2007: how was it for

My band and I went from ob­scu­rity to the brink of star­dom: May Kay

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

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!

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