DENT MAY is a psych-pop legend from Oxford, Mississippi. (Also, former star of the Phoenix's 50 Bands 50 States issue.) He releases records for AnCo's Paw Tracks label, most recently Do Things, his second full-length. Stream a track from that album, "Best Friend":
May lives on a ranch with friends he's known forever, the Cats Purring Dude Ranch, named after the Cats Purring Collective, a "Northern Mississippi Infotainment Cult". Some other members of Cats Purring include BASS DRUM OF DEATH and DEAD GAZE.
A few years ago, Dent May tried to move north. He went to NYU for film school but soon realized that New York City is a suffocating place for those whose goal is to make art and not just "make it". I've always wanted to interivew Dent May about NYC vs. Oxford, so when I heard he was coming back to Boston I knew this was my one big chance. Read on for our interview, and see Dent May tonight at Great Scott tonight with ABADABAD.
Hey Dent May. What is jumpin’ off on the Dent May tour right now? I saw you guys played with Mac DeMarco last night. That’s pretty cool.
We have a day off today, so we’re chillin’. That was honestly a really amazing show. Each band threw down really hard at Princeton University. It was really great. Mac’s insane, he really is. You gotta see him.
Cool. So, I’ve always really wanted to interview you because being in Boston, it’s sort of a place where people are disillusioned by New York. Because a lot of musicians and people involved in the local music community in Boston always constantly end up moving there. It's like, Boston's always losing people to New York. People think that if they want to make music or be involved in a music community, they have to move to NY. The first time I read your bio, and saw how you used to live in New York, and then were like, “Yo! Fuck this, I am moving back to Mississippi,” I was like, “Woah! One day I am going to interview Dent May about the differences between making music and being involved in a music community in New York versus doing that in a smaller town.” It seems like something that comes up on your record a lot too. What drew you back to Mississippi after living in New York?
Immediately after moving to New York, really soon after I got there, I just kind of knew that I belonged in Mississippi. I don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future. Because it is a bit of a sacrifice to live in a small town, because there is so much cool stuff going on in big cities all around the world. But I don’t know, mainly the people and friends I have are like -- there’s something remarkable about the friends I have, we’ve been extremely close our whole lives, three of them are in my band on tour too right now. I felt kind of creatively suffocated in a big city, there was too much going on around me that I just couldn’t get some free time or space to get inside my head and do something. The other thing about that - I was in film school at NYU and I really didn’t like that. I just felt like I had to get away from a lot of people trying to be artists in a way to be my own artist.
A lot of people think they need to move to a bigger city to be taken seriously as an artist or to engage with a music community. But there are all of these awesome little pockets all around the country. And plus, making smaller music communities better is part of what makes them more fun and rewarding places to live.
Absolutely. Helping to make Mississippi a better place just by being there and throwing shows - we book tons of shows at our house, and having friends who book shows elsewhere in Mississippi - it’s just kind of like, an adventure to be in some place that kind of, I feel like, it needs me and I need it. Rather than New York where it feels like everyone is crawling all over each other and everyone is so focused on their career. I feel like musicians who move to New York, they’re like, “I’m going to make it.” I don’t care about "making it" at all, I just want to make music that’s me. That’s my only goal. So I think being in Mississippi really allows me to be myself and search inside of myself in a way that I couldn’t when I was in New York.
What you were saying about artists in New York (or I guess in bigger cities in general) being really career-minded, that reminds me of the first song on your record, “Rent Money”. Is that what you were singing about there?
I think I’ve spent a lot of time thinking too hard about my future and what I’m doing and what I’m here for and why. Sometimes you can get caught up in this hustle and bustle of just trying to pay rent or trying to survive or whatever, and that song's about finding more. And one day finding responsibility, and figuring things out. Because one day I hope to have a house and a family and stuff. I’ve been having some anxiety about it all. I just can’t stop thinking about it. Similarly with “Home Groan”, the last song on the album, it’s kind of about my anxiety with living in Mississippi. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. There’s always more cool things about Mississippi but there are also things that make it hard to live there. I’m sort of caught in between and trying to make the best of it, and trying as hard as I can to just do me.
