For May Rio, the writing of her debut solo album, Easy Bammer, is quite literally on the wall. Released June 25 via Dots Per Inch Music, the solo debut from the Poppies vocalist materialized as she taped lyrical snippets to the walls of her childhood bedroom, adrift in isolation like so many musicians during the pandemic.
Growing up in Austin, Texas, Rio began her creative career as a visual artist. But it wasn’t until her junior year of art school where her vision transitioned to music after picking up her first acoustic guitar, daring herself to write a song. “I could barely play an A chord, but I wrote a song, and it felt so good and so much better than making art,” Rio confesses to Audiofemme. “I knew that’s what I wanted to keep doing right then.”
But her determination on this new musical path was also met with trepidation. Entering an industry that’s obsessed with youth, Rio was convinced that she was pursuing the craft too late. “I was praised a lot for my talent with visual art growing up. I think even by the time I was a teenager, it made it really not fun for me anymore. The upside of starting music so late was that there was never any expectation that I would be good at it,” she analyzes. After graduating college, the Texas native became a New York transplant with an overwhelming desire to start a band. That vision became reality when she met guitarist Ian Langehough, the two forming Brooklyn-based indie pop-rock band Poppies and releasing four EPs.
But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought her back to her parents’ house in Austin. As she ebbed and flowed through the early mundane days of the pandemic, the idea of making a solo album came creeping into mind, her song lyrics spilling onto sheets of paper that she taped to the walls. “Every day was the same and my emotions are the same every day. There wasn’t really a lot going on to process other than the exact same thing,” she describes of the album’s conception. “I was curious, ‘can I do this?’ It was an experiment to show myself that I could.”
From there, Rio consistently made demos, each one fueling her drive to make another. Upon returning to New York in the summer, she connected with Tony 1 of indie act Tony or Tony, toying with her solo demos in his at-home studio. “As soon as we started laying everything down, I was cheesing so hard because I was like ‘This is exactly how I want this to be,’” she describes of the “unambitious” endeavor.
Intentional about stepping outside of Poppies’ guitar-heavy sound, Rio leaned more into pop production, pulling in experimental sounds, funky pop loops and eclectic arcade game effects to compliment her whimsical voice. Unafraid to explore “goofy” topics, Rio admits that an online shopping addiction developed during the pandemic on “Everything Must Go!” while “Gravy Baby” is an edgy pop homage to playing the lottery.
Alongside more playful numbers, Rio was intentional about processing the real pain she was experiencing in the aftermath of heartbreak. “A lot of the songs are very personal. Lyrics are super important to me. It’s always been very important that they really mean something,” she conveys. “Even if the listener doesn’t know what I’m saying, I need to know what I’m saying.”
In “Reservations,” Rio explores her experiences at the end of a relationship with someone who is a recovering heroin addict; while she knew the relationship would ultimately end in demise, she still felt sorrow over the lost love. Meanwhile, “Reasons” explores the feeling of being stuck, and “Party Jail” captures the draining nature of tour life that’s “hard on the spirit,” Rio describes, citing it as her favorite song to record.
But she points to “songForNeo” as the most vulnerable of the 10 tracks, a tale of star-crossed lovers who desperately want to be together, but for inexplicable reasons are destined to remain apart, which Rio calls the “heartbreak of my life.” “It was really helpful writing that song because I could channel that energy into writing rather than reaching out at two in the morning, say everything I wanted to actually say to him but probably wouldn’t be all that helpful, and put it in the song instead,” she details of the emotional track.
It’s this element of healthy processing that Rio channeled into the album, hoping that listeners get as much out of it as she put into it. “It’s good to question things. I don’t mind if my listeners are confused. I think it’s good to always be in at least some state of confusion. I feel like if you are confused, that means you’re questioning and you’re staying open,” she says. “Making [Easy Bammer] was very helpful and a release for me. I feel like it’s a fun album to listen to, but there’s also a darkness to it as well. I hope other people can find some release through it too.”
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