Imelda May kept seeing the number 11. Dialing back and decompressing from her 2017 release Life Love Flesh Blood, the Irish artist delved deeper into her psyche and eventually had an awakening, all centered around the digit she kept seeing, and the origin of her sixth album 11 Past the Hour (Decca Records).
“In many cultures it’s a wake up call, so I decided to listen and go with it, and it really took me on this amazing journey, which has led me to delve into pre-Christian art and ancient paganism,” says May of the recurring 11 she kept seeing all around. Her journey brought her to the prehistoric tomb of Newgrange in Meath, Ireland, a 5,000-year-old burial site planted in the center of a field. She had visited many times as a child but never as an adult. Once there, one must capture the sun rising and slipping through a tiny chamber above the dome’s doorway.
“Light fills the inner chamber for about five minutes, and then it’s gone,” says May. “All of that waiting, for that one moment. It blew my mind as an adult to see this, to run my fingers on the rock, and see all these places where my ancestors exist. It really had a strong and wonderful effect on me and led me to this album. 11 Past the Hour is a look at new discoveries, intuition, and awakening.”
Written with co-producer Tim Bran (Primal Scream) and string arranger Davide Rossi (Coldplay, U2, Goldfrapp), 11 Past the Hour is a Imelda May’s awakening, revolving around love.
“Every song is about love, in different forms, not necessarily romantic love,” reveals May. “It’s about fighting for love, and in its truest form, it’s worth fighting for. We often chase that romantic glow, but that’s just one small part of it.”
A more sinister croon, the title track, co-written with friend Pedro Vito, plants the seed, segueing into a murkier “Breathe,” a song May wrote from the viewpoint of the tree, from the Australian bushfires, the California fires, and the Amazon, the impact of nature, and a metaphor for her own mental health. “We’re not part of this planet, we are part of the tree,” says May. “We’re all in this together, so I was thinking from Mother Nature’s point of view.”
Irish singer-songwriter Niall McNamee slips into the folkier “Don’t Let Me Stand on My Own,” while the faster paced “Made to Love” fills in with The Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood on guitar and vocals by activist Gina Marting and author Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, the latter two May met during an International Women’s Day event.
“I wrote this song from the perspective of love itself as a living thing and how much it has suffered for simply being,” says May. “It frightens some with the power of its simplicity, purity, truth and breathtaking beauty. It puts a mirror to us and only through it can we see our true ourselves.”
Last Shadow Puppets’ frontman Miles Kane joins May on the soaring “What We Did in the Dark,” while Wood returns with Noel Gallagher on vocals to prance around the lovestruck fool-around of “Just One Kiss” before the swell of “Solace,” the only poem May has ever turned into song, and string pulsing close of “Never Look Back.”
When writing 11 Past the Hour, everything was of the moment. Songs don’t linger around May, and there are no lyrical remnants left from her 2017 release Life Love Flesh Blood, a time when the artist admits she hit a low. Imelda May stays in the present, and tosses whatever isn’t used. “I just go throw it away,” she says of older songs. “It’s gone, because I’m in a different place from that time, and it doesn’t feel right to go backwards.”
Nothing has shifted much from the beginning for May, because music still comes to her in the same medium. “I followed my ghosts a lot, and I always wrote honestly, but I did find a way of hiding them,” says May. “I would hide it so nobody else would really know what it was about, and I did that for a long time. I limited myself. I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t challenging myself. I needed to shake it off and change as I do so often.”
She adds, “I follow the song as opposed to wanting the song to follow me. I want to be able to follow where the song leaves me, and at the end of the day it almost feels like a book with many chapters. It just moves around like a diary, and each chapter lends itself to the next.”
Releasing Slip of the Tongue, her first spoken word EP of poetry in 2020—and poem You Don’t Get To Be Racist and Irish used by the Irish government’s ReThink Ireland campaign—May is centered in a new light, and 11 Past the Hour is her “truth.”
“I decided to not hide anything and just say what it is I was wanted to say,” says May. “I found that terrifying and liberating, at the same time, so I decided to continue that way.”
May adds, “I’d like to think I can put into words and music what we all feel sometimes. We all laugh, sing, love, cry, dance, kiss, care, we all experience lust, anger, joy, worry, sorrow and hope. Each song is a moment in my life. Each life is a moment in time. Every minute counts.”