[OC Music Awards Interview] May McDonough Creates Beautifully Bizarre Bluesy Folk
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the OC Music Awards kicked off on January 4th with seven weeks of free showcases at different venues across the county. 35 local artists will compete for the titles of Best Live Band or Best Live Acoustic and a performance slot at the 2011 OC Music Awards, March 5 at the Grove of Anaheim. And, the voting is open now!
Imagine a twilight raft escape through the swamps of the Mississippi River. With the magical focus of a voodoo queen and a lifetime of morally questionable crime behind you, your raft takes you to a swamp side bar. Crawling through the illuminated windows is the sound of a sultry, eerie piano and a breathy, bluesy voice. That languid voice could easily be that of Orange County-native, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]May McDonough[/lastfm].
McDonough’s melancholic refrains are punctured with mysteriously gritty, yet absolutely fearless instrumentation. Her sound would easily serve as both the raucous soundtrack to a pool hall brawl or a lingering night with a bottle of bourbon and a bucket of heartbreak. However, her beautiful voice is still ominous enough to rattle the bones of the dead.
And thankfully, McDonough’s seen enough dead bodies to keep singing through their macabre parade.
[pullquote quote="The first time I ever heard Tom Waits when I was a teenager...I was like, 'Shit, someone is out there already making the music that I have in my head.'"]
“I’ve seen my fair share of dead bodies in my lifetime,” said the 20-something, slightly cynical chanteuse. May McDonough then relayed a story about witnessing dead bodies on her doorstep when she was a child living in Silverado and the old woman she saw throw herself from a third story window.
“I used to be an Irish step dancer and one time we were walking home from a competition past a senior citizens home and ten yards in front of us, we watched an old woman, she must have had enough, jump from a third story window.”
“My mother was an EMT at the time–like I said she’s had a lot of jobs–and she had to rush over to help. So, I’ve kind of had a lot of experiences like that. Experiences where it’s the wrong place at the wrong time, I suppose.“
Artistically, McDonough is in the exact right place at the exact right time. In a musical age where people have become comfortable with embracing their dark sides with vigor and realism, McDonough is a poetic, jazzy singer-songwriter with her finger on the trigger of their desires.
Painting a bleek but beautiful soundscape, her album Spilt Milk evokes the carnivalesque story of the heartbroken hooligan or the demented femme fatale. The old-world creak of her instruments sound like [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Rasputina[/lastfm] or [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Devotchka[/lastfm], but her voice sounds sweetly supernatural. Her wry, adept lyricism draws many parallels to [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Tom Waits[/lastfm] or [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Bonnie “Prince” Billy[/lastfm].
McDonough concurred and described how her “bizarre” life has influenced her songwriting:
“The first time I ever heard Tom Waits when I was a teenager…I was like, ‘Shit, someone is out there already making the music that I have in my head.’”
“As a female musician, I never just want to sound pretty. That’s not the world I’ve grown up in and that’s certainly not what’s inside my head. So I try, with the music, to make the music as grimy and organic and raw as my perspective on life has been. Not to say that I am a pessimist in any way. It’s the honest truth.”
“I’ve definitely seen the nitty-gritty of life. There are so many bizarre experiences that I’ve been through that as a child I definitely had to contemplate things that I don’t think children necessarily always think about and gained awareness of the world and of myself that I think children usually get to forego in childhood. That’s definitely given me a different perspective in the world.”
Beyond the obvious horrors of seeing dead bodies at such a young age, McDonough also had a strange, but fantastical upbringing by her multifaceted mother. McDonough is one case where all the rumors you hear about her almost cinematic life are true.
“It’s a little bizarre, but most of it’s true,” McDonough elaborated. “My father started his own P.I. bureau when he was still in his teens and my mother had every job on the planet. My friends joke that if there was a Dos Equus woman advertisement that she’d be it for the most interesting woman. Because she’s been a lion tamer. There used to be a place called Gentle Jungle and she actually worked with lions, tiger, and elephants.”
“Eventually she went through a lot of bizarre jobs and then eventually that’s how she started being a private eye. And that’s how she met my father…I happen to have a very bizarre upbringing and a very bizarre life. I feel like I’m kind of a magnet for strange occurrences.”
Born in Orange, McDonough remembered that as a child she loved the Orange Circle. Despite having lived all over, McDonough was attracted to Orange as an adult and hijacked her brother’s potential apartment with her best friend.
[pullquote quote="I would like to see the community here rise up and get some respect."]
“With all the moving and all the bizarre drama, I didn’t have friends at school that you would hang out with and I didn’t have neighborhood friends. And Orange just looked like the place that I could have that. And I do have that.”
While she may not have lived an idyllic life in her childhood, McDonough does remember listening to Orange County bands like [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Agent Orange[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]The Vandals[/lastfm], as well as playing Orange County gigs when she was 16-years-old.
“I had a band at 16…It used to be this pop-punk mecca that was really frustrating for me as an artist and my band mates as well. I used to wonder why this place which was such a controlled and conservative environment didn’t have any artistic backlash,” said McDonough.
“But over the past ten years, I’ve really seen it grow and it baffles me now how much amazing music does come out of Orange County and how the reality shows and pseudo-celebrities have kind of given us a bad name, but I really think there is an amazing blossoming community here.”
“I would like to see the community here rise up and get some respect.”
[lastfm link_type="artist_info"]May McDonough[/lastfm]-”Gone With The Snake”
The 2011 Showcase Series runs every Tuesday night, January 4 -February 15 with stops at:
Five Showcase Series finalists in each live category will then move on to the Showcase Series Finals.
2011 Best Live Band winner will receive a performance slot on the four Southern Christmas Vans Warped Tour stops!
Night Two of the OC Music Awards Showcase Series features nominees for Best Live Band on Tuesday, January 18th at the The Gyspy Lounge.
READ MORE INTERVIEWS ON KROQ.COM FROM SHOWCASE NIGHT 2 BANDS:
Friday, January 14th-Strange Birds
Saturday, January 15th-California Condors
Sunday, January 16th-May McDonough
Monday, January 17th- Kiev
Tuesday, January 18th-The Gromble
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Cast your vote and enter to win a massive prize pack from the OC Music Awards partners (To be Announced). Voting will begin on December 27 and will be open through the last Showcase on February 15. The votes will be tallied and the band with highest score will automatically move on to their Series Finals! Click here to vote
LEARN MORE AT: OCMUSICAWARDS.COM