Singer Matt Mays has poured so much of himself into his latest release, Once Upon a Hell of a Time…. that the raw authenticity bubbles up repeatedly as the terrific set of tunes unfold.
Mays will be in town on Jan. 23rd for a show at Bo’s.
The Halifax singer/songwriter’s sixth studio album has been described as, “Straddling the melodramatic and the melancholy. It tells the story of a man in search of love, coping with loss and looking for something more.”
Mays noted in a recent interview that he had quite a few tunes wrapped up already, but none of them seemed like they would fit well together on a single project.
“I’ve learned that the less you think, the better the product is going to be,” he added with a laugh. “I think it’s the same with any art.
“I got working with Loel Campbell of Wintersleep who produced the record with me. We decided to start jamming one night, and I had all of these ‘half’ songs. We decided to put them down on tape and recorded them all.”
Mays completed the lyrics, the songwriting flourished and before long, a string of striking new songs surfaced which also worked well thematically.
“For six months we just hunkered down, worked all night every night and it was done. We lived it – it wasn’t just like putting a bunch of songs together and them putting them out. The whole thing was really conceived as we went.”
The follow-up to Juno Award-winning Coyote (2012), Once Upon a Hell of a Time…’s making also spans a handful of locales; starting with the Los Angeles studio once owned by Elliott Smith and with sessions at The Farm Studios in Vancouver, The Sonic Temple in Halifax, The Boiler Room in New York and Breakglass Studios in Montreal along the way.
Mays describes the project as a kind of snapshot of four or five years of his life that were, “Pretty wild, and pretty lost, and pretty free – in certain ways – and I kind of felt like I was coming to the end of a bit of a chapter.
“It’s sort of a really intense, potent creative time of reflection on my last few years taking the easy way out of dealing with a lot of really hard things.”
Once Upon a Hell of a Time… does take listeners on quite the ride – fighting with emotions on Sentimental Sins, defending loneliness on Dark Promises and unraveling pent-up grief on Drunken Angels.
“They all mean a lot to me personally and they’re all my own story, but I think they just come across as fast, fun, rock songs — and I wanted to make people feel like everything is OK in the music, but (still) dealing with stuff that’s pretty real with the lyrics.”
Mays had quite a number of influences along the way, essentially discovering music as a youngster and fully coming to explore it as a teen via his guitar and simple recording devices. Growing up in an east coast community where hockey was the deal, Mays had always found himself drawn to music and creativity in general.
With some very musical grandparents and an artist for a dad, expression was something that came naturally.
“I wasn’t too into playing sports, so I had to kind of find my thing,” he said.
“And if I wanted any luck to meet a girl, I had to come up with something, so the guitar is always the first thing that (aspiring musicians) go to. I later got a four-track recorder, and I was just hooked,” he explained.
He discovered his voice down the road a bit. “I remember trying out for high school musicals, but I would never get any lead parts – I was in the chorus and had to sit in the back. So it took me a while to get my voice. And I feel like I’m just sort of finding it now. It’s always a struggle for me – I’ve never felt like a ‘natural’ singer; I’ve always had to work on it.”
That said, it took some time for Mays to carve out his own musical style – and it’s a style that matches his powerful vocals perfectly. Fans would agree, as from the get-go he’s had a knack for connecting with a growing legion of fans. Besides, there never really was a ‘Plan B’ in terms of a career.
“You realize this about anything in life, is that the only way to find yourself is to experiment, and to push and don’t be like everyone else. Take chances.”