Calan Mai: Bringing XO to the GCMA’s

Calan Mai is the musical alter-ego of Gold Coast musician Jordan Lawrence, who for the past six years has been steadily building a following both here and abroad off the back of his worldly, yet also distinctively Australian music.

His self-processed faith in pursuit of the craft that he loves has seen his pop and folk inflected, alt-country stylings rack up some impressive achievements, including a support slot for Band Of Horses, airplay on BBC and American College radio and showcase appearances at South By South West and the CMJ Music Marathon.

The intersection between hard work, perseverance and talent has culminated in twin nominations at this year’s Gold Coast Music Awards, with his gorgeously jaunty track ‘XO’, described by Rolling Stone Magazine as ‘a folk-pop gem that’s far more worldly than most roots-music tracks’, being nominated in both the ‘Song of the year’ and ‘Video of the year’ categories.

In the lead up, we chatted with the man behind the moniker about his musical journey.

How are you feeling about having your track ‘XO’ recognised in its two categories at this year’s GCMA’s?

It feels really wonderful. ‘XO’ has always been close to my heart. I wrote it while I was still a student at Griffith University but it was recorded once I moved to Manchester, UK and produced by Gold Coast local, Adam Lyons, who was living with me at the time. We were so far from home in a rainy, windy city, the absolute polar opposite of the Gold Coast! But we filled that tiny bedroom studio with warm tones and coastal sounds that captured the place we came from.

The clip was filmed upon returning to the coast using a team of volunteers from Bond University. Even the trumpets in the song were recorded by Brad Hosking at Blind Boys Studio in Nerang and sent over to the UK! In that sense, ‘XO’ is very attached to the Gold Coast. It means the world to have it recognised as such.

Can you talk us through your cracking new single, ‘Friend of a Friend’?

In 2018, I performed at SXSW and went to LA straight after. I wrote ‘Friend of a Friend’ during a studio session and I immediately knew I had made something special. Special in the sense that it was unlike any song I had ever written. It was about the future, not the past. Many of my songs recount events from my life—my younger days, memories that stick with me. This was a song about looking forward. Everything, from the melody and lyrics, to the piano chords, felt like it matched that outlook.

What’s in the pipeline for the rest of 2019?

I’m heading to Chicago at the end of April to record my debut album with Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse) I am also set to play a few shows while I’m there, including one at Rockwood Music Hall in New York. So then the plan will be to release the album, hopefully under a US label. Outside of that, only time will tell!

Finally, how did you come up with your ‘Calan Mai’ musical moniker?

I learnt about an old Gaelic festival called ‘Samhain’ which marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter – the dark half of the year. There was an opposing festival – one about rebirth. It was called ‘Beltaine’ but in Wales they call it ‘Calan Mai’. It means ‘the first day of summer’. Most of my music is about holding onto the hope that things will improve, that the dark half will resolve, and the sun will rise again. So I chose that.

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