Matt Mays describes the sound of Matt Mays & El Torpedo as down the middle, a balance between deep meaning and easily-digestible being the trademark of their songwriting catalogue. For fans of the band, that might not come as much of a surprise. Listening to Mays and his group, one can discern elements that remind of a carefree and straightforward Tom Petty melding with the fuzzy emotional investment of Neil Young. But to hear the breadth of where Mays and the boys of El Torpedo are coming from — that might prompt a raised eyebrow.
“We’ll be driving in the van and someone will put on Slayer and we’ll all get excited,” Mays says. “Then someone will put on a song by Ella Fitzgerald and it’s the same thing.”
That sort of wide-ranging appreciation for the musical spectrum is one of the things that makes the Halifax-based roots rockers’ “middle of the road” balance so impressive. They don’t originate from a mid-point, but rather they meet there. They can blend frivolity and introspection in a way that is focused, rather than frenetic. It’s a trait that’s rooted in Mays’s belief that there’s a need for all types of tunes in what he calls the “soundtrack to someone’s life.”
“I’ll get really deep and listen to something like a Townes Van Zandt, but sometimes I’ll listen to Too Short and a song called ‘My D**k,’” Mays says. “There are purposes for both songs.”
The afore-labeled “focused” finished product should be taken with a grain of salt. While the band’s work is refined, it’s not exactly precise. Rather, Mays & El Torpedo revel in the leeway inherent in rock and roll. When they recorded their self-titled debut with Grammy award-winning producer Don Smith, they preferred and printed tracks that featured a few miscues but were rich in “mojo” over the flawless takes.
“If you’re lost in the take, that’s how real rock and roll is done,” Mays says. “If Led Zeppelin used today’s recording technology and had a producer that made them do it over and over again, it would just sound like ass.
“Electronic bands sound good when they record super clean, but with rock and roll it doesn’t make sense. It’s about digging in and not really thinking.”
In keeping with the road metaphors, Mays believes the band is starting to put its foot on the gas with the addition of guitarist Jay Smith, formerly of Rock Ranger. Smith replaces Jarrett Murphy who recently departed the band in April.
“Jay’s brought a whole new life to the band,” Mays says of the group that also includes Andy Patil (bass), Rob Crowell (keyboards) and Tim Baker (drums). “We’ve already written three or four new songs with Jay in the band and they’re a lot more balls-to-the-wall rock.”
Fans will get the opportunity to hear those new tracks on Saturday, May 12 when the band plays the Birchmere with The Clarks. Tickets are $19.50 and doors open at 6 p.m.
For more on Matt Mays & El Torpedo, visit www.mattmays.com.