By Arielle Dollinger
Dublin-born singer/songwriter Imelda May would prefer that that those who attend her shows leave looking worse than they did when they arrived.
“I like when people sweat; people let down their guard when they sweat,” she said. “They forget how they look… You don’t care anymore and you have a great time.”
The 40-year-old singer will perform at The Paramount for the first time on Sunday, Sept. 28.
Her music, as she described it, is a mixture of the music she loves to listen to – rockabilly, blues, jazz, country, punk, “sometimes a smidgen of traditional Irish.”
Put simply, “It’s rock and roll.”
“It shouldn’t work, but it does,” she said.
She grew up in the middle of Dublin and now lives on the English countryside, just outside of London, but often she lives on the tour bus – a life that sometimes means just getting off of the bus when it stops, she said.
She remembers getting off of the bus once, after an eleven-hour ride, and learning that she had been traveling north and not south.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is a lot colder than I thought it would be in the South,’ and they said, ‘What do you mean in the South? We’re in Canada.’”
Most of the time, she said, she knows where the bus is going. She looks forward to trying different drinks and foods at each location – she is excited to try Long Island Iced Tea.
Having started performing in pubs and clubs at age 16, Imelda May has now been working in the music industry for 24 years. She has had other jobs, “to make ends meet,” but said that music is it for her.
“I don’t really know how to do anything else; I don’t want to do anything else,” she said. “I can’t not do it. It’s a calling… I’d like to be an old woman and still sing.”
Her musical education came in the form of club and pub performances and sitting in nightclubs until 5 a.m., listening to experienced musicians play. She writes with her gut instinct, she said, rather than with back-of-the-mind knowledge of what “should” work.
At the start of her musical career, she was playing in other people’s bands and working on movie soundtracks. Eventually, she decided that she needed to go off on her own.
She has more to write about now than she did when she started out, she said, and has learned to add an element of humor.
“When you get older you can laugh about things that go wrong maybe and, you know, I like to put humor into songs as well,” she said.
She both writes and produces her own music – a process, she explained, that involves several phases and begins as a solitary mission.
“It’s a nice time; it’s quiet and you can get a great buzz off of that when you feel it’s going well,” she said. “It’s just a lovely time creating it all… and then I get in, I work with the guys, I get into the studio and rehearse.”
The process is a long one, but she loves it, she said, save for the “battles” with record companies.
“They’re fine battles, you know; they want to sell me and get me out there, which is their job, and I want to make sure I get the music right and protect that at all costs,” she said. “That’s a normal battle.”
When she and her music finally reach the stage, her husband is there with her as her guitarist. Their 2-year-old daughter, Violet, comes on tour with them also.
“I love being on stage for that hour and a half, two hours,” she said. “For that time that I’m on stage, that is my time with my band and I love it… Nobody can call me and there’s no emails and it’s just me, my band and the audience.”
There is a certain camaraderie, she said, and an electricity that passes between band and audience. The reception varies in different countries; American and Irish audiences are very similar in that they are “crazy,” she said.
“They’re very accepting of things,” she said. “[In some countries] they’ll kind of segregate the music into different boxes and each will have its own following… American and Ireland, they’re very similar in that they kind of don’t care what it’s called, they either like it or they don’t like it.”
Her typical show audience is “not cliquey,” she said.
“We get rockabilly punk, we get grannies, we get granddads, we get teachers, we get all shapes and sizes,” she said.
And, with any luck, they start to sweat.
“I always say, ‘If you go home after a night out looking like you did when you left, it’s not a good sign. Not a good sign of a great night,” she said.
The Sept. 28 Paramount performance will start at 8p.m. Ticket prices range from $30 to $60. Visit paramountny.com for more information.