Home / Interview: Amy May of Paris Motel

Interview: Amy May of Paris Motel

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Every year, bands from around the globe flock to Austin to play during the South by Southwest Music Festival. Some bands are all the rage on the radio, some bands have been household names for decades, and some bands are hoping SXSW will be their big break to be the “next big thing.” This year marks the 20th anniversary of the festival and with it brings some of the best musical talent the world has ever known.

To start this year’s glimpse into the greatness of SXSW Music is the London-based Paris Motel. A little bit classical, a little bit folk, throw in a few other ingredients and all parts original and it isn’t hard to see why Amy May’s ever-changing and effervescent ensemble was included in the 2006 SXSW lineup. And who better to learn more about Paris Motel from than Amy herself?

Who are the members of Paris Motel?

That’s a complicated question – I’m the ‘boss’ of the band and write and arrange all the songs and manage everyone. Then we have four other main members; Joe, who plays drums; his brother Mike, who plays bass guitar and sings the harmonies; Paul who plays electric and acoustic guitar; and a keyboard player. For SXSW, we are being joined by Charlie Williams from Mira Mira as our keyboardist, as Ruth (who plays for us in the UK) couldn’t make it over to the States. Then we have a constantly changing group of classical instrumentalists who play with us. During our stay in Austin some incredible musicians—a vocal quartet, a bassoonist, a flautist, and three string players—all from The University of Texas will join us. They’re amazing.

What are each of your backgrounds and how did you all come together?

I was a professional viola player, doing lots of quartet, session, and orchestral work. I’ve always done arranging for other bands and felt that I’d like to start my own. I wrote a demo album in my room (as so many do) and was joined by Joe and Mike, who have been in bands together for years and are consequently the most amazing unit. Then Paul got in touch after seeing us do a gig last summer. And we’ve been inseparable ever since!

How did you get the name?

Ahhh, that’s a complicated one. It’s sort of named after a hospital in Paris, but you’d have to hear the new album to understand where the name really came from!

Why music?

I’ve been playing violin since I was 5 and don’t really know anything else. I’ve always been fortunate enough to be involved with music and everyone in the band is in love with playing and performing. It may be a cliché to say, but it almost seems as if we don’t have a choice but to play!

Are you on a label now or doing your own thing? How did you make that choice?

Joe and I have our own label, Hotel Records. We decided to release the EP ourselves because we knew exactly how we wanted to handle doing it. It’s been a real experience – we’ve sold nearly 2000 copies so far and people are buying them all over the world, which I find totally extraordinary!

What makes your band different?

I think there’s a common link between most bands and us in that we’re all passionate about what we do. But I suppose our use of classical musicians is rather different. And I have certain views on writing and singing songs – I was brought up listening to artists such as Billy Bragg and believe it’s extremely important to sing in your own accent. And I try to stick to what I know, and from my past experiences when I write. It’s all very, well, writing an epic song about, for example, riding American highways on the back of a motorbike, but I haven’t even passed my driving test, so how can I possibly talk about something of which I have no experience? Having said this, perhaps my time during Austin will change this!

Why did you want to play SXSW and what do you most look forward to during your time in Austin?

The sheer volume of musicians arriving during the festival means that there’ll be a huge number of wild and wonderful people to bump into and talk with. I can’t wait! And it’s great to have the opportunity to play in front of a few people who may be able to help us get our music to the next level.

Who and what are your influences and sources of inspiration as a band?

Obviously I’m very influenced by my classical background in music, but my parents brought me up listening to Steely Dan, Captain Beefheart, and Dr. John, so it’s a strange mixture for me! Joe, Mike, and Paul are very much more rock’n’roll. And Charlie is like me, from a classical background, but has ventured to ‘the dark side’ by playing in his band Mira Mira.

What band would you all want to be like and why?

I personally think that Arcade Fire is one of the most exciting bands I have seen live all year – last time I went to see them in London, I couldn’t work out why my calves were aching so much the next day. Then I realized I’d been standing on my toes to watch the whole thing. I was that excited!

Is there a type of music you feel should be nonexistent and why?

I really do believe that there should be a place for everything in music – it’s a great platform for debate and argument and to express emotions and philosophies. The only stuff that I hate is music that has been put together purely so that a band can posture and pose for their fans, rather than play music that means something to them. But I guess that’s always been part of music. It’s just that it sometimes gets in the way of a band actually being any good!

Of your own songs, which is each of your favorites and why?

We’ve been asked this many times! I always like the one I’ve most recently written the most – so it’s one from In the Salpetriere at the moment (our new album). But Mike loves “Static Song” from the EP, although he hates playing it live! Paul loves to do “Sistine Chapel” as he has a big Brian May-esque rocktastic solo in it! And Joe loves “Onto You” because he gets to whack the hell out of his drum kit!

Has there been one gig that really stood out as being amazing? What made it so great?

Last year Joe and I organized a gig for a homeless charity. We brought in an orchestra and four other bands (Ed Harcourt, Riley from Aberfeldy, Martin Grech and Hal) and I orchestrated their music so that we all played our songs with a full orchestra. It was in a beautiful old church in the centre of London. The whole thing was (and I am blowing my own trumpet here!) rather spectacular!

Do you find anything difficult about being a woman in the world of music? How do you handle those difficulties?

The main thing is that it’s extremely hard work. But I just keep on going, like a big old truck…

And of course the important details. Where can folks get their hands on your music or see you perform?

Right! You can buy our CDs and t-shirts etc from our website, on Amazon, or in any large music store. And during SXSW we’ll be at the following venues:

WEDNESDAY 15th MARCH
Convention Center, Day Stage TIME: 12.45 – 1.15pm
‘The Mean Eyed Cat’ TIME: 6.30 – 7.10pm
Pecan Street Ale House (OFFICIAL SxSW GIG) TIME: 1 – 1.45am

FRIDAY 17th MARCH
Rough Trade/Spinart party @ The Peacock TIME: 1.30 – 1.55pm

SUNDAY 19th MARCH
Red 7 Brunch party (breakfast served) @ Red 7 TIME 10.30am

And we’ll be carrying our instruments everywhere so you may see us popping up in other places too.

What else should the masses know about Paris Motel?

Just that we love what we do and we love it when people listen to our music – just drop us a line and say hello!

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About Cara

  • excellent interview, Erin!

  • Dear Amy,
    I met you when we were both waiting for the bus on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles on Sat. 07.12.’08. You were going to Santa Monica.
    We had a nice chat and you invited me to your performance at the Darby on Wed.
    I was in my power chair and wearing my panama hat.
    I’ve been to your sites and heard some of your songs.
    I love the title and words to ‘Everything’.
    Looking forward to hear your live performance.
    Thank you for being so nice.
    Ciao,
    Paul