Drag queen extraordinaire May May Graves is a twisted soul with a dark sense of humor and Marilyn Manson-like stage presence. She is a highly sought-after event host and producer. As a burlesque instructor, Grave’s maternal skills have helped transform novice students into cabaret pros. She’s an avid fan of the color blue. But her ascent to the upper echelon of the Dallas drag, burlesque and goth community through performance art is everything you need to know.
Now that Graves is a seasoned veteran of the stage, she’s leveraging her experience and fan base to pursue her original craft: music. She just completed recording her debut album, Monsters, which is scheduled to be released, appropriately, on July's Friday the 13th.
“It’s a mixture of industrial punk music and a little bit of pop,” Graves says. “My album is something that’s very repetitive as far as the lyrics. It’s very Ramones-y, and that’s where I get a lot of inspiration … from old-school punk. I started in a band seven years ago. We were this weird drag punk band, and no one would book us because we were terrible.”
Graves and her band made five-hour round trips from East Texas, where she’s from, to Dallas for shows. Their lifestyle and performances were not glamorous.
“We’d book hotel rooms, invite people over and perform," she says. "We’d sell like one T-shirt per show, make about $60, and most of that would go to gas money.”
The band split up, and Graves gradually started putting the pieces together for her solo project. In 2015, she relocated to Dallas; it proved to be a difficult transition.
“I went through a really tough point in my life because I moved to Dallas with basically nothing,” Graves says. “I slept under sewing tables, slept on couches, slept in my car. I was trying to get where I wanted to be as a performer. Also, I was going through my first breakup, which was hard, especially as a budding gay person who didn’t have an outlet for actual relationships because I was in a small town.”
Graves used her breakup and other life experiences to create content for her album.
“I wrote this song called ‘My Villain’ about my first breakup," she says. "It was more so about how depressed I was that the breakup was affecting my art. I had to tell myself to get up; don’t be a dumbass. You can be emotional, but be the right kind of emotional. I decided to make it more of a dance track. Initially it was a ballad."
As a youth, Graves felt marginalized and out of place — feelings that were the inspiration for her song "Mermaids."
“I wrote it when I went on a trip to Florida," she recalls. "The main thing about that song is I wrote it because I felt disenfranchised [when I was young]. I was in high school writing songs and didn’t feel like it was going to go anywhere. 'Mermaids' is about present-day me, telling young me, 'Let me take you into the future and show you that you’re part of this big plan.'”
Skinny Puppy, Combichrist and Angel Spit were major influences for Graves. Ultimately, years of fandom led to collaboration. Graves wrote a song called "Monsters," which got the attention of Karl Learmont of Angel Spit.
“I released 'Monsters' for my own production, and that was when Karl picked up on it," Graves says. "He said, 'We’ve been watching you, and we like what you’re doing.' It was really cool that he had been paying attention because growing up as a kid, I listened to all of their music. I was floored that they were excited to work with me."
Monsters was recorded in February at Learmont’s studio in L.A. Learmont engineered the album and mentored Graves on the recording process.
“I didn’t want to do what I did initially, which was be my own sound tech and record it myself," Graves says. "I didn’t want to pay some other sound tech who doesn’t know what kind of sound I want. Karl also gave me tips on recording, and that’s not something I expected, but he was super generous about that. Being able to record this EP says so much about who I’ve become in the past seven years."
Graves is finally in a place where she’s confident with who she is as a person and performer. However, she’s not immune to nerves when it comes to being held accountable by her large fan base.
“I’m glad that I have a really good support system in the Dallas goth community and the Dallas queer community," she says. "I haven’t been working on something this big in a while. Especially with the large fan base that I have now, and that’s terrifying because I can’t, like, pull back and just write in my diary anymore or just write songs for me."
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Nerves aside, Graves is excited to be in a position where she can be a voice for what she believes is an overlooked segment within the queer community.
“I wanted to be an inspiration for the weird kids in the queer scene who don’t feel like they’re sparkly rainbows and whatnot," she says. "They’re too punk and too goth for the queer scene, and they’re too gay for, like, the super-uber-masculine industrial scene — that’s who I was."
To promote Monsters, Graves will tour the northeast coast beginning in late September or early October and host an album release party at The Church. Graves wants people to know she takes her album seriously.
“I have some things in store," she says. "I want my album release party to be a visual experience. It will be the same fun you can have at a fucked-up drag show combined with a punk rock concert. I have been curating this for a long time so I can prove that it’s not something I’m just doing for extra fans or to get more social media followers. This is my introduction into this full solo persona as a drag queen doing music that drag queens normally don’t do.”