May Payne, a singer/songwriter based in Manchester, is an intricate painter of vulnerability, trauma, and love. Nowhere is this more evident than in her first EP, a radically vulnerable offering of real-life experiences woven into a tapestry of musical styles and genre.
Payne wrote the title track Sane at a time when her mental balance relied on being ignored by someone while Between The Lines is a rumination on her feelings of unrequited love. Both were composed when Payne was about 16-years-old. The other two songs, I Hate It When You Touch Me and Take It Too, were written at age 21.
When I spoke to Payne, we talked a bit about how your younger self holds important messages for your older self: life lessons, new perspectives and frequent surprise at how astute and articulate that younger mind could be. Payne is mindful of her feelings at the time. “They were honest due to a teenage lack of self-awareness. It’s almost as if I didn’t realise the abnormality of some of the things I was saying.”
May moved to Manchester during lockdown after spending the early days of the pandemic at her rural Dorset home. “When I moved to Manchester, I was locked down in a flat with three other people,” she recalls. “This gave me an opportunity to further distract myself from music, and everything else that was intimidating and scary to me.” But a few months in she found her band members, who she still plays with now.
“Not only was it a way to actually have fun with music, but I suddenly had access to three brand new, informed, and diverse perspectives on how to express myself musically which was an absolute goldmine. Ultimately, living in a city and doing that through the ages 18 to 21 ended up giving me the context and self-awareness that I needed, musically and lyrically, to understand what makes me different and interesting to other people.”
She adds: “Growing up in a rural area means that there is a lot of silence to fill, which allowed me to create with no reference point. When I write I never have an end goal in mind and don’t think of songs or artists I want to sound similar to.”
I love the show-song beauty of the 21-year-old’s song I Take It Too – a new experience of unrequited love that Payne now fronts unapologetically. “There’s a self-awareness that I possess now, of how my emotional reality can be very intense and twisted at times, and I like to lean into this and expose the darker sides of myself – intentionally this time.”
Trauma informed I Hate It When You Touch Me, which is paradoxical in style and form. The music and tone sound like a gentle rumination by a stream. It’s only the sad words and singing that prevent it being meditative in nature. In addition, the combination of a rural melody with a pained voice choking on a horrible reality will not allow the listener to unhear the pain that May draws on.
“I wrote IHIWYTM in a very turbulent time. I was assaulted by somebody I knew in my first year of university, and he ended telling everyone ‘his version’ of events before I got a chance. Everyone around me either thought that I was a liar or was indifferent about what had happened to me. It was very hard to have any grasp on reality, impossible to stand confidently in my truth.”
The song was an important step for Payne “to express these feelings without having to explain myself or have a clear, definitive narrative. There was no way I could’ve spoken most of these ideas out loud, as they would’ve been used to prove that I was responsible for what happened. In the world of this song, I am allowed to be both the victim of some awful things and accept that I have at times invited them as a form of self-harm while looking for love and attention in the wrong places. When I had to write the press release for this song expressing the meaning behind it in a succinct straightforward way, that was incredibly difficult.”
Payne is a talented artist giving credence to two girls in her first EP: the one she was before it happened and the one she is now. Even the way the song is recorded has been done with self-care and understanding. “‘The only editing done was by switching between takes at certain moments, and adding a few reverb throws, some of which I even pushed back on. Apart from this, the song is completely raw and true to itself.”
The EP is out now. I’ll leave you with Payne perfectly expressing its style, themes, and beauty.
“There is a level of truth that can only be expressed if contradictory things are able to co-exist, because that is what being a human is to me.”
All photos courtesy of May Payne
For more information about May Payne, click here.