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WIND BACK WEDNESDAY - SEX, LOVE AND ABASEMENT: ABBE MAY'S TRIPLE THREAT


With a new single built from slowed R&B and overheated imaginations, Abbe May may be teasing out a new album but she's got a plan. She's long had a plan. Wind Back Wednesday goes back to 2013 to see that plan being formed.

Abbe May is striding through the streets of Surry Hills one chilly Friday evening, her voice rising over the rumble and screech of patrons spilling out of pubs and restaurants.

We’re talking new love (or talking about not talking new love) on the way to talking about sex, art and Madonna.

"I won't talk about my current relationship because I like to keep it cloaked. I did fall in love again once I made the record and it was almost like the catharsis of making it was complete and I could get back into [she laughs] that disturbing cycle," May says.

"No, it's actually good. I've ended up in something really healthy, that isn't destructive."

Which is far from the ultimately devastating relationship exposed in fearless detail on her new album, Kiss My Apocalypse.

It was a relationship the West Australian admits "I wholeheartedly engaged in" rather than fell victim to, a level of honesty in keeping with an album which never shies from either the tremors of thrilling sex or the abasement of a lover ultimately grateful for crumbs.

"I like artists like Tracey Emin who use their life. Her art is about her and it's a touchstone to gauge what the purpose of art is and what writing is,” says May. “To me it's about creating something which gives you a catharsis and the subjects that she covers they are not entirely flattering to her. It's just honest.

"So I'm not going to write an album about attraction between women and make it a Katy Perry ‘I kissed a girl’ type thing."

The sex of the sex is actually not particularly important and certainly not particularly obvious on this album: obsession, desire, shame, escape and anger after all don't depend on the presence or absence of a Y chromosome.

Nor does falling for someone you really shouldn't, someone who does you over repeatedly, and going back to that person when every common sense bone in your body says don't.

"Though I hope those [actions] are not linked to a person’s IQ level," May chuckles. "I should put that into a song."

Equally as important as the story and the sound of this album is the look. From press photos to the cover, from the filmclips to what will be a highly stylised stage show, all are powerful images and messages.

"The visuals are really carefully constructed to amplify the meaning of the song and the album,” says May as her pace picks up to keep up with the mind now running hard. “The album cover for Kiss My Apocalypse is really, really deliberate, every single part of it. If you think about it, it's someone who was raised Catholic – not so much my parents but the Catholic community represses sexuality and has a very black-and-white view of sexuality - with an album that’s basically a rebellion against repressed sexuality.

“So I posed on the cover as an iconic Mary figure who is normally touching the immaculate heart and her other hand is gently pointing to the heavens with a soft gaze on her face. What they mean is, this is demure, this is the Madonna, the woman who did not have sex but could conceive. I wanted to put the Madonna and the whore on the front, touching not an immaculate heart but a bird outstretched which is quite symbolic of feminine empowerment.”

And that’s just the cover. But then May is just as considered and sceptical, if that’s the right word, about indie cool. She’s as prepared to see the value and rebellion in Madonna (the pop one, not the holy one) as Sonic Youth (who it should be remembered were also Madonna obsessed).

It’s one reason why slipping further and further from the blues rock of her early works to the point where Kiss My Apocalypse is a dark, twisted, slowed down R&B album with synths dominating isn’t just evolution, it’s an up yours.

"I don't give a fuck about criticism, because you can't stop it. The reason why I'm willing to jump off the cliff is because I have to jump off a cliff for myself, not for the audience,” May explains.

“It sounds like it might be a selfish pursuit but I think if someone is authentically doing something, if their motives are authentic, and mine are, I think it's something you can connect to. And if some people aren't able to jump off the next cliff with me, that's why they get that frowny look on their face and there's nothing I can do about that except say stay on top of that high cliff and enjoy the chill wind."

The guitar was put away because “it felt too much like a gimmick after a while”, not helped by the inevitable references in stories to her as a female guitarist (“nobody refers to a male guitarist; they are just called a guitarist.”) and the even more odious rock chick (“that actually makes me want to vomit”) which still crop up.

“So I decided I would try something feminine this time,” May says playfully.

“The pop world is often full of women who are run by men behind the scenes but I thought we might try and turn it on its head a bit and maybe say the fuck you with a calm smile on my face instead of a big huge riff and a guitar between our legs."

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