming for. In some ways, perhaps this level of deep, dark pain combined with a 24-year-old’s self-centredness, her idealism about telling ‘the truth’ in art, a deep-seated need to prove herself creatively, an ego to feed and a desperate need to take back creative control all merged to provide a kind of perfect storm of creative achievement.
I was driven to make the record I wanted to make. I was not driven to make something that sold or got played on the radio. I still listen to this album and cry and laugh. I achieved what I set out to do with Hoodoo You Do. I made the record I wanted to make, it sold fuck all and was never played on the radio. It gave me tremendous catharsis from my heartbreak and also gave me a sense of redemption from my previous attempt at an album. Sure, Hoodoo is by no means a perfect album. It’s almost definitely a fan girl’s offering to Tom Waits, it’s not particularly original or groundbreaking in style, but I made it with my friends and it got me through a rough time.
It made me a better person because it stopped me from becoming bitter. That’s what these kinds of pursuits should all be about, don’t you think?
Abbe May performs at the State Of The Art festival at Elizabeth Quay, Perth, on Monday, June 5. Full details at http://www.celebratewa.com.au/sota-2017/