hard to find totally original music these days but Louise Le May
comes close with her 2015 CD called A Tale Untold.
Ostensibly folk music, the eleven cut CD mixes folk-pop with a
very listenable kind of chamber pop with rock sensibilities and is
quite symphonic in a Beatle-esque kind of way. Shes already
being mentioned among fans of songwriters like Kate Bush and even
Robert Wyatts post 60s compositions. Speaking about A
Tale Untold, Louise tells mwe3.com, "Some
of the songs were written quite a few years ago, and then more recent
songs were added. Id say the first songs were written in about
the late 1990s. The rest came about in 2009 and beyond. I do an intense
phase of songwriting and then I stop for a few years. There are two
elements to the process for me songwriting and singing. Singing
continues in that I keep working on my voice and it keeps on developing.
I do songwriting so I have something to sing, bespoke to me."
Tale Untold is kind of like ear candy as its well worth
repeat listens. A Tale Untold was superbly produced by Ken
Brake, while the album was also arranged by Louis Philippewith
the latter adding in guitars, bass keys, piano, backing vocals and
more. Brake adds in drums and synth programming, yet the real focus
of the album is Ms. Le Mays outstanding songs and vocals. Recorded
in London, A Tale Untold was skillfully recorded and is well
worth the attention of music fans who enjoy high quality and completely
original melodic pop inventions. www.folkwit.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Louise Le May
Can you tell us where youre from originally and where you live
now and what you like best about it?
Louise Le May: I am originally from London and I still live
in London. I think I could just as well live anywhere in the UK, because
its always about how you make the most of it. London has advantages
in that whatever you want, its here. London is accepting. Other
places may not be as broad-minded and may be of smaller mind. Its
just a feeling really. So I guess thats what I like best about
mwe3: How did the A Tale Untold album come together,
when were the songs written and recorded, and can you tell us about
working with Ken Brake and Louis Philippe and also Danny Manners.
How did you meet your band? These guys are very gifted. Who did they
work with before?
Louise Le May: Some of the songs were written quite a few years
ago, and then more recent songs were added. Id say the first
songs were written in about the late 1990s. Thats: Be
My Guru, Photographic, Coal-Marble-Stone
and The Only Fish. I call that the Guru-period. The rest
came about in 2009 and beyond. I do an intense phase of songwriting
and then I stop for a few years. There are two elements to the process
for me songwriting and singing. Singing continues in that I
keep working on my voice and it keeps on developing. I do songwriting
so I have something to sing, bespoke to me.
I met Louis, Ken and Danny via social media. A radio presenter called
Chris Evans, who has a show called The Curve Ball, hooked me up with
Louis Philippe. Louis Philippe introduced me to Ken Brake and Danny
Manners, so there was the band. All three of them had worked together
for many years and I was a newcomer. Louis Philippe has worked with
many name-drop type names, and he was very active in the days of Cherry
Red and El Records.
Louis took my ideas and expanded on them, adding more vocal tracks.
I love backing vocal harmonies, which I would always do on my demos.
Years of recording experience means, that Louis knows what works.
So he was able to consolidate a lot of what Id done. Ken Brake
put it all together. There were so many ideas flying about, yet he
took control of it, sorted it out, brought out the best ideas and
got rid of some. Ken and Louis had years of working together behind
them and they know each other well. Danny Manners subsequently became
my pianist for live shows as well. Danny was the one who interpreted
my basic piano from the demos. I dont write or read music, so
he transcribed the piano music.
mwe3: Regarding the arrangements and production, did you have
a vision of what you wanted the album to sound like, for instance
the idea to add strings? The Covent Garden String Quartet adds a lot
of unique sounds as well. Did you sing live with the strings or were
Le May: I always had a vision of a Kate Bush style album. Im
not sure if it came out like that but I like the result. Strings were
always in my mind. As a child I was obsessed with Eleanor Rigby
and Shes Leaving Home. Strings are definitely my
cup of tea, so it was a dream-come-true to have Louis do the score
arrangements. Originally Coal was going to have a full
strange arrangement, but in the end we decided on Guru.
As I recall, the strings were recorded after Id already sung
the vocals, to Dannys piano, or it could have been a guide-vocal.
So the strings were playing to me, rather than the other way round.
mwe3: A Tale Untold starts off with the track Broken
Child. What was it like growing up in England? I take it you
missed Beatlemania so did the punk thing hit you hard in the late
1970s? In Broken Child, you talk about that you came from
the old and the new, and about a father you never knew. I take it
you had a happy childhood (even though you say otherwise) no matter
what. Are your parents still alive?
Louise Le May: I missed Beatlemania but I loved the Beatles.
