If you were to make a list of some of the greatest country songs of all-time, there’s a pretty good chance that the list would be pretty heavily populated by songs of heartbreak, love lost and sadness that country music, and more specifically traditional country music, has become both known and loved for.
Alexis May’s music is not made for casual listening; it can’t be truly appreciated as mere background noise. Her debut EP, Killing Pain, Memories and Time commands the attention of listeners because of the emotion, storytelling and care that the New York native injected into each of the EP’s four songs, which all tackle pain in different ways and are dripping with steel guitar and emotional vocal tracks throughout.
We chatted with May about from where her love of traditional country music came, writing songs at just five years-old, all about Killing Pain, Memories and Time, including each of the songs and what she hopes listeners take away from the collection, studying country music in college and more!
PC: Your bio mentions that you have strong roots in traditional country and honky tonk music. Who were some of your earliest musical influences that helped establish those roots?
AM: My great grandfather played a lot of great country music. I remember being about six or seven and sitting in the backseat of his truck listening to Conway Twitty and George Jones on his cassette player. I fell in love with the sound of a pedal steel and started listening to a lot of country on my own. By the time I was a teenager, I began covering Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn. My family has always loved country music, so I have always been surrounded by it.
PC: Your bio also mentions that you started writing songs at just five years-old. What was it about songwriting and expressing yourself that way that connected with you at such an early age?
AM: I’ve always just written, and it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized it wasn’t something that everyone did. It has always felt very natural, yet I am always working to become a better writer. I was very shy as a kid, and I think that writing songs and stories helped me not only express my feelings, but find my creativity.
PC: What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release music for the first time with your Killing Pain, Memories and Time EP?
AM: I’ve worked on this record for a long time, and since the beginning, I have been beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to produce my own album. I wanted to put some of my best work out there, but I also wanted to have a group of songs that made sense together. I was a little nervous about releasing four songs that are relatively sad, but I realized that traditional country music has been sad and honest since the beginning.
PC: “Pain, Memories and Time” is a song about coping that opens its EP. What went into the decision to make it both the lead and title tracks?
AM: I think that all of these songs are honest in a way. They are all about hurting or getting hurt. I didn’t experience everything in the lyrics, but I experienced every emotion. These songs all tell different stories, but they come back around to dealing with pain, whether it is caused by being stuck in a bad town, hurting someone you love or just being stuck.
PC: You jokingly said on social media that the ending to “She Might Be the Devil” even surprised you. How important is it for you to both keep listeners on their toes and and engaged in the songs by writing in that way?
AM: I love songs that keep me on my toes, and I always want to do that for my listeners. I also want to give listeners something to pay attention to or get lost in for a few minutes.
PC: “The Pain That Comes with Loving Me” is a heavy-hitting song that delves into breaking a heart, and offers a pretty self-aware take on the situation. What is it like for you to look within yourself in that way in your music, and what is it that allows you to get that personal/vulnerable?
AM: I wrote this song based on emotion. I have never experienced the events as they are told in the song, but I have been the bad guy before. I have been vulnerable and I’ve been wrong. I took all of that and put it into one situation for this song. It felt really good to write something like this because it helped me learn a lot about myself.
PC: “Whiskey Town” is our favorite song on Killing Pain, Memories and Time. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
AM: This song came from a real place for me. I moved 700 miles away from my hometown shortly after turning 18. Unlike the song, however, I haven’t turned back. It’s a place with a lot of great people, and a lot of great memories, but it’s also a place where I have seen some great people turn down bad paths. Beyond just my hometown, I wanted to write a song that said something about the choke-hold that drugs can have on any small town. With that in mind, I also wanted to write a song about the real-life struggle to get out of a bad place. I know that I left at a young age, but it’s not always that easy for everyone.
PC: You solo-wrote each of the four songs on Killing Pain, Memories and Time, and also served as producer and engineer. How important was it for you to have as much as “yourself” on the EP and be hands-on with the songs you were creating?
AM: I have always loved traditional country music, and I wanted to make sure that my music would pay tribute to it in some way. I have always felt, however, that a lot of my style is very original and sometimes misunderstood, so getting to sit in the producer’s chair for this project, my first record, was really important for me. I know that I’m very much my own person in a lot of ways, and I wanted this record to show that. It felt great to share my songwriting because it’s the core of who I am and holds a lot of my deepest emotions and thoughts.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Killing Pain, Memories and Time after listening all the way through?
AM: I hope that they understand the feeling behind these songs, and that they know that there is still a lot of real country music being made. I hope that my songs can help someone be honest with themselves or others. I hope that I can help someone become more understanding. I hope that if someone listening to my music who feels that same as I did in any way feels less alone.
PC: You very recently graduated from East Tennessee State University, where you studied country music. What has been your biggest takeaway from those studies and how can you implement them into your career moving forward?
AM: ETSU taught me so much about not only the technicalities of country music, but about the day to day life of a country musician. I learned that there are a lot of extremely talented people in the industry, and working hard and being original is important. I loved my time at ETSU because I was able to work alongside a lot of great musicians who helped me learn so much while allowing me to find myself as an artist and work on songwriting as much as I could.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
AM: I would love to play some more shows this year. I want to play my record in as many places as I can, but I’m especially hoping to get a few smoky barroom shows, because I feel that this record is made for places like that. The song “Pain, Memories and Time” in particular is a song that I love playing for a crowd who is already in the setting of the song.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
AM: I’m going to keep writing this year. I write a lot, but I want to follow up this EP as soon as I can with the best material that I can. I want to continue making honest music and connecting with people through music.
*All images courtesy of Alexis May website*
*Killing Pain, Memories and Time is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*