On February 14th, Senora May will release her second album ‘All Of My Love’. A record with eight love songs that will warm many hearts and twist a lot of people’s perception of the Kentucky singer. To produce the record, she asked one of her biggest influences Jessica Lea Mayfield. Mayfield had only just learned of Senora May, after reading her interview on this very website earlier this year, in which she talks about her love for Mayfield’s music.
Photography by Natasha Raichel.
Senora May: “Apparently someone had sent Jessica the interview I did with you, and she told me she read it and it made her emotional! I guess that’s the first time she had heard my name and I had no clue. A week after she’d been sent this article by a friend or fan or someone, I reached out to her on Instagram and I was like: ‘Hey, lady, if you’re not too busy, I don’t know, if you’d be interested in producing anything for me? But I have two upcoming projects, and the first is a love song album.’”
“The second project is more feminism based with all females and more multi-genre, experimental. So I thought she would just be into that one, if anything. You know, I really didn’t expect her to even respond. But that same night she responded: ‘I would love to hear more, here’s my email address.’ I was just like, oh my god, this is crazy.”
Jessica Lea Mayfield happily agreed to produce Senora May’s album of love songs, and on our video call, Senora still seems a bit surprised. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. It’s been surreal the whole time, just getting to know her and working close with her in the studio. And remaining friends – we still text, we sent each other Christmas cards and we bonded so well. I’m just in shock and awe still, and so appreciative for her to have taken part in this album.”
“I was so lucky to have everyone play on the album that did. I scheduled fiddle player and singer Chloe Edmonstone from Locust Honey, who’s been a dear friend for a while now, and cellist Cecilia Wright who plays with Bear Medicine – I met her when she played on my husband’s last album, they recorded at our house. Jessica suggested Sarah Benn who’s out of Ohio and plays upright bass and sings in a band called Shivering Timbers.”
They all got tested for COVID-19 and rented a house outside of Whitesburg, Kentucky for a week of practice and recording. “It’s the tiniest little rural East Kentucky town, desolate. There’s infrastructure, but it’s just kind of abandoned. Mind you, the city we were staying in was Fleming-Neon that was created by Elkhorn Coal Corporation, so it used to be a booming little extraction town I reckon. When they stopped mining, everybody left, so it’s just like a ghost town.”
Openness and support
“But we spent the first few days running through my songs, to familiarize everyone in person, then we spent a couple days recording. It was cool staying a week with all those girls, there, only focusing on music, cooking supper with each other and hanging out. with no distractions. Then Jessica and I would take time to discuss the tracks laid each day of recording, and our ideas about things to try or have one of the ladies add. I learned so much from her in that short time through her openness and support. She’s so talented and easy to talk to.”
“I have photos from the moment I picked her up, I asked if I could take a photo in the airport. And we both have our mask on, we were kind of far apart. And you can tell we’re smiling from our eyes. But then the last photo I took before I took her back to the airport, we were hugging, literally holding each other. And we were both almost crying because we didn’t want to say goodbye. It was just beautiful to have that opportunity to get to know her as an artist and mentor. She’s from rural Ohio, which is, I imagine, pretty similar to where I grew up. I don’t know, I just felt connected to her, it was just a really good week of long talks and bonding. We all formed a sort of sisterhood around creativity and sound.”
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A new sound.
“I was going to keep it just me and an acoustic guitar, maybe add a fiddle and an upright bass, but when Jessica learned of all the stuff I was working on, she really wanted to do this project. And so her influence really dictated the addition of more instruments than I originally intended, which turned out amazing. The fact that it is just love songs, I felt like it was really fitting that it be way more wholesome, you know, than just me and an acoustic guitar. Because love itself is so diverse and complex. So, I’m happy with the production and I’m happy with how… your word was epic and I think that’s appropriate for what it turned out to be. But it definitely is more than I anticipated.”
When I tell Senora some of the songs remind me of music from New Orleans, she explains: “I wanted ‘No Sweeter Thing’ to be funky and swingy, so we added the horns. I just thought it fit the whole feeling of the song in the way that I sing it and the chord progression. It feels very bluesy and southern to me. I just really love Nina Simone, as you know, and I felt like that song was kind of like my rendition of the way that she makes me feel when I listen to love songs that she’s written for men.”
“Her approach is kind of a reserved one, in that she gives it enough of herself to be giving to the relationship in a romantic way, in a catering way, but you can tell she’s very firm and adamant about her strength, too. She won’t put up with nonsense but if a man is worthy, she gives him all of her love.”
“When you’re able to let go of expectations for your partner, your love can flourish.”
That strength and independence Senora May loves in Nina Simone, is present in the love songs on ‘All Of My Love’ too. Although they are written about the love between her and her husband, the lyrics can easily be interpreted to be about other people, or loving yourself. Declarations of love for herself and the independence she values so strongly.
