Margo May's list of creative accomplishments is impressive and inspiring. With a professional background that includes acting and production work on Portlandia (Season 2) and American Idol (Season 9), May is also a powerful singer and songwriter with a dedicated following of fans in Kansas City. With this edition of Listen Local, May sheds some light on the many different styles of music she writes and performs, how she breaks through creative blocks and her advice for young songwriters.
Tell us about yourself. How long have you been a musician and songwriter?
I have been writing songs since I was 15, I started playing shows at coffee houses and DIY all ages venues when I was 15, mostly basements of friends little self run venues. One of my favorite venues I started out at was my friend Ryan Campbell's basement. When Ryan would have shows (Prairie Village) Over 300 kids would come sometimes, it was crazy, lots of friendships started there with musicians I still see active in the Kansas City scene. About myself...I started out in professional theatre, I took acting really seriously as a child, studied it, auditioned all the time, got some professional work at a very young age. Once I hit about the age of 14/15 I started getting let down and frustrated when I would go to auditions and not book the roles, so I decided to write my own work, I started writing songs. As an adult I have gotten back into acting, I really regret not pursuing it more as a young woman, but I think it is hard to be 15 and deal with all that rejection. In the acting world it is 99 percent let downs and rejection. In the next phase of my life I hope to be acting more because it is also a deep passion of mine, they go hand in hand for me.
Your Soundcloud page features an eclectic array of styles: ambient soundtrack music, girl-hop, American folk, French electronic pop, among many others. Is this genre-hopping a way to challenge yourself as an artist or would you consider it harder to stick with one style?
Honestly when it comes down to it I just love pop music. Pop music always has been and always will be my number one addiction, I actually listen to top 40 religiously because I wanna learn how to write songs that could be hits. Writing for other more well known artists is something I have just began adventuring into. Pop music is quick, smart, on point, and a direct reflection of the times. I love pop music from most decades. At the end of the day though I know my strengths and it is folk music. I write simple sad folk songs written for acoustic guitar, those songs are my strongest and I love the simplicity of one single acoustic guitar and my voice. I know when I am an old lady still playing shows and writing music it will be folk music, so I guess you could say I am at my core a folk artist, but one with desires to break into pop music.
Describe your songwriting process. How do you break through creative blocks?
As I have gotten older ( I have been playing shows and writing songs for 15 years) I have discovered that my process has to come form bursts of inspiration, I cannot force it ever. Going to see films in the theatre gives me huge inspiration, the experience of seeing the film in the theatre then leaving the theatre and walking around town thinking about the film I just experienced and how it makes me want to write something, or not write something. I usually throw some wine and cigarettes in there and feel inspired to write. My favorite director right now is Terrance Malick, his films make me wanna expose myself more through lyrics and melody. When I get blocks I get depressed, but every artist goes through this, it is a part of living.
Who or what inspires you?
Who: Dolly Parton, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Swift, Meryl Streep, Jane Goodall, Stevie Knicks, Kate Bush, Bjork, Lykke Li, Loretta Lynn, Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain. Bill Murray, Elle Fanning, Bob Dylan (obviously lol) Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson.
What: Evolving, Living without fear of the consequences, Failing at something you love and choosing to keep going.
Where and how do you record your music? What advice do you have for others who want to do the same?
I did my last album with Tim J. Harte (Mother Russia Industries) A small DIY label based out of Kansas City. My album with Tim was recorded live and completely stripped down, inspired by Elliott Smith's first old demo's. I also record with David Bennet (of Akkilles) he has a great home studio and pretty nice equipment. I am learning to record on my own, but enjoy working with sound engineers more than working on my own. My advice to other recording artists is to find someone you like working with and keep them close in your life, it is really difficult to have only one set of ears on a project, more progress is made with more ears.
Dream More By Dolly Parton
The Wild Truth by Carine Mccandleuss (a follow up to "Into the Wild"
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcom Gladwell
Actors Anonymous By James Franco
The Tree of Life -- Directed by Terrance Malick
Jaws -- Directed by Steven Spielberg
Photo credit: Hannah Lavenburg