Imelda May talks her new album: "To anybody who is female, over 30 and wants to make a point, let's do it!" - interview

We chat to the Irish singer-songwriter about advice from Bono, and heading for a third consecutive Top 10 album.

Imelda May is back with a brand new sound and a brand new attitude.

The Irish singer-songwriter is notably known for her trademark rockabilly music and blonde spiral quiff, but both have been traded in to create an all-new, more raw, sensual and heartfelt Imelda.

Life Love Flesh Blood sees Imelda walk a new path, giving her fans a year-in-the-life glimpse at Imelda through some of her most challenging times. The LP is expected to chart within the Top 5 on this week's Official Albums Chart. sat down with Imelda to learn more about her back-to-basics approach to her music, having Bono in her phonebook and her chart battle on both sides of the Irish Sea with Ed Sheeran.

Hi Imelda! Congratulations on reaching Number 2 with Life Love Flesh Blood in Ireland! You must be over the moon with the positive reaction?

"I'm thrilled with Number 2 in Ireland but I'm not so thrilled with Ed Sheeran! It was so close between us and I would have had a Number 1 again had it not been for him." [laughs] 

Life Love Flesh Blood is a more personal and raw offering from yourself. What was your thought process going into the album?

"I wrote it as honestly as I could over the course of a year. I used it as a diary almost. There are ups and downs in there and elements that everyone has to go through in their lives at some point. Yes, I had a major break-up - that's in there. I took some time to myself and there's parts about that. I fell in love again; there's heartbreak, hope, regret, lust, guilt, and pleasure in there. That's why I called it what I did because it seemed to encompass everything. It's like a year in the life of me."

Would you say that you have laid your heart on the line more on this record than any other?

"Yes, 100%. I've always written honestly but I had found ways to hide thing and only I knew the code. You know, even in It's Good To Be Alive [a song from Imelda's album Tribal] I wrote dark verses but then everyone would sing along to the bright chorus and not noticed what I had said in the verses. This time around I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to say what I wanted to say. I've just gone back to my roots more than anything.

"I've learned a lot from this album. People have said that the songs are really connecting with them which is a huge plus, but cons have been that I find it hard talking about things sometimes, and that's why I write. In some interviews you do, people nitpick a little too much looking for a bleeding-heart headline and they can be difficult to deal with."

Your trademark rockabilly styling has been left behind – what was the reasoning behind that? 

"I had just hit a glass ceiling. I want to enjoy it and I got to a point where I wasn't enjoying it anymore. People have preconceived notions of who you are or what you should be or what you should do which is hard to break the mould of. I've been gigging for 26 years and people only know me for about 7 of that maybe. [laughs] If people know me at all, that's all the know me for. People expect you to do that for the rest of your life and it's quite suffocating almost.

"I had never been pure rockabilly; I had been told not to go anywhere near it, which of course made me want to pursue it even more and even more curious! I wanted to know why it was done because it was influential for the likes of punk rock and rock and roll. Greats like The Beatles, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page had said it had been a huge influence so why would I shun such influential music?

"I wanted to focus on that for a while and put some light on it and maybe introduce people to that style of music, but not for the rest of my life. There are all kinds of music I like and I want to grow as an artist. As a songwriter, I just want to get better and better and it's been nice not knowing what I was going to write next. To get too stagnant or comfortable is detrimental to any artist."

Were you worried at potentially losing some of your core followers now that you’ve travelled down a soul route? 

"Not at all. I don't write music to appeal to certain people; I want to write heartfelt music that is meaningful and that I enjoy. There’s a wonderful, fabulous world of music out there so why not explore it? To limit myself would be boring and a waste.

"Great artists like PJ Harvey and Elvis Presley switched things up and they have influenced me a lot. I'm not comparing myself to those people by the way. [laughs] I've been listening to what Goldfrapp have done recently and it is so exciting. I love how they reinvent themselves on every album."

Listening to your new music, the word freedom springs to mind for us. What other words would you use to sum up this stage in your career?

"Well thank you for saying that. Wow. I would say open-mindedness, liberation, honest, curious. Getting T Bone on board (the album's producer), I wanted a bit of velvet and a bit of badass. I wanted that in the production side of it and he brought it in abundance."

We know that Bono has been a huge helping hand for you – how has his support brought the album together?

"Well I had already finished writing the album and I really wanted T Bone to produce it. Then I met Bono at a lunch and he had already worked with T Bone so he started hounding T Bone about me and he seemed to have some belief in me which was lovely. He gave me his details and said for me to give him a call if I needed any help. We all need somebody and he was great.

"I wrote 38 songs for the album and I called him when I got stuck. I needed to get it down to 18 and then 15 and I just couldn't figure out which songs to keep and which ones to drop. He was perfect for that and he helped me out with that big time."

Official Charts actually saw you perform live with Tom Jones a few years ago and loved your sound together – would you ever consider a full album with one of your idols?

"Oh absolutely! I love Tom and would absolutely explore the idea of learning from him or doing a full album. Funnily enough, I actually had a dream last night that I was songwriting with Bob Dylan and I was so upset when I woke up to realise that it wasn't real. It's out there in the universe now so you never know!" [laughs]

Good luck for Friday Imelda - how much would that third consecutive Top 10 album mean to you?

"It would be amazing! Seeing the chart positions, I get a big thrill from it. If people are enjoying it, then that's a lovely feeling for me. For me, I'm not mainstream at all and I never have been and to get a chart position is very exciting. For anybody who isn't mainstream who gets a look in past Ed Sheeran in the next... year or so, they'll be very lucky. He's sweeping the board." 

Ed Sheeran, you have been firmly warned - Imelda May is coming!

[Laughs] "I have nothing against him at all but we need to ask him to go on a holiday for a little while and then he can come back.

"On another note, a couple of people told my manager that it was never going to happen for me, being female and being over the age of 30, there was not a hope in hell. And I thought 'really, are you joking me?' To anybody who is female and over 30 and wants to make a point and sock it them, then let's do it!" [laughs]

Imelda's album Life Love Flesh Blood is out now.

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