Monday 26 September 2016

I'm not a rockabilly artist ... and I never have been, says Imelda May

Paul Healy

Published 23/07/2015 | 07:20

Imelda May
Imelda May
Imelda May three years ago with husband Darrel Higham and Violet
The Imelda May Show, RTÉ
‘I always felt a bit different. Is that odd?’ — May duets with Bono in a surprise guest appearance at her concert in Dublin in December 2011

It has been a transformative few months for Imelda May. The singer recently announced her split with husband and fellow band member Darrell Higham.

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The couple were together for 13 years and have a two year-old daughter, Violet.

Following the heart-breaking news, Darrell quit the band, and fans were unsure what was next for the singer.

But the 41-year-old singer shows no signs of slowing down and is throwing herself back into her work. There's a new album in the works and a string of tour dates on the horizon.

As if that wasn't enough, the new season of her RTE show hits our small screens this week.

The self-confessed workaholic and Liberties native is pouring all her time and energy into her music.

"I'm just writing like crazy right now," she says.

Imelda's last album, Tribal, is still performing well in the charts despite being released over a year ago.

I ask her if her next album will retain her 'rockabilly' sound. Big mistake.

Turns out Imelda is not a of the 'rockabilly' moniker and is keen to show that she can cross many genres.

"People see my hair and they think rockabilly, and I mean there's a lot of rockabilly in what I do, but there's equal amount of blues and jazz and there's all kind of genres.

"It happens all the time that people ask about it and people presume, but I'm not a rockabilly artist and I never have been," she says.

With her trademark blonde streak and love of leopard-print dresses, appearance is clearly important to the star.

But Imelda insists her image doesn't define her.

"I'm lucky that I work with great people that are into music and they really don't care what way I do my hair," she says.

"I like to doll myself up before I go to work same as anyone else, it's more about how I feel about myself, and it's certainly not to sell records.

"I think the music should speak for itself."

The music business has always been a notoriously difficult industry to break into, but today's online streaming services seem to make turning a passion into a profession increasingly difficult for young artists.

Global superstar Taylor Swift made waves last month when she insisted Apple Music pay its artists during its trial period.

Imelda agrees with Swift's stance and believes getting paid is an essential part of the business.

"I think that anybody that's worked hard at anything deserves it, I don't believe in any career promoting robbery," she says. "For most people if you're good at a trade, you'd be absolutely insulted if at the end of the day someone said 'I'm not paying you'.

"I think that anyone who works hard and does a good job shouldn't be expected to do it for free and I think it is insulting for somebody to not understand."

Producing an album is extremely demanding and time-consuming work, and it irks Imelda to think someone would try and illegally download her work.

"People blame record companies but then people come on the road with me and they are shocked at the amount of work that goes into making just one album," she explains.

"It might last 45 minutes to an hour, but the artist might spend 18 hours-a-day listening to it and mixing it so that when somebody buys it they get the best sound when they play it in their car or whatever and we try to give them as much value for money.

"And then somebody says I'm not prepared to pay a tenner for this and you think 'Really? Are you joking?'"

The Imelda May Show debuted last year, a sort of Jools Holland-esque show that sees May interviewing some of the country's hottest acts, young and old.

Of course, Imelda can see the similarities; in fact she says "it's a complete rip off".

Holland was her first ever guest, and gave the singer his blessing.

"I rang Jools as soon as this show came up, and I said we're wanting to do a complete rip-off of your show are you okay with that and he said absolutely, go for it."

Oddly, she doesn't think of herself as an interviewer, and rarely plans her questions before stepping out on set.

"I don't want to learn how to interview because as an artist you do one every day," she says.

"On this show it's not an interview, you're not applying for a job. I'll talk about whatever you want to talk about, tell me about your day, tell me about your dog."

So why does Imelda May, a budding, popular musician, continue to spend her time presenting a TV show?

The answer is simple; to give up-and-coming bands and artists their 'big break'.

"I was pushing big time to get as many people interviewed as I can because I've been through different situations when you're trying to make it and you don't get the interview, only those doing well do," she says.

"I really wanted to push for bands who weren't known to have an interview, too, because many of their stories are amazing.

"I almost want there to be no differentiation between artists, they get equal amount of time, the same respect."

She says that the Boomtown Rats will make an appearance this season, which was a memorable moment for her.

"They were on fire, they were just amazing."

As for that new album? It's coming early next year.

She wants to get out and tour before her daughter grows old enough to go to school.

After that, Imelda isn't yet sure how she will juggle her busy touring life with the trials and tribulations of putting a child through school.

"Ill have to not tour as much," she says. "But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it and work out what's best for her."

I ask who her biggest inspiration is, and she ponders for a while before saying her mother.

The Imelda May Show starts tomorrow at 9.35pm on RTE One.

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