Abbe May on Bitchcraft and the Power of the Feminine

– interview by Dariya Salmin

So you’re currently putting on all your final touches for your upcoming album Bitchcraft, how is that coming along so far?
It’s going really well! I’ve hit a place in the ever-evolving creative process where I’m really just going with the flow of stuff. So if I find I’m blocked or things are taking longer than usual then I really just let it evolve how it needs to instead of pushing it. I have a belief that the work itself has — in a way without sounding too hippy about it ­— a consciousness and a life span on its own, and I’m just basically here to channel it and let it go. If it wants to come today it will come, and if it doesn’t I’ll just go and lie on the beach [laughs] and see how I go! So it’s going well. I’m not allowing it to stress me and I’m also not allowing deadlines to be taped when it’s finished. It’s basically going to be finished when it’s ready. It’s not up to me; it’s up to Bitchcraft.

[Laughs] No that’s a good way to look at it; sometimes if you sit down and try and force yourself to be creative, it doesn’t really work and you end up producing stuff you don’t like.
Yeah I think people have stopped listening to their gut. You know, if you’re really not vibing on something you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And that’s how I work now with Bitchcraft. I have followed my intuition in regards to collaborators and visual ideas and it’s just getting stronger and stronger as well. The more that I practise respecting that intuition the more things seem to be falling into place, so it’s a pretty exciting time.

Definitely! I know you took some time off in regards to your health, how has that affected the process with this album in comparison to your last one?
Well, massively, because I no longer allow myself to enter into levels of stress that affect my health the way that it did before. So while a little bit of stress can be fairly healthy and can push you to achieve things, I no longer really allow myself [to stress]. Once I feel that fire, that nasty kind of indigestion feeling rising and my muscles start to tense I take that as an indication that I’m not doing what I’m meant to be doing and chill out, you know? It’s kind of like this: if you’re at an airport and you’re racing to get to the plane and the gates are closing, but if you don’t stop running towards the gate you know you’re going to have a heart attack, you’re better off missing the plane than actually having the heart attack. And that’s how I look at the process. It should be fun. It doesn’t matter if things don’t go the way you envisioned them because you really are in control; you’ve got to go with the flow. That’s my whole philosophy.

Yep, exactly! I think you need to have a level of acceptance when things go wrong and everything else should be exciting.
Exactly. I mean there’s some struggle that we’re meant to feel, you know? We’re meant to have struggle in our lives — that’s how we learn — but I think that if we don’t actually give our bodies the chance to rest and evolve in a way that’s positive, rather than becoming this tightly coiled stress-ball, then I think we’re missing the point.

How has this newfound healthy mindset affected your creativity? Is it flowing and becoming easier?
Yeah it’s good because I now know when to stop. I know when to go and it’s affected every single aspect of my life. I don’t put up with people, social situations, or habits of my own — patterns of my own, thoughts of my own — that are sort of only really there to keep one stuck in a rut. So it’s made me move forward without any of that low functioning behaviour, attitude, habits, and people. If it’s negative and just destructive, it really has no place in the life of a creative. I also have two nephews and a niece who are all infants, so I need to save my energy not just for my work but to assist my siblings in raising their kids and to be a good Auntie. I don’t have the time for low functioning kind of bullshit anymore. So this identification of these negative patterns within myself, I’ve learnt that I’ve had to evolve very quickly. And it has affected my work and the way I work, the kind of work I make and the people I collaborate with. It’s been a pretty amazing thing. I know this sounds weird but I’m so grateful for the seizure [laughs], it changed my life.

Well it sounds like it’s done some pretty amazing things for you.
Yes, I highly recommend having one [laughs]. No I don’t, please stay well!

