With The National’s Aaron Dessner at the production helm, Sydney trio Little May have today delivered their first full length release.
As Michael Dwyer points out, For The Company provides a platform to showcase the “trio’s gift for melancholy melody and images of quiet perseverance.” Charming and veiled with a sense of ethereal mystery and sadness, we sat down with the girls from Little May to discuss their artistic process and decipher the meaning behind each track.
All words below by Hannah Field, Liz Drummond and Annie Hamilton from Little May.
Annie Hamilton: “We wrote Cicadas last year but it went through a full circle of changes between then and what you now hear on the album. We originally wrote an end section to the song that gained momentum and got a bit more intense, but when we started recording it we decided to go back to the original form of the song, ditch the second half and turn it into more of a repetitive meditation.”
AH: “Sold is a bit of a pastiche of several song ideas that we had been working on before we started recording. We were working on a song originally called Amy with Aaron in the studio, reworking it and experimenting with different chord progressions under the melody, and we ended up taking some parts of Amy and putting the melodies and lyrics over a new chord progression played by Aaron on the piano. We then ditched some other parts of the original song and replaced them with our favourite lines from some other half-formed songs. The album title comes from the line “sold my hands for the company”.”
Liz Drummond: “‘Home’ was one of the first songs we recorded with Aaron. It’s quite an old song, and we decided to revisit it. It had been written three years prior, from a place where a sense of belonging was being constantly chased. It was a new experience for us recording this album in Hudson considering our EP was recorded in five different locations over the course of two years. We were living down the backstreets of Hudson, in a tiny old apartment with slanted floors and ceilings. There were five of us living on top of each other & at times, this proved pressing, but we wouldn’t have changed anything. I think we will always associate this song in particular with Hudson and the time we all spent there.”
“Oh My My”
LD: “This is one of the last songs I wrote before we headed overseas to record the album. I tend to feel compelled to lean towards minor chords and darker tones in music. Before writing this song I had been listening to a lot of Radiohead, Alberta Cross, Manchester Orchestra, Jeff Buckley. The song was recorded in it’s original form, however instead of sounding like a shitty home demo with midi instruments, Aaron turned it into a stunningly produced piece of music. Cat nailed the drum part so quickly and so perfectly, she was amazing to watch. Aaron made this song dark and punchy, without going overboard with production. For me, the string arrangement (by Rob Moose) is the most glorious addition to this song. Watching Rob play was incredible and I think we all felt pretty emotional. Lyrically, this song was close to me at the time, and is based around the fear of losing someone or something that you love. Originally the chorus lyrics were “if I lost you, all I’d see is all my love”. Aaron heard it as “Oh My My”, which we all thought was cooler, so we decided to change it.”
“Bow & Arrow”
Hannah Field: “Liz and I would have written Bow & Arrow at least three years ago, actually maybe four. When Little May formed about a later it was recorded and we had planned to put it on our debut EP. Luckily we decided to take it off said EP. It was very twee. Even too twee for us. Let’s of harmonised ‘ha’s and ah’s’ etc…anyway. So in no way had it ever crossed our minds that Bow & Arrow would be an option to record with Aaron for the album. I’m pretty sure we even said once “haha imagine if we did Bow and Arrow!?”. This was followed by lots of snorts, lols, guffaws (is that a thing?). Somehow we ended up playing it for Aaron toward the end of our time in Hudson. Next thing we new he’d pulled out his guitar and had begun playing a droney part under the chords that sounded like, what I imagine, the theme song to snowflakes would be. Just anything snowflake related. After a bit more work the song had gained a new life.”
HF: “We wrote Seven Hours last year whilst on a writing trip in Jindabyne. It’s an incredibly haunting but equally beautiful place. Being around the majesty of the Snowy Mountains…or just mountains in general. There is nothing quite like it. The lyrics were written from a very nostalgic, reflective place. It’s easy to go to those places in that town. So basically…go to Jindabyne if you want to write sad songs because it’s easier there!”
HF: “Liz and I had written a version of this song a fair few months prior to heading off to Hudson. No one really vibed on this one too much at all. In it’s original form it was really erratic and jumbled lyrically and on my behalf. It just didn’t flow well. We revisited it in Hudson and restructured it with Aaron. I rewrote half the lyrics and they ended up being about someone new in my life, who is now a big part of my life. I had previously written the song about an old love. I like the new parts better.”
LD: “Sinks was originally one of the first songs I wrote. It was also the first song Annie and I jammed on together years ago. I recorded a demo at my house and put it on Soundcloud before the band formed. I was about 19 at the time and felt pretty lost. I became very introverted and music and songwriting were really two of the few things I did and thought about. I remember smacking a piece of wood on things and recording layers to create the percussion. I did that a lot. It sounded bad. About a year ago we re-recorded a demo with a new structure and new lyrics. Hannah added her lyrics and vocal in the bridge and Annie added her guitar parts. I really wanted the song to go somewhere dark and intense, so it ended up with more of a prog rock build at the end. We were going to call the song “my mindless pursuit of happiness”, which is the lyric Hannah wrote in the bridge. I really love that lyric. For some reason we kept it simple with the title, as we seem to do. When we took it to Hudson, Aaron re-harmonised the beginning of the song with extra subtle layers. It made it sound so much more beautiful and “happy/sad”, rather than just obviously “sad”. Aaron has really taught us to start to re-harmonise songs. The recording is pretty raw sounding, and I like that.”
AH: “We wrote Remind Me in early 2014 on a writing weekend in Patonga, a tiny coastal town on the NSW Central Coast. Liz had come up with the chord progression and we sat on the jetty one afternoon and worked on the lyrics and melodies together. It’s pretty much the only song on the album that we recorded in the exact form as we had been playing it live, without any restructuring or rearranging and without much embellishment production-wise. It was the first song that we recorded with Aaron, in the main hall in Future Past studios. We actually almost left it off the album but decided to include it at the last minute.”
“Where Do You Sleep”
LD: “Before we left for Hudson, I had been mucking around with my little set up at home. I improvised the piano then added guitar, made a drum loop, and wrote the melodies and lyrics. I didn’t expect much. Because it was done so spontaneously, it is one of the more personal and introverted songs I’ve written. Lyrically it doesn’t really make sense, and none of it is literal. It’s mostly symbols. I think of this song as a number of different parts/thoughts and versions of myself, and of other people. They are all expressing themselves, creating friction and contradicting themselves. It is subconsciously a bit sinister. When we got to Hudson I was surprised that Aaron thought it could be worthy of the album. The song originally didn’t have a bridge, so Aaron was very encouraging of that. We took the lyric “I feel nothing but loyal” from the verse. I felt it was pretty profound to me at the time. I am so thankful that Aaron nurtured this song and brought it to life.”
“The Shine is Brighter at Night”
HF: “We initially recorded Shine in the way that we’d been playing the song live for about a year. When in the studio, it was like we’d been hearing it from the perspective of a listener for the first time and it just didn’t work. A few weeks later Aaron suggested we give it another go but approach it as a completely new song. Aaron sat down at the piano as the sun set behind the church’s stain glass windows. It was calm. He began playing a beautifully nostalgic progression. I had a mic and we began singing and working out new melodies. Recording the demo with Aaron after that, just him on piano and a vocal was one of the most surreal moments for me.”
Little May’s debut album is out today through Dew Process, and you can stream For the Company below: