Kelsi Mayne – Photo by Darren Eagles
by Roman Mitz
Open Spaces is not the gambling type but were it a betting page it would be inclined to place a large wager on Windsor native Kelsi Mayne winning the Rising Star trophy at this year’s Country Music Association of Ontario Awards (8th Annual CMAOntario Awards). You see, Kelsi has just released a terrific new album “As I Go”, with the title track quickly climbing the country music charts. The “Mad Max” inspired music video for the song gained wide recognition after a teaser went viral, receiving 1.2 million TikTok views in 24 hours. It’s also difficult to bet against someone who excels at pretty well everything she does. She is a qualified health care practitioner, having obtained her nursing degree at the University of Windsor where she also became a world-class athlete in the women’s 60-metre hurdles. For now, however, music is her number one priority and she’s thrilled with the CMOA nomination.
“I was totally surprised and super honoured,” she says on a call from her digs in Toronto, although she still uses her Nashville phone number where she spends half of her time. “It’s my first one and everyone’s nominated by the industry so it’s a pretty cool feeling to be recognized like that.”
Growing up in Windsor exposed Kelsi to the R & B sounds coming across the river from Detroit. It’s not surprising, therefore, that you find a little bit of that vibe creeping into songs like “So Good”. There’s even a bit of vintage crackling at the beginning of “Woman Waiting” that serves as a vinyl throwback to the days when 45’s ruled.
“I listened to a lot of Motown,” she says. “Aretha Franklin was probably my number one influence, and then there’s everyone from The Temptations to Sly & The Family Stone, and some funk and other stuff. It really boils down to what my parents played around the house. I also grew up listening to R&B stuff like Usher and Destiny’s Child, so I love those influences as well as the old school ones.”
While there are hints of these influences throughout the album, the one thing that’s pure country is her voice. At times her vocals recall Kacey Musgrave’s Texas twang, which is kind of unusual given that Kelsi hails from the deep south of Southern Ontario.
“I think that it comes from my country influences which were mainly American. My dad was the big country fan in the house and he would play Wynonna Judd, Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis, and he tended to play the same records over and over again. Having those influences, especially back then when you didn’t have any digital steaming or anything, is something that I picked up on.”
Kelsi is no shrinking violet in her songs as she warns about the perils of keeping a “Woman Waiting”, and then takes things one step further on “Takin’ U Home”, in which she feels “a little too much chemistry” with a guy she bumps into and decides to skip the preliminaries and take charge of things.
“I’m not really a person who really comes out and says things like that,” she admits. “I’m definitely a high achiever but I usually keep that to myself so I have a hard time coming out and saying exactly what I want. When you’re on stage it’s like you’re a different person and you get to take on a different persona, the one I’d like to be like.”
The different persona first emerged in Kelsi during her university days where she studied to be a nurse by day and worked as a server in a country bar at night. Every once in awhile she would lay down her draught tray and follow her natural calling by hopping onto the bar’s stage to belt out a few numbers. People quickly began to take notice.
“Yeah, I would sing a song at this bar and then jump back down and continue serving,” Kelsi begins. “I would have these little performances and I would start getting more and more feedback from complete strangers who would say ‘What are you doing here? You should be singing full time.’ It’s something that I always wanted to pursue but I didn’t have the guts to do it. It just seemed to be the right time to give it a shot. I was graduating and I ended the track season on top, so I felt it was just the right moment to make a move. I couldn’t live with the ‘what if’ if I didn’t try.”
Most of the songs on “As I Go” are very radio-friendly as evidenced by the success of the singles “Takin’ You Home” and the title track. What really sets these songs apart from the standard country fare heard on the airwaves, however, are the clever lyrics. Kelsi co-wrote all but one song, and the crafty play on words of “SOS” and the heartfelt chorus of “About Time” are the result of working with some of Nashville’s elite tunesmiths.
“Writing in Nashville is just at a different level,” she says. “Those people get to do that every day and to get in a room with number-one hit songwriters is amazing. You bring an idea to them which you think might be kind of bare-boned and they help me take it to a whole new level. It’s really cool.”
