Redbrick Meets: Imelda May | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Redbrick Meets: Imelda May

Zoe Screti chats to Imelda May about her upcoming album Life Love Flesh Blood and tour

The past year has been tumultuous for Imelda May and it therefore seems only natural that such dramatic changes in her personal life be reflected in her music. After the recent release of the first single from her new album set to be released in March 2017, Imelda has received some criticism for breaking free of her rockabilly image. However, as Imelda pointed out, she has never professed to be solely a rockabilly artist. “I have always loved all kinds of music and I have always said I did,” she explained. “I think as an artist and as a songwriter you have to dip into all of your influences and not just stick to one, which I never did, really. I was put in this little rockabilly box but I always had plenty of blues in there, and punk and jazz. People take one look at your hairdo and put you in a box, and I got bored of that so I decided it was time for a change. Life changed and I wanted a change and decided to shake things up.” And shake things up she did!

Her signature hairdo which was so quintessentially rockabilly has been replaced by an edgy fringe, and her music also has a new edge to it. One of the striking things about ‘Call Me’, the first track from Life Love Flesh Blood, is the sheer emotional rawness which beautifully runs through the core of the track, something which was only enhanced in the stripped back version of the song Imelda performed for W! Magazine. Speaking of how the album came together, Imelda said, “I just wrote and wrote and wrote and was as honest as I could be. It was almost therapeutic in a way. I wasn’t thinking about anyone else. I just wanted to stop, be still and start again and write and see where it went.” It is this reflection on life and change that appears to have infused Imelda’s new music with heartfelt honesty and raw emotion, perfectly suiting the album title by reflecting the highs and lows of life. And according to Imelda, fans can expect the emotion of ‘Call Me’ to run throughout the remainder of the album.

Whilst the album may have a raw, emotional heart, Imelda was keen to reject notions that the album is a ‘break-up album’, as has been reported. “There are break-up songs on there” she explained, “but there are also happy songs, in love songs, falling in love, falling out of love, guilt, lust, songs about spending too much, songs about my family… I just let life influence it and influence how I wrote.” It is therefore clear that life with all its beauty and pain is really central to this album. One particularly poignant moment on the album is based around an event that impacted many people, Imelda included: the Paris terror attacks. In Paris at the time of the Bataclan shooting which killed a man who had worked at International on Imelda’s previous albums and would have worked on this one, Imelda noted how surreal and sad that moment was. Shortly after whilst at dinner with U2, who had also been in Paris at the same time, a preacher stood and read a poem which said that there are only two emotions in life, not love and hate but love and fear, a moment of poignancy which would lead Imelda to write a song currently called ‘The Choice’ (although Imelda warned that she is still changing some song titles), which is featured on her upcoming album. “Everything influenced this album - things people would say and my experience. I just wrote everything down and put my heart and soul into this album,” Imelda concluded.

Everything influenced this album - things people would say and my experience. I just wrote everything down and put my heart and soul into this album
But was this somewhat sudden change in sound something intentional or did it come naturally to Imelda May? “I like change,” Imelda said. “Predictability is boring and I wanted to expand and experiment and feel free to do whatever I wanted. I feel that that is important for anybody artistic, so I wrote a different kind of album using all the influences that I love that I hadn’t touched on enough or explored”. And of course, while not everyone will be satisfied by this change in musical direction, it is important that artists remain fresh and true to the music in their heart and soul. After all, there is nothing worse than churning out album after album, each of which is indistinguishable from the rest. All the greats from Elvis to The Beatles underwent changes in sound over their musical careers; to try and confine an artist to a single box with cookie-cutter records simply isn’t productive.

“Before I wrote the last album, Tribal,” Imelda continued, “I knew what kind of album I wanted to write, so it was intentionally as heavy as I wanted to go and it touched on a lot more punk. I knew I wanted to write Tribal and go as heavy as I wanted so that then I could step away. So in that sense Life Love Flesh Blood was intentional in that I knew I wanted to change. But on the other hand, I didn’t know what I wanted the next album to be and I loved that. For each album I knew what I wanted to write, except perhaps the first one, Love Tattoo. I had a lot of freedom with that one and I wanted to get that back. I wanted to not know what the album would be and just write and see what came out.” If ‘Call Me’ is anything to go by, what came out of Imelda’s bid for freedom was sheer musical genius and beauty.

Many fans are supportive of Imelda’s attempt to be “creative with boundaries” and let the songs lead her rather than the other way around, and her band are no different. Whilst the band do not feature on the album, which was produced with T-Bone Burnett and his own band alongside outstanding and renowned musicians such as Jeff Beck and Jools Holland, the band nevertheless supported Imelda’s decision to alter her musical direction. Talking about the decision to use a different band for the album, Imelda said, “I was working with T-Bone Burnett and I had wanted to work with him for a long time; he is a brilliant producer and a wonderful man and I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I produce my own albums and I love producing so I was interested to see what he could bring to my music and I wanted to see how he did it. I was lucky enough to do that - he is an absolute genius. But one of the things he said was that he wanted me to use his band, and I thought about it for a long time and then I said ‘OK, let’s do it’.” Whilst this wasn’t an easy decision for either Imelda or her band, the result, as seen with ‘Call Me’, is sublime, allowing Imelda the opportunity to work with some incredible musicians.

My band wanted me to make the best album I could make and now we’re in the process of making the best live show we can make and we’re doing that together
But, never fear, the band will be joining Imelda on her tour in May 2017. “[The band] knew what I wanted to do and they knew why - because I’d changed and wanted to experiment and I trusted T-Bone. I really enjoyed it and now me and my band are in rehearsals to go on the road!” But it is not only Imelda who has changed. The band has also undergone some changes with the addition of members of Paolo Nutini's band and two backing vocalists. Despite the changes, Imelda is full of nothing but praise for her band. “My band have been brilliant,” she said. “They’re half replicating what’s on the album but I wanted them to put their own stamp on it because they are incredible musicians and I want them to be comfortable and proud and play with feeling rather than play what someone else has played. They’ve been absolutely great. I am very lucky that they have gone with me. They wanted me to make the best album I could make and now we’re in the process of making the best live show we can make and we’re doing that together.” So, it would seem as though in the midst of so much change for Imelda, some things, such as the support of her band and their mutual love and respect will always stay the same.

Masters student studying Early Modern History. Lover of all things rockabilly/vintage. Life & Style Editor (@zoescretimusic)


2nd January 2017 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

15th January 2017 at 4:09 pm

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