By Julijana Capone
CALGARY — Being human is to embrace the split personalities—the good and the bad—within us. And it’s a duality that’s reflected on blues singer-songwriter Romi Mayes’ sixth studio album, Devil on Both Shoulders.
“I spent the past few years realizing how the fuck hard it was to be good,” says Mayes. “It was impossible to be good all the time, so I had that cartoon image of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.”
The title track, an infectious rough-edged blues-rock jam is true-to-form Mayes, yet with tunes such as “Gonna Miss Me,” a sultry nod to retro R&B, and the piano-driven break-up song “Walk Away,” Mayes strips away some of the toughness she’s become known for.
“Isn’t that real to be a human that hurts and is tough?” Mayes says. “I’m just representing myself on my albums.”
Devil on Both Shoulders is her first release since 2011’s Lucky Tonight, the gutsy one-take live album with Perpetrators guitarist/vocalist Jay Nowicki, whom she spent years touring with as an electric duo.
This time around, she assembled a full band to take on the road, including guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, bassist Bernie Thiessen and drummer Jesse Millar. Thiessen, along with Marc Arnould, Alexa Dirks (of Chic Gamine) and Damon Mitchell (of the New Meanies) also make appearances on the album as her studio band.
“Jay still plays with me all the time when we’re local, but he’s busy with his own band and he got married this year, so he has own business to attend to,” says Mayes. “For me, with the new album, it seemed like a good time to start a new band. Jay and I hugged it out. He rehearsed the band with me, and it was like, ‘Man I’m gonna miss you out there.’”
With one friend departing, another was there to lend a hand. Enter long-time pal Grant Siemens (of Corb Lund’s band the Hurtin’ Albertans), who offered to produce the album at just the right moment when Mayes was deciding whether or not to go south to record.
“Grant was a lucky roll of a dice,” she says. “When he presented the idea to me, I thought that was the coolest thing I ever heard, because I love Grant as a friend and a musician. I realized the best producer you can find is going to be the person that you trust musically the most, and he’s definitely one of them…I don’t think I would have made an album as passionate as this one without Grant’s help.”
Having paid for the new album in part through crowdfunding efforts—the first time Mayes has ever taken the approach—she says her fans are really what keep her going.
“My fans are the only reason that I am on stage ever,” says Mayes. “They are the same people that I’ve seen over many, many years. They are the same people that contributed to the album and the same people that are keeping me on the road. I know almost all of them by name… Those fans have become my friends. They are the ones that have stuck with me this whole time, and I know them all.”
Romi Mayes performs at Ironwood (Calgary) on July 16, South Country Fair (Fort McLeod) on July 17, Wild Mountain Music Fest (Hinton) on July 18, Mercury Room (Edmonton) on July 19 and the Jasper Legion (Jasper) on July 22. Check her tour page for more summer dates throughout B.C., Alberta and Manitoba.AB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia, Ironwood, Jasper Legion, Manitoba, MB, Mercury Room, Romi Mayes, South Country Fair, Wild Mountain Music Fest