May Rio on “Stay[ing] open, and a little bit confused.”

Earlier this week May Rio (of Poppies) released a music video for “Reservations,” a morosely quirky ballad about being smitten with a recovering junkie.  The video, directed by Michael...

Earlier this week May Rio (of Poppies) released a music video for “Reservations,” a morosely quirky ballad about being smitten with a recovering junkie.  The video, directed by Michael Jenson, was rendered on Mario Paint and edited on VCRs.  The audiovisual combo is a poignant reminder of the early-mid ‘90s, a time when even things like sadness and suckiness were just plain better…  “Reservations” comes off of Easy Bammer, May Rio’s solo debut, and follows-up “Butter,” “I C,” “Party Jail,” and “Everything Must Go!”  Easy Bammer, which dropped last month on Dots Per Inch Music, is a bedroom pop album that reflects on the nauseating chaos of being a DIY musician in NYC who is never allowed a moment of pensive isolation…  From a DIY musician who is currently indefinitely trapped alone, between her bed and dresser… May Rio will be playing a hometown show supporting Dan English at The Broadway in Brooklyn this coming Wednesday, July 28th, and she recently took some time to chat with me about… Well, lots of stuff…

Izzy Cihak: You recently released your solo debut, Easy Bammer.  How do you feel like it compares to the music you do with Poppies?

May Rio: I very much wanted to make something that doesn’t sound like Poppies, otherwise why not just have it be Poppies?  I wanted to make something new to me, so I worked with a new producer, new song structures, and new instrumentation.  For instance, there’s still some guitar on the album, but guitar plays a much smaller role.  Poppies would track everything live, no click track, a lot of messing with tempos.  This came together differently, I guess in just about every way.  To me, both Poppies and this solo project have some darkness, but also a sense of humor.  I think the humor on this album is a little more apparent, and the darkness is a little less.  But it’s not gone.

Izzy: What were the album’s biggest influences, both musical and otherwise?  I understand COVID-19 did play a relatively substantial role.

May: I always have a hard time answering the musical influences question — I’m not saying music I make isn’t influenced by any other music, I’m sure it is.  But it’s hard for me to follow the line of influence.  I’ve never like, sat down and thought, “I’m going to write a song that sounds like Rihanna,” or Duster, or whatever.  I just kind of mess around, follow my ear.

I mean, I do wonder if this album would have happened if it weren’t for Covid.  I had been messing around with the solo stuff before the pandemic hit, but it’s hard to imagine that I would have given it the focus it ended up getting if the world had just carried on sans virus.  I probably wouldn’t have given it all that much attention — it probably wouldn’t have happened.

Izzy: I know “Party Jail” is about life on the road, couch-surfing and “dining” with strangers in what feel like glorified crack houses (Okay, so that’s my take on those kinds of places, not yours.), so I have to ask for at least one or two good stories you have about being on the road.  Have you had any, “This is not happening,” moments?  (If you haven’t seen the show This Is Not Happening, it’s a really great standup show about these very stories and there’s a really good one with Henry Rollins.)

May: That’s so weird, I didn’t know he did standup now.  That and, I semi-recently saw him in this massive billboard for a Calvin Klein ad.  He’s multifaceted, I guess.

Hm, yeah, I have some stories.  Tour for me is mostly a blur, honestly, but one night that comes to mind happened somewhere in Vermont.  It’s so rare that we can’t find a floor to crash on, even in cities where we don’t know anyone.  But yeah, this one night, it just didn’t happen.  This kid came up to us after our set and offered up his practice space to sleep in.  It was late when we pulled up, but we could hear from outside the building that there was another band still practicing in the space.  So, we sat outside in this wagon trailer that was in the parking lot, sharing beers while we waited for them to finish.

The band, which had this jazz-metal fusion thing going on, finally did come down.  But when they realized the situation, they invited all of us to keep the jam going with them.  I was pretty much like, “Y’all do your thing, I’m going to sleep.”  So, I went to sleep in the corner of this unventilated room to the sound of all these dudes doing this jazz-metal jam thing.  I guess one of my bandmates ended up taking this massive bong rip with these kids as well.  When we woke up in the morning, we realized that I guess in the middle of the night he had vomited his midnight sardine snack straight into his guitar.  I mean, straight into the body.  I don’t know, it actually wasn’t that funny.

Izzy: Since this is your first solo album, I’m curious if you have any favorite solo debuts of music history.  I feel like the [rightfully] obvious ones are Morrissey’s Viva Hate, Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Björk’s Debut, but Alone with Everybody by Richard Ashcroft and Break it Up by Jemina Pearl also hold super special places in my heart.

May: I guess the three I can throw at you would be All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, Transformer by Lou Reed, and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.  And this has nothing to do with your question, but I just want to mention how much I love SZA.

Izzy: Is there anything you would like fans or potential fans to know about your aim as an artist, or your process of making music?

May: I’m just trying to have fun, and not take any part of it too seriously.  I’ll make music for as long as it gives me joy.  I’m hoping that’s a long time.

I guess my aim as an “artist” is to just always stay open, and a little bit confused.  The world is a crazy thing to process.  Sometimes it can be helpful and comforting to simplify.  That’s what we do when we make narratives for like, what’s going on around us, or who we are.  But a lot of times, to simplify is to move further away from the truth.  Life is messy, and complicated, and you’ll never understand most events or most people.  You’ll probably never understand yourself fully.  And if you think you do understand something fully, that’s when you stop questioning your thinking on it.  Your idea on what something is, or who someone is, becomes fixed. Like yeah, stay confused and you’ll stay open.  It can be a bit uncomfortable but…  I feel closer to people when I let go of this idea that I’ll ever fully understand them.  And it’s easier to accept myself when I remember that I’ll never solve the problem of who the fuck I am.

Izzy: Finally, what are you hoping and planning for 2021?  Anything you’re especially excited about?  Are you missing “party jail” after being trapped inside your own place for so long?

May: Lol, Yes, I really am missing it.  I told my booking agent I’m down to tour, like a lot.  I just love touring so much, despite how rough it can sometimes be.  Have got a few shows lined up at this point, but everything still feels up in the air.  You know, as normal as things are starting to feel, at least in NYC, I don’t think people are gonna be that quick to forget how unpredictable all this is, in the end.

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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.