Remember when Further Seems Forever lost a vocalist after every album? What about Van Halen, Mayhem, Newsboys, Norma Jean or Genesis? Bands changing directions after a new singer joins is nothing new. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Flyleaf’s new album, Between the Stars, takes the band away from the post-grunge vocals of former singer Lacey Strum to the alternative rock flair of Kristen May.With a new album, new singer and their first tour in a year, things are about to kick off for this second phase of Flyleaf. Between walking her dogs and vacuuming the house, Flyleaf vocalist May took some time with Sean Huncherick to discuss the new state of the band, literature and gender roles in rock.
When did you first hear about Flyleaf?
I had heard songs like “All Around Me” and “I’m So Sick” (when they were released). When I was in my previous band, Vedera, Flyleaf was touring a lot of the same places. So I had heard of Flyleaf but I certainly didn’t have a crystal ball to tell me that I was going to be in the band in the future (laughs).
When my band broke up, they were looking for a new singer. It was my booking agent that let their manager know I was available. They were just like, “Hey, come down to Texas try out four or five songs with us.” We clicked immediately. We had dinner with their wives and friends. It was one of those situations where I really felt like I was called to be there. It all felt natural.
Did you know any of the members beforehand?
I did not.
What was it like joining a group that had already been playing together for ten years?
I was looking at it as an opportunity. For me, it was nice to be able to have another outlet to continue music. I was really excited, no matter who they were going to be. It just turns out that they’re all really sweet down to earth guys.
They didn’t make me feel (like) I was the outsider. I think they were thankful to have someone step up and be a new vocalist for them. I felt that appreciation.
What I’ve heard of the new album sounds great. What was it like going from your old band, Vedera, then switching to Flyleaf? Would you say that your vocal style changed between bands?
I definitely have roots in rock and (have) some places to pull from when I’m doing that. The first rock band I was in was called Red Authentic. When I started in Vedera, it was more alternative rock. It was a little heavier with soaring choruses, not too different from the vocal stylings in Flyleaf. Then, when we put out our album Stages, we went a bit more folk-pop. I wrote a lot on the piano at that time. I was definitely trying out some new soundscapes on that album.
When I got the opportunity to sing and write for Flyleaf, I tried to go back to what I did originally. To me, Flyleaf is pop. Pop with metal riffs. I think some people get a little confused because the sound is heavier, (but) the choruses are so catchy. They really grab you. They’re melodic. For me, that’s what I’ve always loved. I didn’t write too differently for this new album, but I definitely tried to listen to some ’90s alternative music like Incubus and Blindside to really feel where I thought they were coming from, and not just write pop, you know?
Have you noticed if there was a crowd change between your two bands?
Yeah, definitely. My band before was more subdued. There wasn’t a lot of high energy songs and there weren’t too many people crowd surfing.
Also, I played guitar and piano before, so I was always behind an instrument. With Flyleaf, you can tell that the crowd and the fans are feeding off the energy you’re bringing them. They’re offering up a lot of their own energy. I had to really step it up and realize that when I’m on that stage, I have to be in communion with them and give all that love back or else the show doesn’t work. It has made me grow as a performer, for sure.
Would you say you prefer playing with an instrument or do you like (performing) better just as a vocalist?
I don’t know. I think that there are perks to both. I enjoy jumping up and down and feeling the freedom (of) the wireless microphones. I think I probably have some of my better singing performances when I’m doing that.
But I also like playing an instrument at the same time because it’s more organic. I can feel the notes of the guitar. It’s like I’m more in the song than just thinking about what I’m singing.
I think I like both for different reasons. In Flyleaf, I really enjoy singing for the most of it. On this new tour, I’m going to play keys on a couple little bits but overall it’s me just with the mic.
It’s been about a year since the last Flyleaf show. What are the challenges right now of booking your shows?
For us, the challenge was (that) we wanted to make this album as good as it could be. Then we signed with a label. There was a period of time there where we didn’t know exactly when the album was going to be out so we couldn’t get tour dates yet.
I also think it’s going to take a second for people to hear the new album and understand where Flyleaf is going and allow that process to happen. I think it will totally work out. I hope that we have options for touring with all sorts of bands. Our first (tour) is going to be a headlining run. I’m really excited about that because we get to play a longer set. I really like that.
Is there an idea of when that tour is going to start?
(Laughs) We’re finalizing it now so I don’t have anything that I can share with you yet but the news will come very soon.
Probably by the time the actual issue comes out people will see it.
