Dent May On Do Things, Mississippi, and Briefly Quitting Music
Dent May's output can be divided into two distinct halves: biting, old-timey sardonicism (2009's stripped-down, snark-soaked The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele) and clear-eyed, enabling positivism (2012's synth-heavy, ukulele-free Do Things). A gentlemanly uber-pop classicism governs the whole - May's love for the Beatles, Morrissey, the Beach Boys, Randy Newman, and show tunes generally informs his songwriting - but a clear divide exists.
So it's a relief to call the cell phone number supplied by the Oxford, Mississippi musician's publicist and to reach neither sardonic May or positivism May, but earnest May. Tired May. Congested May. Psyched to be talking about and writing music May: an itinerant wedding/party DJ and music promoter who tried to quit music in the wake of Magnificent Ukulele and found that music couldn't quite quit him.
Are you okay? You sound like you're coming down with something.
I have bad allergies; Mississippi is like one of the worst places for allergies.
Where are you right now, and what are you doing?
I'm in Oxford, Mississippi. I just ate lunch, and now I'm walking around our historic downtown running some errands before my band departs for a short East Coast tour.
What are the errands?
I have to go to the music store to buy some cables, there's some emailing and planning that has to happen; then, of course, we have to pack the van up. None of these errands are too exciting; then again, if they were, they wouldn't be errands.
What happened to the ukulele, man? Where'd it go?
(Laughs) I had no intention of playing the ukulele for more just that one album. And I don't know, I haven't played the ukulele for a couple of years now. I just wanted to move on, to keep expanding my palette instead of constraining it. I don't want to go down as the "ukulele guy." I want to show that I can do other things, and to keep myself interested, keep people on their toes.
Three years passed between your first two albums. How has life changed for you in that period?
I was kind of fed up with music, so I stopped, but I learned that I love music. Hard work is what gives us meaning and purpose in life. I've gotten over a lot of the fears and anxieties I had about putting myself out there and touring. I already have a house booked to record the next album, in Florida by the beach, with a grand piano inside. I'm really excited.
The songs are definitely a continuation of the songs on Do Things; they're very open and very simple, but I feel they reveal a lot of complexities. The album will use a lot more organic textures; it'll be less retro and feature more piano and live horns, and I might invite other musicians to play. [May played all of the instruments on his first two albums.] I want each album to be more and more ambitious; I want to keep improving as a musician and as a person.
Since your debut, you seem to have made a bit of a shift in terms of approach. On The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele, it felt like you were having a laugh at the expense of cultural caricatures; on Do Things, you seem to be in a more positive, inspirational/aspirational frame of mind. Before you were like a comedian; now you come across more like a counselor or life coach. Is that a change that you were aware of?
It was definitely something that happened over time, rather than a conscious decision. After the ukulele album, I didn't write a new song for two years. I didn't know what to say or how to say it. In the future, I want to find a balance between the (Good Feel Music...) approach and the (Do Things) approach, But I don't want to laugh at people more. I wanna make people happy.