Five Questions With… Josh Fewings of Mayhemingways
The Ontario garage-folk duo releases a sophomore album on Friday and heads back out on the road. Drummer Josh Fewings is still buzzing about the recent Omemee gig by one of his heroes, Neil Young, a show for which he and bandmate Benj Rowland helped build the stage.
By Jason Schneider
Peterborough, Ontario garage-folk duo Mayhemingways is set to release a second full-length album, Skip Land, on Feb. 23, and it once again displays a distinctive approach to time-tested themes. With Benj Rowland handling a multitude of acoustic instruments, and Josh Fewings holding things down on drums, the pair returned to producer Steve Loree’s Alberta studio to record Skip Land, an all-original collection that touches on everyday struggles but delivered with the energy for which the duo has become renowned.
It’s been a steady climb for Mayhemingways over the past five years, beginning with their first EP in 2013, followed by their full-length debut Hunter St Blues. They’ve also racked up over 600 shows during that time in Canada and Europe, touring most recently with Joel Plaskett and his father Bill, for which they served as both opening act and the Plasketts’ sidemen.
Mayhemingways will hit the road again upon the release of Skip Land, running across a lot of off-the-beaten-path locales in western Canada and Ontario throughout the spring. Get more info at mayhemingways.wordpress.com
What makes Skip Land stand apart from your debut?
Hunter St. Blues was a pretty Peterborough-centric record—lots of hometown references on it, including the title. Skip Land is broader in its themes and subjects. The tune “Frances The Truck Driver,” for instance, names a bunch of the places in Canada we've been or at least driven past over the years. The way in which we recorded the album was also a little different. Benj and I and our co-producer/engineer Steve Loree focused on the recording as much as possible live off the floor. I also think there's a slightly darker vibe on Skip Land. It is subtle, but it's there. A touch more contemplation, and maybe a little less kitchen party.
You've got a pretty extensive cross-Canada tour lined up. What are your best tips for surviving on the road?
You just need to take care of yourself as much as possible. The small things end up making all of the difference. Try to sleep enough. Eat a bunch of vegetables and healthy foods when you have the chance. Pay attention to the road when driving. Keep an eye on the weather. There are all these potential risks and unknowns, and if you can prepare for them as much as possible, it helps. Getting some exercise is pretty key too, but it can be hard to fit it in. I think moderation is also vital because sometimes the best thing for survival is getting drunk and hanging out with friends after a gig.
You were part of the crew that set up Neil Young's recent show in Omemee. What was that experience like?
I need to begin by saying that Neil Young is one of the artists responsible for me wanting to play music. So, working as part of his crew was an unbelievable life occurrence that just kept getting better and more surreal as the week wore on. I think we worked for 45 hours or so the week of that show. We moved pianos—numerous times—set up the PA system, put up security fences, helped with set dressing. It was this big team making a once in a lifetime show take place, and then tear it all down. We were all working for Neil, which was cool on its own, but then we found out we would get to see the show in the theatre. Song after song I felt like I was on a different planet. I got to sit mere feet from the stage. I think I'm still coming to grips with the fact that it was real and not a dream.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
My first show in public was with my high school band Ritalin Milkshake in 1996 or so. We were a pop-punk band, and at that time in Peterborough there were not a ton of places to play for young bands. Somehow, we hooked up a gig at this pizza/Chinese food restaurant just outside of Peterborough. The show was in a barroom in the back that was decked out with all sorts of country and western touches—saddles for bar stools, barn board. I think there were a couple of parents and a couple of strangers there. Our set was five or six songs long maybe, and that was the whole show. I still wonder who those strangers were and if they remember that show.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
There so many tunes I wish I'd written, but one, in particular, has to be "Long May You Run" by Neil Young. It’s a song about a car that transcends that more straightforward meaning and somehow encompasses larger life and relationships. There's something in the melody that gets me every single time. I think now that I'm older and have toured Canada so much it starts to ring more and more true to me. I could name a thousand songs in this spot, but you got me thinking about Neil again, and this song is always in the back of my mind.