You mentioned that you signed to a label. Am I correct that Between the Stars was a crowdfunded album?
Yes. That’s how we got in the studio. That’s how we paid our producer Don Gilmore. We did PledgeMusic.com for that.
Where did the label come in?
Once we had some demos written, our manager and our lawyer started showing people some of our new songs and talking about the transition Flyleaf was going through. People were interested.
We were like, “Well, do we want to go to a label?” There were certain things they didn’t like about being on Octone, and they really loved the freedom (of being independent). I was on a major label before, too, so I get it. We really loved the freedom of being able to write whatever we wanted and not have a filter there.
We knew if we were going to sign, it had to be a partnership right from the beginning. We met with this guy named Tom from Loud and Proud Records and he was a big fan of the music. The way he does deals is 50/50, split down the middle.
He came into the studio once to hear what we’d done, but he just wanted to come in and say, “Great job.” It wasn’t like, “OK, you have to have this style, do this, and wear this.” It’s been a partnership since we signed with them. We decided it would be best for distribution and touring overseas, (so) I’m really happy with signing with Loud and Proud.
What’s it like being on a major label?
I’m sure there’s all different experiences. When my previous band was signed to Epic, it was around the time when the music business was changing drastically. People were able to put up stuff themselves. Everyone was starting to download music. Everything changed.
But I think at that time, that major label was still trying to do things the old way, (where) you have a first single and an image. Also that particular record label was very pop, but we felt like we were more of an alternative rock band.
We faced challenges because we bumped heads with a couple different people there. We also had three different presidents change when we were there. It really made it tough for us. If you’re doing the major label thing, you have a plan and you need to move forward. It was tough for us to move. You actually hear about that a lot with labels, especially major labels. You have A&R guys get fired. You have presidents get fired. All this stuff. People want this quick buck, for the most part.
That didn’t really make sense for (Vedera’s) journey. I don’t think that makes sense for Flyleaf’s journey, either. I think this is a band that’s special: they have loyal fans and they’ve worked really hard from the get-go. They’ve toured and they’ve done everything the old-fashioned way, but it’s been a gradual process. For us, and for me in my previous band, a major label didn’t work for what we were trying to accomplish.
Can you tell me what the writing process was like for this album?
There were about five different writing sessions. Me, Pat, Jared and Sameer would write on our own then come together and bring in whatever we had.
At first I was taking it all in. I always have a lot of songs on my phone and stuff, different voice memos and whatnot, but I wasn’t sure what to bring in. Then, as time progressed, I started to really feel like I knew what I wanted to say and had more concrete ideas. The first couple of songs we wrote were “Home” and “Well of Lies,” and those were a mixture of all of our ideas.
Lyrically, what do you see pouring out when you write?
Lyrically, I try to be as true to my own experience as I can, but also make it as universal as possible because I want people to relate to these songs and be able to feel some hope and allow these songs to be a soundtrack to their lives.
In the song “Head Under Water,” I wrote about particular instances where I felt bullied and not seen for who I really am. That’s my experience, but I think people could look at that song and take it from all walks of life, no matter what they’re dealing with.
I guess I pull from writers like Billy Corgan (of the Smashing Pumpkins) that I feel do that same thing. I feel like he’s great at being relatable. Sarah McLachlan is (also) really great at capturing how we feel as humans. Switchfoot is great at that, too.
Are there any tracks that specifically stick out to you on Between the Stars?
Man, to be honest, I feel like this album takes you on such a journey. Even though I was there helping write and record the songs, I still feel like I have a different song that I relate to more each day. We didn’t know if the song “Home” would make it on the album, because we’d written so many songs since we first wrote that. But lately, that song has been really great to me. It’s very inspiring. It’s about pushing through the hard times. I can always relate to that.
I relate to “Marionette,” as well. When I wrote the chorus to that song, it just came out of me. I didn’t have to think about it. It just felt like a proclamation, like something my soul wanted to say.
What is “Marionette” about?
“Marionette” is about a couple different things. I wrote it around the same feeling I had when I wrote “Head Under Water.” It’s about not letting someone control you, about knowing who you really are so you can be firm in your heart and soul. Don’t let someone chip away at that. That’s been a big learning experience for me. I guess it’s just a song that made me feel really free.
I felt like, after that song was written, I had gotten a lot off my chest.
Did it also relate to people’s expectations of you replacing Lacey in Flyleaf?
Yeah. Joining Flyleaf was the first time I experienced so many people being real nasty to me on the Internet. I didn’t even have to look for it: people were really rude and (left) ridiculous comments everywhere. That’s the trouble these days with the Internet. People feel so safe behind their screen and get out their own insecurities by putting them on someone else.
