THERE’S a powerful moment on Abbe May’s new album Fruit where she expresses in spoken word that even at five years of age she felt “shame” brought on by an “external pressure.”
Almost 30 years later the shame has evaporated. It’s been replaced by a confidence, a maturity and a seething anger.
Fruit, released next Friday, is May’s proud declaration of her sexuality as a gay woman. It oozes with the Perth singer-songwriter’s typical sexual tension, but it also smacks with political dissonance.
It comes months after the Australian Government legalised same-sex marriage following a victory for the Yes vote in the controversial postal survey.
“While I was five and there was so little said about sexuality around me, I still knew I was different and I was desperately looking for reflections of myself in TV, film and literature, and often to no avail,” May says.
“I don’t think it’s become easier [to be gay]. In the past 18 months in Australia it’s become very difficult for people who are vulnerable in the community and I am still angry about that.
“It did affect my mental health and I’m one of the lucky ones. So I can only imagine what it’s like for people who are in a lot more vulnerable situation than me.”
It’s been five years since May released her third album Kiss My Apocalypse, the electronic departure from her early blues-rock sound.
You’re ultimately responsible for yourself and if I end up having another break down I’m no good for anybody else.- Abbe May
Fruit sees May embrace soul and R’n’B into her sultry brand of rock. Are We Flirting? almost slinks out of the speakers, Shake Ya Thing (On and On) could have appeared on a Missy Elliott record, and the gospel-inspired Doomsday Clock delivers May’s most soulful vocal.
The album was originally slated to be called Bitchcraft, but was changed to Fruit to make it more accessible and to better represent the album’s same-sex themes.
“It’s definitely the most upbeat record I’ve ever made,” she says. “It’s more dynamic and soulful and a lot less rock’n’roll.
“It’s been five years since Kiss My Apocalypse and Design Desire and I think it would be quite strange if I continued to make the same music. I don’t even really relate to the person I was back then.”
As interesting as the music is, Fruit’s most poignant moments are the three spoken-word tracks.
May maps her sexual awakening from ashamed five-year-old to learning years later that a priest she once confessed her “sins” to had left the church to be with his boyfriend.
“I wanted to really express and detail in an almost diary-like fashion my experience as a gay woman from the age of four and five through to confession through to where I am now, 34 and totally and completely 100 per cent comfortable in my skin,” May says.
“I want people who are perhaps not where I am at and supported and comfortable as I am and who might be being bullied, depressed or self-harming, I want them to have access to my story to know I stand up for them.
“That I’m completely normal and that is does get better. It gets easier and any member of the LGBTQIA community deserves respect and the chance to evolve in a community that supports them just like I have.
“For me, those spoken word parts are for anybody who needed to hear a story that related to their life. If someone can relate to it, then my job’s done.”
May’s ability to express herself completely follows a transformative health crisis that threatened to derail her career, and even her life.
In 2013 May suffered her first seizure while dining with fellow musician Bertie Blackman in Melbourne.
Over the next two years she battled crippling anxiety and depression brought on by severe stress.
“I still have some degree of nervous system issues, and after the seizure I had on tour in 2013 I had massive anxiety and depression and nervous issues,” she says. “I have lot of physical anxiety that can flare up and I basically use it as a sign that I’m doing the wrong thing or in the wrong place or I need to sit and relax and drink less coffee.
“I’ve found it to be very powerful. I’m one of the lucky ones that I had a great doctor and psychiatrist and a great family. It took me a while to get back to the place again where I can cope with this amount of work and basically I had an existential crisis.”
These days May drinks less alcohol, especially while touring, and has adopted a healthier lifestyle through better nutrition and exercise.
“You’re ultimately responsible for yourself and if I end up having another break down I’m no good for anybody else,” she says.
“I’ve got two nephews and niece now and I want them to be able to rely on me. I don’t enjoy being nervous, anxious and depressed.
“It was a horrible time in my life and I really don’t want to go back there.”
Abbe May performs at the Cambridge Hotel on March 10.
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