Imelda May: “Inside Out” a “Sneaky Freak”

“As the great Brian Friel said, ‘Philadelphia, here I come!’” says Irish Rockabilly chanteuse Imelda May (Admit it, you don’t even know who Brian Friel is.)  This coming Thursday,...

“As the great Brian Friel said, ‘Philadelphia, here I come!’” says Irish Rockabilly chanteuse Imelda May (Admit it, you don’t even know who Brian Friel is.)  This coming Thursday, July 28th, Imelda will be in town for the summer’s most exciting double-headlining bill.  The Trocadero Theatre will be hosting May and “The Queen of Rockabilly,” Wanda Jackson.  The two will be sharing the stage for one of only three dates they’re playing together this summer (You may get another opportunity to see this lineup on the other side of the Atlantic, but it’s unlikely to find itself stateside, so I wouldn’t make any excuses for missing it.)  I recently chatted with Imelda about this pairing; her third and latest album, Mayhem; and even superheroes.

Imelda May, Europe’s favorite Rockabilly songstress, first met her American vanguard when she (May) found herself opening for her (Jackson) in London.  The two apparently got along famously and even ended up dueting that night: “I felt like her mini me.”  Since then they’ve gotten together on numerous occasions and become close friends.  However, as far as what you can expect of the duo for Thursday’s gig, Imelda admits that she has no clue, but goes on to say that that’s what she’s so excited about.  However, she did imply that the two will likely be sharing the stage simultaneously, so don’t go doing something hasty like leaving early.

Although it’s been nearly a year since Mayhem began tearing up the charts in Ireland and the UK, it didn’t hit US shelves until this past Tuesday, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard it yet.  May tells me she “Wanted it to be a bit more produced… but [she] didn’t want to lose the charm of Love Tattoo.  With Mayhem I wanted it to be the next step from Love Tattoo.”  On Love Tattoo Imelda found herself securely in the realm of swinging Big Band dance tunes and equally smoky and sultry lounge numbers (along with a bit of Surf-Rock), filtered through her unapologetically reckless rockabilly aesthetic.  But Mayhem finds her expanding her repertoire (in seemingly every direction).  “Kentish Town Waltz” has you wondering why she hasn’t been recording country numbers forever; the title track has her embracing her inner juvenile delinquent, sounding along the lines of a more mature (if only slightly) Patricia Day (Horrorpops) (But more or that later); and the album closes with the most satisfying take on “Tainted Love” in at least a decade, when Marilyn Manson gave it a whirl.

“I don’t put any rules on myself.  I just write however I feel at the time.  It’s nice to have no rules,” she tells me.  She describes the biggest difference between Love Tattoo and Mayhem being getting signed to a record label (Decca).  Apparently with Imelda being intent on producing the album herself in a converted cow shed (it was at least converted) “The record company got terribly nervous,” and kept “Trying to get [her] to meet with fancy producers,” which, ultimately and thankfully, never came to fruition.

It’s not just the sounds found on May’s latest that inspire a bit of surprise; it’s also the lyrical content.  (Back to the Horrorpops comparison).  On a few select tracks Imelda seems to be projecting the teen rebel inside of her.  Here’s my favorite verse, found on track two, “Psycho”:

You terrify the neighbors when you scream and shout

You look like it’s contagious, you’re foaming at the mouth

You’re a freakin’ nightmare when you’re lyin’ in my bed

You sleep with eyes wide open like the living dead

I go with a psycho

I go with a psycho

The fact that a married woman in her thirties can still pull that out is pretty fucking brilliant, so I felt compelled to ask her about it, telling her that some of her most recent lyrics remind me of a cartoon superhero take on her life experiences (which she loved).  She admits “I do like a good laugh.  I do like a lot of fun.”  Although she describes these songs as being inspired by “Love and sadness and everything,” and her time spent touring the world: “At three in the morning at cities all over the world, it’s exactly the same: guys arguing about girls or girls arguing about guys.”  She does, however, admit that there was some truth to my initial assessment: “I love, love superheroes.”  Come to think of it, “Imelda May and the Queen of Rockabilly” definitely sounds like a comic book I’d be interested in reading.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.