Dent May: 5 Albums That Changed My Life
Dent May (a.k.a. James Dent May Jr.) is out with Across the Multiverse on Friday (August 18), what he calls a “homemade album.”
“It’s very important to me to show that you can just do something on the cheap in your house with your friends, and you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a recording studio to make something that sounds great,” he tells TIDAL. “I’m really proud of that. I think this is the best sounding album I’ve done and the best songs I’ve written, but I did it on no budget in my bedroom and I’m really proud of that.”
To herald the record’s release, May shared with us some records that made him the DIY musician he is today.
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Weezer, Blue Album
At this point, it’s a little bit of a cliché for certain people of my generation to pick this as an album that inspired them when they were kids. I guess I was like nine when the album came out, and my sister bought this CD and Green Day’s Dookie album on the same day, and both of those were big favorites. I guess around that time, I had quit taking piano lessons and started playing guitar, and had tried to write a couple of really, really bad songs.
I think that even to this day, Weezer’s Blue Album is sort of like a litmus test or a blueprint for my songwriting style. It was kind of the first time I had thought about songwriting as a craft that’s separate from playing an instrument. I don’t know; the songs are just deceptively simple and they’re concise and direct, but they have a very unique and specific point of view and the lyrics are kind of funny at times but also sad at times. They’re also just extremely catchy and addictive to listen to over and over again. It’s one of my favorite albums ever. I can’t imagine what my life as a musician and songwriter would be without it, you know what I mean?
I thought of a funny story about this album. My friend and I actually built a radio transmitter from parts we got at Radio Shack. We just decided to play this album on repeat over and over again. Hopefully somebody tuned in and heard it, but I think it’s probably unlikely.
I definitely got into a lot of pop and R&B and rap in the ’90s. There was something about this ’90s pop and R&B and rap that felt alien or just new and weird. I didn’t really understand how they made it. I don’t know; it was cool. I began to think about the texture of the music in a way that was sort of like using technology but also very respectful to traditions of the past. Kind of like some halfway point between classic soul and funk and some sort of newer, futuristic sound.
Yeah, that TLC album, I listened to it thousands of time. Also it was kind of sexy, and I was a preteen. That was exciting and exotic and weird.
The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle
My parents were really into the Beatles and the Beach Boys, [and] I feel like my gateway into that stuff was this album, which I fell in love with when I was in high school. It’s kind of similar to the Weezer stuff where I was just really inspired by the songwriting and the melodies. This was kind of a gateway to maybe even weirder psychedelic music or psych-pop.
I guess I started thinking about producers and recording studios and multi-tracking techniques and things like that that maybe I hadn’t really thought about before as a listener, and trippy tape effects and playing with sound as a tool in the recording studio combined with just classic, beautiful songwriting that I feel like would hold up in any context.
I’ve had the opportunity to open for the Zombies a couple of times. They sounded amazing. Their singing voices were beautiful still. Just a huge fan.
Prince, Dirty Mind
Of course everyone loves Prince, but I kind of rediscovered Prince and fell in love with Prince when I was in college. I remember being very inspired by the fact that he produced everything, played every instrument.
At the time when I was in college, I had played in so many different bands and never had really found my voice as an artist or what I was going to do. I feel like, in a way, Prince inspired me to be like, ‘Oh, I can do everything myself,’ or, ‘I can just be me. I can record myself. I can play everything, even though I’m not very good at any particular instrument. I can try this.’
I bought a really cheap USB microphone that was like $50 and I had GarageBand on my computer, and I started just multi-tracking songs where I would just strum guitar — or I was playing ukulele back then — and hand claps, or maracas and tambourine and harmonies. That was it. That was my first foray into recording myself, which is something I’ve really fallen in love with.
I ended up covering ‘When You Were Mine,’ the Prince song, on my first EP that came out in 2008 or something like that. Still one of my favorite artists of all time. May he rest in peace.
Jonathan Richman, I, Jonathan
Around the same time I was listening to Prince, I was also really into a lot of big budget ’70s funk and soul, and ELO was another one of my favorite bands of all time. I also found Jonathan Richman’s music, which was kind of the complete opposite in a way where it was really intimate and much smaller in scope in a way, but still had an enormous impact on me emotionally.
It was another kind of inspiring thing where it felt super DIY. I saw him live a couple times and he runs his own sound from the stage, so he has like a little mixer on stage. It’s just his drummer, him, one microphone, and a little mixer. He’s doing it on stage and it’s really intimate and personal. That kind of inspired, again, to take things into my own hands and be like, ‘Oh, I can write a song literally about anything.’
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