We caught up with the North Mississippi "infotainment cult" co-founder and music man turned Los Angelenos, Dent May, when he came through Nashville on his Across The Multiverse Tour. Dent chats with us about leaving the south for California, his new LA band and fourth record, honing his craft and how writing music has changed, and where to find the best tacos in town.
Photo by Ian Tilghman
So, you guys came to Jacksonville when we were starting up.
Yeah, I was trying to remember where that was, even.
Yeah, Jacksonville, Florida.
That’s so funny, you lived there.
Yeah, that was weird. I don’t ever want to go back to Florida.
Right. Actually, my drummer is from Jacksonville, Ben Varian. He makes really cool music on his own. Everyone in my band makes really cool music on their own.
What is your least favorite interview question to get?
Well, I don’t want to call anybody out. To be totally honest, it’s always a red flag when someone is like, “So, let me tell you a little bit about how we do things. We’re not going to ask you any of the boring questions you get over and over again, we’re going to ask some really fun ones, some wacky ones.” And then I’m like, “Oh, no.”
I don’t want to say any of the specific ones I got, because it’s going give away who it was, but just asking me things that I literally don’t have an answer for. It’s supposed to be a fun, weird question, but I don’t have an answer to it. Alright, one of them was like, “What’s an album that you love with a song you hate on it?” I was just like, “I literally can't think of one.”
Well, how’s LA?
LA is amazing. I’m in love with Los Angeles, and I think I’ll be there for a long time. A bunch of my friends from Mississippi moved out there—bunch of my friends that I’ve met touring-musician style over the years have ended up there. I’ve got pretty cheap rent. I love my neighborhood. I love my bandmates. I’ve had different LA bandmates over the past few years, it’s always kind of a revolving cast. But, yeah, I love it, and I think it’s a good fit for me.
Photo by KUTX
Is that what brought you out there, friends from Mississippi?
Yeah, I think a bunch of us decided together, or maybe staggered a little over time that we would do it. A few of my friends were already there, then a lot of friends came after we did. Four of us carpooled out there together when I moved. It was bubbling up in Oxford for a couple years, honestly, where I was thinking about it, and then planting the seed in some of my friend’s heads. We were talking about New Orleans for a while—that’s the other city I want to live in.
Is that your retirement plan?
That’s my retirement plan, New Orleans, which could be in ten years. It’s been great. Recorded the album in my house, for the most part, and my friend’s house. It’s been cool.
Was Oxford just sort of a dead-end, or something different?
Oxford is amazing, but it’s like when you’re about to turn 30 in a college town that's population is 30,000, and you’re single, or something—for me, it’s tough. Everyone is getting married and moving away, and I moved away. I have a lot of friends still there, so I’m excited to play Proud Larry’s in Oxford tomorrow. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. But, I’ve honestly visited Oxford three or four times a year since I moved to LA. People get married, I come through on tour. I went on vacation with my family at Pickwick Lake and happened to coincide—they asked me to do Thacker Mountain Radio in Oxford. So, yeah. I’m in Oxford all the time. I’m coming through Jackson, Mississippi all the time, and the South all the time. So, it’s all good.
You see it enough.
Yeah, I see it a lot.
Why L.A. as opposed to any other place? Where did that seed come from?
I don’t know. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world, and it’s a mecca for art and entertainment. That’s a blessing and a curse. A lot of people think that—just assume that I moved to L.A. to “make it bigger,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. I live in Northeast L.A., far away from the entertainment industry, and avoid certain kinds of people like the plague.
L.A. is an exciting place to be. There’s a lot going on. There’s sunshine, and backyards, and porches, and that’s not something you get in a lot of other metropolitan areas. It was just calling my name. Every time I came through it on tour, I liked it more and more. I wanted to be in a huge city that’s a world cultural capital. And now I’m spoiled with all kinds of good things happening all around me, and I’m just really taking advantage of it.
Yeah. I was actually surprised, the first time I spent time out there how much I enjoyed it.
In my head growing up, I thought it was like a Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music video.
Well, sometimes it is. That’s not a bad thing. [Laughs] I think a lot of people get the wrong impression of L.A. when they just come, and see all the interstates, highways, and maybe do some touristy stuff in Hollywood, which is not—I mean, Hollywood is actually cool. There’s a side of the neighborhood of Hollywood, that’s actually cheap housing for artists and weird stuff happening. But, when you go to the Walk of Fame, and the Chinese Theater, and the Wax Museum, and all that stuff, it’s kind of a hellhole.
I mean, it’s really miserable right there. It’s a city of hidden gems, and it’s a really fun city to explore. It’s definitely spread out. I almost think of my neighborhood as a small town, because I can walk to the main strip, and there’s bars, and restaurants, and record stores. I don’t have a day job, so I pretend that that’s just my town. Then to go to the beach is like an hour drive, that’s like driving from Oxford, Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee. L.A. historically was a bunch of small towns that became incorporated as a city after the fact.
Not to dwell on that too much, I just wanted to ask, because I feel like your writing is so place-oriented. And for the longest time it was about Mississippi.
Yeah, well I’ve always loved California music. I mean, obviously even my music I was making in Mississippi had a very sunshine-pop vibe, at least one aspect, which was influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s California music. That romanticized ideal of L.A. doesn’t even really exist, but there is a side of that that’s fun for me. And I like the fact that there are these Hollywood tourist traps next to a Chipotle, or whatever. Or a Musso and Frank, the old restaurant where silent film stars would eat. It still exists, and I can go there and get a Martini.
