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Two hours before a radio gig on KUCI last year, May McDonough's band bailed on her via text message. So she called on a couple of friends: Lo Schmitt to fill in on drums and Rusty Huber to play trumpet and the bicycle he rode in on, brushing its spokes for percussion and taping its chains to the singer's ankles. After this gypsy-troubador arrangement of her set, they added bassist Xavier Cabrera a month later, thus forming May McDonough and Co.—a noir-folk junkyard outfit who have caught our ear with their tattered-beauty debut, Spilt Milk.
OC Weekly: Some of the artists who come to mind when listening to your stuff include Portishead, Jolie Holland and Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs. Which artists do you recognize as being your influences?
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May McDonough: That's always tough. Tom Waits gets called out a lot for the first album. But it's funny, I think some of my biggest influences aren't recognizable yet in the music—Sonic Youth and JackieO and all that really harsh stuff that strays so far from the usual melody but is still so clearly music to me. I get my love for grimy tones and musical sarcasm there. Xavier is really into Motown bass. We only have one album so far, so over time, you'll hear our influences better.
One of the band's aesthetic points is playing found objects such as bik- wheel spokes. Where did you get the inspiration for that?
Some of it came from the impromptu nature of the KUCI gig, some of it's the brainchild of Rusty's engineering skills, and some of it is just stuff I found on construction sites and took to a school welding shop with a friend. I should clarify, though, we only ever use things we specifically need for their sound. Nothing is just for show, although if we can play up the visual element, we will.
Were Fat Albert and the Junk Yard Band an influence at all?
Yes. Fat Albert are mandatory listening in the company.
Yeah, actually I was asking Sam Brown, one of the Whitest Kids U'Know—name drop!—to come to our show a few nights back in Long Beach, and he moaned over how far away it is from the heart of LA. It reminded me of the way Manhattanites groan about Brooklyn. For people who didn't grow up in the area, it's a foreign country. And as for equating the hipster migration . . . I think that's obvious.
Some message-board commenter said that calling someone a hipster has become the equivalent to saying, "Whoever smelt it, dealt it." Is there any credence to that statement?
Hipster is the first uproarious youth movement that no one wants to be a part of. I think it's because there's no cause involved, so the arts seem to be worn like badges instead of megaphones. And, yeah, some of it's superfluous, but I'd like to believe there's something there, even if it gets bastardized sometimes.
What's the plan for the next six months?
We're really pushing to get the next album ready for recording. We're only taking gigs we really need right now, in order to have time for rehearsal. We're all just really anxious to get the next album done and expand the scope of our sound. We don't want to feel stale or stagnant, and some of these songs are more than 4 years old. What's that Woody Allen quote? "A relationship is like a shark; it has to keep moving or it will die." That goes for everything, in my book.
This column appeared in print as "Folks and Spokes."