It would have been about twenty years after the main event, but I
got a lot of exposure to the records from my older brothers and sisters.
I think you have a natural propensity towards certain things and mine
was melody, first and foremost. Once I heard The Beatles that was
that. Id come home. They were the best; game over.
I had a sort of idealistic childhood on the surface, but I was not
happy. I felt emotionally estranged from my parents even though they
were there. There was a connection between us missing, so I had an
emotional hole. So I grieved for a death that wasnt there. This
is what Broken Child is about.
mwe3: On Be My Guru, I never heard someone rhyme
Why The Hell Am I with Stranded in Formaldehyde!
lol Who is your guru? Do we all want a guru? How many vocal tracks
are there on that song?
Louise Le May: I was thinking about Damien Hirsts artwork,
Mother and Child, Divided. Its the installation
with the cow and calf in the glass boxes, cut in half and preserved
in formaldehyde. Something rang a bell, touched a nerve, and so I
wrote a song.
I recall that at the time I wanted someone to sort out my life. Someone
to refer to, someone to ask, someone to get answers from, someone
to help make decisions. I was calling out for a guru in that song.
But I was younger then. I dont want a guru anymore.
I cant remember the number of vocal tracks on Guru.
Id have to go back and count them.
I have this imagined backing vocal band called The Avenging
Angels. I imagine there to be about four of them and they are
all female. Those are my backing vocals.
How about Cassandra? Is that fictional lyric writing?
Sort of like Shes Leaving Home, this time about
a room in Solihull? Where is that in the UK? And what was it like
recording on the session with Stuart Moxham who plays cajon on Cassandra?
Isnt that a type of percussion?
Louise Le May: Youre right, Cassandra is
in the vein of Shes Leaving Home and its about
loneliness. Its about shelving desires on a bookshelf because
theyre not going to happen, and lonely walks in graveyards.
Its a sad song.
Solihull is a large town in the West Midlands of England with a population
of 206,700. It is a part of the West Midlands conurbation and is located
8 miles southeast of Birmingham city centre.
But Ive never been there. I just liked the word Solihull.
The way it bounced lyrically when I sung it, and the way
it fitted nicely into the poetry. Although Ive never been, it
sounds like kind of a grim, concrete sort of a place. Perhaps it isnt
that at all. But it could have been subliminally in my head because
I went to Art College in Hull, which is a different place.
I wasnt actually there when Stuart Moxham played cajon. He was
doing other recording with Ken at the time, an album with Louis Philippe,
and the cajon was added whilst he was in the studio. Ken always has
lots of percussion instruments in his studio. A cajon is a box-shaped
percussion instrument from Peru. You sit on it and play it.
mwe3: Furniture has a definite modern day British
sensibility dont you think? Do you think theres a kind
McCartney-ish feel to it? Is Furniture a kind Le May trademark
melody? Sometimes songwriters develop their own unique approach to
melody, seemingly pulling lines out of thin air! Is that how you approach
melody? Does it just come to you? Do you want to further develop your
Louise Le May: I always think Furniture sounds
a bit like something from a musical. Ive always had a soft-spot
I tend to think Coal-Marble-Stone is more of a trademark
than Furniture. I tend to start off normal
and then I try to do something unexpected so that I get a surprise.
I dont find this to be the case with Furniture,
and I know whats coming next, which makes it less interesting
to me than some of my other songs.
If you hear a McCartney-ish feel then its most probably in there
because those influences are so very within me, all the time.
A songwriter creates their own little world, so its hard to
know how theyve done it, so it seems as if theyve plucked
lines out of thin air.
I find its hard to come out with something thats just
right, to get the balance right. I like a balance between conventional
yet unusual. Its an ongoing challenge.
Radium Smile is one of the more rock type tracks but the
lyrics are great
. a luminous clock, will tick, and kill
What else can you say about Radium
Smile? Some great melodic twists and turns, very unique ideas!
Is that rock side something you want to explore more or do you prefer
the more orchestral string approach?
Louise Le May: I had the idea for this song a long time ago,
and I had stored it in my head and was waiting for the right chord
sequence to appear.
Radium Smile is about female factory workers in the early
nineteenth century who painted glow-in-the-dark paint onto watch dials.
To sharpen the edge of their brushes they would lick the tip and each
time ingest small quantities of the paint. The paint though was radioactive.
It contained radium and was slowly and horribly poisoning them.
The subject matter horrified and fascinated me. Its the science
of something, which cannot be undone, or at least not easily. The
sites of the original factories are still contaminated. The victims
were so contaminated that radiation can still be detected at their
graves using a Geiger counter.
We used vintage synthesizers on the song because it seemed to suit
the subject matter, and I wanted something with a more pop
sensibility to balance the more classical-oriented tracks on the album.