Just have to do you. You’ve lived in Mississippi your whole life right?
Yeah, except for those three months when I was at NYU.
I was clicking around online and found your band from high school, The Rockwells. Yo that band was awesome.
Thank you! Jack the drummer lives in Virginia but the rest of those dudes I see almost every day in Oxford. We have this family. I feel like it’s something special that a lot of people I meet who’ve moved around their whole life don’t have that.
Yeah totally. I feel like in the music world you end up associating with mostly people who have been so transient for a large percent of their life. You don’t often meet people who are still bros with people they’ve known since high school, so that’s cool to hear.
Yeah. Actually right now I’m at Martin Courtney from Real Estate’s parent’s house, because he’s getting married this weekend. They live in New York but they have such a great scene because they all grew up in Ridgewood, NJ, just outside of the city, and they all stuck together. Just tons of amazing people from here. That kind of community for me really means a lot -- it’s what gives your life meaning. For me, being a successful musician financially doesn’t really mean anything, but if I can leave something behind that reflects my community, then that’s something that’s worth more than I can express.
I know you get asked this all of the time. But what bands are poppin’ off in Mississippi right now that people should know about?
I love getting that question, because there are a lot. One of them is called ILLS, it’s my friend Stephen. He just put out an EP on the Sound of Sweet Nothing, and he’s just finishing up his first album and it’s really incredible stuff.
&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="http://illls.bandcamp.com/album/dark-paradise-e-p"&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Dark Paradise e.p. by ILLLS&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
There’s also my really good friend Martin who has a band called Child Star. He put out one song recently and he’s working on a ton of other stuff. He was on tour with us all summer, selling merch and helping us out. He’s much younger, like 20 years old or 19. I think that he’s going to do really cool things one day. There’s tons of young bands starting up in Oxford, which is really exciting for me. Passing on the torch.
Cool. I played Child Star on my college radio show because I read about him on the Cat’s Purring blog.
Oh cool. Yeah, basically any bands you want to hear about that I’m into who are from Mississippi are on that blog. We took kind of a break from the blog because we had a really busy fall with shows we booked around town, and a lot of us are making new music right now, but we’re never going to stop.
You guys live on a ranch right?
It’s more of a ranch-like house. It’s on 20 acres. It’s one story and it’s really long, sort of ranch style. There’s no cattle or livestock or anything. I think people called it a ranch house before we moved there. It’s really big. Half of the house is this one big room where we have shows. We haven’t had one in a while. It kind of got out of control. We had Grimes and Real Estate and DIIV and Frankie Rose all in a row and the cops started coming. Our one neighbor was going through a tough time and complaining all of the time. So we’ve been booking shows at bars and stuff. It’s been kind of nice having the house as our own space to work on our own music rather than a party house where 200 people come every weekend.
Yeah totally. I live at a house in Boston where we do shows and sometimes it’s like, “this is really fun but hey cool there are so many strangers at my house again.”
It’s totally worth it though. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. But it’s hard to enjoy the shows when, like -- when Grimes played, both of the toilets went out, the floor broke, the neighbor came over and cussed me out. I couldn’t even enjoy the show. [laughs]
Well that’s cool you guys are taking a little break then.
Yeah. I want to focus on my own stuff. I’m recording a new album in February. For a while, when I was between the ukulele album and this new album, I wasn’t really writing music for a while. So I’m trying to balance it better.
Are you doing it with Paw Tracks again?
Yeah. I rented a house in St. Augustine, Florida for a month in February. It’s this really old Victorian house with a haunted vibe. I like to record alone, so I’m going to get away from all of my friends for a change, and see what happens. And then for the last weekend I’m going to have my friends come down there. That’s in February.