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Interview w/ May Payne: "I’ve written all my best songs in the aftermath of a meltdown"

Manchester based singer songwriter May Payne originally grew an online following for her personal and refreshingly honest online content. She then burst struck a chord with her local music scene in 2022 with the release of two fantastically poignant singles that showcased her delicate vocal balance and impressively emotive songwriting style. She has kept this momentum going and has barrelled into 2023 releasing a string of singles that have led up to the recent release of her debut EP 'Sane'. (Read our review of the EP here)

We spoke with May about the new EP, the effect she wants it to have and the vulnerability of her songwriting.

Q. Could you talk us through the lyrics to ‘Between The Lines’ and what inspired them?

A. "Between The Lines was written when I was in love with one of my best friends who had a girlfriend. It was the result of prolonged pain and frustration, and the title actually has a double meaning in a way; I was constantly left in the dark about how he really felt, unable to communicate and therefore having to read between the lines to decipher his emotions, whilst being kept in an uncomfortable purgatory somewhere between friendship and romance".

"Funnily enough, when his relationship ended we did start seeing each other, he was a budding producer and asked if he could produce this song. I was never really happy with his version but felt pressured to release it, so we did. Unsurprisingly (people tend to repeat patterns of behaviour) things with us went downhill pretty dramatically soon after, and I demanded that he take the song off streaming platforms. So this version is my retelling of the events, from a more empowered and self worth-possessing perspective. Its turned from this pining ballad about feeling powerless, to a bit of a fuck you anthem".

Q. Where do you source most of the inspiration for your lyrics in general?

A. "My lyrics are always very honest to what’s happening at me in the current moment. When I’m having trouble writing I sometimes experiment with imagining different scenarios and writing around them, but to be honest I’ve never written a song I’m happy with that way. I write by free-styling, just playing chords and singing over it. This is how I let my thoughts and feelings flow out of me without a barrier, the second I start to try and write on paper I start to intellectualise way and a level of emotional intricacy gets lost".

Q. What is your most productive songwriting environment and why?

A. I’ve written all my best songs in the aftermath of a meltdown. My emotions are so volatile and intense that in the moment of feeling I can’t even begin to express what I’m feeling or why because I’m too overwhelmed. Writing on the comedown of one of these episodes is my way of journalling and processing my thoughts whilst its all fresh and uncensored. Writing somewhere where I feel private and safe is so important for this reason, because the moment I become self-conscious is when all the really good stuff runs away and hides. I’m trying to get over this though, because I really enjoy writing with other people".

Q. What would you say is the perfect moment to listen to the EP?

A. "This might be the most typical answer ever, but I feel like it’s really nice when driving at night. Or having a meltdown in your room at whatever time of the day those tend to strike you".

Q. What impact do you want your music to have on the listeners?

A. "I think emotional connection is the number one priority, when I’m arranging and producing every decision is in the service of emotion. I'm so ashamed of how deeply I feel and it’d be cool to be able to make other people feel less alone in that. The best thing ever is when people tell me that a song has made them feel seen".

Q. What drives you to write such vulnerable, emotive tracks such as ‘I Hate It When You Touch Me’?

A. "This follows on from my last answer honestly. With that song in particular, other people knowing that what they’re going through has happened to someone else is so important. I felt so alone and ashamed and repulsed with myself in those thoughts".

"It’s also as a reaction to being silenced. My whole life I’ve felt a pressure from the world to suppress my feelings for fear of scaring other people or pushing them away. More specifically, if you are assaulted there is pressure from so many sides to keep silent on it, from people around you, perpetrators, and the culture at large. In situations that may not technically be classed as assault, where you felt uncomfortable but unable to express or protect yourself, this is even more real. In a world where discussions of sexual assault are so stigmatised and so sensitive (especially due to hyper-vigilance against false allegations) there is no room to discuss events that are morally neutral but still traumatic and damaging. So I guess this song is my attempt to express some of that in a way that feels safe in the hopes that the somebody who needs to hear it will".

Q. Did you feel nervous putting such personal lyrics on the EP?

A. "Definitely!! It can be a bit of a minefield because it means exposing my most vulnerable thoughts to not only any person who stumbles on my Spotify, but also the people around me who might be thrown off or even hurt by it. To be honest though, I wish I was someone who felt a lot and kept it inside and was mysterious and a closed book in all but my art, but I’m the exact opposite. I literally cant keep my mouth shut when I feel something, and have to work really hard to stopping oversharing. So I guess that means that the shame and feeling of being exposed is something that I’ve definitely gotten used to over my life".

Q. Could you talk us through the decisions behind the cover artwork for the singles and EP?

A. "I did this gorgeous photoshoot with Poppy Thorpe last summer. She was so amazing, and her attitude to the shoot was all about capturing me in an intimate and candid way which was a perfect match. The 'Take It Too' artwork seemed fitting because I’m looking out in a bit of a resolute way, which echoes this idea of being mistreated but choosing to push through. For 'IHIWYTM', I wanted something that felt really intimate. There’s this energy in the photo that’s both tense and self-soothing, like I’m in a brace position. Honestly the one for 'Between The Lines' is a bit of an inside joke between me and myself, when I was 16 (the age I wrote the song) I would always take selfies framed like that on snapchat to send to the guy, with my face out of shot".

Q. Who are some of your favourite fellow emerging artists?

A. "I’ve definitely gotta shout out Bonnie Kemplay, Dee Rae, Turtle Park, Henry Patterson, and Sophie Holohan. They’re all really awesome people and amazing amazing artists".


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