Little May: On painting pictures with sound

Posted by Aphra Magazine on 14/10/15.

Sydney’s Little May thrive on creativity. The three-piece are always looking for new avenues for artistic expression, and to elevate the experiences of their fans. With the release of their debut album, For The Company, this inspired approach culminated in the #ArtForTheCompany artwork campaign, where eleven artists created a piece of art each inspired by an individual album track. In showcasing their genuine and heartfelt indie pop release, the band held their very own artwork exhibition in Sydney. It allowed fans to listen to the album while enjoying a heightened sensory experience with the added visual component. Aphra Magazine had a chat with guitarist Annie Hamilton about their new album and how it incorporates both musical and visual innovation.

Little May’s #ArtForTheCompany campaign impressed with two stunning components, and was a groundbreaking initiative when it comes to album releases. Annie tells me she’s always been very into art and design. ‘I actually do all of the album artwork for Little May, so it’s always just been something I’m really interested in.’ Their manager Mon sorted out the initial concept for the exhibition and they developed and worked on it over the last few months. ‘So basically we’ve curated eleven of our favourite artists and commissioned them to create a piece of art inspired by a song on the album. We’ve now put it all together in an exhibition in Chippendale in Sydney.’

Little May are also interested in the way their fans interpret their songs and respond to them. ‘I think all of our songs tend to be quite personal and very introspective, you know lyrically they’re all very personal songs. But in saying that, none of them are like very blatant or literal, most of them are more abstract and open to interpretation.’

The accompanying exhibition painted a portrait of their artistic vision; they wanted people to be absorbed in both the visual and audio components of their album. This extends to their desire for people to listen to the album as a whole, and to engage with it as one musical work. As Annie explains, ‘All the songs work together and they’re quite cohesive, and so having it in a gallery space where you can listen to the song while focusing on the artwork, you’re really immersed in it. It becomes a bit more of an experience than passively listening to it in the background.’

As for whether they’ve incorporated the visual side of their work into their live shows, Annie says that they haven’t delved into it yet, but are super excited to get into it. ‘I guess at this stage our lives are basically just us playing, but we do have plans in the future. I would love to start getting some cool animations or projections being projected behind us as we play, or getting cool lighting, so stuff like that will make a huge difference.’

For their new album Little May collaborated with The National’s Aaron Brooking Dessner. As big fans they were ecstatic to work with him. ‘Aaron was amazing, he’s such a lovely guy and so talented that it was such an incredible six weeks working with him,’ says Annie. ‘He has such good taste, like everything he suggested or came up with for our songs we were all pretty much on board with the majority of the time.’ Aaron really helped the band in terms of arrangements, finding the best part of each song and identifying the parts that were working. Working with Aaron, Annie tells me, ensured the band never attempted to cram too many different ideas into one track. ‘We reworked a few songs and scrapped verses or choruses or the end sections because we just found that we’ve got a really strong part of a song. We would sort of ignore the other stuff and rebuild the songs around the strong parts, focus on that and that’s like a really cool process to go through.

‘There are few songs on the album that are basically on there as we brought them in, like we didn’t change them at all, and then there are a few that are completely upside down.

If collaborating with Aaron wasn’t enough to get excited about, Little May recorded their new album at New York’s Future Past Studios. A nineteenth century church, it’s now regarded for its remarkable acoustics and, as Annie highlights, its music gear. ‘We were using the most incredible guitars, amps, keyboards and synth and then this beautiful grand piano. Even the sound desk was straight from the ‘70s and there were only like two of it in the world or something.’ Little May also recorded a lot of their tracks on analog, which just sounded fantastic with all of this quality gear. ‘I think also just being in this beautiful old church was a really magical experience. When I listen to music, it brings me straight back there and I can kind of hear it, so every afternoon the sun would set through the stained glass windows and the whole church would just have colourful light,’ Annie says.

‘There’s a lot of magic that happens when you record something and sometimes it’s not there and sometimes it is. I hope it’s there for ours,’ She continues. With the video for single ‘Home’ being shot in the church come studio, we get to witness first-hand some of that magic that Annie is eluding to. She explains that the idea behind the clip materialised when Aaron had to go to Spain for a day for a The National gig. Little May couldn’t do any recording without him, so they had a film crew come to the studio for the day and film them in their element. ‘I think it was really special for us because it’s not like we set everything up and posed and pretended, like the way it was filmed was literally like the way we recorded a lot of the songs, with all of us together in the church,’ Annie says.

Little May poured their hearts and souls into their debut album, and it shows with a track list that is dreamy and meditative, and characterised by an underlying darkness. And through their #ArtForTheCompany campaign they were able to capture this intensity in a visual component. For such a beautiful and captivating creative project—one aimed at better connecting with fans and pushing creative boundaries—they must be applauded.



Little May – For The Company is out now via Dew Process / UMA.


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