Published Feb 25, 2009Winnipeg, MB's Romi Mayes sounds as dark and dirty as a tavern bar mat on her latest release, the bluesy, boozy Achin' in Yer Bones. After the success of 2006's Sweet Somethin' Steady and the relentless touring she did in support of it, her evolution as a songwriter and growing strength as a musician come as little surprise. Her newfound polish and confidence, on the other hand, are a revelation. This is her second endeavour with Texan producer Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier) and this time around the two appear to have fallen into a groove that led them to a sparkling, dynamic album with just the right amount of edge. Known originally for a peppy country bluegrass sound, Mayes has veered closer to the blues with her latest set of songs. The big meaty blues riffs of "If The Lord Don't Love You" and "Mercy On Me" are drowning in reverb and awash on the smooth current of Mayes's whiskey-sweet voice. Tracks like "I Won't Cry" deliver an emotional sucker punch, the tough-tender lyrics leaving no doubt as to the authenticity and depth of the heartbreak Ms. Mayes has weathered.
Musically, the new album seems to have a darker tone. Why so gritty and electric this time around?
I think it's actually aptitude. I grew up on blues and blues is my first love in music. I'm not even a huge bluegrass fan, so I think just as my guitar stylings got better, as I was more capable on guitar to play the things I was hearing in my head, it started coming out more blues. Going into this album I said, "let's make a rocker." I didn't want to make people cry anymore.
Lyrically, you always tend towards the heartbreakers though.
I think that's just what I write. I don't really think that happy songs are easy to write or that exciting to listen to. But it is just what comes out of me. A lot of songs come from what you see around you and the heartache people have and the hardships and the hard times.
You got a great response to Sweet Somethin' Steady, what with the reviews and the WCMA nominations. How did that affect you?
It definitely helped me take a turn towards a more serious path. Anytime someone tells you they like what you're doing it pushes you a little further, so the fact that it happened over a couple of years on a grand scale definitely helped my confidence towards making another album and going to the next level. I think I had felt that it was a cool album but it really did do great things for me and it was exciting to watch it unfold and to know that in just a few years so much can change with one person's career; it's exciting. It's something for every musician to know that one album can take you to another level.
What about personally? You tour a tremendous amount. How does being on the road and away from your home and your daughter affect your songwriting?
The last track on the album, "Hard Road," I literally took five months off the road right after writing that song. I just went, "that's it, I need a break." And it does, it does play on your heartstrings to be away from home and be on the road. It's been sensationalized over the years as being a free ride and, wow, what an awesome job that must be. But it's super-hard work and I'm constantly on my game. It does burn you out and it's tricky. Being on the road definitely lends itself to some heartache and missing home.
Sounds like you got a great reception on your European tour though.
It was really exciting because I had no idea. Originally I was just hoping to go to Europe to break even, just for the experience. And then as I was touring there, I started seeing that people knew who I was and people cared about the music and a lot of them had CDs before I even got on stage. I was signing CDs for people and then they were singing along and requesting songs. There are really great audiences out there - they have their finger on the pulse of Americana music and they know all my friends who are doing it. It was really an exciting market to hit. I've worked Canada and the U.S. a lot and I get a lot more respect in Europe than I've ever had in some of the places I've toured repeatedly in Canada and the U.S.
How has your working relationship with Gurf Morlix evolved since the last album?
Well, we stayed really good friends ever since we made Sweet Somethin' Steady; we've toured together, I've spent time with him and his wife at their cabin fishing, we've played music together, we've written music together, so it was a no-brainer. I knew that we were going to get together and work on this album; I knew he was going to be the producer, so going in we were a lot more aware of where the other person was. He already knew my style, my songs, so we had an advantage we didn't have for Sweet Somethin' Steady, because we were so close already, musically and friendship-wise. I've never worked harder on an album in my life; I felt like I had pushed myself and challenged myself a lot on this album. I had to work really hard at things I didn't know if I could sing. It was a hard-working album but it was painless in my relationship with Gurf. Our friendship and our musical relationship over the past three years lent itself to making a great album.
And how do you think it stands as a follow-up to Sweet Somethin' Steady?
I'm overwhelmed at how excited I am about this album. Sweet Somethin' Steady I feel pretty good about and I was worried for a while that I wasn't going to be able to top it. I was nervous about that a little bit, but when we got out of the studio and I started really listening to the album, in my personal opinion, trying to step outside myself, I think it's far superior to Sweet Somethin' Steady. When I put the two albums side by side I feel that Achin' in Your Bones is a much more dynamic album, with way cooler tunes on it and way cooler production and sound. And Gurf is really excited about it. He thinks this is the one, so that kind of encourages me too. (Independent)