By Rachel SandersFor her fifth full-length album, Winnipeg, MB musician Romi Mayes has shaken things up. With her last two albums produced by Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier), her sultry brand of country blues was sounding evermore polished. This time, Mayes has gone in the opposite direction, stripping things down to the bare bones and recording the album live. Lucky Tonight contains ten brand new songs performed for the first time at a sold-out concert in Winnipeg last winter. Weird? Kind of, but it works. Several tracks consist simply of Mayes and Jay Nowicki (from blues rock band the Perpetrators) performing as an "electric duo," a double helix of blistering blues lines winding around each other, eliciting hoots and whoops from the crowd in the hall. The live recording turns the heat up on Mayes's vocals, bringing out a devilish edge when she belts out the harder numbers. Occasionally dressed up with drums or harmonica, the songs feel fresh and impulsive, and the hall's acoustics lend the album a vintage vibe. Inspired by Time Fades Away (a live album by Neil Young), Lucky Tonight has rawness and immediacy, traits that suit Mayes's earthshaking blues riffs and the sensuality of her lyrics.
How did you come to make this album with Jay Nowicki? We've been really good buddies for about 20 years and I always thought he was a kick-ass guitar player. We were just going to try it for a couple tours, but we were on fire when we played together; it was pretty crazy mojo. We had a full band for a while, but our electric duo shows were even better, so it was kind of a no-brainer: let's make an album.
Tell me about the decision to record the album live. The electric duo shows that we were doing on tour were pretty serious ― we're sweating, we have the crowd going crazy and we've just got these two guitars. I knew we would be great in the studio and we could pull it off, but I thought it would take away what was cool about it: this tight dynamic, this sort of weaving and bobbing between each other's guitars. I was pretty inspired by Time Fades Away, an album Neil Young did in '73.
Did it feel like a risky move? It was terrifying! When you go into a studio, you don't even have to have your songs arranged. You can work on that as it goes, you can rewrite lines and you can add instrumentation and watch it come to fruition during the few weeks you're in the studio. But to do it live meant the songs had to be ready and done for that day, so we had a lot of work to do. I kept thinking, "this is crazy, why are we doing this? We could nail a great album in the studio; I don't know why we're taking this chance." It felt really gutsy, but it was a challenge we rose to and we're really happy with the results.
I read online that Neil Young doesn't actually like Time Fades Away. What was it about that album that inspired you? I just think Neil Young has so many great ideas. Why would you go in a studio and record when your band sound awesome on stage? That whole rock'n'roll purist part of him really appeals to me. I love that he does that album live. It's a pretty cool album; it's not one of my favourite albums of all time, but the balls behind it are so amazing. I really think that rock'n'roll is dying. It might have a resurgence, but I feel like it might be on its way out over the past few years. And I really just love straight up rock'n'roll. Even though my album's not a rock'n'roll album, the heart of it is. These over-produced studio albums, these over-made up indie rock bands, there's so much crap out there. And Neil Young's a good example of someone who was never trying to be anybody; he was just loving rock'n'roll. (Independent)