Yes, I wouldnt mind exploring many other genres. Id like
to put myself into any genre and still be me. I dont really
mind too much about genre. Obviously, I went for the classical thing
because of my natural propensity towards it. But so long as a melody
is good, genre comes second place to that.
mwe3: Photographic is very unusual. Is that song
jaded in a pleasant sort of sarcastic way? I guess you cant
find one thing new in the world sometimes. Nice spooky guitar sustain.
The songwriting approach kind of reminds me a bit of Anna Domino.
Louise Le May: You know the way everything is compared to something
else? I always think there was a time when music was new. Im
very aware that Im repeating what Ive heard. Its
The spookiness you refer to was definitely Louis
addition in the production. I think my original demo was quite pretty,
but he added a darkness. I dont know what his interpretation
was all about, but I really loved it, especially the descending ending.
I kind of know that feeling
The spooky guitar sustain you refer to is Louis using
an E-Bow with electric guitar.
A Tale Untold is the centerpiece of the CD in my opinion.
Is that your kind of come together, plea for humanity song? The
legacy of a tale untold, nice. Its fatalistic but in a
Louise Le May: I was thinking about my father having lost his
memory. Hed been diagnosed with a brain tumor. So I got the
line another great tragedy with blood on the page, the memories
have not been saved. When someone is soon to die, this puts
you into an awareness of now. So I got, this is life now, there
is no rehearsal
It really wasnt a plea to humanity at all. I can only speak
with any real authority about my own little world, give or take some
storytelling artistic license. I wouldnt dare try to comment
on humanity. Its a bit beyond my remit
mwe3: Your Facebook page has some great photos on it. What
inspires you to take photos and is living in London living like a
Louise Le May: I was working in a job at the time I took the
photos you refer to. I didnt have a lot of time for anything
creative, so taking photos was a way of being creative on the move.
It gets me out of myself, to get behind the lens of a camera. It puts
me into the position of observer-of-things. I like that. Its
one of those on and-off things that I do. I go through phases.
mwe3: I love the cover art for A Tale Untold but then
I looked even closer and its slightly disturbing! Is that a
Siamese Doe? How did you decide on the cover art? I guess a lot of
cover art makes you think!
Louise Le May: The cover art was designed by acclaimed Norwegian
Bergen-based illustrator and artist Katrin Berge. Yes, its a
I gave her all my songs from the album and she interpreted those songs.
On purpose, I did not interfere in the process at all, because I did
not want to spoil her instinctual process. I didnt say what
I wanted. I only said, something pretty, but with a dark twist.
I knew her style already suited my songs, so although this approach
was a little scary, I thought it would most probably work out.
I love the result! And its exactly what I wanted. Also, I had
no idea I was going to get that. I see something seemingly idealistic,
bucolic and lovely, yet theres something not quite right.
do you do with a Siamese fawn? She/he is beautiful, but where will
she/he fit in? How will they be accepted? Did the radiation cause
this to happen?
I love the endless layers of interpretation, and this is what I wanted.
To me, the cover art is just as important as the music itself. This
is what represents the music. Its really hard to say the right
thing visually, therefore I was so relieved that this is so very bang
mwe3: Which artists do you listen to these days? I would imagine
thered be a number of under the radar artists. I saw Harold
Budd mentioned on your Facebook page. Harold worked with Eno and was
key in the minimalist scene. Do you have interest in jazz and prog-rock
for example? Its quite different from the music you make!
Louise Le May: Of course melody is my thing, as you know, so
The Beatles and Kate Bush. Currently I love John Grant for his lyrics.
And its interesting you should bring up the minimalist thing,
because I have been enjoying Enos Discreet Music. Minimalist
music doesnt impose a big personality thing, so I like that.
I take in everything and anything really. As I say, genre doesnt
really matter to me. Its whatever lights my fire. It could be
anything so its a difficult question to answer.
mwe3: What instrument do you feel comfortable playing and composing
Louise Le May: I mainly compose on piano. I stumble around
until I find a chord sequence I enjoy hearing, then I record that
sequence. Then I will drop in the next chords and piece
it together, using an eight-track machine. Then I sing over it, and
build it from there. Its a very long, laborious process. I need
to move on to a computer. Its time to move on. Coal-Marble-Stone
was written on guitar though. Im not a great pianist or musician
of any kind, but I can hear the music and I get through that way.
It took a while to make A Tale Untold so I hope youll
be keeping up with more recording. What does the future hold for your
music moving forward?
Louise Le May: I definitely want to make another album. I definitely
want to do another phase of songwriting for that album. I also have
songs in the archives to use, so the next album will be similar to
the way A Tale Untold evolved. Im looking forward to