Dent May and Jordana Remember Their Musical Firsts

The friends and collaborators catch up about the first songs they wrote, the first bands they played in, and more.

Dent May is an LA-based singer-songwriter; Jordana Nye — aka, Jordana — is also an LA-based singer-songwriter. Dent has a new record, What’s For Breakfast?, out today on Carpark, and since Jordana is featured on it (on the first single, “Coasting on Fumes”), the two friends got together to catch up about their musical origins, and more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Dent May: Alright, here’s my first question: Tell me about the first song you ever wrote.

Jordana: The first song I ever wrote was when I was 17. It was a love song, and it’s called “Canvas.” I got an iPod because it had GarageBand on it and I needed something to record — I didn’t have a laptop at that point, so I was like, “I need technology to put this down.” I recorded the ukulele on there. I had a little baritone ukulele, which I still play.

Dent: I saw you play it the other night.

Jordana: [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. Then I went into my bathroom to record vocals, and you could hear the AC turn on in the middle song, but it was too good of a take so I was like, “I can’t [do it over], I’m at this point…” I wasn’t worried about perfection with recording.

Dent: Did you share it with people? Did you put it online?

Jordana: Oh, yeah, I put it on SoundCloud. It’s on my first album.

Dent: This version of it?

Jordana: Yeah. I couldn’t find the stems for it because I lost my iPod, so they just mastered it. It’s not even mixed.

Dent: That’s so insane that the first song you ever wrote is on your first album.

Jordana: Yeah. And the next two are on it as well. 

Dent: Dang.

Jordana: But yeah, it’s a love song. I don’t know what the fuck — I mean, I still don’t even know what the fuck love is, I don’t think. [Laughs.] But it was pretty much my idea of love. There’s no real chorus, but it was like, “My body is your canvas. Will you be my brush?”

Dent: Woo! Racy stuff! [Laughs.] I’m impressed. I wrote a bunch of bad songs that I hope no one ever knows about.

Jordana: Like what?

Dent: I mean, the first song I wrote, I was 10 or something. 

Jordana: Really? 

Dent: Yeah. I didn’t even know how to play guitar. I had learned my first chord — G — so the whole song was G. 

Jordana: [Laughs.] 

Dent: And the song — well, I wrote two. I think “Playground Crush” came first.

Jordana: That’s cute.

Dent: And then there was one called “Smile.”

Jordana: Oh, that’s so Dent.

Dent: [Sings] “Just smile” — G chord — “just smile…” Just the G the whole time. Anyway, then I was in pop punk bands and we wrote songs. There are some EPs that are out floating around. There’s an EP by my high school band called the Rockwells that’s on Spotify.

Jordana: Are you proud of that stuff? Were you proud of that stuff at the time?

Dent: I think I was proud of it. I mean, I was just talking to one of my friends from that time who was saying they still like it. I don’t know, it’s interesting to have the progress of songwriting documented. I’m sort of proud of it, but also not. I’m not really that proud of anything I’ve ever done, though.

Jordana: It developed you into who you are today.

Dent: I was going to ask you — I did one of these with Pearl & the Oysters, and I love talking about local scenes. I was curious if growing up in Maryland, you had a local music scene that you were part of. 

Jordana: Oh, boy. So here’s the thing: in Maryland, when I was 12, I did this Making-the-Band camp at my music school. By music school, I mean I was taking private lessons for violin up until I was 16 or 17, because I just thought that was going to be what I was going to do — you know, play in orchestras and shit. I was in this Making-the-Band camp for a couple years, and you’d take two weeks out of your summer and go to the academy and rehearse songs. It’s five days each week, so we had nine days to figure out a set list of songs we wanted to cover with the people that we were placed in a group with. It’s like Survivor

Dent: [Laughs.] People got voted off.

Jordana: [Laughs.] No, no. But it was like, you sign your kid up, you tell them what instrument they play, and the people who run it put these kids in a band with each other that they think would create a full band. I remember my first year that I did it, I played violin. So I had my electric violin and we were rehearsing these songs, and the bass player was just like, “I don’t understand why we even need a violin for this.”