“Better On You” is perhaps the most provocative song on the album. Kelsi, in her most sultry tone, suggests that while her lipstick may look good on her, it would look better “On his neck, on his chest and on his white V-neck.” Open Spaces can’t wait for the video.
“That song is provocative because that’s what you get when you get a room of four of us girls, drinking some wine,” she laughs. “Alcohol was also a factor in the rap verse of that song. My one co-writer, who is my best friend in Nashville, is brilliant, super witty and quick. We had written the song pretty much and she came in and said it was a little short. She said we should make it a little longer and if we gave her a shot of whiskey she would rap for us. We gave her a shot of whiskey and literally two and a half minutes later she had a minute-long rap ready to go. It was pretty awesome and we just had to keep that in.”
Lest you think the album is all fun and games, there are also a couple of tender narratives in the form of “Leave” and “Surrender”. In both cases, the songs are fairly stripped down as Kelsi resisted the temptation of turning them into power ballads.
“Leave’ really called for more of an intimate experience,” she explains. “We wrote it to do it like that so it was just purely organic. I’m glad we captured it that way. As far as “Surrender” goes, I wrote that one with a wedding song in mind. I think that would be the ultimate honour as a singer/songwriter to have someone choose that song to be their first dance. That would be rewarding and such a beautiful experience.”
In addition to her musical, nursing and athletic achievements, you can also add actor to Kelsi’s resume. She appeared, fittingly, as a nurse in the television series “Sin City”, and recently starred in the film short “Willa”, a haunting ghost story based on Stephen King’s original tale. The film, which was directed by her brother, ended up being the largest independent short ever to be shot in the Greater Toronto Area. Still, music is Kelsi’s first concern and she can’t wait for the day that the “Mayne Train”, a name created by and embraced by her legion of fans, is once again on the concert circuit.
“I’ve been performing live at home, streaming and stuff, so at least I’ve been able to do that. It would be nice to play it for crowds in front of you but right now everyone’s health is the priority. I totally get it and I’m happy to play my part and just step aside and let it pass. A lot of people have reached out to me and I do have that nursing background. I’m requesting some more insight into getting back into nursing right now and helping any way that I can.”
Australian country duo The Wolfe Brothers recently saw the Canadian release of their brand new single “No Brakes” on the heels of a global recording deal with BMG. “No Brakes” follows seven years of success for the Tasmanian natives, who have had 12 consecutive #1 radio airplay singles down under, and have won Australian Country Music ‘Group Of The Year’ Awards in 2015, 2016 and 2019. “We are beyond excited to release ‘No Brakes’ in Canada,” said the brothers. “Last year, we had the chance to play at the Calgary Stampede and had the best time. We felt right at home and can’t wait to get back.”
Kamloops-born, Cambridge-raised Shae Dupuy is back with a long-awaited new single “Hesitate”. Shae, who now lives in Nashville, has written a catalogue of songs for her next recording project as well as songs for other artists. “Hesitate” is a spry romantic number in which the singer encourages her main squeeze to make his move, and if this song is any indication of what’s to come – her next full album should be a real treat.
Canadian Country Music Association Rising Star Award nominee Eric Ethridge has unveiled his new EP “Forever With You”. “The five-song offering includes lead single “Dream Girl” which has garnered over one million streams since its February release. Says Eric of the album, “After spending a year and a half working to develop my new sound, “Forever With You” is made up of songs that are deeply personal to me, and express the stage of my life that I’m currently in. I feel that we really captured the unique blend of country and pop music that I’ve been trying to put out into the world”.
Ever since their 2016 debut, Canadian country duo Buck Twenty have shown that there’s no stopping two small-town-Ontario boys from achieving big goals. The group, comprised of Mike Ure and Aidan Johnson-Bujold, has just released its first new single in four years, “All I Can Do”, which showcases the boys’ patented harmonies. The track is available for streaming everywhere and precedes a new Buck Twenty album, expected later this year.