I think that definitely sparked a couple of the songs, but it’s only made me stronger. Also it has taught me to have more grace for people. It’s funny how that happens: whenever you’re going through something, you start to see the way you treat people. I think about how I talk about someone behind their back or say something when I don’t really know the person. Now I really try to think about that harder before I act.
When you go through something, you see so much more and get to be an example for others.
I’m always interested in seeing how women are treated in the hard rock music scene. Can you tell me about any challenges that you face in either of your bands as a female in the scene?
Well, I don’t really know what it’s like to be a male in a rock band (laughs).
That’s good to know.
I don’t know. I think sexism will always be there, unfortunately. Hopefully not always. You do see it at times; you see people focusing on what I’m wearing, what my hair looks like or my face looks like instead of listening to the music. That might happen to guys as well, though. Once again, I can’t really say, because I’ve never been a guy in a band.
Females have a different perspective. We’re all human, so I try to listen to music as if it’s coming from no sex at all. It’s so much deeper than that. I hope that translates. I just try to be who I am and that’s really all you can do.
Exactly. How do you handle any rude comments regarding gender?
Regarding gender? Gosh, I haven’t really gotten… I try not to go on message boards and comment back. Rude comments would have to be said to my face. People don’t really make comments to my face much. You’ll get guys saying, “You’re hot.” Or this or that, but there’s no point in being like, “OK, that’s kind of annoying” (laughs). There’s no point in making an example of that person. I’ve been fortunate in not having any experiences like that.
I grew up around brothers, too, so maybe I put off a vibe like, “Don’t mess with me.” I can pal around with guys and girls and I surround myself with really great people. I surround myself with a bunch of sexist guys.
That’s probably for the best.
Yeah, I think so.
It’s unfortunately that people online will post absolutely anything. It gets bothersome.
People are always going to have their own opinions and some may, seemingly, be more closeminded than the next. But, it’s a lesson for all of us to be as openminded and as loving as we possibly can be.
Maybe people will start to be silenced because their hate and prejudice won’t be heard anymore. I feel like there are definitely times when we need to fight back and stand up for ourselves. But I also think loving anyone who you want to hate is stronger than lashing out.
Exactly. Love is a challenge, but it’s definitely much stronger. That’s something you guys get to set an example for. What advice would you give other female musicians?
Be true to yourself. People say it often, but I really believe it. Know who you are. Also, don’t take off your clothes (laughs). Try to really use your brain and your heart first. It’s their prerogative, but to me, if you’re a female musician, I’d say work on your craft first and worry about your image second. Because people are going to relate to your songs no matter what you’re wearing, if you write good songs. If you go to a Flyleaf concert, I don’t think most of the audience is looking at what Pat is wearing or how they look. But as for the females, that’s another story.
Hopefully, it’s getting better. Women can make just as much of an impact beyond appearance. There are just a ton of amazing female artists right now. Honestly, I listen to way more female artists now than I did ten years ago. I don’t know why that is, but there are just a lot of women that really speak to me these days.
You’re right, I think women can absolutely make a difference and have something to say. Women can make a difference just as much as a man. We all have something to give and everybody has a unique perspective. If a female artist feels like they have something to say, they should say it.
Who are some of the female artist that you find yourself listening to a lot?
Anything. I’m all over the board, really. I listen to Imogene Heap, I really like her. Frou Frou. I really liked Ellie Goulding’s first album. I thought it was awesome. I still listen to The Cardigans and The Cranberries. I love the new Jenny Lewis album. I’m a big fan of hers. But Joni Mitchell is my first love.
Oh yeah. For sure.
She was the first woman that I heard really sing from her heart and tell stories that sometimes were hard to say. But she said them so eloquently and interestingly. I’ll always be listening to Joni Mitchell. She’s my hero. The song she did with The Chieftains a while ago, “The Magdalene Laundries,” is probably one of my favorite songs of all time.
Just as a final question, who are some of your favorite fictional characters?
Well, I don’t think they’re fictional, but Harry Potter and Hermione Granger (laughs). Who else? They would definitely be the top. Also, I think, the lead in Pride and Prejudice. I’m totally blanking on her name. She’s amazing. I think Tris in Divergent is really great in the first book. I’ve read all three, but I stopped relating with her as much on the last one. Yes, I would say Tris was pretty awesome.
(Laughs) All over the place!
Flyleaf was posted on September 13, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by Sean Huncherick.