I still get a kick out of that stuff, even though it’s sort of a myth that doesn’t exist anymore. That's part of the fun. People mistakenly think that everyone in Los Angeles is in the entertainment industry, where actually the vast majority of Los Angelenos are not in the entertainment industry. They’re just normal people with normal jobs. It’s a fun place to explore.
So, did that change your process on this album, or did it affect the album?
It definitely did, but I can’t really put a finger on how. People are always asking me, “How did moving to Los Angeles change the music that you’re making?” I mean, in some ways just growing older and being my fourth album, I work harder on writing and recording my music than I did before. It’s really important to me to work hard on my craft. So, I’ve been doing a lot of that. I definitely hang out with a lot of people who are also internationally touring musicians who make records and who make music that I really like. That was the case at Oxford on a smaller scale, but that definitely put some fire under me to really go for it. And for a lot of different reasons, I wanted to make this album bigger and better than anything I’d done, that’s kind of always how I approach it and next time around that’s how it’ll be. I think maybe in a personal way, I’m happy out there.
Photo by David Painter.
What happened to the dude ranch?
Somebody bought it.
Is it still in its same form?
No, they renovated it. I haven’t been in there, but someone DM’ed me that her dad bought the house and [asked] where can I forward mail. But yeah, what happened was the property management changed hands and the new property manager came to check out the place and didn’t like what they saw and kicked everyone out. So, rest in peace Cats Purring Dude Ranch. There’s still a lot of cool stuff going on at Oxford. There’s some house shows—actually a house I used to live in—a different house that still happens, they call it the Rose Room now. Some of my friends have a tape label called Muscle Beach Records. There’s a lot of good bands, still. You know, a college town, there’s always going to be some new, young whippersnappers that come in that are cool, so that’s fun to try to keep up with.
Is Cats Purring still an entity?
I mean, I would say that it’ll always be an entity to some extent but no one’s really using that phrase for any reason now. It’s definitely on hiatus, I would say. The only time I’ve used it is like, I would come back through and have a DJ night with friends, and we’d call it "Cats Purring Mystic Saloon," that was like a thing we were doing after I moved to L.A. We did it before I moved to L.A. Occasionally, if I put something together that’s not just me playing at Prowler, or something, I might call it Cats Purring something-or-other. But, yeah, it’s pretty much on hiatus.
Just represents what you guys are doing at the time, which I always admired the fact that you were just kind of creating your own world inside of Mississippi.
Yeah. It was fun. That’s always the goal. That’s what I want to do with my music, as well, just build a world and occupy it.
Well, how did you end up collaborating with Frankie Cosmos? That was one of the better shows that I’ve seen this year. She came through with Real Estate. It was a really good set.
Yeah, she’s amazing. Actually, we were internet pen pals for a really long time. I think in 2010, she emailed me. It was when she was in high school. I guess she liked my music. We emailed back-and-forth like five times. I remember her, and then I found out that she was Frankie Cosmos and bought some of her albums, like her homemade, lo-fi stuff and just fell in love with her songs. And yeah, now we’re friends. She sang with us in New York and we played with them in Seattle and she sang with us then, and her mom came to our show in Brooklyn. Yeah, she’s one of my favorite songwriters. And so, I asked her to help write lyrics for the verses on Across The Multiverse, and couldn’t be more happy with how it turned out.
Cool. What’s the best Mexican food that you’ve found in LA? That was one thing I forgot to ask you that I wanted to.
There’s so much, but my spot I’ve got to shout out is called Viva Azteca—Viva Taco Azteca, or something like that. It’s a food truck on the corner of Figueroa and South Avenue 52 in Highland Park. It’s definitely like the cult classic food truck in my neighborhood where all the true heads get their tacos. I love their tacos. There’s all kinds of stuff, there’s this place called Guelaguetza that’s really famous that specializes in Oaxacan food. They have mole and a crazy Mex-Cal menu and stuff. There is so much to check out. There is also a fish and shrimp taco place in my neighborhood that I really like. The true answer to that question—where is the good Mexican food?— on every corner. On every lot.
Did you meet your band through friends in LA? Is it an all LA band?
Yeah. Everyone in my band lives in LA but moved there more recently than I did. I just met them through mutual friends randomly. Kyle, who plays bass, actually came up to me at a bar and reminded me that we had mutual friends. I actually slept in his bed when he wasn’t there when I was on tour in Minneapolis, where he used to live. There’s all these weird connections. Then I got on Facebook and was like, “Who wants to play drums?” And then a bunch of people responded. Then, Ben, who is playing in the band, just had the most mutual friends that were cool. Everyone in my band makes their own music, and I listened to their Bandcamps and was like, “This is amazing.” So, that’s kind of more important to me than being really proficient at your instrument, which they are really good at their instruments. l’d rather be with somebody who is doing their own thing outside of what I do, that I really respect and love. I value that more than being a shredder of an instrument.
Photo by Marshall Heins II
Dent May is releasing a new music video and announcing tour dates for 2018. You can find more information as it comes on Dent May Digest.
If you like this feature, check out more from this month's Original Fuzz Magazine, here.