Toronto singer-songwriter Mav Karlo is excited to announce the release of his debut album, Strangers Like Us, on October 16th 2020. Mav Karlo is the project of Menno Versteeg and the album will be released via the label he founded, Royal Mountain Records (the Canadian label home of Mac DeMarco, Alvvays, U.S. Girls, Orville Peck).
Today he reveals a new track from the LP, “Dig A Hole,” which unearths a bit of his family history involving the beloved Toronto landmark Honest Ed’s, a fantastically gaudy discount store recently torn down for the construction of condos. “When my dad was a teenager he lost his mom and went through a rough patch where it seemed like he was headed for jail, or worse,” says Versteeg. “During that time he got caught stealing at Honest Ed’s, but Honest Ed just gave him a stern talking-to and let him go. I’ve always wondered how his life might’ve taken a turn if it hadn’t worked out that way—if I’d even be here now if he’d ended up going to jail.” With its breezy rhythms and lilting harmonies, “Dig A Hole” casts that speculation in a mostly bright light, an element brilliantly amplified by Versteeg’s slipshod romanticism (sample lyric: “Meet me tonight by that pile of dirt/We’ll hold hands and we’ll count shooting stars/And the past, it won’t matter/And the truth, it won’t hurt”).
The video for “Dig A Hole” was directed by Lulu Wei, a Toronto documentary filmmaker whose film about Honest Ed’s, There’s No Place Like This, Anyplace, just premiered at North America’s largest documentary Festival, Hot Docs, to critical acclaim.
Mav Karlo previously released “Elevator,” also from Strangers Like Us, b/w his take on Weaves’ “Walkaway.” The upcoming album is the follow-up to Versteeg’s Reno Tapes EP which he released in March of this year. With his first full-length, Mav Karlo offers up a much more elaborately realized yet no less intensely intimate body of work. But while Strangers Like Us closely documents an especially tough period in Versteeg’s life, the album ultimately arrives at an undeniable courage in its commitment to truth-telling and unsparing self-examination.
“The goal with the album was to take a good hard look at myself and my behavior and really get to the heart of the matter,” says Versteeg. “What I kept coming back to was the idea that what makes you human is your flaws. So many of us walk around hiding our flaws all the time, but when you see someone’s flaws and accept them, that’s when you really know each other.”
Produced by Chris Coady (Amen Dunes, Beach House, Future Islands) and recorded at two iconic studios (Sunset Sound in L.A. and Sonic Ranch in the Texas border town of Tornillo), Strangers Like Us marks a departure from the carefree indie-rock of Versteeg’s now-defunct band Hollerado. With its gracefully sparse arrangements, the album centres on Versteeg’s lyrical storytelling, revealing a narrative voice deeply attuned to the beauty in the ordinary and routinely overlooked. Despite that stripped-back approach, Strangers Like Us draws incredibly rich texture from Versteeg’s delicate melodies and warm vocal work, and from the spirited performances of guest musicians Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls (on vocals), Charlie Spencer of Dizzy (keys, drums), and Versteeg’s Hollerado bandmate Nixon Boyd (guitar, bass).
Naming Tom Petty and John Prine among his inspirations, Versteeg first began creating as Mav Karlo last year in the midst of constant upheaval, equally driven by an urge to expand his horizons as a songwriter and a need for the raw catharsis of unfettered expression. An album elegantly steeped in memory, Strangers Like Us navigates the often painful act of looking back with grit and clarity and unbridled imagination. Versteeg says, “A lot of the record is about looking within and trying to find the source of your pain, trying to figure out why you behave the way you do, but by the end there’s a sense of starting to trust yourself. So even though there might still be self-doubt, it’s a confident kind of self-doubt—an understanding that everyone feels this way sometimes, and you’ve got to just keep pushing on.”