GROUND CONTROL TO MAY-A
MAY-A is ready to call the shots. The 22-year-old Sydney-based singer and songwriter has evolved at super speed in the last year. At the forefront of the Australian pop scene, MAY-A’s confessional, diaristic approach to writing songs has resonated with fans around the world. Now she’s determined to take control of her process and create with purpose.
Two years on from a debut album that earned her an ARIA Award nomination for Breakthrough Artist, and support slots on various major tours including with Wallows and 5 Seconds of Summer, MAY-A’s new EP Analysis Paralysis has arrived. Written between Los Angeles and Sydney, the phrase itself perfectly depicts the writing process behind the seven-track project. “I actually read the term on an ADHD website, around the time I was diagnosed, and thought that would be a really cool title for something,” says MAY-A. “I thought it fit pretty well with the EP because so much of it had been all over the place.” There’s a bold ease to Analysis Paralysis: she is comfortably in her introspective element, her pop-with-undertones-of-punk-sound solidified. Where her debut album Don’t Kiss Ur Friends leaned into a more acoustic, coming-of-age sound, Analysis Paralysis is fired up and high fidelity. Lead single Sweat You Out My System hears her raspy angst explode, Guilty Conscience is the adrenaline-inducing standout and Superior Liar features as the sky-high, anthemic closing track. Analysis Paralysis is cohesive, it ignites the listener, and it has all the hot hits. Yet it’s only fuelled MAY-A to change her writing process. Looking ahead, she’s planning to create in a way that will be more intimate.
“I honestly don’t really remember when I started making music because each time I try to pinpoint it, I find something else from earlier on. I’ve always kept journals and written since I was six. I originally started songwriting because I felt like I couldn’t function if I didn’t.” Growing up in Sydney, she moved to Byron Bay at the age of 10, where she began busking, performing in front of audiences and participating in songwriting competitions. Since being discovered in her early teens, she’s been guided by industry figures and has solely written in studios. “I’m so blessed to have so many people involved in my project behind the scenes, but because it goes through so many people, there are so many different opinions… everybody wants the best for it. It felt like I kind of cursed myself a little bit with naming it what I did. Which is sort of the premise of being completely paralysed by the amount of, like, ‘sliding doors’ moments. When you think there’s so many places you could go, you almost can’t go anywhere. It’s been a beast of an EP to put out, because every single stepping stone in this process has had so many different revisions. I still feel very close to it, but I feel like this process has actually made me realise exactly what I want to do for the next body of work and the way I want to strip it back and just be me and one other person. Rather than just a bunch of ideas that a lot of people are helping cultivate. I’ve never really written anywhere outside of a studio if I’m not by myself. I do a lot of lyrical stuff all day randomly, whenever it comes to me. But physically, writing a song with someone has always been in a studio. I’ve felt more recently that I’d love to go and sit in a house. But that’s how I’ve grown up in the industry, it’s always been a studio setting. I’ve definitely thought about doing it in a garage or something that feels more normal and natural.”
There’s nothing that can prepare someone for the grind of the music industry, and MAY-A has learnt pivotal lessons in the last couple of years. She feels a strong desire to protect her peace as she moves to the next chapter of being an artist. “I have definitely learnt that you shouldn’t say yes to everything. I spent a large portion at the beginning thinking that working hard was agreeing to every single thing that people threw at me. I hit a big low before writing this EP. I’ve learnt quality over quantity – keep the people around you that reflect you in a beautiful way. To me, that is family, but family doesn’t have to be important just because it is for everybody else. And just appreciating all the really simple things in life… it is that simple for me in protecting myself and my creativity. You need time off. You need to experience life to be able to write about life.” The hustle culture of the industry and being signed to a major label has taken its toll on her. “Just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean you’re working smart. I think that working smart is experiencing the good parts of life as well as being able to function and work.” Her intention is clear: it’s time to delve deeper, explore her craft and work in different ways.
