Music Interview: Alexandra May – Typical Girl, Or Take Stories And Add Sparkle

June 18, 2020

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By BRUCE DENNILL

Singer-songwriter Alexandra May‘s latest release is called Typical Girl.

 

“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?

I started writing poems and little verses when I was a kid but started writing songs when I was about 12 years old. At the time, I was hooked on anything ‘bubblegum pop’ – but throwing in a little Nelly Furtado, Owl City, Carole King and Celine Dion – and I was happy. I remember the Christmas my Mom and Dad gave me my first Celine album, One Heart – in 2003. I was hooked. I wanted to make music like her and be just as fabulous! I started playing guitar, so I sat down at the keys and started writing. My first real song, Be My Valentine,  wasn’t destined to be on the charts, but it set me on a path of discovering my voice and my love for storytelling.

 

Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?

My influences have changed over the years – and I think it’s a good thing that they have. I launched my career into the pop world when I was 18 and had loads of fun, but I wasn’t writing for my soul. So after being signed to a local label for about two-and-a-half years at 18, I left and bought a ticket to Nashville at the age of 21. That’s where I discovered that I could write stories and tell them however I wanted to. Since then, I’ve travelled to Nashville at least twice a year. Sadly, I had to postpone my trip in March/April this year because of COVID-19, but I’ll go back soon.

 

Name one song you wish you’d written or one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of. What makes that song so important?

I love a good old-fashioned singer-songwriter vibe song. Carole King is definitely a queen in that space, and Ed Sheeran and Julia Michaels are some of my favourite writers. Right now, the song I wish I had written is Castle On A Hill by Ed. How did he get such a story into a pop-folk vibe, and make it loved by everyone? It’s basic storytelling, 101. Brilliant!

 

In production and arrangement terms, what are facets of your music and the music you love most by others that you feel are crucially important in terms of creating the mood you’re after or supporting the message of your song?

What a hectic question. I’ll start with this – the song still needs to make sense when I play it live and acoustically, so the production should only enhance and add sparkle. I love a song that I can bop and whistle to, though I’m terrible at whistling, so that’s what I usually go after. I like working with producers who want me to also be creative in the production space – as a girl I’ve experienced a little push-back sometimes.

 

Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?

Nobody can whistle lyrics – it definitely has to be a melody. But then second, nobody puts ‘whistle notes’ as their Instagram status, so you have to make sure that there are plenty of status-worthy lyrics.

 

What’s your favourite piece of gear?

I’m not really a ‘gear’ sorta gal, but I love my Ibanez guitar. I currently own four guitars, but she is my favourite.  She belonged to my dad. I stole her and made her mine, and we’ve travelled the world together.

 

What is the story behind Typical Girl – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?

I wrote the song in Nashville last year with Dennis Morgan – a bit of a giant in the writing world.  We spent an afternoon and evening having a good laugh, drinking diet drinks and burger-eating.  I then gave the song to my good friend Sloani Solomons in South Africa and he worked his magic and added glitter!

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