Australian singer-songwriter Lara Meyerratken once had a dream that could have been something out of an independent art house movie. As she describes it, the dream involved herself and a boyfriend of hers sitting opposite of each other at a table surrounded by a pile of work with a light hanging over them amid the darkness. “So we were working on our own things at the same table,” recalls Meyerratken, “And I thought it was a really great metaphor: we’re all connected while we do our own work, we need to relate to each other while we do our own work. There was something there, like we had work to do on our own even though we’re in the same world or connected somehow.
Artist: El May
Album: The Other Person is You
Label: Rose Quartz
US Release Date: 2014-08-26
UK Release Date: 2014-09-15
“But later a week after the dream, the relationship ended and I realized that relationship taught me so much. I learned so much about myself and I had such a great big investigation into my motivations. So I guess instead of being angry and trying to justify who’s right and who’s wrong, I should just to accept that we play a role for each other. We’re all fulfilling contracts to bring each other to a certain realization, whether it hurts or not.”
That existential scenario provided the inspiration for the musician’s the tropical-sounding yet danceable “I Played a Role,” one of the songs off of Meyerratken’s recently released album, the very personal The Other Person Is You, under the moniker of El May. It’s her first new album in four years, when she her equally exquisite self-titled debut record. That record came only after Meyerratken concentrated on a solo career after spending years being a longtime session player for such artists as Ben Lee, Crooked Fingers, Nada Surf, Luscious Jackson, Luna, and Dar Williams.
As Meyerratken explains, the factors in the delay in delivering the second album included her move to Los Angeles after living in New York for 10 years—and her performing, producing and recording the music herself. “That takes a lot of will and a lot of focus that I don’t always have,” she says about the recording process. “I don’t always have it because I don’t have bandmates, I don’t have a record label asking me what the hell is going on. So I do it at a pace that is probably not commercially proper. I don’t always seemed focused on making records because I don’t always feel like it’s supposed to be what I’m doing. I do feel like it now because I know that this record is good and I know that people are responding to it really well.”
When it comes to crafting her own music, El May is a perfectionist and one can hear that on The Other Person Is You for its sun-kissed, southern California-drenched vibe and gorgeously crafted arrangements. Featuring guest players such as former Luna members Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips and Sean Eden; the Vaselines’ Eugene Kelly; and the Pierces’ Allison Pierce, The Other Person Is You is very eclectic with songs that border on ’70s disco and funk (the highly infectious “Thrills,” “Diamonds, Girl”), country rock (“Lessons Appear”) and straightforward, bouncy indie rock (“My Policeman’s an Addict,” “Science”)—voiced through Meyerratken wistful and intimate delivery. “A lot of records we listen to have a similar sound palette,” she says about the album’s sonic range. “Perhaps it’s the amount of time that I afford myself to do things. I just live my life and write the songs as they happen in my life. So each thing is going to catch me at a different moment and a different phase or different set emotions.”
And like said album, the new record is a very personal and spiritual journey that draws from Meyerratken’s relationship woes that forced her to look within. “I actually had one particularly very triggering relationship that then made me look and say, ‘You know I really need to stop for a while.’ So I had a year of celibacy; that was just the off table, dating was off the table. In order for me to withdraw all the threads of my being from anyone else and really look at my own self.”
That lyrical thread of introspection carries over to several of the album’s songs, such as on the very acoustic “Atlantic/Pacific,” which is about about having the confidence within yourself during stressful and crisis moments. “We squirm around looking for some relief when we’re uncomfortable and distract ourselves with our phone or sex or coffee,” she says. “Those things are all fine and great but underneath it, there’s this uncomfort that we’re trying to block that is worth sitting with because they’re might be something good in it.”
The album closes with on a majestic note with “Oh, Get Carried,” drawing from the experiences of her mother and stepfather and the idea of perseverance. “I do like idea of angels or some kind of invisible guidance,” she says, “that just gets you in enough positions where you’re choosing the right things, enough times where your life is getting together, coming together despite our hardships that we are able to make things work and to experience joy and love and not destroy ourselves.”
All of this made the resulting album, whose songs were formulated on kitchen tables and walks to the park, therapeutic for Meyerratken. “While I was doing all this investigating to work on myself and therapy and different things,” she says, “I had this goal that I was working towards as a creative project, as a dream. I dreamed to make another record. So it was sort of a goal in the future while I did all these other things and prioritized these things to help myself. And then at end of it, the thing that I had, I made this record, that revealed to be the most therapeutic or confident building. The biggest thing for me has been confidence and self-love. I feel that this record has given me both those things just by doing it and by it being finished.”
Meyerratken, who is from Perth, Australia, became a solo artist late in her career, having previously supported other musicians as well as doing soundtrack work for film, television (Melrose Place, Pretty Little Liars) and advertising. While a part of her admits that she would have concentrated on doing her own music sooner, Meyerratken also says she doesn’t regret it. She cites what the singer/songwriter Dar Williams had once said to her about another female session player who grew older and expressed sadness that she never had a chance to make her own music.
“Of course I think about that,” Meyerratken says of her career arc. “I think about my age, and I think that I definitely see my friends further along, but I am so grateful for where I am now because I realize how difficult it is to just step out of the shadows. Most people don’t, and I’m really proud of myself for doing it. It took a lot of friends who encouraged me and the people who I worked for who didn’t encourage me because that made me think, ‘Wow I must really have something great to offer if they’re threatened.’ I’m pretty pleased with the way things are now and you just never know. This record could be so perfectly timed that it couldn’t have happened any earlier.”
This past September, El May embarked on a U.K. tour opening for the Pierces; she’s hoping to do more touring throughout the United States beyond the West Coast. As for the next El May album, Meyerratken doesn’t anticipate a longer release time as it did for The Other Person Is You. “I have a lot more confidence than I had before,” she says. “I definitely feel driven and excited and sure of my passion for this. I already started writing a few things. I feel that maybe in a couple of years I’ll have something. I just want to be available to tour as much as I can, so… if it means not sitting around writing on park benches for now.”