Señora May: Love At First Song Interview

Señora May: Love At First Song Interview

Utilitarian woman. Senora’s episode taught me a lot about what that means. To be able, willing, and ready to take action with your life - in red heels and a dress or in overalls - because women can do whatever the fuck they set their minds to despite societies incessant need to portray them as lesser than or incapable compared to men. (Sorry, mini rant over...but for real).

I actually am a die-hard, fangirl of Senora’s, so this episode was a dream come true for me. Senora was born and raised in Irvine, Kentucky. That’s er-VIN, not er-VINE. Her dad is a hard-working, do-it-by-hand man, and her mom is as creative a soul as Senora is. We think Senora is the perfect combo of the two with her own added flare. In this episode, we get into how she found her way to music. Let’s dive in.

Chelsea Cummings & Senora May

Okay we have Senora May here from Irvine, Kentucky. Where are you going on tour this time around?

We are just doing a little Midwest run to support Tumbleweed, because I got booked for that first. I’ve got my friends with me tonight playing in their own bands, which are Luna and the Mountain Jets, Wayne Graham, and Josh Nolan. 

Well, we are glad to have you all. This is a good place to start, especially with the type of music that you play, the Midwest is a really good place to be.

Yeah, it has been a good test to see if I could really do it and go elsewhere, and I feel like it's been super welcoming.

 So you just played at Tumbleweed? 

Yeah, we played at Tumbleweed and then Wichita, Kansas, at the Elbow Room, which is super cozy. I loved it. There were like 10 people there, but they were worth 10,000 people, you know what I mean? They were so into it, hanging onto every word. They were so good to me.

I hope the people here in Tulsa are just as welcoming tonight for ya. Let's jump into the main question of the show - how did you fall in love with music? 

I think I remember several turning points of falling in love with music, but there was never just one moment. It kind of gradually happened. I grew up listening to whatever my mom had playing. And that kind of shaped who I thought I wanted to be within music and what my perception of good and bad was. So most of it was female artists like Joan Osborne, Tracy Chapman, Edie Brickell, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Merchant and then there was Van Morrison, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin.

I recently went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and there's a huge Emmylou Harris exhibition and I was just reading through the timeline of her musical career and how she's become who she is and she didn't even anticipate playing professionally. And I was just intensely invested in it and I read every single card. I was just there crying, trying to hide it from all of the people, because there's a bunch of nice elderly people walking by. She’s been a huge influence. Another part of my influence is that I was just always singing. I would always sing in the shower to myself. But, I think what really spawned a deep love for it for me was Beyoncé. She's been around for every point in my life, and is such a strong female example.

Senora May at The Mercury Lounge Tulsa

How fitting. We put your title on The Clapper board as the Queen, like Queen May instead of Queen Bey. What was the transition of getting you from the singing by yourself in the shower to singing in public in front of crowds because most people stop at the shower? 

The first time I ever played out in front of people, I would have to have all the lights off and keep my back turned to the crowd because I was so scared. I never thought about it as a serious viable option for a career. I would play these open mics in this coffee shop where I went to college or at parties. But where I went to college, it was a dry county, so you had to go to people's houses to drink, which made us all super close. So, everyone was supportive and inspiring and it was comfortable to share what you were working on.

So what did you study while you were in college? 

They actually let you pick your own major if they didn't have what you wanted to study, so I just applied for three semesters in a row and finally got approved for Ecological Architecture, and took design, sustainability, and tech classes.

Didn't you study abroad while you were in college? I read somewhere during my little pre-episode research that you extended your study abroad trip intentionally, but without permission. Let's talk about that!

Yeah, I lied to my parents. I'm one of six kids, and my whole family is super tight, so if you want to do anything that you're not supposed to, you just have to straight up lie. Which sucks, but luckily my family was super lenient. They've always encouraged my creative side and me trying new things. I felt obligated to lie, though, because I had no plan. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had a month-and-a-half extra past my program.

How did you sustain that month and half by yourself? 

I stayed in a little place called Ostia in Italy for about a month. Anybody that would take me in like a stray dog, I would just stay with, and I met so many cool people doing it that I still talk to today. I think the people felt sorry for me. The beauty of being in a situation that's scary is starting to realize how brave you really are, and there were a lot of moments like that. I ended up running out of money, so I couldn't afford to get my flight from Prague to Dublin. So, I ended up just hitchhiking from Ostia to Dublin.

Wow. How did you communicate with people that didn't speak English? 

I was speaking a mixture between English, Spanish, and Italian. I would also draw things if I couldn't figure out how to say it.

I love traveling, so I really admire your bravery and doing that.

It was a really stupid thing to do, but I recommend it to anyone.

But did you make it out alive? Did you learn something?

Luckily I did make it out alive so that I can say it wasn't stupid, but you know if I didn't make it out alive everybody would be saying, “You remember that girl that did that? You should never do that.”

“Queen” May

“Queen” May

So you started out playing gigs turned away from people in the dark. Do you think the community you had at your college brought you out of that? How did you go from having the lights off and being turned around to openly playing in front of people?