Dent: Ooh, shots fired!

Jordana: We covered “Sweet Child O Mine” as one of them, and I got to do [vocalizes the opening riff]. 

Dent: Well, yeah, that’s why they needed you.

Jordana: [Laughs.] We had a guitar player who could have done it too, but… So that was my early music scene. I did that for three years in a row.

Dent: Then you became indie. [Laughs.] 

Jordana: Exactly. Then I started listening to Grizzly Bear. 

Dent: Amazing.

Jordana: And Vampire Weekend and shit like that. I got a ukulele, and we had a guitar — my grandfather’s guitar was passed to me, because I’m the only one who plays it in my family. I was a cover girl for a lot of the time, and then I joined this band with three of my friends, and we started writing stuff. I guess they they wrote it mostly, and I just tried to play it on guitar. We’d go to open mics. Then one day I noticed they weren’t hitting me up or anything, and I was like, What’s going on? It was a band of four of us, and one of my friends in the band was like, “I noticed that they changed the band name. It includes the word triple.” And I was like, “…Triple’s three.” [Laughs.] 

Dent: [Laughs.] “Slowly starting to come together here…”

Jordana: And then my friend texted me and was just like, “Hey, look, we’ve been having practices without you. I’m really sorry about it. I feel kind of bad.” And I was just like, “Oh, OK.” That made me sad. So I was like, Alright, I’m just going to go do my own thing. And I started writing music on my own when I was, like, 17. 

Dent: That’s funny. The battle of the bands thing reminded me that the Rockwells did an MTV-sponsored battle of the bands at North Park Mall in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Jordana: No way. 

Dent: And, drum roll please… We won. 

Jordana: Really? 

Dent: Which, I’m kind of still confused about what we were supposed to actually win. I think they gave us $500, but there was sort of a chance to advance to a next round of the battle, but I don’t think we actually did that. What was your first show?

Jordana: Well, I will say I did the talent show two years in a row and I won both times — first place. Violin.

Dent: So not even singing, just playing violin? 

Jordana: First talent show, I covered a Lindsey Stirling song on my looper. And second year, I did “Death of a Bachelor” by Panic! At the Disco, and I had a little keyboard and my ukulele and my violin. 

Dent: That’s funny, because I actually started on ukulele as well. My entire first album was on ukulele. 

Jordana: Really? Oh, my god, we’re literally twins.

Dent: Kind of offended you didn’t know that.

Jordana: [Laughs.] Well, now I do! When was that?

Dent: 2009. You were probably, like, five years old. [Laughs.] 

Jordana: Hey, I was nine, I’ll have you know. 

Dent: Yeah. The album was called The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele.

Jordana: That’s adorable. That’s tasteful too.

Dent: I’m glad you think so.

Jordana: I took my first album title from a video game. Classical Notions of Happiness

Dent: Yeah, I listened to some of it. It’s really good.

Jordana: Thank you. GarageBand drums preset.

Dent: That’s great. I was talking with someone else about Rihanna’s “Umbrella” — that song is just a GarageBand loop of the stock drums. 

Jordana: Really? No way. That’s cute.

Dent: Ain’t no shame in that game.

Jordana: OK, that makes me feel a lot better about it, honestly.

Dent: Yeah, I mean, they’re there for a reason.

Jordana: I’m trying to think, what was my first show? I don’t know, I’ve played so many shows in my life now. I’ve kind of blocked it out. The first Jordana show was probably a house show or something. I played a fair share of them. But not that many, because then COVID hit.

Dent: When was your first tour?

Jordana: My first tour was with TV Girl.

Dent: Woah! That’s amazing.

Jordana: It was awesome. Still my favorite tour I’ve ever been on. What was your first show? 

Dent: Oh, this is funny. Seventh grade, at the end of the year, this kid — for some reason, I don’t even understand this — threw a big party called Booty Bash.

Jordana: Hell yeah.

