Come what Mays

After three national tours, Matt Mays and El Torpedo make two hometown stops. Chris McCluskey tries to keep up.

photo Darryl James

Since his days with Dartmouth alt-country quintet The Guthries, Matt Mays has been among the most widely familiar and embraced musicians in Halifax. Due to geographic reasons, however, making the next step in his career and avoiding artistic purgatory meant the 26-year-old was faced with considerable time away from family and his oldest fan base. Now, having toured rigorously away from these parts since the release of Matt Mays and El Torpedo last March, Mays has raised his profile to a national audience.

“When we’re looking outside the window we can see a lot more full rooms every night, where on our first Canada tour we used to play in front of nobody,” he says over juice at a downtown coffee shop. “So that’s what we’ve been noticing, and every now and again someone will go ‘Hey… you’re…the ‘Cocaine Cowgirl’ guy’. So we don’t feel any different, we still have a long way to go.”

Mays calls El Torpedo’s homecoming this Friday and Saturday at The Marquee Club a celebration.

The touring is “probably going to cut 15 years off all our lives but it’ll be worth it. The last two tours have been a big celebration for us, because we’re still alive,” he says. “It’s just nice to be somewhere I can stay for more than one day, for starters. Just all my friends, and I am a really sentimental person I’ve found and that’s why I love living in Dartmouth.”

What Matt Mays and El Torpedo—composed of Tim Baker, Jarrett Murphy, Andy Patil and recent addition Rob Crowell—have accomplished in the industry the past seven months is so vast it is tough to recap. The rowdy ’60s- and ’70s-influenced rocker “Cocaine Cowgirl” became one of the summer’s anthems across the country. El Torpedo toured the country three times, once with Blue Rodeo (including a Halifax stop), earned two Juno Award nominations, won three MIANS Awards, and had a tune picked up to head Nova Scotia’s tourism campaign (“Where Am I Going?” from Mays’s self-titled solo debut).

They also underwent a band member change before their second single, “On the Hood” was released, replacing Brad Conrad with keyboardist Crowell. Mays says the change was evolutionary, and fans can expect a different sounding live band.

“It was a natural change. You get so used to the way a band sounds and it drastically changed,” he says of Crowell. “You play every night and you get another guy playing the instruments, it’s way different. He hasn’t done a lot of touring and to jump in a van and play 30 shows in a row for six or seven weeks is an extremely ragged environment every day.”

The pair of Marquee shows will be Mays and El Torpedo’s first headlining gigs since the second album dropped, and anticipation is high. The post-show agenda includes rest in Dartmouth over the Christmas holidays with their families and possibly choosing a new single for radio. A January tour in Germany will support the release of the record in Europe, and Mays is working on new material.

“I am working on a solo record outside of El Torpedo at home and at the Mullet where I did my first record, and it’s a little different,” Mays says. “It’s kind of almost done, but I want to spend a lot more time mixing it. I am going to take my time on it.”

Mays is also booked to start writing new material witah El Torpedo next week, meaning the workload and financial costs of touring, recording and promoting the band are not about to subside anytime soon.

“My goal was to be able to tour Canada and be able to fill rooms coast-to-coast. And it took us five tours to do that and make some cash at it. I think we broke even on this tour, which is awesome,” he says. Mays is still hungry for more, however. “I am not really satisfied with what we’ve done yet.”

Matt Mays and El Torpedo w/The Novaks, November 25 and 26 at The Marquee Club, 2037 Gottingen, 10pm, $20, 494-3820.

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