Starting out, I would play in other towns, so I could get free alcohol. Around that time, I met my life partner and he kind of helped me come out of my shell. We would play the same gigs sometimes where I’d open for him. We actually started dating because when I graduated from college, I called him up and said, “Hey, I'm graduated if you ever need anybody to open for you, I'll do it.” So we did that for a minute and it opened a lot of doors in my mind about my music and I realized I was already doing it. I was doing it before I was making money at it and it just clicked in my head that that’s all it takes is to just sell what you're saying. If you feel it enough that other people feel it too, then it's worth whatever money you get for it.

Yeah, if you're being honest about what you're doing, then it is going to touch somebody regardless if you’re opening for somebody, playing free gigs, trying to go out and play a show in a different town. Obviously, your material gets to people and you're talented. Anybody can get on stage and sing and play. If they aren’t putting out something valuable for an audience, it won’t grow. I think you have to be saying something worthwhile to really take off in the way that you have.

That means a lot. I've had a lot of women tell me that they need what I'm doing. I feel like when it comes to women, the more you notice that with the difference in treatment between men and women.

So how did you get to this point? Did you just keep gigging around and making it happen at the college and you just kind of made a name for yourself?

That is kind of hard for me, because I feel like everything that comes to me musically is from somebody that I know. I try to play more and more and the fact that people are coming out to shows is kind of validating and it feels great. But at the same time, it's really special to me that people are coming out to my shows that know the songs and are positively affected by them. It's wild to talk to people after the show that you don't know and learn that a song that you wrote to help yourself to expel an emotion that you had to get out is helping somebody through a difficult situation from hundreds of miles away.

For the listeners, a lot of times an artist has said something in a way that they couldn't quite figure out how to say themselves, and it helps them process something important to them. And I think your music does that a lot, because it is relatable for people. You sing about things that are common, real life, everyday things that people can connect with in a raw way. 

I see what you're saying. I’m just trying to be a Utilitarian Woman. Going to a liberal arts school, first of all, kind of brainwashed me into realizing how close-minded I was, even though I thought I was open-minded. When I went to college, there were things that I thought a woman was supposed to do and things that I thought men we're supposed to do and now I am adamant about arguing that shit. I feel like I make all my dude friends uncomfortable because I'm always like, “but why do you do or say things that way?” We’re raised to think that we have to fit into certain constructs, regardless of what we feel in our hearts, and that’s bullshit. So yeah, I’m trying to be utilitarian, useful, work to spread good where I can regardless of what people think I should or shouldn’t do.

I completely get what you mean. My boyfriend and I were just talking about this the other night, because we we're having a conversation about two female artists in our city, and we stopped ourselves because we realized we were comparing them against each other, which is a big part of the problem. We don't do that for male artists. They all get to be their own individual people, so why don't we let the women? It was an eye-opening moment for both of us to really sit and think on that and realize that thinking is a part of the issue. I think change in the difference in treatment has to start with empowering the women around us, and showing them they can do anything men can. And look at you! Now you're here in fucking Tulsa about to play the Mercury Lounge all the way from Kentucky and I think that speaks volumes to your talent and dedication.

 Thank you, that makes me feel good, and I'm honored to be here.

Psh. I’M honored! I was driving up here saying, “I'm going to sweat through my dress because this episode is so special to me.” Do you have any bucket list things you want to knock out with your music or artists you’d like the chance to play with?

Yeah, there's people that I’d love to open for, like Mountain Man.

It's three women and they harmonize like heaven.They give me chills every time I listen to them. I'll just roll out a list here of others, too: Molly Burch, Margaret Glaspy, Adrienne Lenker, Brandi Carlile, Margo Price, Slut Pill...

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Payne

Oh yea! I’m excited about The High Women that Brandi Carlile is a part of with Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby.  Let’s move into the final part of this. I always like to touch on what motivates people to stay in music because I feel like it takes a lot of gumption and passion. It's certainly not an easy career to follow, so what aspects of it keep you in love with it?

For me personally it's the women I know that keep motivating me to do it and keep telling me I need to do it, because they need it. I've been blessed to encounter so many beautifully talented women artists in my region and they're all so strong. I don't feel like I would still be playing if it wasn't for people like Kelsey Waldon, Luna and the Mountain Jets, The Local Honeys. I just feel so blessed to know them and call them friends.

You're the first person that has credited where they've come from and the people in their local music community as what keeps them going, and you're the first person that has said you’re motivated by the women looking up to you to keep going. So I think that's super beautiful.

Thank you so much for responding to a cold email from a random girl in Oklahoma and coming on this show. It's truly means the world to me. 

Thank you for having me, it’s been a real pleasure!

Senora May:

Love At First Song:

Cover Photo Courtesy of Melissa Payne Photography:

Whiskey Myers: Whiskey Myers

Whiskey Myers: Whiskey Myers

Blackfoot Gypsies: Riot Room

Blackfoot Gypsies: Riot Room