Often referred to as the 'Irish Amy Winehouse', Imelda May's songs put a modern spin on the classic '50s sounds of legends like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. May herself has an easy explanation, giving us the rundown on how Irish culture and her family's musical inclinations helped develop her love of making music.
Although the name Imelda May might be new to many, this rockabilly songstress is no stranger to the music scene. She began singing in underground clubs in her native Dublin at the age of 16 and was privileged to have a very musical upbringing.
"My dad listened to Glen Miller and Chris Barber and my mum loved Ian Martin, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Doris Day, so I was brought up listening to some fantastic music. And of course because there were five children and two parents in a small two bedroom house with one record player, it meant that whatever anybody was listening to, we'd all listen… My brother liked Joe Cocker, David Bowie, The Clash and The Pretenders and my other brother was into rockabilly, so it's through him that I got into that side of things."
But how did her parents feel about having to listen to the modern music of the time? "They loved it," she replies. "Dad would jump around and be the usual embarrassing dad… But it's normal for Irish families to have a lot of music in the house and big parties where everybody gets up and sings."
When asked if being put in the spotlight ever promotes bashfulness as one might imagine it would in Australia, Imelda laughs and is adamant that Ireland faces the opposite. "No, people would argue like, 'She had two songs and I only had one song!'"
Imelda's star has risen quickly since releasing her independent debut, Love Tattoo, in 2008 - an album born of a development deal with Universal. "They didn't know quite what to do with me … I went and played for them and then never heard from them," she laughs. "So I carried on and decided to beg, borrow or steel to make Love Tattoo…
"People were very supportive and lent me money and I got into the studio and made the record I wanted to make without any pressure. So it all turned out for the best really."
The next major lead in Imelda's career came after being noticed by UK television host and band cognisor Jools Holland. "He got us on his TV show and we started to get a good following and then it all kicked off … The record company bought Love Tattoo off me and then I got to make my second album."
So how is her new album, Mayhem, different from her debut? "Well I've been gigging more and I've been writing more… I just knew what I wanted it to sound like. I did have to fight for the production side, had to pull a few strings and my manager had to tell a few white lies that I was somewhere else when I was actually sneaking into the studio…
"But on the first one I really wanted a live feel, whereas with this one I wanted a little more production, but not too much where you lose the grit or the soul."
IMELDA MAY plays The Prince Bandroom this Friday March 11 (tickets from princebandroom.com.au and Moshtix venues) and GOLDEN PLAINS at the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre across March 12-14 (info and tickets from goldenplains.com.au). Her new album Mayhem is available now through Universal.
BY LEE HUTCHISON