INTERVIEW: Matt Mays chats new record, touring as a Canadian act and the next few months!

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The Canadian in me shines through most when interviewing a Canadian artist. With the support of music that Canada gives including grants and radio play laws where around 70% of the music on the radio has to be artists of Canadian descent, it’s really too easy for bands to not leave the country. Or to do one tour in the US and it’s not a instant success story they just give up. Last week, I spoke to Matt Mays, one of those artists that wants to keep coming back despite potential small crowds. Mays has been a touring professional musician for the last twenty years, performing with bands as well as solo, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

With his first album in five years dropping just last fall, the album before winning the Juno (Canada’s Grammys), Mays has been non stop these past few months. When I caught up with Mays last week, it was part of the two night stand that The Gaslight Anthem had at House of Blues, and on the books are a run of Canadian dates and a swift return to the Northeast. He’ll be back in Boston at the Haymarket Lounge at the City Winery which is sure to be a great intimate performance. When asked about focuses or goals for these next months, Mays responded ‘I would just like to play down here enough to have a nice little fan base, come down and fill a bar and have a good crowd. I’m not asking for the world’.

Find our chat below where we talked the new record, his time working with bud Loel Campbell of Wintersleep and what he would have told himself when he was starting out. As well as what he would have with held from himself!

To get right into, obviously you did some dates with Gaslight Anthem this year, you’re doing this summer run, you’re coming back just next month to Boston. You’ve been keeping active, the new record only came out in fall of last year. How have these dates been going with Gaslight?
It’s going really great! It’s so nice to be down here playing these full rooms with the guys and they treat us like golden. We’ve become friends over the years and it’s a lot of mutual admiration between bands. And it’s really nice to spend some time with a band you really are a fan of. To get to see them every night. It’s been great getting to play venues like this, full of people. For us it’s nuts because we’re still working on getting that fan base down here so it’s really nice to get this sort of exposure. Just good vibes. And the Gaslight fans are so supportive of us. I think they know that the Gaslight guys kind of like our tunes so they’ll come in expecting something they might like and they’ve been great so far. It’s been pretty great!

And you’ve been touring so long. You’ve been making music for about twenty years. You’ve had different bands, solo stuff, but you’ve been doing it for twenty years. Canada is so supportive of music, with the music laws like 70% has to be Canadian music that gets played and that kind of thing, and all the grants. It is hard to come down, a lot of Canadian bands only come down every 1.5 years. I think for example Wintersleep is one of the ones that come the most and they come like once a year. So maybe advice to bands just to make that jump? Maybe leave that safety net.
Exactly, yeah. That’s what we’re doing. We’re making sure we come through all these towns. We’re playing the Northeast and we’re coming back a few months after and we’re going to keep coming back after that a few months later. Even if it’s just me and Adam doing a solo thing or whatever. This is a good opportunity to get some fans out and hopefully we’ll get some people coming out to the show at the Winery. But yeah, I haven’t been playing here enough. It’s expensive for us to come down with full band and everything but it’s still worth it to keep at it because we love it down here. I love America, I love the people here. And we’re so close in Toronto, it’s maybe two hours from the United States. So it makes a lot of sense.
Not too far at all.
Yeah exactly. Super close!

Maybe speaking of it, you’re playing as main support for Gaslight. Considering your next dates you’re going out, it’s going to be a headlining set, obviously a longer set more the ninety minutes style.
There will be like four people there but it’s going to be a ninety minute set, yeah!
Yeah! Well then maybe how do you choose the songs to play in these opening sets. Obviously with the record being new, it’s the first one in five years, so you want to play that new record.
It’s a good question. We have forty five minutes and I just try to pick, not the best songs, but the songs I feel go the best together. It’s some what a taster of what the band is. Opposed to all the new record or the songs that have that done well in Canada or whatever. I just kind of wanted a really punchy set that went well together. A good 45 minutes of what we do. I thought long and hard about it. We changed it up a bit here and there. Depending on the crowd, I may put an oddball in there but mostly it’s a set that just kind of packs a punch. Makes people want to come back essentially.
And you’re going to be back so soon so they have that opportunity.
Yeah, exactly!

