Interview By: Jim Markunas
Photos Taken From Mae's Flickr Page.
Mae has always been one of those bands that's a little bit 'left-of-mainstream,' and we love them for it. They emerged when the balls began to fall off of music back in the early '00s (yes... the 'emo' era) as an alternative to the pop punk of Fallout Boy or the screamo awfulness that dominated rock radio. The first time I heard "Summertime" and "Last Call," which the band had offered for free on the internet, I was in love. They were emo-leaning without being whiny, and they understood that loud guitars are a band's best friend. Light in just the right places with the moog stylings of Motion City Soundtrack, Mae invented a genre all their own.
They eventually signed with Tooth & Nail Records, which led to a short-lived deal with Capitol in 2006/2007. After walking out of their record contract (very cool!) they've been on a one-band journey to save the world. We caught up with guitarist Zach Gehring via e-mail.
JM: Leading with the tough question... What happened with Capitol Records? Why the split?
ZG: The day we finished our record, Virgin and Capitol Records (both of the EMI family) merged, and shortly after that, EMI was bought out by an equity firm in the UK. At that point, most of the staff at Capitol were let go, leaving us with a staff who knew nothing about the band or our goals. We thought it through a little bit, we did not want to be too reactionary, but at the same time we knew that things could go downhill very fast. Luckily, the nature of our contract allowed us to opt out of our contract and come away better for it.
JM: You guys are a three-piece now. Tell us a little bit about that. Is it easier or harder to pull stuff off live? Can we still expect synth/moog/piano in your music?
ZG: The loss of two members definitely affected our creative process, but I don't think it's too drastic of a change. We still perform as a 5 piece. When the 3 of us sit down to write, it is a more focused expression. That can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how it is approached, but we haven't had too hard of a time adjusting. There will always be a piano/synth element to our music.
JM: Tell us about your new mission. You're donating money to charity through selling songs, and you're involved in various humanitarian projects. Give us the scoop.
ZG: With the new freedom we had after we left Capitol, we wanted to seize the opportunity to do what we wanted to do with our music. Music has been such a powerful tool in our lives and we know how influential it can be, so we wanted to do our best to make a change with our music in a real way. We wanted to truly get involved with our fans and with our community, we wanted to do more than just raise money, we wanted to be directly involved in the process.
The campaign that was started in January is called "12 months, 12 songs, 1 goal, make a difference," and it will last through the end of the year. Every month we are releasing one song and all of the profits are devoted to various organizations. The songs are available for download for a donation of at least $1. We will be working with 3 organizations over the year and will be releasing 3 "mini-albums" that will include music that is not released on line and is exclusive to the release.
JM: How much have you guys raised for charity so far?
ZG: We have raised $55, 595.81 so far.
JM: I heard a rumor about a "scratch-and-sniff" CD. What's the deal with that?
ZG: The name MAE stands for multi-sensory aesthetic experience. We wanted to include another sense with these releases. So in addition to the sonic element, there is also a scent to go along with it.
JM: How hard is it to build a house? What all goes into the process?
ZG: Habitat for Humanity (the organization we worked with) took care of most of the logistics, but we were lucky enough to be involved with the actual construction, hammering nails, painting walls, etc. It worked out well for us because the timing of our goals matched up with the building of a new house in Newport News, VA. We did our best to raise money for the building of the house and Habitat took care of everything else.
JM: Tell us about the trilogy idea with "(m)orning," "(a)fternoon," and "(e)vening." Why a trilogy (besides the obvious acronym)? What can we expect from these three records?
ZG: The trilogy focuses on cycles. morning afternoon evening, birth life and death, spring summer and winter. We also were interested in the parts that make up a whole. The individual existence that ultimately affects the whole. One person doing one thing might not do much of anything, but 5 people doing one thing, 20 people, 1000, etc....that can start to make a difference. We wanted to express that.
The records themselves will have additional music and songs that are not able to be heard from just downloading the songs month to month.
JM: Charity-wise, what can we expect from the (a)fternoon chapter?
ZG: We are working with an organization called Donorschoose.org. It focuses on education and the needs that teachers have in the classroom. Budget cutbacks are a big problem, and the website allows teachers to request specific needs that people can choose to donate to. For the tour we are on, we are also taking part in community projects in each city we play.
The projects are set up by MAE fans on our fan community at whatismae.com/mateeam. The theme of the (a)fternoon tour is "touch"...touching the community and also the sense of touch which we involve in our show for this tour.
JM: Anything you want to add?
ZG: Please check out our website at www.whatismae.com and come out to a show! Our dates are posted on the site.
Mae - Zach Gehring On Saving The World
chicks with guns|mae|reality check|