Dent: So I had a band. My first band was called 21, and it’s because I got it in an AOL chat room. Me and my friend Luke — who was the singer. I was actually the rapper.

Jordana: [Laughs.] I want to hear something recorded.

Dent: Well, there’s a long lost cassette we made that no one can find, but that was from when we’d changed our name to Flood. But with 21, we got into a AOL chat room and we said, “The first thing we see is what our name is going to be.” And immediately someone said, “21/F/Cali” — like 21, female, California. So we said 21. But in retrospect, we should have been 21/F/Cali. That would have been a crazy band name.

Jordana: Yeah, oh, my gosh.

Dent: So yeah, the name became Flood, and we recorded a cover cassette on my parents’ home stereo that had one quarter-inch jack for a microphone for some reason. It was recorded to cassette, one microphone in the middle of the room. We covered Creed, Eve 6, all that kind of stuff. We did Everclear. And then I was the rapper, so I rapped on 311’s “Down.”

Jordana: Oh, fuck! Did you see NPR Tiny Desk Concert did 311?

Dent: Yes, of course I did. And not only that — I was at the very first 311 day in 2001, in New Orleans.

Jordana: No way.

Dent: I met 311 and got their signatures.

Jordana: How old were you? 30?

Dent: I was 35. [Laughs.] No, I was 15. 311 played 47 songs, or something like that. 

Jordana: Jesus Christ.

Dent: It was, like, a four-hour concert. Jimmie’s Chicken Shack opened. This is some deep cut early 2000s alt rock.

Jordana: That’s actually a great band name.

Dent: They were great. And then Flood became my pop punk band, Your Name Here. It’s weird, we were really into Warped Tour, and there was a band called No Use For a Name, so we were kind of ripping that off a little bit. 

Jordana: That’s really gay. 

Dent: [Laughs.] Yeah. And then the Rockwells, we found power pop, the Cars, Elvis Costello, and Pixies and Pavement and stuff. Not that we were that cool, but that’s when it all changed for me.

Jordana: Wait, but what was your first show? The Booty Bash?

Dent: It was Booty Bash. I mean, if you count that as being in a band. I did so many shows in junior high and high school in all these various bands. As Dent May, I did some a local bar gig playing ukulele or whatever in Oxford, Mississippi, when I went to college.

Jordana: You probably filled that fucking room out, didn’t you?

Dent: [Laughs.] It was cool. I mean, I definitely was sharing my MP3s on blogs. This was the 2007 era indie blog stuff, which was a real thing at the time. I was messaging labels on Myspace and emailing my MP3s to blogs, and some of them posted it. Booked a DIY tour, and then my first US tour was opening for AC Newman from The New Pornographers. 

Jordana: Oh, shit. 

Dent: So that was legitimate venues. We played Bowery Ballroom in New York and the Troubadour in LA.

Jordana: I’ve never played either. Alright, I do have a question for you.

Dent: OK. [Laughs.] I’m scared by the look on your face right now.

Jordana: My final question: Dent May, What is for breakfast?

Dent: Pancakes. Scrambled eggs. Biscuits and gravy. Bacon. Sausage. My favorite: cheese grits. And not only are we having pancakes, we’re having waffles too, and French toast. We’re also going to have an omelet with spinach and Swiss cheese, a little avocado on it. 

Jordana: OK, fatass.

Dent: Then we’re gonna do some fresh fruit, for sure. 

Jordana: Orange juice? 

Dent: Definitely. 

Jordana: Pulp or no pulp?

Dent: No pulp.

Jordana: Dude, come on.

Dent: A little pulp.

Jordana: What are you, five? Pulp is really good.

Dent: Yes, I’m five. I actually recently quit coffee. My voice doctor — I have some reflux issues, and they said no coffee. We’re not always blessed with perfect voices like you. Some of us have to work at it.

Jordana: [Hits a high note.] That’s on a cup of coffee, baby.

Dent May is an LA-based singer-songwriter. His latest record, What’s For Breakfast?, is out now on Carpark.