Then like you said, you’ve been doing music for so long, but this record was the first one in about five years. With ‘Coyote’ being the last one. When did you start the recording for this record? Are there some older songs, did you previously try to record an album that maybe you killed?
Yeah I did! I shelved it. I did a whole other record at the studio Elliot Smith built in Van Nuys in LA. I really like it. I was actually thinking about it today. I had about fourteen to sixteen songs done. I was working with Loel Campbell from Wintersleep. He plays drums and produced the record. He’s like my best friend.
Oh that’s awesome, I didn’t know!
Yeah we grew up together. He played drums on it and we did it at Wintersleep and Stars, well, their studio in Montreal. So I was just hanging out with Loel since we’re buds and we went to the studio and started jamming and we came up with a song. We did three and I was like let’s just finish this as a record. He was like, well I’ve got nothing to do. So I moved in with him up the street from the studio and I spent a whole winter in Montreal with him recording this record. So I liked it so much more because I was really into it since it was new so it was like let’s put that out. But I have this whole other record, he actually played on that one too, and that one’s kind of shelved but I’m going to release it probably hopefully sooner than later.
And you did do the vinyl release, the four records, earlier this year?
Yeah I did the whole back catalogue out on vinyl.
Was that something you always wanted to do?
Yeah ever since I was hitting the record button, I was planning on getting them onto vinyl. It’s taken fifteen years, but it’s cheaper to make vinyl now which is awesome. It enables us to be able to do that. Getting to see them all, they’re all like my children, come back into vinyl and in the proper size and everything that was a happy day for me for sure.

Then like we’ve been saying, you’ve put out so many albums, you’ve been doing this for so long, you’ve been performing so long as a professional musician. Maybe something you wish you had known then, like when you started your first band?
I think I probably would have put out more music instead of holding it. I have a hard time letting go. I have to co-produce or produce my albums and that’s not necessarily a good thing because I call the final shots and I’m constantly like ‘it’s not ready yet.’ I kind of dick around too much but I think I’ve learned that lesson. Mind you the records I put out I really like, I like all the songs on them, there’s no filler, and it takes a long time to do all that. And I think there’s a lot of things about the road that young bands ask me about and I don’t tell them because you got to learn for yourself.
You have to experience it for yourself.
Yeah it’s sort of a filter of the people that actually make it to my age and still do it. A lot of people get really weeded out pretty fast. So it’s really kind of a sacred thing to become a road dog. You can’t really warn anybody about the whole thing. You’re the breed or you’re not. There’s no in between. So that’s what I would not tell my old self. Just go through it.
And Gaslight would know that, they’ve all been doing it for a long time, they’re always on tour.
Yeah totally! That’s why I think a lot of bands who have been touring for a while really get along. Because you’re all the breed. We all have the same heartbreak, the same stories, same sacrifices and it makes for a good night of music right? Because we’re all in it together, we all become like one band after a tour which is nice.

Then you obviously are keeping busy, you have a bunch of Canada dates coming up, you’re on this run right now in the states, you’re coming back on your own next month. Maybe some hopes or goals for these next few months?
I’m not super picky. I don’t expect to come down and play the House of Blues here ever. I mean dream come true. I would just like to play down here enough to get a nice little fan base, come down and fill a bar and have a good little crowd. I’m not asking for the world. Canada’s great and everything but you can tackle it pretty quick. Even though it’s a huge country.
Yeah because there aren’t as many major cities, there’s probably like fifteen major cities I would say.
There’s more people in New York state and Pennsylvania then all of Canada.

I didn’t know that!

So you do the math, you spend twenty years in that little tiny area. I put a lot into music and these people are great down here. They love music more then Canadians in some way and I want to be down here. Just for fun, make good nights out of it! That’s all I kind of want!


About Author


Colleen has been writing about music since 2009. Interviewing bands since the glory days of Warped and has continued to do so for now over fourteen years. As well as doing freelance for other publications, the love for everything rock continues today.