If one word were to be used to sum up Alison May’s sophomore effort, it should be “unafraid.” The perfectly titled Loved/Dark has the Oakland-based, Texas-born songwriter exploring her vulnerabilities and passions in equal measures. The album’s aesthetic does reside in the darkness more often than not, but it also boasts a warm and intimate humanness that is ultimately actually comforting. May is also unafraid of exploring her own, personal variations on all of her musical loves from the currently popular, to the classic American songwriters, and even electronic music. Loved/Dark is due out July 29th on Misery Loves Co. Records and just yesterday Alison premiered her official video for “Raft” on The Wild Magazine. She also recently took some time to chat with me about her move to Oakland, the writing and recording of her latest album, and her relatively unique approach to touring… oh, and there’s even a little talk about Coldplay.
Izzy Cihak: In recent years I’ve interviewed a ton of artists from the Bay Area that are really cool. What are your thoughts on the local music and arts scene?
Alison May: I love the diversity and support that comes along with being a part of the Oakland arts community. There’s a big crew of folks working hard to further their craft and pushing each other to up their game. I am a huge fan of the work that Oaktown Indie Mayhem is doing. They put on shows of all musical genres, but also put together dance battles, forums, and art shows. They’re great folks who are doing wonders to boost the arts of all kinds in Oakland.
Izzy: You’re about to release your sophomore effort, Loved/Dark. How do you feel it compares to your debut?
Alison: The biggest difference between the two records is patience. We gave ourselves more time in the studio, more time to edit, more willingness to scrap and start over. I also wanted to make this album more diverse. I wanted to have psychedelic moments, folk moments, rock moments, angry moments. I had a broader scope of ideas to convey, so it was a journey trying to capture them all.
Izzy: What do you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise? Your taste would seem to be admirably across the board.
Alison: Most of the album was written in 2012. I spent most of that year listening to electronic artists like Clark, Bibio, and Andrew Bayer. In addition, I was listening to a lot of incredible guitar players like Duncan Browne and Brooke Miller. I think I took small notes from all of them. The album was written in the midst of my move from Austin, TX to Oakland, CA. My first summer in Oakland shifted a lot of my personal focuses. I thought more about my family. I also was able to focus on overcoming a lot of anxiety, performance and otherwise. I think that was reflected in the writing.
Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite album track? “On Going” really stands out to me for some reason. It’s just the perfect kind of epic, rollicking Americana (Hopefully that’s not insulting.)
Alison: I have two favorites. I love “My Own Good” because we really pushed ourselves on the production and arrangement of that song and came out with what I think is a badass psych/folk song. My other favorite is “Bad Timing”. I love that recording because I feel it adequately captured the heavy emotions I was feeling when writing it. Calling “On Going” epic, rollicking Americana is certainly not insulting. That’s what we were going for.
Izzy: So I saw on your Tumblr you recently defending Coldplay against Pitchfork. I was a bit surprised that you would seem to be a fan of the band but, when I stopped to really listen, a lot of your balladry echoes of a more stripped version of theirs’. I haven’t listened to them in over a decade, but I was a big fan of their first two records, back when I was in highschool (back when they toured with Ash and the likes), so I’m inclined to ask if there are any Coldplay songs that you find to be especially poignant or inspiring? “Everything’s Not Lost” was one of my “top songs of all-time” for a number of years.
Alison: I have no shame in the fact that I am a big Coldplay fan. Parachutes captivated me as an adolescent. I still listen to it more than I should. But, the statements I made on my blog were not so much defending Coldplay’s music as they were shaming Pitchfork for their scrutiny of Chris Martin’s personal life. They seemed to be writing an article for TMZ, rather than focusing on the music. Artists strive to have a mention in Pitchfork. Fans look to Pitchfork for credible recommendations, as do I. I’m not interested in their thoughts on Martin’s love life or their opinions of Gwyneth Paltrow’s hand cream. Music reviews shouldn’t be an outlet for ridicule of anything other than the music. If Pitchfork hates my album, it would be an honor to hear them say so. If they hate my haircut, they can keep that to themselves.
Izzy: You recently played a bunch of shows across the country. What were the highlights of this recent tour?
Alison: I really wanted to focus on doing more house shows for this tour. I think they’re a great way to connect with the audience and make friends. We’ve experienced a lot of generosity from strangers. My favorite show so far has been in Ft. Collins. We had a great time performing in a community garden, next to their goats, chickens, and puppy dog, with a thunderstorm in the background. That show was pretty epic!
Izzy: What do you have planned for the second half of 2014? Any chance we might get to see you out on the East Coast?
Alison: I’m headed back to Oakland to focus on the west coast for the month of July. I’m really looking forward to our album release show on 7/29 at Awaken Cafe in Oakland (by way of the folks at Oaktown Indie Mayhem). For the month of August, I’ll be taking part in an Americana/Folk residency in Aspen, for which I will be playing drums. When I’m not playing those shows, I’ll be booking as much as I can in Colorado. For the months following, I’ll be touring as much as I can. I’ll certainly be repeating my Colorado/New Mexico/Texas route with hopes of adding the East Coast afterward. I’ll be keeping busy! There’s nothing I love more than playing music in different cities nightly, so I’ll do whatever it takes to keep that up for as long as I can.
Izzy: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat and hopefully we’ll get to see you soon.
Alison: Thank you! I’ll certainly let you know when I’m out your way!