It seems fitting that Matt Mays loves such existentialist road movies as Easy Rider and Vanishing Point. You see, the East Coast rocker has rather lived out his own road movie-like journey of self-discovery in recent years. “I feel like I have lived a thousand lifetimes since I put out [2008 album] Terminal Romance,” he says backstage at a Toronto gig. “I was engaged to an American girl and had a life with her in New York City and San Francisco, and then we broke up. There have been some real great times, some hard times. I’ve seen a lot more places, and I feel like I have much more insight.”

Travel played a crucial role in Mays’ personal and musical explorations. Ports of call included Mexico, California, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Indonesia. In between spells of searching for the perfect wave, this avid surfer took out his ukelele and worked on sketches for the songs appearing on his latest, and fifth, album, Coyote.

Mays views Coyote as “something of a soundtrack for my own travels and experiences. I wanted to share some of the insight I’ve gathered on my way. I really wanted the songs to be me. Travelling to developing countries is eye-opening. I feel it changed how I look at things. I try to capture that in the tunes and soundscapes.”

Coyote certainly does just that. The guitar-heavy, heartland rock ‘n’ roll sound that has earned Mays a large Canadian audience, multiple East Coast Music Awards, and several Juno nominations over the past decade is again in evidence, as in “Take It On Faith” and “Indio.” Elsewhere, Mays decided to mix things up. “I wanted an interesting record, so the songs aren’t all alike. There are minute-long segues and mood pieces in there. I want people to hear it as an album, a whole experience, as opposed to having the two favourite songs in their iPod. I feel in this day and age you should try to spark interest so people want to hear the whole thing.”

A four-year gap between albums tests the loyalty of any artist’s audience, but Mays refused to rush. “Even if it was 10 years, I was going to wait till it was ready. I wasn’t sure what the reception would be, but it feels like I’m just picking up where I left off. I believe they are a tried, tested and true audience. They haven’t gone anywhere yet, so I don’t think they will. The guys and I worked hard, touring a lot for an awful long time. So we locked down that loyalty, that connection with our fan base.”

He’s relishing his return to the road, armed with an arsenal of guitars. Presenting some of the Coyote material live is a challenge, he says. “The album wasn’t about going into the studio and jamming with the band. A few songs were like that, but others were more pieced together, so getting those ready for live is a little trickier.”

Five different studios are credited on Coyote, and Mays says, “I used even more. Whenever the mood struck and wherever I was at the time, I’d do a session or a mix, in little basement studios. On some tracks, I played most of the instruments, except for drums, like ‘Drop The Bombs,’ which is just me and [drummer] Tim Jim Baker. Some tunes were completely overdubbed, while others, like ‘Loveless,’ were live off the floor with the whole band.”

Mays laughingly describes himself as “a studio geek. Tim Jim and I share an awesome little studio. Coyote is a super-geeky record in terms of my being alone in the studio for hours and hours.”
Now pleased to be back in Dartmouth, Mays looks back on his stint in New York City fondly. “You just never knew what you’d overhear or see there,” he says. “Every day was different.”