Hillbilly Highway – Gettin’ Lucky with Mayes & Nowicki

by Sheldon Birnie

Romi Mayes is a staple of the Winnipeg roots rockin’ scene. A guitar wielding, songwriting babe, Mayes has been touring for years as two-piece blues rock combo with powerhouse guitar-picker Jay Nowicki of the Perpetrators. The Mayes & Nowicki show have toured around the world and back again over the past few years, releasing the Times Fades Away styled live album Lucky Tonight last year. Personally, I’ve been in awe of Mayes songwriting and strong stage presence for years. This Friday, I’m pumped up to have my band to open for Mayes & Nowicki at the Cavern. I caught up with Romi over the phone after the May Long Weekend to chat about the gig, a new music video, and what keeps her inspired while travelling the lengths of the Hillbilly Highway.

Stylus: You just got back from being on the road. You’re out there pretty regularly. Can you talk about that?

Romi Mayes: Not as much as it seems, I just ramble on all the time about it. Last year we were really busy. We had our CD release here, and we were on the road a lot. This year we’re not as busy, but we are consistently out for a week here, a week there. We just gotta keep doing stuff. But we’re not away as we’re home this year.

Stylus: I noticed that this summer you’ve got a lot of interesting gigs coming up, like the BBQ & Blues Festival. Can you talk a little about that?

RM: That’ll be cool. What’s happened not last year but the year before, a lot of the Manitoba music festivals booked us. So we were able to stay based around Manitoba for most of the summer, which was really cool. We used to be halfway across the country for one festival, and then we’d have to drive across the other half for another. We do have the Calgary Blues Festival this year, which I think will be cool.

Stylus: Ok, getting away from traveling, can you talk a little about your initial influences on songwriting?

RM: Well, I don’t know. I guess I always wanted to play music, but I didn’t really know. I would be listening to the radio all the time when I was young. I’d just go to my room and listen to music. I didn’t really find that to be strange or anything in particular. But my mom would always say, “All you do is listen to the radio!” I’d make all those mix tapes off the radio. And I’d lip-sync off the radio to Joan Jett or whoever. [laughs]. But I didn’t really realize  the extent to how much I really wanted to do that. Then I guess a few decades ago I got my first taste of playing on stage, and I went home really moved. I had this room really blown away for a night, and I’d never had that feeling before. I went home and I was like “Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Stylus: Who are some folks that keep you inspired today? Or maybe not even folks, but what keeps you inspired to keep doing this?

RM: I guess I kind of have no choice at this point. It’s what I do and I love it. There’s really nothing I’d rather be doing. Even on this tour, I turned to Jay Nowicki at one point, Jay Nowicki who plays music with me and with the Perps, and I said, “Our job is so weird. This is our job!” We were filming as we drove through Chicago, and we were like, “Let’s go get some food here.” “Yeah, that’d be great!” “What time do we have to be at our show? Not till that time? Great!” You know? Then we crack a beer, we rock out for these people, meet these great people, maybe they buy our stuff. Then we go to sleep in a hotel. And that’s our job. You know, it just seems like an addiction to that. I also just love music so much. Not surprisingly. And then I have people, so many people around me. Luckily I know all of them, but at one point I would never have guessed I would, and they’re all over the map, that kick so much ass that it makes you want to be so much better and try so much harder to do that. It’s inspiring. Even just something like the Black Keys. They came out on the mainstream more recently, but they’ve been playing for years, making cool albums for years. They’re in their 40s or whatever. That they can bring such a cool sound to the mainstream is really inspiring. You know, like “Maybe there’s a chance!” Hahaha.

Stylus: Those videos you mentioned, that’s a pretty neat thing you’ve been doing for about a year now. How did those come about?

RM: I think I was just really jealous of people who were doing stuff like that. I’d always see like little snippets from the road. I thought it had to do with the fact that they Mac computers, and iPhones and stuff I didn’t really know about. I thought that was something I didn’t know about. Really shortly thereafter I realized that we could do it! I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Jay and I have a really, really fucking good time on the road. We’re always laughing, we’re such geeks, such nerds. Just laughing so much. We’re always goofing around, so it was just a no-brainer to get some of this on film for the people who want to know what happens between shows. It became The Adventures of Mayes & Nowicki. I’m actually just putting together Episode 15 for our last travel. It definitely added an element to the road.

Stylus: This Friday, you’re playing at the Cavern. You’re filming a video? What’s that all about?

RM: We’re actually making our first video. Finally. It’s taken me 20 years to decide to make a music video. I’ve been so lazy about it!  But it’s finally time. We’re making the video for our song “Lucky Tonight.” So, the whole idea is put together already as an outline, but some scenes have to be in bars. It actually won’t be us on stage playing, it’ll be more off-stage. Like between your band and my band, or maybe between sets if we do two sets, in between then. But it’ll be just a scene we need to capture where Jay and this woman hook up and go home. So that’s the scene we need to capture. But of course there’s still the bar, and our friends, and cameos we want to make sure we get. And I think the director has these ideas of how to make it comical, to make it a real funny story. So that’s going to be part of the night for us.

Catch Romi Mayes & Jay Nowicki at the Cavern on Friday, though go early if you expect to get in. They’ll be filming the first of two bar scenes for their upcoming “Lucky Tonight” video. The second part will be filmed Saturday, June 2nd at the Times Change(d).

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