Of Magnificence and Ukuleles: An Interview with Dent May

Posted April 22, 2009 in
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 As he croons to the rafters, spotlight glinting off his large glasses, a slight man in tight pants clutching his small, albeit glorious instrument, accompanied solely by a backup singer, tambourine, and maracas. A stranger next to me leans over and whispers in my ear, “Who is this guy?”  The answer: Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele, a Mississippi native whose mellifluous tunes will make all but the hardest of hearts smile and sway. Certainly, Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele is curious looking, and his catchy 1960s style pop is pleasantly out of place in the present day, so the question of this man’s identity isn’t wholly unfounded. In fact, since he befriended Animal Collective at a house party and was subsequently signed to their label, Paw Tracks, Dent May’s been raising plenty of questions. We took the opportunity to ask him a few of our own.

: You attended NYU Film School and Ole Miss, but songs like “College Town Boy” and “At the Academic Conference” poke a bit of fun at the college experience. What's your beef with higher education?

Dent May: I have no beef with higher education.  In fact, I'm really into it.  Before I started playing ukulele around, I was planning on getting a doctorate and teaching for the rest of my life.  Those songs are a bit satirical, but they're also somewhat autobiographical.  Academic babes are super cute, so I might still go to grad school one day.

: You're currently involved in Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele as well as Dent Sweat, which puts out dance tracks. Are you working on any other projects that we should know about?

DM: I was working on a whole bunch of stuff at the same time, but I think I'm just going to combine all projects into one superproject. Otherwise, I'm spreading myself too thin.  Instead of making a bunch of generic albums all over the map, I'm trying to mush my influences into one thing that's a bit more coherent.

: Does your ukulele have a name? If so, what is it?

DM: My old ukulele was called Jenny, but it became unusable after a while. After a recent show in Chicago, this girl and guy told me they'd get engaged on the spot if I autographed a ukulele to them. Thinking of Jenny, I ran back to the van and signed it to Lisa with a purple sharpie. When I got back and gave it to them it was clear that they weren't actually going to get engaged and that they didn't deserve Jenny. So my guitarist Tommy stole it back from them, and we're deciding what to do with the ukulele. Maybe I'll meet someone else named Lisa who's actually nice.

: You wear your love of your home state, Mississippi, rather conspicuously on your sleeve. What's your favorite aspect of your home state?

DM: Cheap rent.

: Just how bad is your vision? How many pairs of spectacles do you own? Do you have a favorite pair?

DM: I only have one pair, the round clear ones. I can't see too well without them, although a lot of people think they're just for fashion. I think my prescription is around -4.25.

: You've said that your mom was the person who taught you to play the ukulele. Does she still play?

DM: I don't think she's picked up a ukulele in a while. She only knows that one song "26 Miles."

: Your music is a bit of an anachronism. What is it about those earlier days of pop music that appeals to you?

DM: One thing I really like about early pop music is the way groups use their vocals. It seems like fewer current groups exploit the possibilities of the natural human voice, so I look forward to experimenting a bit with what can be done.

: You helped direct both your music videos. Besides those ventures, are you putting your degree in film to good use, or is your time currently devoted solely to music?

DM: I recently got an old VHS camera from the ‘80s and I'm thinking about making a few shorts. I think at some point in the future I'll do something with video, but it might be in 20 years.

: To end on a particularly silly note, if you were to start a colony on the moon and had no worries for food, oxygen, housing, friends or other necessities, what would you name it?  And what five things would you bring along?

DM: I would hold a contest among friends to choose the best name. I'd bring along a Connect 4 set, a bag full of kittens, a teleportation device, the entire contents of the Library of Congress, and an infinite supply of Vaseline.


As far as that last item, we thought it best not to ask.


Dent May will be playing at Kilby Court on May 20th.