Turkey Vulture’s Metal Mom Jessie May on Making ‘Twist the Knife’ While Raising a Baby

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Few musical genres ares more potent and cathartic than hardcore, metal and old-school punk rock. Yet it is these genres that I felt internally pressured to abandon when I became a mom in suburbia (and it took me years to re-embrace them). 

That’s why it was so refreshing to immerse myself in the gutteral, sonic intensity of the band Turkey Vulture, comprising married duo Jessie May and Jim Clegg, who wrote some of the music for their forthcoming album Twist the Knife while cutting their teeth as parents of a baby boy born in late 2020.

Hailing from Milford, Connecticut, Turkey Vulture combines punk, metal, and Americana influences, including the Misfits, Descendents, Guns N’ Roses, and “old timey stuff,” as Jessie puts it. Twist the Knife, to be released in January, incorporates all of these elements, with Jessie’s unique vocals front and center, fluctuating between growls and a more punk, Cherrie Currie Runaways vibe. 

Turkey Vulture’s Jessie May and Jim Clegg

So how did they manage to put together a record while raising a tiny person? We recently caught up with Jessie to find out. 

Rockmommy: Love the first few tracks of your upcoming record. You made it with a little baby in tow. How did that go? 

Jessie Mays: Well, we thought ‘recording an EP this summer’ would be a great idea in January, when the baby was a newborn and slept all day. And in the coming months, he became a little boy who hates naps! Luckily he sleeps at night lol…

Jim is the kind of person who is creative at all times, no matter what — but I’m the kind of person who needs a specific task or deadline. If we hadn’t decided to record this EP, I probably wouldn’t have picked up an instrument since the little guy was born. For instance — I’m a bass player “officially,” but I’ve only played bass this year to write the bass lines for these songs and record them. Jim plays my bass more than I do!

One funny “band parent” experience was taking the little guy with us to do band photos. We set up a tripod at a local park and tried to look really cool on some broken down bleachers. Our kid was in the stroller, wearing a Turkey Vulture T-shirt our friend had made for him. He was not impressed with this weird grownup adventure, but he liked getting strolled in the woods after. And he was definitely the coolest-looking one in the family!

Turkey Vulture’s ‘Twist the Knife’

Rockmommy: What sets ‘Twist the Knife’ apart from your other music?

Jessie May: I’d say one of the biggest differences for this EP is that Jim wrote more of the music and lyrics than in our previous releases. He’s the brains behind the tracks “Fiji” and “Where the Truth Dwells,” going for a heavy punk vibe, a la Fear/Discharge/GBH/Misfits’ American Psycho. We also followed the Misfits trend by writing songs about movies; “Fiji” is based on The Truman Show and “Livestock On Our Way to Slaughter” is about the movie They Live.  

Another difference is that I focused more on writing the second guitar parts this time around than the bass lines; that wasn’t really on purpose, but more a factor of preparing for recording while balancing work and a new baby. There was only so much nitpicking I could do!

Most of the EP was written before the pandemic, but we put the finishing touches on the songs over the past year. However, we do have a couple Garage Band-recorded singles that are directly about it: “The Quarantine Song” (April 2020) and “Christmas Apart” (December 2020). I’m especially proud of “Christmas Apart” and hope to make a pro recording of it one of these years. My little brother who lives in California was supposed to come out for the holiday last year, but tested positive for COVID the day before Christmas Eve. He recovered well and of course it was a good thing he got the test results before getting on a plane, but… That’s what the song is about.

Rockmommy: There aren’t a lot of doom metal or thrash metal/hardcore female singers. It’s so refreshing to hear you growl.

Jessie May: Thank you! I have a lot of fun singing in this band, and being a vocalist/frontperson is a new endeavor for me. I’m glad I took the plunge! By day I’m an elementary school librarian and of course mom of an infant, so I spend most of the time in “cute and cuddly” or patient, “let’s all be our best selves” mode. So getting on the mic and having this aggressive alter ego is a welcome change — and now that every show is a balancing act of arranging babysitting and being a functional parent the next day, we have to really make every set count. This is it! Right now!

Rockmommy: How do you squeeze in recording and rehearsal time, given your new parenting responsibilities? 

Jessie May: It was definitely a balancing act and would not have been possible without loving grandparents. Our parents have been a huge help in many ways, including babysitting so we can rehearse — the thing about being in a band with your partner is that we can’t be like, “You babysit and I’ll go to band practice, then we’ll switch!” My mother, God bless her, also took the baby while we went to the recording studio.

As far as day-to-day practicing, I’ve had to look at it in different ways than pre-baby life. If I can grab the acoustic guitar off the wall and play four or five songs after the baby goes to bed, it helps. The other day I even played a few songs for the baby in the morning, and he liked it!  He laughed at the harsh vocals.

Speaking of vocals, I started doing Melissa Cross’s Zen of Screaming exercises in the car every day on the way to work after my maternity leave ended. I wondered if it would make a difference — and it did! Turkey Vulture is the first band I’ve ever sang in, and I think this EP has the strongest vocals of any of our recordings.

Rockmommy: My favorite is possibly the song “She’s Married (But Not to Me).” What inspired that one? 

Jessie May: Jim and I were close friends for many years before we started dating — our first band together was all the way back in 2008! So being friends and also active in the local music scene, we used to go to a lot of shows together. An acquaintance of Jim’s asked where his “wife” was one night, and he told the guy, “She’s married, but not to me.” A perfect topic for a folk song!

So it started as an acoustic ballad and ended up the punk song you hear on the EP; the verse chord changes and some of the lyrics are inspired by the classic country song “Long Black Veil.”

Rockmommy: What are you most looking forward to in late 2021, band-wise — besides the record — now that the warm outdoor summer gigging season is over?

We’re planning to play December 11th at Cherry Street Station in Wallingford. We bring our own mic and mask when we’re not performing, and we are vaccinated. So we try to keep it as safe as possible while still doing what we enjoy.

Jessie May

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.