Discovery: Little May

Published October 27, 2014

ABOVE: LITTLE MAY. PHOTO COURTSY OF MCLEAN STEPHENSON

It’s hard not to get a little bit teary-eyed after you listen to Little May’s first single “Dust.” If you watch the music video, which focuses on a young woman who has lost her dog, you’ll need a whole box of Kleenex to dry away the tears.

For their self-titled EP, released earlier this month, the Australian indie-rock trio paired dark folk melodies with haunting lyrics. Over a span of three years, the band compiled five tracks that sound like a moodier homage to indie-folk ladies First Aid Kit and Laura Marling. Last week, the band from Down Under will played their first U.S. shows at CMJ, including one opening for Cold War Kids. Tonight, they’ll perform at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. 

We spoke to Annie Hamilton from Little May about the emotional video for “Dust,” getting death threats from farmers, and being a “ghost-folk” band.

CURRENT LOCATION: Sydney, Australia

BAND MEMBERS: Liz Drummond, Hannah Field, and Annie Hamilton

WHAT’S IN A NAME: It’s one of those things where we wish we had a really good story, we just don’t really remember. We were trying to think of a name two years ago and we started to take it a bit seriously. We had lots of brainstorming. We mixed together Liz and Hannah’s dog’s names. We kept going through lists and lots of ideas, but we just came back to Little May.

ON FILMING THE EMOTIONAL VIDEO FOR “DUST:” We were working with a production company based in Melbourne, Australia called Oh Yeah Wow. They came up with the initial concept for the video. I think we had been struggling—we were like, “How can we make a video that isn’t super corny or cliché?” Then the director Darcy came up with the concept of the girl grieving after her dog had died. The three of us are all dog lovers, so we loved the idea. We went down to Melbourne to a farm for the day to shoot it, and it was absolutely cold. We had a few death threats from local farmers when we were setting off fireworks because of their cattle.

THE SOUND OF LOSS: [“Dust”] has really been through a massive process of change. Liz originally wrote the song about three years ago. It used to be called “Mexico.” It had slightly different lyrics, but was still the same structure with the three different sections. It was about grieving the end of a relationship and that kind of thing. Over the last three years we had recorded and re-recorded it, changed lyrics and melodies. It’s been recorded everywhere from friends’ recording studios and warehouses, and we re-recorded the whole first section in Liz’s kitchen. We changed the name to “Dust” and changed the lyrics too. It’s a whole coming together of these ideas of loss, grieving, reflection, and looking back on what you once had. I think it’s a lot of different themes coming together like the loss of having a relationship with someone, breaking up, and losing friends. Then, Liz and Hannah had a friend that passed away at the beginning of the year and there were a few lines that were re-written that were about that friend. It’s not one thing in particular, but it’s this whole general feeling of reflection on what you used to have.

THE “GHOST-FOLK” GENRE: I guess there’s always been a darkness that underlies the music that has come naturally in the way we write. I think we’ve always been drawn to music that’s a bit darker. Someone once used the “ghost-folk” term in an interview and it just stuck. We never think of our music being typically folk; for us, our music hasn’t been for a particular genre. We just write the music as it comes out naturally. I don’t want to say that folk music is typically light, because I don’t think it is, but I think there’s just a darkness that underlies our music.

ON INFLUENCES: We all have some varied influences as well as some similar ones. In the past few years, we’ve been listening to The National. They’ve been a really big one for us with the songwriting and everything.  I’m obsessed with The National. The five songs on the EP are all quite old and most of them were recorded quite a while ago in the last two years. During the production and recording process, we were all listening to a lot of Local Natives, Half Moon Run, and alt-J. Even if you might not be able to hear direct influences from those bands, they just influenced the way that we think about production and experimenting with new things. 

IDEAL TOUR: I would love to tour with The National. Touring with The National would be a dream come true. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like.

SONGWRITING COLLABORATIONS: Yeah, I think now it’s becoming a lot more collaborative. Liz and Hannah used to write by themselves. Sometimes we’ll write something separately, record it on our phones, send it to each other and then come and work on it together. Sometimes all three of us will sit down, start playing and writing something and it comes naturally. Liz wrote “Boardwalks” by herself and “Dust” by herself.  We’ve worked on the structure and production together, re-writing them a bit.

ON SIGNING A RECORD DEAL: We’re going to start recording an album early next year. I think we’re all super excited about that because the EP has taken us so long. We’re excited to release it now and move on and start something new. Hopefully in January or February we’ll start recording our full-length album.

FIRST SHOWS IN THE U.S.: We’re flying from London to New York on Sunday. I’ve never been to New York, so I’m really excited. We’re doing CMJ. Then we fly to L.A., and then we fly home.

STANDING OUT OF THE FOLK CROWD: We never consciously think we should do this to be unique. We just write what comes naturally to us. Maybe there is darkness in our music, but that’s not to say it’s better or worse than any other band. It’s just the way we tend to write.

LITTLE MAY WILL PLAY HOTEL CAFE IN LOS ANGELES TONIGHT, OCTOBER 27. FOR MORE ON LITTLE MAY, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.