“That makes sense. I feel really strongly about balance in my music and I struggle with the idea of, well, the duality of being a homemaker and caterer, but also holding on to independence. I feel like it’s important to balance your needs and your lover’s needs. That’s not super common to hear, and I wish it were more in songs that we hear growing up, you know, that it’s okay to have your own self and hold on to that and maintain it and protect it. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be in love and have all the benefits of that, and appreciate someone else for who they are. That’s the beauty of my own relationship, we both have our own projects going on and we support each other fully. When you’re able to let go of expectations for your partner, your love can flourish.”
Learning from her influence.
Senora May didn’t know what to expect from Jessica Lea Mayfield. “I was worried that she would let me down in some way, because I hold her in such high regard. Her music carries so much nostalgia of driving and listening and singing along through years of high school, when I first started driving. All her lyrics seemed like she could have written them from my own experiences. And I just had this idea of what she would be like, then she turned out to be that and so much more!”
Senora watched Mayfield work in studio, giving everyone space and letting people come up with whatever they were feeling based on the song. “She was just monitoring and observing, and then any time we would run into obstacles, she would gracefully step in and have the most appropriate advice. Jessica’s very open minded and I try to think that I am in music, but just her advice helped me a lot to grow. I realized, if I want something in a song, I can learn more instruments. You don’t have to be phenomenal on a certain instrument to add a great part that’s in your head, you know, and she reiterated that. It’s more about transferring the emotion that you put into the lyrics, into the sounds.”
“There would be certain songs and Jessica would be like: ‘well, have you thought about this instrument here?’ And she would hum a harmony or melody and it would just all fit perfectly. She added simple parts that added so much to the feeling of a song. And I think I wouldn’t do that as much if I hadn’t seen her do it. She was so comfortable and I loved seeing her feel that way about my own music.”
“Hearing her words about my songs really validated that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, you know? It felt so good to hear her talk about her admiration for the way that I write or certain lyrics that I came up with, their unique melodies or whatever. Hearing her say those things, it was just such a confidence booster. Between rehearsing and then recording, it’s a long enough period to have at least one moment of self-doubt. The times that she would say positive stuff to me were perfectly timed. There was no need outwardly, but I felt it and it soothed whatever I was lacking in that moment, internally.”
The last time Senora and I talked, she told me she felt liberated creatively, and judging on ‘All Of My Love’ – that’s still true. “I think a lot of people want me to produce more country music. This album is definitely not that and I’m completely comfortable with it. I feel like this is more authentic to me and how I feel. I’m happy about the direction my music’s headed.”
“I was hesitant to put out love songs, especially songs that were inspired by my husband, and my love for him and his support of me, because I didn’t want to feed into that. I feel like a lot of people want me to sing about him or sing with him. And so in that regard, it’s liberating as well, because I’m just letting go of inhibitions that typically protect my own art and self. And I don’t care what these people want. I don’t care what they expect of me. This is what I’m feeling. And the content is applicable to this political situation that we’re all going through now, the pandemic and being apart. So yeah, if it makes those people happy, that’s cool, but that’s not why I’m doing it now.”
All of her love
Like her debut, Senora May is self-releasing ‘All Of My Love’ too. “I don’t want to rush it, and I don’t want fans that don’t want to be there. I don’t want to push my music down anybody’s throat. And I feel like there’s a certain power that we have as artists, especially as we gain followers, that makes it not necessary anymore to pay for listeners. Because if it’s good, then people will share it and it’ll grow as it should, organically.”
Senora May is very happy with the end result, as she should be, because it’s a stunning record. And a perfect follow-up to ‘Lainhart’. “Yeah, I’m pleasantly surprised and I hear new stuff every time I listen to it. I’ve been putting it down for a week or so since recording, and then I’ll pick it back up and listen to it again. And there are so many layers and it’s so complex and warm and it makes me smile and almost cry sometimes when I listen to it. I think that’s what love is and it should be. And I hope that it will do that for other people too.”
Senora May’s second album ‘All Of My Love’ will be released on February 14th 2021 and is available for pre-order on her Bandcamp. You can listen to the song ‘Naturally’ there too. Let me just conclude this article by repeating that Beyoncé is one of Senora’s influences too. After all, you never know what will happen, right?
Senora May – ‘All Of My Love’
Jessica Lea Mayfield: Producer, vocals and baritone guitar
Sarah Benn: Upright Bass
Chloe Edmonstone: Fiddle
Cecilia Wright: Cello
Kenny Miles: Acoustic guitar, mixing, recording
Hayden Miles: Drums
Thomas Jude: Trumpet
Chase Fleming: Trombone
Mitchella Phipps: Ebo
Kiffy Myers: Pedal steel
There is one more artist featured on the record, that Senora May has yet to announce.