Maiah Wynne moved out of Montana, a young musician seeking momentum.
And, it worked.
Leaving the state of cowboys and big sky landscapes and settling in the Portland area, Wynne's preparation met opportunity and some "dumb luck" occurred. After some dalliances with Portland Cello Project and others, she landed as the lead singer of a band that features Rush co-founder and guitarist Alex Lifeson. With the newly created Envy of None, which also includes Canadian band Coney Hatch co-founder Andy Curran, Wynne served as the vocalist on its self-titled debut album, which came out April 8 via label Kscope.
Possessing a haunting yet soul-baring and soothing voice, Wynne fits into the group's mission of evolving from Lifeson's sound from Rush with Geddy Lee and the late Neil Peart. If Rush could be considered one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time, Lifeson would be its king, having preceded Lee and Peart in the trio from the Great White North and staying for the entirety of the group's 50 years.
It's cliche, but Wynne has figuratively pinched herself. She's 25, a five-year resident of Gresham and an opportunity came along to sing alongside historic musicians. Say what?
"It feels like almost a very lucky set of things that led to this situation," she said. "It's actually a really cool story."
Wynne grew up in Loveland, Colorado, and lived in Washington and Montana before moving to Gresham. Influences included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Norah Jones, No Doubt and Feist. She has competed in singing competitions and performed at festivals. Highlights included opening for such artists as Dave Matthews and Tanya Tucker. She toured with Portland Cello Project and had her song featured on KINK 101.9 FM.
"Then, I found out I won a song contest on my 20th birthday. I had just moved to Portland," Wynne said. "I was super excited, but I didn't know what I'd get."
One of the prizes was a Zoom mentorship call with Curran. In the call, Curran told Wynne that he liked her voice, in particular on the song "I Got Nothing." It resonated with him.
"He said, 'I have a side project with a need for a similar style of vocalist,'" she said. "I said, 'If you ever need a vocalist, let me know.'
"We started working on songs together. He would send me an instrumental track with song title and words, and let me run with it. I'd write lyrics and melodies and turn it into a full song. We did that for a couple songs.
"One day," she added, "he said, 'I showed it to my buddy Alex. You might know Alex from the band Rush, right?' My mind exploded."
Wynne started working with Lifeson on music — remotely, sending files back and forth — and they clicked. She humbly said that "it felt like we really understood each other on a musical level," while also conceding that Lifeson had been the famous guitarist from Rush and "I'm a girl from Portland."
The feeling was mutual.
"Maiah became my muse," Lifeson said. "She was able to bring this whole new ethereal thing through her sense of melody on tracks like 'Liar' and 'Look Inside.' After hearing her vocals on 'Never Said I Love You,' I felt so excited. I've never had that kind of inspiration working with another musician.
"When we say she's special, it's because she's really (expletive) special!"
Curran said Wynne's vocal abilities brought the music to life and bandmates consider her a star in the making.
"I sent over an early version of the song 'Shadow' (to her), and when I played what she'd done back to the others they were like, 'Who is this crazy talented person?," he said.
Videos have been made for "Liar" and "Look Inside," available to watch on YouTube.
Wynne said the music on the album is a variety and includes a song she had written, "Old Strings," and the Middle East-vibing "Kabul Blues." The finale is a song that Lifeson wrote for Peart, who's considered one of the greatest drummers of all time. It's called "Western Sunset," and it's an acoustic guitar instrumental, developed when Pearl had been ill.
"A really beautiful song," Wynne said.
She has heard there has been some radio play for Envy of None songs, and sales have been strong, including vinyl. Wynne agreed that some songs have a Pink Floyd-ish feel. From publicity: "Its 11 tracks, which ricochet between various shades of alternative, experimental and synth rock, throw surprises at every turn, twisting dark melodies against contemporary pop hooks. It crosses over very little to Rush's epic sound."
"Of course there will be people who don't like it because it's not like Rush," she added. "It's unique to itself, and has some interesting character, a lot of people will like it. The reception overall has been super positive."
Wynne has been working on her own solo album, recording at a studio in Gresham. Envy of None will likely play some shows this year, and she'll also do some solo shows.
It's a unique opportunity for Wynne to be associated with Lifeson, Curran (bass) and Alfio Annibalini (guitar, keyboards), the main members — the group has used different drummers. They are veteran musicians — Lifeson turns 69 in August — and Wynne is a relative newbie to big-time music.
"It's an interesting dynamic. Andy has a more fatherly approach to our interactions, but he has two daughters around my age, that's understandable. Very sweet," Wynne said. "With Alex it's different, he's more of like a sibling, there's an older brother vibe, and we get each other in ways.
"It's never been weird, and I've never felt like they're looking down on me. It's been genuine and natural. We get along very easily. We're musicians, and we have a different language we communicate with. Those guys are amazing. I'm honored to be a part of it."
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