Little May‘s debut album For The Company is a dark stirring wonder of heartfelt songs punctuated with scattering guitars, tossing drums and sublime vocals. It’s dark and elegant and, for me, speaks as much of the cold and isolation of Hudson, New York where it was recorded as it does the warmth of Sydney, Australia where the band originates. Currently on tour in celebration of its release, I caught up with Hannah, Annie and Liz and talked recording with The National’s Aaron Dessner, crossing art mediums with their latest project #ArtForTheCompany and the ‘confidence gap’.
You’re currently on tour for your new album, what is it about touring that is so rewarding as a musician?
Hannah: The response from the crowd is always amazing and to share your music with people is always the dream. Having people actually want to come along and pay a little bit of money to see us, I think that’s incredible. But also the rush that you get from being onstage is pretty irreplaceable.
Is it challenging to put yourself onstage in front of a crowd?
Liz: I think it’s definitely a challenge, I still get really nervous personally. You’re kind of exposing yourself in front of all these people, especially when you’ve got a crowd that’s really attentive it can be quite nerve racking in terms of ‘oh I really need to make sure I step it up’. I guess it gets easier as you progress but it’s always quite intimidating, in a good way.
You were just touring Europe and America, how was that?
Liz: It was awesome. We were gone for about three months all up. We recorded an album in the first month and a bit so it was pretty full on.
Is there anything different between say touring Australia and touring overseas countries?
Annie: Definitely when we were in Paris we had our first experience of trying to tour with a language barrier and trying to hire gear or get into a cab to go to a venue. Even being at the venue and asking questions about things like equipment definitely was a challenge. Apart from that it’s just really amazing to realise that people overseas actually even know our music.
Were you surprised by how much of a response you’ve gotten internationally?
Hannah: Yeah. We had two sold out shows in London and it’s just insane. They’re really attentive and I think ‘how do so many of these people know us?’
Do you think if you were a band in the 90s, before the internet really helped with sharing music on a global scale, that it would be a different scenario?
Liz: Yeah definitely.
Annie: I think a lot of people started hearing us before we even released the EP, when ‘Hide’ got on hype machine. That was our first international internet exposure, so I don’t know how bands back then even did it. I guess it would just be a much slower process of building an audience in Australia and then taking their music overseas. For us it just went there without us even realising because we just released ourselves on the internet.
Liz: It’s crazy these days because you can be an artist and still have a level of success and exposure without even touring.
You’ve also toured with a couple of different artists like Bernard Fanning and playing alongside bands like The Flaming Lips and Mumford and Sons, is there anything you took away or learned from those other bands?
Hannah: Bernard Fanning was, for me, probably all of us, so humble and giving as a person and so generous with his advice. He was really open and I think that’s beautiful to see someone so successful and idolised, especially in Australia, just be a normal person. To be so grounded, I think that’s going to be really important for us, whatever happens we need to stay like that because that’s how we work best. I know this sounds corny, but we want to be true to who we are and not become bitter old twisted musicians.
Your debut LP, you recorded it with Aaron Dessner from The National, how was it recording with him?
Annie: Amazing. He’s incredible and such a great guy to work with. All the ideas he came up with we were generally all on board with and I think he definitely helped us to take the best sections of the songs and to build the songs upon those. Take the best bits and scrap the rest so you focus on what’s working, which was a big learning curve for us in terms of arrangements.
Is it kind of surreal considering it’s your first full length album and to be working with someone you respect so much?
Hannah: Even when you were just saying that then I was like ‘oh my gosh that happened’ [laughs]. I always say ‘don’t reflect’ or ‘I can’t wait to reflect on this’ because I felt like our minds would explode if we thought too much about recording our first album with Aaron Dessner, especially considering as The National’s music has been such an influence for us. It’s pretty insane that we got that opportunity.
How was it recording in New York? Do you think the location affected how the album came out?
Liz: Yeah I think it was a number of things definitely. Working with Aaron and his influence affected the album in a really positive way. Being away from home, I’m sure that translated somehow on the album and just the environment. Being in Hudson, it was quite isolated and rural and the coldness probably affected our music as well.
You’ve asked local artists to create artworks in any medium inspired by tracks off your album for an exhibition #ArtForTheCompany, what made you want to cross artistic mediums like that?
Annie: Art has always been a big part of Little May. I’ve always done the album and EP artwork and for me art and music go hand in hand. Our manager actually though of the initial idea and we built upon it. I think it’s also really interesting to see how the artists respond to our music in their own way, because I think a lot of our songs can be interpreted differently.
Have you been surprised by how the artists have visually interpreted your songs?
Hannah: Yeah just the shear talent of these people, I didn’t realise how amazing it would be.
Annie: We’re also creating a mini documentary where we’ve filmed a few of the artists talking about what they think the song is about and how it’s affected their artwork. It’s just really cool to hear their interpretations because we never sat them done and explained the songs.
Liz: It’s also cool that you can create something and then someone else can be inspired to create something themselves.
Music Victoria released a paper a short time ago about women in the music community. While they were focusing on women in Victoria they acknowledged that their findings could apply nationally. One of the things they brought was a thing called the ‘confidence gap’, do you ever feel like that gap applies to you?
Hannah: I think that’s quite personal, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that to be honest.
Annie: I felt it, a lot.
Liz: I have as well. I felt it while growing up, having an older brother who was a musician and maybe it was because I was his little sister I felt like I had to prove myself. Or that it was expected for it to be not as easy for me to learn guitar for some reason. But I don’t know if it’s so much these days, I think there’s just a huge difference between male bands and female bands in that they’re treated differently for some reason by some people.
Why do you think there is a difference in treatment?
Hannah: It’s strange how all female bands are almost hyped as like a ‘thing’, like it’s so different and interesting but it shouldn’t be. We just want to be known for our music and not because we’re women.
There is the idea that it can be caused by industry assigning the label of female to music created by women, such as female-musician or all female-band…
Hannah: Yeah totally.
What do you think needs to happen to help change that perception that women are different to men in regards to what they do music?
Liz: Just take the focus off gender. I think there was a point I was subconsciously trying to do that with Little May, like I wanted to avoid photos that were focusing on our femininity. Maybe that was just a subconscious thing but I just wanted people to listen to our music and not focus on the photo. I think just in interviews and write ups, I understand that people make comparisons because it makes it easy for people, but I think the whole gender thing should be irrelevant apart from the fact that female voices can sound different to male voices. We’re all human beings and we’re all doing the same thing and it should be treated like that.