Performing is where she comes alive. A MAY-A show is a brilliantly adrenaline-infused, free, safe space. Backed by an all-women band, she’s felt their force resonating. “When we started touring, that was a big comment, with people being like ‘Oh my God, a girl band!’” During the 5 Seconds of Summer tour, young girls and their mums were approaching the band, saying how they had never seen girls with instruments before. “That is batshit insane to hear that young girls don’t often see female musicians rather than just a female-fronted band or a solo artist. But the number of girls we met who said we had encouraged them to play the drums… That’s the coolest thing that’s come out of it, which was never intentional but now it’s happened it’s become an important point for us.” At one of the shows last year, the crowd went wild after MAY-A asked, ‘Who here is gay?’ Known for her coming-of-age, queer self-discovery love songs, it’s taken time for MAY-A to embrace being a queer role model. “I think through releasing music, it has been a delayed realisation that I write a lot about myself and that these are queer songs. I am a queer artist. In the beginning, I wanted to avoid being boxed in into just being a gay artist and only gay people can like me. Then I realised that is such a stupid insecurity to have because if you’re supporting somebody through something and you’re a voice for a group of people who don’t feel heard very often, why fight that? The only people who are really boxing you into that category and making you feel like only gay people can listen to you are people that don’t understand it. Then it’s not for them, anyway.”
There’s an empowering sense of fresh self-confidence to MAY-A. Dressed in Hedi Slimane’s Celine AW23 Age of Indieness collection, which celebrates the greatness of the early 2000s, a time when women were less “influenced”, she admits: “I used to be really insecure when I was talking about fashion. I just assumed it wasn’t my forte. Then I did the whole LA thing – you get a bunch of stylists who put you in a bunch of clothes that aren’t you and don’t feel like you.” Feeling “uncomfortable and not represented,” she came back to Australia, deciding to dress herself for her shows and videos for the foreseeable future. “I really feel I’ve grown more accepting of myself in the last year and a half. I used to think I had to stick to things, like, if I’m going to be androgynous, I have to be androgynous and can’t do anything outside of that box. Then I would get really upset because I’d be suppressing the urge to wear a skirt, which is so stupid. Now I feel a lot more free. I’ll make a lot of stuff; I buy a lot of basics and I love safety pins. I love texture. I love silver jewellery, always. I’ll almost always cut a shirt.” Billie Eilish has been a fellow Gen Z source of inspiration. Her bold, baggy style contrasting to her ethereal voice heavily inspired MAY-A. “I vividly remember… I was picturing a girl in a field of daises in a sundress and if that had been her image it would have been so predictable – I don’t think she would have had the impact it did. That image was so conflicting, but the music was so good and pretty, and she was so scary and bold. That solidified her career. I think fashion has a massive impact on how your music is perceived.”
With a catalogue of thoughtful, self-reflective songs behind her, she is focusing her energy into writing about the world around her. She’s been listening to Kendrick Lamar and The 1975, who have inspired her to look outside of her world. “The way that Matty Healy writes, it’s almost like poetry about world commentary. He just really brings into perspective absurd things we are all living through in. He’s very much a reflection of the time we are in now. I really love that.” She cites Lorde’s progression from the teen anthem Royals to the “holding a mirror up to the world” song Mood Ring as inspiring. It’s a natural evolution. MAY-A’s mega-collaboration Say Nothing with Flume (which made history by winning Triple J’s Hottest 100) marked a turning point. “When the Flume song got confirmed that changed something in my brain, having someone like that believe in me. I was just so set that this stuff would never, ever happen because I’m not good enough or I’m not a classically trained musician… A lack of faith. A year on from that moment has been the realisation that maybe I can do this. I definitely didn’t feel it at the exact moment it happened but it’s only really now that I’m like: oh maybe I do belong here.” MAY-A is just getting started on an era of total control. Make way.
Taken from Issue 22 of 10 Magazine Australia, out now. MAY-A wears Celine throughout.
Photographer MAX DOYLE
Fashion Editor PETER SIMON PHILLIPS
Text ROXY LOLA
Hair STEPHANIE DELL using Mr. Smith and Shark Beauty
Make-up MONIQUE JONES at DLMAU using Sisley Paris
Photographer’s assistants ARLO PYNE and WILCO DOYLE
Fashion assistant DEANNA ADAMOU
Production RD PRODUCTIONS