The multitalented actor and musician talks about his latest single, “Closer.”
Cleveland-born actor and singer-songwriter Rob Mayes has just released the single “Closer.” With musical inclinations that include rock, pop, and jazz, he sounds nice and comfortable returning to his country foundations on this tune.
Recently, we talked with Mayes about “Closer,” his acting career, and mixing film and TV with music.
Cowboy & Indians: Before we get to talking about your new song, “Closer,” I’d love to hear about you. Where are you from, and what in your childhood led you to music?
Rob Mayes: I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and my dad played drums. My uncle played accordion — still does, in fact. My grandfather played [a] Les Paul and banjo. My other uncle, on my dad’s side, played tenor sax. And everyone sang and were always playing in bands and gigging and stuff. It wasn’t really a life that I knew. Once I was born, all that had pretty much subsided, in terms of the professional aspect of their careers, but it was pretty pervasive. It definitely prepared me. ... I was introduced to country when I was young and it just stuck.
C&I: Some fans know you as an actor first, but as you were saying, music has been such a big part of your life. What passion came first – acting or music? And can we expect those two worlds colliding again sometime in the future?
Mayes: Actually, yes, in many ways, in fact. It’s funny: I started to play piano when I was 5 [and] I would just pick up my [parents’ camcorder] and run to the woods and shoot my friends doing scenes and string along these scenes and make little movies. I remember I did one when I was like 7 years old. I don’t know how long this thing ended up being, but it was not a short movie. Somehow I was able to edit it together and it was about a war, called Fatality Zone.
The following year, I followed that up with one called We Different that was about a kid from the city and a kid from the country who meet and they acknowledge their differences and end up being best friends. I’ve been doing both of these things since I was a kid. And I love them both. When I was on Mistresses, oddly enough, that role turned out to be about a musician.
I just finished a movie that actually premiered at the Golden State Film Festival here in L.A. at the Chinese Theatre. [It’s] called Baby, I’m Fine, about a guy, me, who has a young daughter and an ex-wife who he stepped out on to pursue his musical career. ... There’s been a lot of those roles kind of just finding their way to me over the last handful of years, which has been really, really cool.
C&I: Turning to music, what do you expect your fans to take away from the song “Closer”?
Mayes: I’m hoping that they smile and they want to sing along. What more could you ask for, you know? That’s really what I’m hoping with fingers crossed — that people dig it. We had a blast writing it.
C&I: What’s the back story of the song and how did it come to you?
Mayes: I don’t think we really overthought it. I think we all sat down and just agreed “Let’s write something that’s lighthearted and fun; something that’s pop-y and catchy and see what we get.” So we just kind of sat down and started. I started fiddling with some chords and some melodies and the whole thing kind of just came together. ... This one just seemingly wrote itself. We finished the song in a matter of, I don’t know, two, two and a half hours and it was done.
C&I: How do you approach songwriting? Do you start with the lyrics first or the melody? Do you use an instrument that you normally compose on?
Mayes: It kind of depends. Lately, I start with a title and that’s the center of the wheel, which really hones everything together. And from that, then I’ll figure out a progression on the guitar or piano. Then figure out the vibe and progression and tone and tempo, and then start writing and see what comes. Sometimes I’ll have some lyric ideas. Sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I’ll just kind of sing along to a progression that I lay down and come up with a melody that I think, whatever reason, is coming out of me. And then kind of just break down the vowel sounds that you’re singing and see what lyrics are … just inherently coming out of you subconsciously, without you being cognizant of it. Sometimes, you know, it’s not that way. It’s much more orchestrated and getting much more methodical about the lyric process.
C&I: For fans who might know you for singing pop and jazz, how does “Closer” stand out?
Mayes: I don’t think it’s that much of a departure. I mean, it’s definitely got more of a country slant, obviously, but I put out an EP — when was it? I think in ’07 — [that] was pop-rock, but listening back on it now, a lot of that stuff has country roots and a country angle to it. I think the vocal does, the melodies. So I don’t think it’s that much of a departure, to be honest with you.
C&I: What drew you to the country genre? Was it just the roots that you grew up with?
Mayes: Yeah, it was a few things. Growing up and playing in the woods and out in a field and always being outside — I resonate with country. It speaks to me and it’s something that I can relate to. Just like it’s about just people. It’s about just life. Like, nothing glitzy and fancy; it’s just like “This is what life is.” And there’s hope. Hope’s a huge component of country music. ... There’s hope there and it appeals to the ordinary man, the ordinary woman, the ordinary person, which we all are, which we can all hopefully relate to.
C&I: Do you have a particular country song you’re drawn to that you think of as “peak” country?
Mayes: Man, there’s so many. Growing up, I loved Tim McGraw. I love Blake Shelton. I think Blake Shelton’s like one of my biggest influences. Dwight Yoakam, I love. I mean, obviously, what [Chris] Stapleton’s doing. Who doesn’t love that? Even people who don’t like country, they hear Stapleton, like, “This is good music.” Like, yeah, you’re right it is.
C&I: Who do you hang out with and play music with and do they like country as well?
Mayes: I live in L.A. and I go back and forth to Nashville. I’ve got a lot of friends who like country music, but my friends who are musicians, artists, or songwriters, not so much. ... I wrote a song the other day with a friend of mine. She’s strictly pop, super pop-y, and amazing. She’s got an incredible voice. She’s an amazing writer. But what I like to do is write with somebody who is doing something totally different. Write with someone who’s doing just Americana. Write with someone who’s doing just pop. Write with someone who’s more jazz-influenced. And then kind of mesh our two sensibilities.
And when I’m in Nashville, country’s huge there, so there’s no battling that. You get into a room and people are just so apt to dive head first into that. So that’s refreshing. It’s a different thing, writing in L.A. versus Nashville, but I like them both.
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C&I: What’s been on heavy rotation for you?
Mayes: That’s a good question. Let me see. Let me pull up my Spotify and see what I’m listening to right now. Actually, a new friend of mine, Nick Wayne, he’s fantastic. ... Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved.” Hunter Phelps. Kacey Musgraves, her whole new album. It’ll bring you to tears. Florida Georgia Line’s new “Talk You Out of It.” Morgan Wallen’s album. Bonnie Raitt. Duncan Sheik — huge influence, love his stuff. Gregory Porter, “Wolfcry” — that’s an unbelievable song, and his performance of it is just insanely good.
C&I: What’s something about you that people don’t know or are maybe surprised to learn?
Mayes: Boy, oh boy. I don’t know. I feel like people know so much about me. That’s a tough question. I just got a custom hat made that I’m very, very excited about. My friend Claire West designed a beautiful custom hat for me that she’s been making now for quite a while. That might be something that not everybody knows.
C&I: What can we expect next for you? When we can we expect a full album?
Mayes: It’s coming. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to roll everything out now. I got “Closer” [released] April 5th. And then I’ve got another one, “Road With No Lines.” That was pretty cool, actually. It was just a finalist in the International Acoustic Music Awards. It was also a semifinalist in the International Songwriting Competition. So I think that’s probably going to be the second single that I release. ... And then the full EP will follow shortly thereafter. And then I got a bunch of other singles that are in the queue that I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to release, but they’ll be coming soon, really soon.
C&I: Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
Mayes: Well, depending on when this will come out, I’ve got an episode of Proven Innocent on Fox, the new Kelsey Grammer show. There’s an episode that should be airing in the next few weeks, I think, or within the next month. [The episode, “Seal Team Deep Six,” airs on April 19.] That’s coming up. Also a thriller with Samaire Armstrong we just finished shooting. That’ll be coming out sometime this year, too. That one’s pretty cool.