Mays carries Maple Leaf with true Canadian grit

Diana Liljelund surveys damage to “The Immigrant,” a piece of artwork she created for an outdoor exhibit at Pritchard Park. The piece was tipped over by unknown vandals on July 12. - MEAGAN O
Diana Liljelund surveys damage to “The Immigrant,” a piece of artwork she created for an outdoor exhibit at Pritchard Park. The piece was tipped over by unknown vandals on July 12.
— image credit: MEAGAN O'SHEA/Staff Photo

Matt Mays and El Torpedo play Victoria’s Legends Nightclub Jan. 30

Matt Mays represents true Canadian grit, a description typically reserved for Canuck hockey players like Doug Gilmour or Rod Brind’Amour.

Mays possesses those archetypal qualities of a hard-working, yet modest Canadian male.

Example: In his latest photo shoot with his band El Torpedo, Mays sports a nasty black eye.

Did he sustain this injury in a fight? Was he down blocking a shot in shinny hockey? He’s not telling.

Nevertheless, the bruise represents the kind of artist the Canadian singer-songwriter is. In your face, no bullshit, but not in a stupid G-Unit rapper kind of way.

Mays and El Torpedo perform in Victoria Jan. 30, bringing a style of music that’s made him a bit of a figurehead for working-class, blue-collar Canadians. Mays said he’s honoured by all the attention.

“I really like that actually,” Mays said in a recent telephone interview. “Not that I sort of try to write for that demographic but that’s the demographic that listens to my music. So yeah, I really dig that those type of people like the band, El Torpedo. And you know as far as all the scenes and the cool people, you can really get caught up in the whole thing easily. And I’m more just the kind of guy that goes about his business and does his own thing.”

One scene Mays isn’t ashamed to be a part of is the new wave of alternative Canadian music coming out of places like Montreal and rural Ontario.

“I was down in New York for awhile and yeah they (the music industry) do have their eyes on Canada,” he said. “But it’s not really that big yet. I think it’s more cool to be Canadian in a band if you’re playing in Canada. But yeah it’s crazy to see all the bands building up and representing us.”

Splitting his time between the Big Apple and Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Mays recently took on a rather daunting task for his first official solo record since his self-titled 2002 debut.

His latest effort, When the Angels Make Contact, is a concept album about a lonely Canadian drifter named J.J. Carver. It was to be accompanied by a full-length video, but that has since been put on hold because of financial constraints.

“I sort of took the idea of taking a long journey along a highway,” Mays said. “And all the people you’d make contact with and the spirituality sense of it and just pumped it full of steroids.”

The CD follows Carver through 18 tracks as he tries to find a lost love while dealing with a life of relative loneliness. Mays doesn’t deny that Carver could be his alter-ego. However, once he laid the skeleton for the character, it took on a life of its own.

“Yeah, in a way he sort of started as a version of me. As I was writing the album, he snowballed and came into his own. He’s more of an aggressive guy I’d say.”

“Most of my life, or a fair portion of my life, I’ve spent in a van on the road,” he continued. “So this is sort of a romantic notion with the motorcycle. I’ve spent a lot of my time touring constantly to different towns and meeting strange people – always viewing these places from the outside in, rather than the inside out. So it’s sort of looking at the philosophical questions surrounding that. If that’s what you want to call them, always being on the outside.”

Not always. He was definitely on the inside during his recent appearance with El Torpedo on Late Night with Conan O’Brien last month.

“It was really a surreal experience. It was something that just kind of happened and now you look back on it and it’s kind of nuts. I’ve been a fan of Conan for a long time; I used to watch his show all the time. So yeah, it was cool. He came over and chatted to us for a bit after we played. You know, he’s funny all the time even when the cameras are off.”

Matt Mays and El Torpedo play Legend’s Nightclub, 919 Douglas St., Tuesday, Jan. 30. Opening act is Museum Pieces. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are $16.

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