The Cousins Project

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Steve Mayone and Kristina Stykos are second cousins… but they didn’t know that until a few years ago. They lived parallel lives: songwriters, producers, independent artists. In 2006 they met by chance when Steve (who lives in Brooklyn) was playing a gig in Vermont (where Kristina lives) with his buddy Bow Thayer. Upon hearing Steve’s last name announced from the stage, Kristina introduced herself and they discovered their grandparents were siblings. In the first half of the 20th century, the Mayone family were busy brick makers, shipping bricks down the Hudson river where they were used to build such iconic structures in New York City as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Then the company collapsed, and families scattered.

Making up for lost time, Steve and Kristina began playing music together, resulting in their new album Beautiful Blood. Recorded in their home studios (Kristina’s Pepperbox Studio and Steve’s Proofbox Studio), Beautiful Blood combines their different styles into one voice: Americana, folk/rock, ballads, blues, all woven into a single tapestry. With years of writing, performing and production experience under their belts, the making of Beautiful Blood was a joyful culmination of professional compatibility and family time. As Steve said “making the album was a way to spend time together and get to know each other, musically and personally”.

Steve Mayone Bio:

Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., Steve Mayone is a songwriter and performer. As a writer, he’s had his songs and instrumentals placed in independent films and tv shows, most recently Alexender Poe’s “Ex-girlfriends” and YOMYOMF’s network show “BFF’s”. Steve’s four solo CD’s have garnered excellent reviews: Americana UK says “Mayone ties up all of Americana, folk, classic and roots-rock, effortlessly flowing from one to the next and never at a loss for interest.” As a performer, Steve plays up and down the Northeast as a solo perfomer and accompanist, sharing the stage with Levon Helm, Donald Fagan, Kate Taylor and Clare Burson.

Kristina Stykos Bio:

Kristina Stykos is a songwriter, musician, producer and recording engineer. She runs Pepperbox Studios, specializing in acoustic music, located at the end of a dirt road in Chelsea, Vermont. Kristina has released two solo albums:  In The Earth’s Fading Light - voted “Best Vermont Album of 2005″ by the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus; and Raven -   praised as a “triumph” with “big time production skills that please the ear at every turn” by No Depression and featuring Grammy nominated pianist Phil Aaberg. As a producer, she has created albums for fellow Vermont artists Bow Thayer, Robert Resnick, Wagtail and Erin McDermott, to name a few. As an artist, No Depression has said of her: “It’s not often that the poetry of words can be so well matched with its counterpart in sound and no one does this better than Kristina Stykos.”

Reviews

“Martin Carthy has always said that there’s something special about hearing blood sing with blood and this is yet another album that supports his view. [Beautiful Blood] is undoubtedly their best work to date. An album of quiet beauty and marvellous moments.”   - Jeremy Searle, Maverick Country (UK)

“Beautiful Blood is an extremely beautiful album…”  - Alt Country Forum (NL)

“This is a very likeable album. Together there is a simpatico that is genetic as well as intellectual. They are a good match, and Beautiful Blood is worthy of many listenings.”  - Art Edelstein, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus

“This is a fine album and I am impressed by both the individual skills and the combined talents, so both artists are worth watching go forward.”  - David Hintz, Folk World  (DE)

“An Americana blend of folk/rock, ballads and blues, recorded at their home studios [that] charts the combining of their different styles into a single tapestry. There’s much to be enjoyed, in particular the rather lovely ‘South Of The Chelsea Line’, and the swamp bluesy ‘Sugar’ and ‘Deep Deep Baby’.”  - Get Ready To Rock! (UK blog)

“For those who love American music in its essence, this is a good traveling companion to put in the CD player of your car.”  - Michele Manzotti, ilpopolodelblues (IT)

“The playing is excellent and the mix of guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo can make for a heady cocktail on some of the song arrangements. Highly recommended.”  - Lonesome Highway (IE)

“Their styles are different but complementary but when they sing together the harmonies are completely natural. I have reviewed both of them a various times, very positively, and hearing this album they actually sound as though they were the missing link of each others’ sound even though you would not have thought it at the time. I have been listening to the album for days and it has quietly insinuated itself into my environment to the extent that I found myself humming the riff from ‘Stealing Away’ at the most inappropriate times.There really is a feeling of familial attraction – both of them seem to be enjoying playing with the other.I would be hard pressed to point out a weak or filler track but the one track that I keep coming back to, time and again is ‘Sugar’ which has a Patti Smith feel to the poetry of the lyrics. A delightful collaboration and well worth some very serious investigation.”  - Andy Snipper, Music-News.com (UK)

“At a 2006 Bow Thayer concert in her home state of Vermont, Kristina Stykos heard the bandleader introduce sideman Steve Mayone.”Huh,” she thought. “Mayone is my middle name. Who is this cat?” Stykos introduced herself after the gig and the two discovered they were second cousins (their grandparents were siblings). They also discovered they were both roots musicians with home studios — Stykos’ in Vermont, Mayone’s in Somerville.

What followed was five years of fresh family bonding and musical correspondence leading to an album, “Beautiful Blood” by the Cousins Project. (The pair plays Club Passim on Tuesday.) “We’re from a large Italian family that lost touch with each other,” Mayone said. “So from the moment we met and realized we were on the same path, it was a relief. It was like, ‘Ah, someone to connect with.’”

“We felt a little bit like outcasts in our respective families,” Stykos said. “The more we got to know each other, the more we had in common.” Stykos cut an album in Cambridge in the ’80s. But by the time Mayone came to Boston to go to Berklee, she had moved north. Years later, Mayone joined Vermont’s Thayer as a sideman. “Bow’s almost a neighbor of mine, and I’d seen his CDs for sale at the truck stop I eat breakfast at,” Stykos said. “One day, I picked up his CD and that led me to the show where I met Steve.”

Early on, the pair knew they wanted to collaborate but didn’t know how to overcome the 200 miles between them. Slowly they started sending demos back and forth. Over years, sketches became songs as each musician would add a guitar or mandolin or vocal harmony to the mix. It wasn’t efficient, but it worked for the studio-loving musicians — both feel more at home behind the boards than fronting a band. The project also allowed the musicians to concentrate on their skill sets.

“Lyrics come harder for him and easier for me, so I sent him a batch of lyrics I’d given up writing music for,” Stykos said. “When he finished the songs, I though, ‘Oh my God, he’s doing half the work.’” Splitting the labor worked for the duo. “Beautiful Blood” mixes solo tunes and collaborations with a red thread of smart, tender folk. (Start with the gentle twang and delicate melody of “Safe Passage.”)

Mayone stays busy writing scores for film and television and Stykos continues to produce other artists — including Bow Thayer. But the two plan to make music together for years to come. After all, they’re family. “The upstate New York Mayones fractured when the family’s brick business crumbled a generation ago,” Mayone said. “It’s nice to bring part of the family back together with music.”  - Jed Gottlieb, The Boston Herald