Retro-pop crooner Dent May has been around the block. After moving to Los Angeles over two years ago, he’s made it a point to bring a retro-futurist vibe to classic pop music. Within seemingly infinite layers of synth and playful instrumentation are the words of an artist who may or may not have been born in the wrong era. His mastery of a sound that reaches deep into one’s soul could inspire even the most curmudgeon of us to do a dip. We spoke with the artist about his roots, the new record and working with other artists.
So you’re living in LA now. When did you make the move from Mississippi?
I’m here in Los Angeles. I’ve been here for about two and a half years now, and I love it. I kind of just needed to get out of small town Mississippi and get a little change of pace, a little inspiration and I have quite a lot of friends from home who have moved out here over the last few years as well. I kind of realized I have more friends here than anywhere else. I was craving living in a big city, which I realized I haven’t done since I went to NYU for three semesters ten years ago.
I love it. It’s very exciting and I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many other amazing artists and cultural things. I’m kind of settled here. I have no plans to leave.
I saw you’re playing The Glass House in Pomona. That’s one of my favorite places and it’s sort of an institution around here.
Yeah, it’s for a festival called Viva! Pomona. It’s a two-day festival and I think it all takes place at The Glass House. I’ve never played there, but I guess it’s an old school, classic venue, so I’m excited to do that.
You’re so different from everything around here. When I first came across your work, it was nothing I was expecting. In a place where ‘L.A. Psych’ is the dominant genre, you really broke the mold.
Thanks man! I’ve definitely been doing my own thing for a long time now. This is my fourth album and I think I’m slowly figuring out who I am, or finding my voice. I don’t really try to be anything, just let it happen naturally.
And it’s always been in this vein, you think?
Yeah, it’s always been old school pop melodies, inspired by 70’s pop with funkier bass lines and a few synths and stuff. I love maximalist pop stuff, like Electric Light Orchestra and major label pop from that era. There’s so much minimalist music out there, and I like to just cram as many ideas as I can into the recordings.
With the way you layer everything, nothing is overwhelming. You balance it all very well, as opposed to the wall of sound in EDM that just blasts three elements.
I think I have gotten a little better about knowing when and where to put these elements, like where to bring in the weird synth melody and when to leave it out. It’s definitely a balancing act that I’m dealing with.
You’re releasing this new one on vinyl, right?
Yeah, we’re doing a special edition that comes on a butter yellow print with some stickers. There might be some other editions of the album on vinyl that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but definitely coming on vinyl at a merch booth near you!
I love the artwork. It really represents the sound well. Did you have a hand in that?
My friend Robert Beatty did that and another guy I’ve known for a pretty long time just through touring – he lives in Lexington, KY but has become a sort of go-to album art guy. I just saw he did the new Ariel Pink album art, and the new Kesha album. But he’s also worked on the new Tame Impala and Real Estate. All kinds of stuff. He has an art book out, with an art show and is getting well-deserved acclaim.
I definitely collaborated pretty closely with them. The album title is Across the Multiverse and there are several songs that have a sort of deep space, sci-fi theme, so I had the idea of being a lounge singer in space, hence the tuxedo, the cocktail, and wanted a little California in there, so we have palm trees. Some of the new merch I’m working on sort of repurposes that design because I love it so much.
You worked with Frankie Cosmos on the title track. How did that come about?
Yeah, that’s another person I’ve known for a really long time, like before I knew she made music or went by that moniker. We were e-mail pen pals from back in the MySpace days, and since then, hearing all the music she’s done, she’s just one of my favorite songwriters. I’ve always wanted to do a sort of duet love song.
There’s this one by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton called “Islands In The Stream” that I sent to her as inspiration for this song, and millions of others, where two singers trade off and sing the chorus together. I’m really proud of it and really thankful that she was down to be a part of it.
Do you find that with musicians in Mississippi, everyone has known each other for a long time, stays in touch and end working together like this?
Yeah. Also in Mississippi, I ran a DIY house venue called Cats Purring Dude Ranch. It doesn’t exist anymore, but we had a ton of shows over the years at my house, like Grimes and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. So many cool bands and it’s how I got to know everyone in my small town of Oxford.
There are a lot of cool bands from Mississippi from around that time, like one called Bass Drum of Death. I do kind of struggle collaborating with people on songs because I’m so used to hammering it out on my own, play most of the instruments on my albums, record at home and sometimes I don’t know how to work with other people. It’s definitely something I’m trying to get better at and open myself up to because it’s truly awe-inspiring, the talented people I’m surrounded by in LA.
Do you get a lot of people reaching out, wanting to chime in and do a single?
This guy Sammy Bananas was just over at my house. He’s a New York-based producer and we are almost done with a song for his album, which I think is really cool. I jammed with Alex from Mild High Club on a song a while back that I thought was turning out really cool, but we never finished it. I’ve been helping my friend Jimmy Whispers record vocals for his album and helping him do some stuff.
Strangers definitely hit me up, but they’re either far away and for whatever reason it’s probably not going to work out, but I’m really open to doing it and would love to write with and for other artists.
Be sure to grab Across the Multiverse, out August 18th on Carpark Records. He will also be performing at Viva! Pomona August 5th, a two-day festival hosted by local curators and The Glass House Concert Hall in Pomona, CA.