If you search in deepest darkest Stoke Newington you will find a small café called Barracuda's, and if you happened to look in through the steamy front windows one night in November you may have come across a tall table tucked inside one of the bay windows propping up two girls giggling and littered with emptied wine glasses.

One of them was Amy May, the creative maelstrom behind the sublime Paris Motel. Within minutes she's taken off on a fantastic narratorial bender. A rooftop gardener, writing songs about Vita Sackville-West, Amy is quite self-deprecating, very funny, highly articulate; the sort of person you used to hope would sit next to you on the first day of school.

She waves aside my apologies for having no recording equipment other than a pen and a notebook. She doesn't say so, but I think she's secretly pleased, the idea of self-documentation being peculiarly at odds with the sensibilities of a woman whose music weaves our entrance into her story as much as it does reveal the characters that pervade her songs and towns she creates for them to inhabit.

While music is so much her passion, she sometimes seems uneasy discussing her own work with Paris Motel, the London-based collective she began eighteen months ago. Before we even begin discussing her upcoming album, we'd swung the gauntlet from the modernist literary collective, the Bloomsbury Group, to the quest to grow the perfect broad bean.

Amy insists that growing up she was more band-camp and gangly than popular and outgoing. However if being 'band-camp' means winding up working when for the likes of Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath as a temp as well as for Jeff Beck, I'd take band-camp any day. Sure she was working for Beck as his PA for three months, but how many PA's get asked to do orchestration for their boss' new album? Amy ended up leaving Iommi when Beck asked her to help out as he rearranged some of his old tracks for re-release. It makes me wish I'd stuck to the
trombone.

"Really I just leap from one daft temp job to the next," she shrugs when my jaw drops. "They're not all like that!"

The temp work, in its various forms, merely supplements her real love of performance. Formally trained as a classical violinist, Amy May began playing the viola at the age of five. Outside the day job, she does session violin work in a string quartet for corporate parties, playing "string arrangements for dance tracks like a low rent version of Bond."

"I'm made to pout a lot and wear tight outfits. They make sure I pluck my eyebrows and tell me to wear a lot of bling," she adds wryly. She jokes about it, but the difficulties of women today wanting a fruitful career in music, yet not willing to reduce themselves to mere bodies with voices, is something Amy's emphatic about.

"It's quite hard for girls to work as mature and established musicians and I'm quite aware of my age [27]," she explains. "There's an interesting dichotomy between what I'm doing and enjoying it, and the commercial world it's a part of. Certainly in the classical music world it's a relatively recent thing for women to be seen as equals, particularly in the orchestral scene. There's still a painful imbalance in the ratio of female to male players and conductors. And the more commercial side of the music industry, like most other large businesses, continues to be dominated by a largely male directorate, which I think leads to a bias towards masculine-influenced music output."

Paris Motel, Amy May's sideline into the heady world of rock and roll, seems destined to be a space between the pigeon-holing of Industry, her sheer desire to create and wanting to do something completely apart from the testosterone-requested corporate quartets. A vehicle that lingers on the ethereal story-telling back roads rather than the Boo-I-Hate-Man highway.

"I'm not sure that people are so interested anymore in hearing women singer-songwriters singing bad pastiches of songs written by men, which is why we're increasingly seeing figures from Bjork to KT Tunstall becoming as much a part of the rock'n'roll establishment as their male counterparts."

I can see what she means, but there simply doesn't seem to be a 'male'counterpart to what Amy May is doing with Paris Motel. Like Arcade Fire and the Magic Numbers, Paris Motel has found it's own place in an otherwise crowded arena. And currently, they're one of the most exciting and understated bands coming out of London.

Full of stunningly beautiful harmonies, off-kilter lyrical finesse and fantastic orchestration, Paris Motel moulds Amy's classical background with the 60's psychadelia and R 'n B she grew up with ("my parents were hippies") and a smattering of Loretta Lynn on the side. On stage Amy, begowned in vintage chiffons and taffeta, captures her audience with the "ethereal music for a spectral hoe-down."

"[Paris Motel] is really just pretending to be rock and roll, but really being quite square and classical " Amy laughs. "It all came about when I was commissioned to do some writing, which meant I had some money and decided 'I know, I'll do an album' and so got a band together and started doing gigs."

And it's not just London calling (ha ha). This past summer they've played at various festivals including the Shambala Festival ("a non-publicized sort of secret festival in Cornwall, Plymoth; a real hippie festival with a lot of naked women finding themselves through sexual dance techniques"), the Bath Festival and Glastonbury, where they played at the Jazz Lounge and on the Band Stand.

"We were asked by someone who runs the Bath Festival [to play at Glastonbury], rather randomly. We ended up playing on the Saturday and the Sunday. We had been rained off on the Friday and didn't think we'd be able to play, but someone else couldn't be bothered so we got in and off we went. The Band Stand was this little comedy rickety thing that by Sunday when we played had almost fallen over with all the mud and the rain, but we played anyway and had a great time."

Amy grins at the paradox.

"Actually I only started going to festivals a couple of years ago" she admits, laughingly. "I have to say, I'm not very good at camping. I'm sure if you were experienced and had the right boots it would be quite satisfying, but sadly…"

She trails off for a moment then perks up recalling: "We managed to worm our way in to the celebrity bit, but by the time we got in we couldn't get out again. Not bad though, we ended up being given cider with apple brandy which was hot, so the rest of the weekend was lovely!"

And so the AR guys must be knocking down the door. Well, while they have been approached by a label, Amy is reluctant to talk about it, and shifts uncomfortably, focusing her gaze down at the table, when I press her.

"We've had a couple of chats with people," she confesses. "One particular company in America is quite keen on our stuff, and a couple of others in the UK. They're all smallish indie places, but we've not committed to anyone yet, so I'm not really at liberty to say anything more. Right now I'm just doing a lot of writing."

We're back on safe ground now and off she goes like a Robert Louis Stevenson, eyes brimming with excitement. As Paris Motel, Amy has started writing their first full-length album, which she expects to be released late next spring.

The inspiration for the full-length came when she was doing research on the hysteria and the concept of hysterical women.

In the Salpetriere, named after a French hospital that opened in the 19th century "where they'd put insane women, either very poor or simply not quite right" is a collection of stories coming from literature, art and folklore. As the title suggests, the central focus is on women, "but," she insists, "it's "not a big feminist rant. Just stories about lots of interesting people; witches and pirates, that sort of thing. It's a swashbuckling sort of album, actually quiteSwallows and Amazons." She stops and laughs at herself.

"Basically it's not anti-male, rather imparting these rather hilarious and brilliant and enthralling stories about people like Grace O'Mallery – a pirate in Elizabethan times whose entire family were pirates. Because she was a woman she wasn't allowed to enter the family business so she ran away, cut off all her hair and refused to get married. She ended up having had a series of 'husbands' who she took terrible advantage of as she ruled the high seas! Eventually, she was charged with treason and wound up having a peculiar meeting with Queen Elizabeth herself who had heard of the trial and got let off all charges! And Vita Sackville-West. I love her! You can just see her in velvet pantaloons striding through the countryside with her various lovers!"

How, I ask, did an Elizabethan pirate of the seas and a bisexual Modernist come to spawn the grain of an entire album?

"You know, I not sure how it all happened," she muses. "I had read something which made me think. And you know how it goes, you start at one point and it drizzles off into something else. There's a glimmer of a name and you see it and just kind of get off on it."

As simple as that.


Paris Motel released two EPs on their own label this past year and will be releasing a new EP shortly which will reveal at least some of the new album. Until then, I'm just waiting for Spring.















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