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Dent May and his Magnificent Ukulele

Harry-Potter bespectacled Francophile Dent May takes us down music memory lane.

Like most new millennium up-and-comers, pretty young things with more interest in cultivating an aesthete’s almanac tag rather than a cut-and-paste Xenomania hit, Dent May’s marketing is targeting new media and downloads opposed to print editorialists. However, Dent’s reviews and interviews aren’t settling with gracing the blogsite likes of Pop Justice and Discobelle… they’re reaching, among others, the New York Times and Music Review. “Dent May is the man for his time and place,” NYT beams about the teenager’s crooning - a mellifluous, retro vocal style that reaches to falsettos.
“I don't give much thought to marketing, but if I'm appealing to a wider variety of people then that's great, right? I like the Perez Hilton review I got too, so the whole highbrow/lowbrow thing is more unibrow or perhaps multibrow now,” Dent says, eyebrow raised in 70s Carry On farce.
Maybe the wider interest for Dent and his erudite witticisms is due to the unique oddity of his sound. We‘re talking handclaps and ukulele. We're talking Prince-meets-Serge-Gainsbourg-meets-Lee-Hazlewood. We’re talking part Brazilian Tropicalia. Part ‘50s barbershop quartet. Part early 20th century country swing. We’re talking indie instrumentation that partners Dent with the greats of yesteryear. “The place he’s coming from, it’s so classic, he sounds like Buddy Holly,” Jesse Lee, the newly-appointed drummer for Gang Gang Dance says in Dent’s favour.
“I played ukulele a bit as a kid, but it was never a conscious gimmick. last summer I bought one from a friend and started writing some songs. It's a convenient instrument because it's small and easy to play. It's got a joyful sound, so it's good for parties,” Dent assures, off-the-cuff as though no extra thought had gone into it. He simply purchased a ukulele. No aforethought. It’s real. It’s organic. But what about the wavering gramophone voice that chortles on about the life and loves of vintage Paris, that’s something you couldn’t have just picked up over summer…? “I grew up singing in church and school. I went to a performing arts elementary school, so I was in a lot of musicals, I think it’s become more of a theatrical voice. A lot of pop vocals today are emotionless which can be cool, but lately I've been going for something more dramatic like Scott Walker or Gene Pitney. Who knows though maybe in five years I'll be using the T-Pain autotune effect,” Dent laughs, half serious, half not.
Even his image is a little more refined. A little more classy. A little more classic than most. A perfect mirror-image to his sound. Debut hit Oh, Paris! Sees Dent sip red wine in onesy flannel pyjamas a la Hermes ‘91, side parting, asides to his James Thurber/70s Van Dyke Parks moustachioed infatuation. Thick-rimmed bottle glasses. Well-gaited man in contemplation later slipping into tuxedo, maraca in hand, roaring fire behind….
“I don’t think the oddness [of sound and look] will alienate people,” Dent says, now wholly serious. “I'd like to think that everyone aspires to be unique. If someone doesn't know how to market me, then I feel like I'm doing my job.” Try selling that to the 3am girls. Beth Ditto screaming electro pop vocals, knickerless on a Farringdon soundstage he is not. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be famous,” he chuckles, offended to be any colouring of ‘bland’ that might confront an artiste-over-singer. Waving the 3am girls in front of him is certainly like a red flag to a bull. “Well, if they kept writing about you in trash mags, would the fame change you?” “Oh yes. Very much so,” he says. “I certainly hope it would.”
Dent May’s debut full length, The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele is available February 2009.