Charm is deceptive. Beauty is fleeting." So reads the script around the image of a pretty girl tattooed between Kristen May's shoulder blades. It's visible through the low-slung shirt that Vedera's frontwoman wears on a hot day in early August. Just sitting outside is enough to make a person sweat, but the petite brunette, who's often described as a "pixie" by journalists and fans, doesn't begrudge the sun bearing down on the patio of a Crossroads café.
She appreciates things that are natural.
That attitude applies as much to May's increasingly raw, pesco-vegetarian diet as it does her career. The natural progression that brought her to where she is today — married to a fellow musician and performing with him in a band soon about to record an album for a major label — seems to have started when she quit classical voice training at Belmont University in Nashville.
"To me, it didn't have any balls," May explains.
Learning vocal care and the proper way to belt notes was invaluable, but the structured style of classical singing lacked the raw emotion that drew May to rock-and-roll vocalists. Like Björk, one of her all-time favorites.
"There's pure aggression or something that's coming from the inside that she's not even thinking about," May says.
Determined to express her own emotions naturally, May gave up on college. She's glad she didn't study piano or guitar in Nashville. "In the long run, studying music took it out of me," she says. "I could stand to know more theory, but I don't think I would feel it as much."
A native to this area, May moved back to KC and started jamming with her older brother. One day, he invited an old high school buddy to join them. May had known her brother's guitar-playing friend, Brian Little, in the past. But, as she tells it, on that day "something just clicked."
The connection was musical, intellectual and, ultimately, romantic.
They continued jamming with her brother until, in 2004, they formed their own band, Veda, recruiting Little's younger brother, Drew, to play drums and a mutual friend, Jason Douglas, on bass.
Within a year, Veda cut an EP and a full-length on the local imprint Second Nature Recordings, then hit the road with a batch of powerful indie-pop songs that showcased May's distinctive voice and sentimental lyrics. The smooth, hook-filled rock drew comparisons to groups like Coldplay and U2.
An A&R rep from Epic was in the audience at one of those early shows. He thought the young band showed promise but wasn't yet ready for the jump to a major label.
Fast-forward to 2006. Veda has become Vedera and is on tour with Mute Math. One night in L.A. at the Troubadour, a different Epic representative arrives uncharacteristically early for the show. Impressed by Vedera's opening set, he sends a text message to his colleague. And so began a year and a half of talk.
It took that long for the band and the label to agree on a fair deal.
"We all stood firm in the fact that we knew what we were worth," Brian Little says. "We are a real band. We're really out to do something. 'We're going to work harder than any other band on your roster,' we told them. They finally saw that we weren't a band that they're gonna have to baby-sit."
Vedera signed the paperwork to officially become an Epic band on June 20, 2007.
"At this point," Brian Little says, "it's just a relief to have the deal done."
He doesn't dance around the fact that his charming, naturally beautiful wife, with her alternately booming and fluttery voice, is the main draw to Vedera for anyone, Epic included.
"Everybody knows that girl is the head of that band," he says.
She's also the band's creative force.
"We all feel the same way," Little says. "Whatever song she writes — it never fails — we're all just like, 'That's great!'"
Since the couple got married last November and moved in together, Little has experienced May's creative process up close. "She's probably the most artistic person I know," Little says.
There's no real separation in their studio apartment. He hears her songs when they're just ideas, and when the writing lasts through the night, he's kept up, too.
May also draws. But it's the music — the words and the melodies — that torments and sustains her.
"If I didn't have music," she says, "I think it would be hard to sort through all of the emotions I have."
Spoken like a natural musician.