Jason Frank Rothenberg
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Although the opening track on indie pop artist Dent May’s new album, Across the Multiverse, is darkly titled “Hello Cruel World,” his soaring melodies, danceable beats, and maximalist orchestral arrangements imbue a sense of optimism. In the same vein, vinyl deejay collective and record label Last Resort Forever is aiming to give us a reason to dance into 2019 with its Break-FEST all-ages music festival at Breakfast Culture Club.
May will headline the January 19 event as part of his tour and will be joined by a number of Santa Barbara–area artists, including Emily Wryn and Moon Diver. Last Resort Forever will be selling its S.B. compilation cassette, titled Hot Singles in Your Area Vol. 1, which features Santa Barbara talents, such as Uncle Uncle. Last Resort Forever’s Ruben Zarate wanted to start the year with a big community event and is friends with May. “People who came there just to see him will see all these local bands,” Zarate said. Eager to spread the communal vibes, May chatted with the Santa Barbara Independent in advance of the fest.
You moved from Oxford, Mississippi, to Los Angeles a few years ago. How are you enjoying the city? Has living there impacted your songwriting? I’m absolutely in love with living here. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how Los Angeles has impacted my music, because even in Mississippi I was making sunshiny pop that probably came across as more West Coast than Southern. There’s a tradition of moving to California for self-improvement, so everyone’s pretty nice. And there happen to be a lot of my favorite people living here.
Your music features a wide spectrum of sounds layering into a classic pop vibe. Who are some of the artists who have most inspired you? I feel like I’m inspired by all the music I’ve ever heard. The goal is to take a little from here, a little from there and distill it into something special. One of the first things that inspired me to write and record music was ’60s psych-pop like the Zombies, Sagittarius, the Millennium, and so forth. Pretty much every day, I’m on YouTube digging for ’70s and ’80s soft-rock, jazz-funk, soul, and R&B-type obscurities that fell through the cracks of popular culture. But I’m also fascinated by songs that were big hits. I’m a songwriting junkie above all else.
How would you say Across the Multiverse has evolved from your previous records? I really just wanted to make something that’s more “me” than anything I’d ever done before. Making music is a journey of self-realization for me. The goal is to remove any self-consciousness and make that elusive thing I’ve always wanted to hear but never could find, something that no one else could pull off, not because I’m better but just because I’m me. There’s a lot more organic instrumentation this time around. It’s the first album I did with real drums since my first album. Everything sounds like it was made on a computer these days, so I want to do less of that.
You studied film at NYU and English studies and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi. How did you end up choosing to pursue a career in music? I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember, and eventually I just realized that this is what I know how to do best. It’s not something I feel like I chose. It became my career on accident. That said, I do want to make some film stuff in the future.
How has being from Mississippi shaped your music? Music, literature, and storytelling are so important in the South, especially in Mississippi, which many argue is the birthplace of blues, country, and rock and roll. And I grew up on New Orleans and Memphis rap. But I also worked in independent bookstores, where I met more writers than musicians. I think of songs as kind of like short stories.
What do you hope attendees of your live performances walk away with? I just want people to be happy. We live in scary and confusing times, and we all deserve to have an evening away from the madness to enjoy some music or a movie or read a book or whatever. I do attempt to reckon with these insane times in my songs, but first and foremost I’m an entertainer. I’m just an idiot court jester up on stage singing and dancing so you can go home with a smile on your face.
Dent May plays on Saturday, January 19, at Breakfast Culture Club (711 Chapala St.). Call (805) 453-5954 or see independent.com/break-fest.