Just like the wild, sweet place where she was raised, Senora May’s music is complex and eclectic. She describes it this way: “My sound is organic. It’s country because I have an accent when I talk and sing, it’s folk because I’m telling stories about my home and people around town, it’s Americana because I’m inspired by so many different genres.”
You can hear that diversity on every track of her debut album, Lainhart. It’s certainly there on a song like “Country” with the drums of rock ‘n’ roll, the folk-flavored vocals, and Senora’s flute-playing that brings in another compelling layer. There’s the honkytonk piano on “By My Lonesome” and the ironic joy found in the walking beat of the defiant “Female”. The lyrics of “Gone From the Mountain” read like a Gothic Appalachian novel but the whole song is driven by an electric guitar while stripped down acoustics create the mood on a paean to simple living like “Don’t Need A Lot”. Her seductive vocals prowl through the slow boil of “Milk and Honey” and the completely original “Only Want You” is played over a soundtrack of animal sounds recorded by Senora herself.
“I think it’s really important as an artist to be open minded and to listen to every type of music,” she says. She counts among her influences artists as varied as Emmylou Harris, Nina Simone, and Feist, as well as Bobby Bare, Jr. and Beyoncé. “I just try to incorporate all the sounds that have inspired me, and of course, that spans beyond genre or message, it’s whatever invokes feeling and passion in the moment or place you’re experiencing.”
Although Senora loves to experiment with different sounds and genres, everything always comes back to her native Eastern Kentucky in the end. One of six children, she grew up playing in the woods, going hunting or fishing with her four brothers, identifying wildflowers and their uses, and says she always felt “comforted by the hills, calmed by being outside.” In fact, Senora says she feels sorry for people who are disconnected from nature. “We need it,” she says.
Her music has also been influenced by the sounds of the outdoors. “The auditory boundaries are endless. You’ll hear frequencies in the hills right before the sun goes down that you can’t make up on your own with a synthesizer,” she says. “Certain birds and little yipping foxes, bobcats, pitches of bugs, there’s just so much to be inspired by.”
Senora feels a duty as someone from rural Appalachia to honor the culture’s musical tradition while also expanding notions of what it must be. “The thing about being from a place that you’re so proud of, you want to make everyone there proud too. Everyone feels connected by the music and what’s been given to us by shared hardships and the strength our people have to power through. I feel a certain obligation to remain true to my raising, which inspires my music greatly.”
In the short time she’s been in the public eye Senora May has emerged as one of the most exciting new voices out of a region rich with musical heritage. She’s also become a role model for young rural women and possesses a keen understanding of that responsibility. “I want to keep putting out music that makes me feel good and demonstrates that I can voice my feelings, emotions I know other women growing up in similar settings feel. There are so many women that don’t have a voice, stifled by misogyny, their husbands, their culture, their own selves, our political climate,” she says. “Besides just making it, I’d like to create positive change through my music for people who need it. I don’t think anyone should be held back, treated differently or stifled creatively, based on their gender, or anything else they can’t help.”
Senora May is an engaging singer-songwriter and compelling onstage performer. She’s an artist whose talent will only grow because she knows so well who she is. Like the best songs, hers become more intricate and remarkable once they’re listened to more often and more closely. She’s like the countryside itself: not easy to define, impossible to tame, and always interesting.