LOUISE LE MAY
A Tale Untold
(Folkwit Records)

 

It’s 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. She’s already being mentioned among fans of songwriters like Kate Bush and even Robert Wyatt’s 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. I’d 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." A Tale Untold is kind of like ear candy as it’s 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 May’s 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

mwe3
: Can you tell us where you’re 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 it’s always about how you make the most of it. London has advantages in that whatever you want, it’s here. London is accepting. Other places may not be as broad-minded and may be of smaller mind. It’s just a feeling really. So I guess that’s what I like best about it.

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. I’d say the first songs were written in about the late 1990s. That’s: “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 I’d 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 don’t 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 they overdubbed?

Louise Le May: I always had a vision of a Kate Bush style album. I’m 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 “She’s 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 I’d already sung the vocals, to Danny’s 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. I’d 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 wasn’t 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 Hirst’s artwork, “Mother and Child, Divided”. It’s 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 don’t want a guru anymore.

I can’t remember the number of vocal tracks on “Guru”. I’d 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.

mwe3: How about “Cassandra”? Is that fictional lyric writing? Sort of like “She’s 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”? Isn’t that a type of percussion?

Louise Le May: You’re right, “Cassandra” is in the vein of “She’s Leaving Home” and it’s about loneliness. It’s about shelving desires on a bookshelf because they’re not going to happen, and lonely walks in graveyards. It’s 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 I’ve 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 I’ve never been, it sounds like kind of a grim, concrete sort of a place. Perhaps it isn’t 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 wasn’t 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 don’t you think? Do you think there’s 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 melodic sensibilities?

Louise Le May: I always think “Furniture” sounds a bit like something from a musical. I’ve always had a soft-spot for musicals.

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 don’t find this to be the case with “Furniture”, and I know what’s coming next, which makes it less interesting to me than some of my other songs.

If you hear a McCartney-ish feel then it’s most probably in there because those influences are so very within me, all the time.

A songwriter creates their own little world, so it’s hard to know how they’ve done it, so it seems as if they’ve “plucked lines out of thin air”.

I find it’s hard to come out with something that’s just right, to get the balance right. I like a balance between conventional yet unusual. It’s an ongoing challenge.

mwe3: “Radium Smile” is one of the more rock type tracks but the lyrics are great…. “a luminous clock, will tick, and kill your daughter”… 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. It’s 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 wouldn’t mind exploring many other genres. I’d like to put myself into any genre and still be me. I don’t 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 can’t 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. I’m very aware that I’m repeating what I’ve heard. It’s inevitable.

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 don’t 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.

mwe3: “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. It’s fatalistic but in a pleasant way!

Louise Le May: I was thinking about my father having lost his memory. He’d 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 wasn’t 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 wouldn’t dare try to comment on humanity. It’s 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 photographer’s dream?

Louise Le May: I was working in a job at the time I took the photos you refer to. I didn’t 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. It’s 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 it’s 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, it’s a Siamese fawn.

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 didn’t 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 it’s exactly what I wanted. Also, I had no idea I was going to get that. I see something seemingly idealistic, bucolic and lovely, yet there’s something not quite right.

What 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. It’s really hard to say the right thing visually, therefore I was so relieved that this is so very bang on.

mwe3: Which artists do you listen to these days? I would imagine there’d 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? It’s 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 it’s interesting you should bring up the minimalist thing, because I have been enjoying Eno’s Discreet Music. Minimalist music doesn’t impose a big personality thing, so I like that. I take in everything and anything really. As I say, genre doesn’t really matter to me. It’s whatever lights my fire. It could be anything so it’s a difficult question to answer.

mwe3: What instrument do you feel comfortable playing and composing with?

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. It’s a very long, laborious process. I need to move on to a computer. It’s time to move on. “Coal-Marble-Stone” was written on guitar though. I’m not a great pianist or musician of any kind, but I can hear the music and I get through that way.

mwe3: It took a while to make A Tale Untold so I hope you’ll 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. I’m looking forward to it.




 

 
   
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