Mayheaven – Interview – Thanks for Asking

Written by on February 8, 2024

Mayheaven – Interview – Thanks for Asking – by Liam Sweeny.

RRX: Every comic book hero has an origin story. What is the origin story for the band? (points if you tell it like a comic book origin.)

MH: I grew up around predominantly folk- and folk-rock music. My dad was a cover artist who primarily played 60’s era stuff (Dylan, The Byrds, etc…) as well as traditional folk songs. My mom was less inclined to talk about music, but there was a great deal of country music on in the car when I was a kid, largely 70’s-90’s stuff like Ian Tyson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Chris Hillman, and such.

As a teenager, I got really into metal, punk and hardcore. I went to a great many DIY shows where I lived in Connecticut, and spent a great deal of time at Valentine’s, Bogies, and the DIY shows at the UAG Gallery when I first moved to Albany in the late 2000’s. I played in a number of heavier bands in the 2010’s, first as the frontman of technical death metal band Skeptic, then as rhythm guitarist and keyboard player for Seaspan.

When COVID hit in spring 2020, the drummer of Seaspan lost his father, and the band folded around that time. I released a solo metal album as Yawning Earth in the fall of 2020. During that time, I had lost my job of almost a decade, and went through a period of serious mental health struggles. The music that gave me comfort during this period was the music I grew up with, and I dove deeper into it than I had before.

Particularly significant in informing my music was golden era country music (George Jones, Buck Owens, Waylon, Charlie Rich, Merle Haggard), as well as ambient music and slowcore (bands like Grouper, Midwife, Have A Nice Life). The big, lush recordings of old Nashville have their own ambient quality to them, that feels almost outside of time, and I wanted to capture that in what I was writing. Through exploration of these two parts of my taste in music, Mayheaven was born.

RRX: Every band’s first song is a milestone. But so is the latest song. Describe the first song/album you recorded, and also the latest song/album you recorded; what are the differences?

MH: The first Mayheaven song I recorded was Cortisol. I had written the lyrics at some point in late 2019. At the time, I was about two years sober from alcohol and working a very high stress job that meant a great many late nights away from home. Part of my attempt to battle my addictions was to throw myself into my work as much as possible. As I would figure out, this itself was another form of transference, and one that often left me feeling empty, sad, and with little space for the people and things I had cared about.

Cortisol is a tonally very bittersweet, driving, and bleak song about pushing yourself forward with little else but the force of your own will, no matter how hurt you get in the process. The backing vocals were very crude, as I was just beginning to learn how to sing harmony, and the production was very sparse, more akin to a band like Low than any sort of folk or country music.

The most recent song I recorded is called Love (And Only Love). I wrote the lyrics, quite similarly to Cortisol, in a period of physical and emotional upheaval in my life. In contrast, however, Love (And Only Love) is a song of resilience. In a world that seeks to keep us atomized from our communities, eternally posturing behind several levels of irony and participating in empty consumerism, it is a radical act to sincerely express your emotions. To freely love others, despite the fact that this feeling may never be reciprocated, or may be returned unpredictably, and that you perhaps may get hurt in the process, takes courage.

My mantra during the writing of this song was a lyric from a Waxahatchee song called Ruby Falls. “True love don’t follow a straight line; it breaks your neck, it builds you a delicate shrine.” In keeping with that feeling, the song discusses embracing the unknown without cynicism, irony, or artifice. The orchestration is light, mostly acoustic guitar, mandolin, and dual vocals, as opposed to how densely orchestrated Cortisol was. There is consistent close vocal harmony throughout, which I have been working on for a while. Instead of a dirge meant for the shoegaze crowd, Love (And Only Love) feels like a blissed out song circle at a folk festival. It is a song about hope for a world that wants us to feel anything but hopeful.

RRX: Like songs, every band has a unique feeling about their first show. What was your first show like? Was it your best show? If not, what was your best show like?

MH: The first Mayheaven show was a gig at No Fun, put together by my friend and Brule County Bad Boys bandmate Tex. I opened for Brooklyn based musician Scout Gillett alongside formerly local songwriter Jules Olson. At that point, I had only completed 4 original songs, and augmented the set by covering a late-period Merle Haggard song as well as a Keith Whitley song. I remember being afraid that my music wouldn’t land, people would think my voice was strange, that I wouldn’t make the club enough money and wouldn’t get another shot.

Fortunately, I did alright. I played my main acoustic at the time, a Takamine EF-381 twelve string that I affectionately call “The Boat,” which is difficult to keep in tune but sounds otherworldly with the right cocktail of reverb and delay. More than anything, I remember meeting a lot of people who would become important in my musical journey, and having a lot of chances to talk about songwriting.

The best Mayheaven gig, if I were to pick one, was arguably not really a gig as much as a gathering. I played a set during Deb Cavanaugh’s end-of-summer party in 2022 on this stage built into a hillside on her property. I was deep in writing and recording what would become Wellspring at that point, and got to debut several of those songs to an audience that immediately understood what I was doing. I ended the set with a John Anderson cover and was blown away that someone recognized it. More than anything else, I enjoy playing intimate settings where people understand and relate to the material.

RRX: Music genres are difficult for some bands. Some strictly adhere; others not so much. What is your perspective on the genre you play, or the genres you hover around?

MH: I would consider what I do to be spiritually closest to folk, country, and bluegrass. I’ve hesitated to call Mayheaven a country project because people get a certain image about your sound and what views you may have, but my music borrows a great deal from the great country music of the 60’s-80’s. If anything, it serves as a foil to the other bands I play in, a place for me to explore different sonic spaces and lyrical themes.

RRX: It’s a lot of fun living in the present, but we all collect memories and give birth to dreams. We’re talking dreams here. Where you see yourself next year? In the next five years?

MH: I’m currently working on Mayheaven record number 3, and I’ve also been compiling an album worth of recordings of old folk/country/bluegrass/Great American Songbook standards. Additionally, I’m currently working on an album with Headless Relatives, and the Bad Boys will most likely record again this year.

Really, my goal is to play, record, and tour as much as possible. I’d like to get to the point where every act I’m in is regularly road-dogging and I can pull like 100-150 dates a year between all of them.

RRX: We all get a little support from those around us. And we also can be impressed by our fellow bands. Who do you admire in your community, and why?

MH: I freaking love younger bands that are doing interesting stuff with punk and hardcore. Halo Bite, Cinnamon and Sunbloc all rule. My favorite local band is Carnwennan, they’re all good friends and I love that a 518 band is exploring the territory they do.

Two of my closest friends in this scene are Jess Bowen (House Of Saturn, Headless Relatives) and Lucy Nelligan (Brule County Bad Boys) . Their devotion to their craft and knowledge of music blows me away.

I love everything that the folks involved with CZR Entertainment have built. I’m excited to see younger country and country-adjacent DIY bands happen (Billy & The Great Western Postal Service, Dan Carr & The Cure For Asthma). Overall, the 518 rules for music right now and the level of talent is insane.



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