Matt Mays, the Juno award‑winning Canadian artist, feels most at home playing live at Toronto’s Massey Hall or the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax. These days, the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia native is still making his way across the country from the warm glow of his living room. As part of his Mantle Music YouTube concert series, thousands of fans, from North Bay, Ontario to New Zealand, tune in to catch Mays perform his signature brand of indie folk rock every Saturday night. The intimate concerts have been the musician’s way of connecting with his fanbase while quarantined in his adopted city of Toronto, and to raise funds for important causes dear to his heart: mental health and canines. Mays’ music has been going to the dogs in other ways, too. All of the songs on his surprise new album Dog City, which he self‑released on May 17th, were written through the eyes of his furry best friend.
enRoute What inspired your living room concert series?
Matt Mays When something happens on a global‑level I find it jarring, so I turn to music. I don’t Zoom much, but playing songs from my living room gives me that human element that I need every week. I look forward to playing for people – whether they’re in New Zealand or Dartmouth – and having that connection. Plus, I have this really great mantel. It has little wooden ships on it and I keep my surfboard next to it. It’s the most East Coast part of my house in Toronto, so I’m drawn to it.
ER What has the response to the concert series been like?
MM Just nuts. We’ve already raised close to $85,000 for the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, and next will be the SPCA. I even helped a couple get engaged last week by playing a special request. I’m just glad she said yes! There’s usually between one person and 3,000 people who tune in every week. But I don’t care if there are only 10 people as long as I get to play. I’m a different person on show days. It’s good to have all of these familiar things in my life because in this day and age anything familiar is incredibly important and valuable, and should be cherished.
ER Is your YouTube experience as satisfying as performing in front of a live crowd?
MM Emotionally and mentally, yes. Physically, no. It’s pretty strange. I can’t see the audience, but I know they are there. For me, that’s huge – I’m used to being in a crowd every night. I miss the smiles up close, the hugs and the heat. I love everything about live shows, but this comes pretty damn close. When I go to bed every Saturday night, I feel like I’ve played a show.
ER How did an album written through the eyes of your dog come about?
MM I spent most of the year taking my dog to the park every day, and it became a meditative place. I started to see the world through the eyes of a dog. If you look at what they really care about, it’s just companionship, love, food and water. Humans can relate to all of those things, and I found myself enjoying the simplicity of being around dogs all day. I don’t want people to think I have lost my mind – there’s a lot of humour in the album! I just think humankind would be lessened without dogs, and it’s nice to live in their world for a while.
ER How has being quarantined impacted your creative process?
MM There have been a lot of positives. It’s been good to just be “indoor me,” and to find out who I am in the shelter of my own home and my own mind. I think a lot of people are feeling more introspective and diagnosing what’s been bugging them in their own lives. It has been challenging in a lot of ways, but there has also been a lot of beauty. This time has reminded us what’s most important, which is treating ourselves well. If everybody goes back to their best traits and ditches their worst, then collectively there will be human progress.
ER You’re an avid surfer. How has the sport influenced your life as an artist?
MM You don’t have to play music or surf to know that the two are a good match. They are both very meditative. Tiny elements go into a wave, where it comes from, its character and how it breaks. Every wave you ride is like a snowflake: It’s completely unique, just like a human being. Music is like that. You think you’ll never write a song again, and then one will just come to you. It’s a beautiful, cyclical rhythm.
ER Tell us about your favourite surf spot.
MM The Point at Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia. It isn’t the best wave ever and we curse it out a lot, but I get to see most of my old friends out there. Even if I know another wave is breaking better, I’ll probably still go out to the Point just to see my buds.
ER What role has travel played in your life and music?
MM I feel very at home when I’m travelling. Every country or city is like a great song. This world is made up of so many amazing parts that you want to listen to over and over again. Every time you listen, you hear something new. And in every town, people are people – it’s neat when you realize that we’re all 99 percent the same. Everybody dances, but they dance differently. I come from Nova Scotia, so people love to dance, eat and drink, and they love their family. When I travel, I seek out all those fundamental things and people seem to open up to me more.
“I feel very at home when I’m travelling. Every country or city is like a great song. This world is made up of so many amazing parts that you want to listen to over and over again. Every time you listen, you hear something new.”
Dream seatmate Neil Young. I feel like he probably likes to have a laugh.
Bucket list destination Sri Lanka. There’s great surfing there. It’s also a place with strong family values, food, love and music.
Favourite souvenir I have a lot of sand in my guitar from a lot of different beaches. It feels really good to see that sand in the middle of winter.
Travel essential You can always find shorts and T‑shirts, but I need to have a good pair of flip flops with me.
Travel has the power to… Make you look at everything in a more positive, powerful and magical way.