2007: how was it for
My band and I went from obscurity to the brink of stardom: May Kay
May Kay is the lead singer with Fight Like Apes. Few had heard of FLA 12 months ago, but in the meantime, the band have released two EPs, toured Ireland, the UK and the US, and earned Meteor Award nominations for best Irish band and best Irish live performance Reality-checks come in different forms. They can occur while you’re belting your lungs out in small, shiny black shorts to an audience that turns out to be four stoned, neckerchiefed, arm-folders. Or when you finally cop on that there really is “that one drink” that tips you over from super-cool to plain messy. Or as you’re sitting there, baffled at how youmanaged to part company with your second manager in four months (who may also have been your boyfriend). Or when your bed for the night is the back of an icy van at a north-of-England truck stop.
A reality check can also be slightly more obvious, like when you get a head-butt from your overly enthusiastic and very charming keyboardist during a highly demanding song.
But sometime in the future I’ll be grateful for all these moments, because those are how you pay your dues. You don’t get to play to a sold-out Whelan’s, to a crowd roaring your songs back to you, until you’ve paid your dues.
Paying your dues means getting up at 4.30am to make the earliest Ryanair flight (the cheapest) and sleeping on the ground outside Liverpool Street station waiting for a bus, all for a half-hour session in Lon- don that same day. It means resigning yourself to a pathetically modest existence for a few years. It means sleeping in a van while someone else gets the one hotel bed allowed for in the budget.
We did play a sold-out Whelan’s. Five weeks ago. One hundred people got turned away, and a girl got kicked out for writing “I love FLA” on the wall. Savage.
Mind-blowing as that gig was for us, we all need those reality-checks to remind us how much work is left to do to get that reaction wherever we go.
I still can’t articulate that hair-raising feeling of having a crowd screaming at you just to let you know they’re there. Let’s call it “motivational” for now and say it warms the bones on those freezing truck-stop nights.
The photo shoots were another challenge of the past year. How do you turn up and take “art” directions such as “pose” and – another original – “I need more ape! Gimme more ape!”?
When I saw the photos and realised that I didn’t look remotely like I thought I did, I kicked myself for having followed the arty directions rather than sticking to what made me comfortable. Suddenly, pictures were being published of a me that I didn’t know existed, with angles that I didn’t know existed.
Ultimately I was too logical or too stubborn to blame bad photos on that “bloody photographer” getting me at “a bad angle”. The angles were part of me, part of someone that I had to get used to if I was going to make a go of this.
Another challenge was locating that fine balance between cynicism and trust in people. We’ve encountered quite a selection of dodgy music industry types, and nearly every time, I have been left wondering whether they’re complete sharks or just stupid. Either way, they do serve a vital purpose for newcomers to the scene; they sharpen your instincts and send you racing for a good lawyer.
But the hardest thing was to recognise when to let our guard down. At what point do you trust your gut and decide that this person is acting in your interests? It’s very hard to take the benign view – especially while being called “babes” by some lizard (babe singular being so last century, babes). And after all that effort to “get somewhere”, what does it mean anymore to “get somewhere” in music? Most people will say it’s to get the golden ticket: the record deal. But what’s a record deal nowadays? It can be anything from a six-figure advance with a 10-album deal, to an offer from some lad three doors down who has convinced himself that a good set of ears and a mad-quick internet connection totally justify his decision to call himself a record label. True story.
Either way, the value of tour support and advances has gone down so much in recent years that being “signed” really isn’t the big cheese anymore. It may be possible to make more money off T-shirts or karate costumes and fake beards at this stage. We hope.
Unless of course you’re willing and able to wait for the right deal, which is a different story. The temptation is there to chase a deal; we’ve managed not to get too caught up in all that.
Nothing makes me cringe more than a band banging on about which labels have contacted them and turned up at their shows. That’s why you won’t be hearing anything like that from us until we’ve signed on the dotted line.
At which point, I can guarantee, the subtlety and secrecy will meet an abrupt end and it’ll be McDonalds from here on in. Take THAT Wimpy Burger!