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First Play: Matt Mays, Once Upon a Hell of a Time

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Andrea Gin

It’s been five years since Halifax rocker Matt Mays released his Juno-winning album Coyote, and in that time he’s been doing a lot of wandering.

Mays started recording Once Upon a Hell of a Time in Los Angeles, at a studio once owned by Elliott Smith. He then moved on to the Farm Studios in Vancouver, then the Sonic Temple in Halifax and the Boiler Room in New York, finally landing in Montreal to finish working on it with Loel Campbell of Wintersleep at Breakglass Studios. After years of honing these songs in different locales, Mays says he’s finally ready to put them out into the world.

“This is a snapshot of four or five years of my life that were pretty wild, and pretty lost, and pretty free — in certain ways — and I felt like I was coming to the end of a bit of a chapter,” he said via press release. “It was a f--king wild ride of emotions and late nights and all the feels. Kind of the record I’ve always wanted to make.”

Mays started off in alt-country collective the Guthries, then branched off in 2002, releasing his self-titled solo debut that year as well as 2007's ...When the Angels Make Contact, and forming Matt Mays & El Torpedo to release the band's self-titled 2005 album and 2008’s Terminal Romance. Following the dissolution of his band in 2009, Mays released Coyote in 2012, which won the Juno Award for rock album of the year in 2014.

In the time since Coyote, Mays dealt with a romantic break-up and the death of his bandmate, guitarist Jay Smith. Mays says that he used songwriting to deal with the upheaval and grief.

“It’s sort of a really intense, potent, creative time of reflection on my last few years taking the easy way out of dealing with a lot of really hard things.”

You can hear him confronting his fears about relationships and love on the album single “Sentimental Sins.”

In all, Mays says he is ready to release the album and start a new phase of his life.

“Between dealing with loneliness and loss with self-medicating and false escapism, it kind of came to a head, and I sort of did my last hurrah.”

Once Upon a Hell of a Time will be available on Oct. 20 via Sonic Records/Warner Music Canada/ADA. You can pre-order it here.