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Old 11-08-2004, 10:35 PM   #1
Join Date: May 2000
Posts: 15,602

El Torpedo has launched

Jocelyn Chan, contributing writer
North Shore News

Monday, November 08, 2004

Lyrically, Matt Mays forges a vivid sense of place for listeners -- taking us on a cross-Canada tour through endless open spaces. Evoking Neil Young and The Band, his self-titled debut is loaded with alt-country gems.


Matt Mays and El Torpedo last hit Vancouver in March, opening for Buck 65. This week they return to kick off New Music West on a triple bill with the Trews and The Waking Eyes at the Commodore Ballroom.

As is often the case, back in the spring most of the crowd hadn't arrived before the band finished their set. One would think that Mays and El Torpedo -- which includes Jarrett Murphy (guitar), Brad Conrad (organ, pedal steel), Andy Patil (bass) and Tim Baker (drums) -- would have packed the venue. After all, they picked up Galaxie's Rising Star Award at the North by Northeast festival in 2003 and were named New Artist of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards earlier this year. And that's not even mentioning their dynamic live shows and exceptionally solid debut album.

Over lunch in Halifax, the Dartmouth-based Mays elaborated on his new album, a Canadian sound, and breaking out.

He has (rightfully) garnered comparisons to Neil Young's more laid-back side -- the 10 alt-country, roots-tinged tracks on his debut are neatly polished and filled with catchy melodies. In fact, one could be excused for thinking the album was written and recorded in the 1970s alongside Young and Gram Parsons. But Mays admits it lacks the explosive energy and spontaneity of his band's live shows. That said, the raw edge won't be left out the second time around, something he's clearly enthused about.

The new album was recorded during a three-week span this May with Grammy-winning producer Don Smith (Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, U2, Tragically Hip). After Mays's label, Sonic Records, sent the producer some demos and the Matt Mays CD, Smith flew into Halifax to catch a Mays and El Torpedo show at the Marquee. It has definitely been a great collaboration.

"He said we had enough to record an album live off the floor and wanted to work with us," says Mays. "It's been good because he acknowledged (that) we're not a perfect band," Mays laughs, "None of us have chops.

"We're a live band. We wanted to capture that -- we play with a lot of mojo and soul in our sound and he let us do that. Most of the record was right off the floor. There's lots of live electricity in the air. That's the difference from our last album. And I'd say that it'll sound thicker and probably more upbeat."

That aside, fans should expect 11 to 12 songs on the record, which is scheduled for a March 2005 release. Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards makes a guest appearance on backing vocals.

A vinyl aficionado ("I've got over 500 in my collection"), Mays reveals the as-yet untitled sophomore effort will be released both on CD and vinyl.

"I think the best way to listen to music is on vinyl, because CDs sound flat, too clean, while vinyl's are warm," he explains. "They're more real and they sound live. That crackling sound - it's like the crackling of a fireplace. CDs don't have that vibe. I'm hoping to re-release the first album on vinyl, too."

Evoking Neil Young and The Band, Mays's self-titled debut is loaded with alt-country gems. There's a strong dose of Bob Dylan, whom Mays cites as his biggest influence, and a dash of Gordon Lightfoot's romantic Canadiana as well. Mays pinpoints Lightfoot as ground zero for a distinct Canadian sound -- but like most Canadian music fans, he's hard pressed to describe it.

"A lot of us (Canadian singer-songwriters) -- Ron Sexsmith, Sam Roberts, Sarah Harmer and Sarah Slean, Kathleen Edwards -- they have it," he elaborates. "Neil Young -- he has it when he wants it. But it's Lightfoot. I know it but I can't say it. It's a down-home feel, rootsy sound to their tuneage. I know it when I hear it."

That down-home roots vibe certainly shines clearly all over Matt Mays. But lyrically, Mays also forges a vivid sense of place for listeners -- taking them on an identifiably cross-Canada trek through endless open spaces. "I write from personal experience," he says, "and when I write it's spontaneous. When songs come out, they come out."

Given that this nation is so vast, sparsely populated, and scattered population-wise one might expect Mays to have his share of travels-from-hell. Not so, he says. Canadian artists just get used to extended periods of travel, knowing that long distances between gigs are a given. But he muses, "I think an American band would probably find traveling here hard."

It's a no-brainer for a Canadian band to tap in the U.S. market. Bands don't have to travel far to reach metropolitan centres, and there's a bigger population to strike. Given the success of Wilco and the Jayhawks, two bands who share a similar sound with Mays, and have been well-received by critics and fans, Mays shouldn't have a problem finding a niche down south. As such, Mays says that the band is working on getting an American distribution deal, with sights also set on the U.K. But interestingly enough, Mays thinks there might be a hitch to attracting new fans, but he's not complaining about much.

Maritimers are fiercely loyal to their own, especially when it comes to music, he says, and they comprise a large chunk of his audiences no matter where his band plays. While he certainly appreciates their support, it gets frustrating at times. "We want to expand our fanbase to people who haven't heard us yet," he says. But that's tricky when half the crowd is made up of ex-east-coasters who are already familiar with his music. "Come to think of it," he reflects, "I met a lot of Maritimers at the Commodore."
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