[Laughs] And so is that where the name Bitchcraft has come from?
Yeah I spent a lot of time prior to getting sick, trying to navigate my work as a woman who was the boss of the projects and who had several bands come one after the other. I was in a position that was very powerful and I found that I was struggling with taking on that role of ‘boss’ and being concerned about not wanting to be seen as a bitch. You know, if you have to fire someone, you have to fire them. I always confront gnarly situations like that very directly and face to face but regardless of that you’re a bitch. And I think I found it really hard to integrate my understanding of myself and role and my desire to be liked. Now I really don’t care if you like me or not, but I do care if my behaviour has been ethical and if I am making a positive impact on those around me. But I no longer care if you think I’m a bitch. Because I think bitches are awesome. I think they’re really powerful. So that’s what Bitchcraft is about, it’s about the power of the feminine and it can apply to both men and women. It’s about the power of the feminine, basically, and reclaiming it and saying it’s actually not an insult. It’s really powerful. Now that being said, you’ve got to be really careful about how you use it, you also need to be careful about who you are when you use it. Not everyone has the right to use it, that’s what I believe anyway. It’s really just about reclaiming that kind of notion that a powerful woman is a good thing.

Especially in certain work places and certain industries you need to channel that inner bitch to get work done.
Look you must and I think that I’m surrounded by men and women who hear me when I speak and also understand that it’s my work. Being that it’s my name on the work. I have refined my communication skills in regards to getting across very strongly my desire in terms of the outcomes of the work. So I have found that I have chosen people that not only challenge me but challenge me in a respectful way. If I find that I’m being talked over or dismissed, I’m very, very direct about it and you know you’ve got no place within the Bitchcraft community [laughs] because I don’t speak to people disrespectfully. So I’ve really just collected a group of collaborators that have massive respect for the divine feminine. This is a serious spiritual pursuit; it’s not just that I’ve removed myself from the industry of it, my manager deals with all of that, I’m basically just trying to make work that makes a difference to people and for myself because I believe that if I work on my internal self, it will have an impact on the external. I kind of have been having these experiences where I can really see that it’s all just the same thing. It sounds a bit trippy!

No, no I think that’s really powerful! So you’ve just released two singles from the album, “Are We Flirting” and “Doomsday Clock”, what’s the response been like for both of them?
It’s been pretty cool. I’ve found that it’s had more impact in terms of its accessibility than anything I’ve released before. Because it’s an independently released record within Australia at the moment, we’re taking it nice and slow, and just seeing how things go. But I’ve found that it’s just been overwhelmingly positive to the point where it’s blowing my mind. It’s wonderful to see people really moved by the music.

That’s exciting! And “Doomsday Clock” is a bit more of a politically themed song, what was the inspiration behind that one?
[Laughs] OK so I feel like what’s happening in the world is a massive imbalance between the masculine and the feminine. I feel like women are not being listened to; they are being murdered, raped, beaten, and paid less. I feel like this is a huge level of silencing and disrespect towards the feminine within all of us, I’m not just talking about women, and I’m talking about men too. And it concerns me that we’re just going along in the same old fashion way, that we’re basically behaving as if we have unlimited resources and that life goes on forever. I think that the problem is that a lot of people, even though we sort of know we’re going to die, I don’t think people truly know it. So there are a lot of people walking around with their eyes closed. And the “Doomsday Clock” is this idea that we’re kind of blindly walking and pushing this planet towards the brink where, I think, in the end we’re going to be rid of it, it’s going to rid us like vermin. The Doomsday clock itself is a symbolic clock face that was created by a group of atomic scientists and it’s meant to indicate the Doomsday, be it by climate change or nuclear catastrophe you know? And I read this article about how recently they’ve pushed the minute hand two minutes closer to midnight. And we’re talking minutes not hours. We’re in a quite serious situation and in the song I’m talking about how we are basically – we have our eyes closed. I’m not talking at people because I’m as guilty as anyone. So it’s just this idea that we need to open up our eyes and go well these structures aren’t working, this trickledown economics isn’t working, this mindlessness isn’t working we need to really fucking open our eyes and start to make change, if not for us, for the babies. The next generation who deserve so much better. And I think that was really inspired by my niece and nephew. I love them so much and I really want to leave them, not just a collection of guitars, but also a liveable planet.

I think all this needs to be put out there and said!
Yeah we’ve got to open our eyes, we’ve got to realise that we are going to die. That this is something that we all face and that there is a purpose for us here. There’s a purpose and it’s different for everyone, but perhaps the same. Sometimes when you’re walking around you realise how many people are stuck in that cycle of working jobs they hate, so that they can pay their mortgage on houses they really can’t afford. They’ve been pushed into these cycles that are removing their ability to actually centre and I think that that’s the biggest issue facing us. It’s wilful ignorance, I know that it’s really difficult but we’ve been sold a lie. And the lie is trickledown economics. You can see it where the rich, the really, really rich are getting richer and the middle class is being extinguished and the poor, I think eventually will riot. So that’s what the Doomsday thing is about, looking back at history the way that these things work, these kinds of up risings of people who have been pushed into these horror situations, these situations of dire poverty and the small amount of the world who are absolutely hoarding wealth. I think we’re going to see some pretty scary shit go down in the next decade or so. I mean we’re already seeing it, right?

Especially with the younger generation and the growth of the Internet, we all now have exposure to things we didn’t know was occurring, so I think there’s definitely an ethically driven movement happening.
Yep exactly! You’re so on it.

So in regards to the single you’ve just released, you’re doing a National tour in late November, which is said to be one of your biggest yet. What can we expect to see from the shows?
You can expect to see a massive explosion of gospel soul and rock n roll. I’ve got a Bitchcraft band and I have gospel singers. For some of the shows I am going to play solo but with all the capital cities I’ll be with my band. You’ll hear pretty much all of Bitchcraft as it’s been recorded to date. Plus all of the singles from my previous albums: Karmageddon and Trouble, Mammalian Locomotion, so a bit of a retrospective as well as all of the new stuff.

Awesome sounds great! And you’ve also got a show coming up in Fremantle on October 31st called The Tonight Show?
Yeah I’ve been invited by the Fremantle Festival to basically curate a celebration of Western Australian music and musicians. It’s an amazing scene here, we have some massive stars! Worldwide concrete artists. I haven’t announced my second tier of artists but we’ve got some massively successful artists coming to join us. And it’s basically an evening of celebrating the great music scene here, where I perform and interview some of my favourite artists. I picked them because the artists that I tend to favour for this event, they have integrity and I can see that they make the music because they’re driven by a creative force and they’re all so talented and I’ve picked people that I’ve really noticed pushing boundaries and breaking out of their safety zone. I admire them. It’s heaps of fun. It’s quite a drunken affair but it’s really informative, you get to know the artists a bit more through the interview in a way that you might not get to through a gig of theirs. It’s more than just banter; it’s quite a deep conversation. It’s really quite a special evening.

I’ll have to come check it out! So after the release of Bitchcraft, which is planned for early next year, but like you said there’s no restraints, what’s in the future for you?
I’m going to be doing some touring of Europe and the US, and I’ll continue to record. I’ll just keep making music basically until I die. Now that I’ve had that big, momentous seizure experience and I know how to avoid it, I feel like I can keep writing forever until that big day that I decide to slide off and go elsewhere. So I’ll just keep working, keep writing, keep touring, but in the immediate future it’s finish the record, touring a lot around Australia and starting to go into Europe and the US. And just meeting the people that have been following me there and building a community around Bitchcraft as much as possible.

That sounds awesome! It sounds like the seizure, like you said has really opened up things for you.
It was such a blessing. It was a hard one but I’m fully recovered now and obviously I think it’s made me a much better woman. I’m glad it happened. I’m just so glad I don’t have to go through it again.

Yeah definitely and it’s really touching to hear that. I really think it’s beautiful what you’re working on and putting out there to the world! Thanks so much for the chat today, Abbe.
My pleasure!

Find tour dates, music and media at AbbeMay.com

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