The Mae Shi

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The Mae Shi, as they stand, are both new and old. Lead singer Jonathan Gray and drummer Jacob Cooper are the band’s junior members, with Gray replacing Ezra Buchla in 2006, and Cooper sitting down behind the revolving door that is the Mae Shi’s drum kit in 2008. Conversely, self-proclaimed non-guitarist Jeff Byron and bassist Brad Breek were there at the beginning, and will probably be there at the end. Regardless, the show at the Beat Kitchen bore the mark of a group that, despite differences offstage, are consummate professionals onstage. The set harkened back to the speed-punk days of the Mae Shi’s nascence, and the crowd reacted appropriately (or as appropriately as Chicagoans know how to act).

Hours before the show, Impose sat down with a group of undeniable wiseasses, and mined them for information about music scenes both home and abroad.

Impose: So, how has the tour gone?

The Mae Shi: It’s been interesting; we’ve been playing in dance clubs with Metronomy, we’ve been playing in bars in Canada, and then we’ve been playing in these kind of punk “D.I.Y.” places on the way back, and now we’re in Chicago… playing at a bar.

Have you had any venues that you’ve liked the most?

Bars in Canada are really awesome. Kids can start drinking when they’re 12! All ages venues though, like Holy Mountain in Seattle, are really, really cool. Warehouse spaces also. It depends what city you’re in, really.

Do you have a city other than Los Angeles that you like the most, in terms of playing live?

Birmingham England is really good. It brings out the worst in all of us; it’s beautiful… and horrible. Seattle is really coming up on the scale, so is Oakland. Wherever we have a lot of friends, if that makes sense, or places were we’ve connected with people that we’ve met. Since we’ve been touring, we’ve met a lot of cool people in New York City, London, Birmingham, Seattle. We now have really good friends in Edmonton, which is nice. Whenever we go to a new city, there’s a good chance it might be our favorite city. We’re going to Wisconsin tomorrow and we’ve never been – we’re definitely excited. We’re playing at Beloit, and Milwaukee. It should be really fun – we hear that people in Beloit are real crazy.

Do you guys have other cities whose music scenes you admire?

Edmonton, Vancouver… Canada in general, because there are opportunities to make more experimental music in a lot of ways, in a very broad sense – pop, noise, hip hop, etc. The government puts more money and importance into arts and music. Just the fact that their radio stations have to play 25% Canadian bands – that would be funny if the U.S. was like that. You’d be surprised though – a lot of people that we played with last week in Canada had gotten grants from the government for art projects, releases, recording. It’s pretty darn cool. If we could get the state to put out our record, would we? California Label? Who knows.

How are you guys finding all the press the Mae Shi has gotten this year?

You know, whatever. It’s kind of like that dirty kid that everybody hated in high school, and then it turns out that all the kids had a crush on him because he was, like, “alternative”, but it doesn’t really matter, because nobody every talked to him in the first place; that’s kind of how the Mae Shi is. We’re the dirty people that some people liked but nobody was gonna talk to anyway. Now we’re kind of sociopathic; people want to talk to us, and we don’t quite understand why, although we like the attention. One thing about getting press and interview is, you know you’re gonna sound like an idiot, no matter what, but it’s good to get press. And sometimes, just sometimes, your mom reads it, and she’s so proud.

Van Halen aside, bands with several lead singers have trouble keeping a consistent creative force. Who’s that in the Mae Shi? Who’s the core?

There’s no core because everybody in the band flops out at some point. The people who are here are the core. We don’t have identities as people in a band, other than, at that particular moment when we’re going to play. We don’t think of our band as, “Oh, we all grew up together and we started a band together and here we are now.” It’s more conceptual than that. It’s more like, this is an opportunity for anybody to contribute to and do so something cool with their life, whether it’s make music, or make t-shirts, or posters, or anything that they want to do that’s related to art or music. When you consider that, it doesn’t matter who’s playing in the band really. We’re surprised the band doesn’t have a thousand members in it, really.

Do you have an idea of the shape of the next album?

It’s more done right now than any of our previous records have ever been! There’s a lot of ideas flowing…

Any in particular?

The next record’s going to be a lot more melodic, and happy. Kind of like Wire meets XTC meets… something else.

The Mae Shi is often described as a “noise-punk collective” – do you have bands in under the umbrella of “noise-punk” that you admire, or consider influences?

In noise-punk? Wire, definitely. But noise-punk… it’s kind of a broad term.

Well, what’s good music to you guys now? What are you listening to?

A lot of stuff. [Collectively] A lot of oldies. The Doors. Top 40. That entire Foundations album. The OC’s new record. Cheesy 80s music.

You guys are from the Smell scene in Los Angeles, which has kind of blown up since No Age made it big this past year.

It’s hard to even talk about the “Smell Scene” because it’s not really a scene; it’s an art venue that a lot of the people played at – we just happened to be some of the people. We were also really enthralled with a lot of the bands that also played there, so we also went to a lot of shows. We all have a ton of friends both from going to the Smell and playing at the Smell. But I don’t know if we ever really delved into the “scene.” When the Mae Shi started up, we really wanted to play a show there. It was just sort of a place that seemed like a great place for a band, especially if you’re starting up. Even if No Age has gotten huge, and the Smell has gotten this CBGB type credibility, it’s still a really awesome place for a band from Riverside to drive an hour and a half (and nobody knows who they are) and get a show there. That’s pretty unique and cool. It’s really the only platform in L.A. right now where a lot of bands can just start, learn how to work a room, and do whatever they want to do creatively, and not feel like they’re being judged. It’s a really laid back space.

But when the Smell gets this kind of publicity, isn’t it kind of annoying and counterproductive?

Well basically, it’s not a venue. You could set up a show there, and five people could show up, and nobody would be mad about it. It would be kind of a bummer if you had a touring band and hoped to help them along with gas money and stuff. But they’re not mad with you, and they’ll totally help you set up another show if you want. There are no pretensions, there’s no financial goal set for the Smell or anything. It’s a place where you are supposed to go to see shows and play shows. There’s no publicity, hidden marketing, advertising, or any of that kind of stuff. It’s a venue at its barest – and not just for bands. There are lots of opportunities there to learn how to do sound, run shows – anybody can volunteer. A lot of young kids start at the Smell and start branching out to different venues. It’s pretty much the opposite of the Troubadour in West Hollywood, which has this strict regimen of “You gotta be here at five o’clock, and if you’re a minute late you sacrifice your soundcheck, and even if you are gonna soundcheck, this is how you have to set it up.” At the Troubadour, you can’t even bring in candy or they kick you out, but at the Smell they fuckin’ sell it cheap. We’re talking Sour Patch Kids, Nerds, ropes… whatever you want. There’s even a volunteer who makes vegan food and sells it – different vegan food every single night.

Is there any direction in which you’d like to see the Mae Shi evolve over the next couple of months, or years?

We want it to be like the Wu Tang Clan. We’re gonna get huge as the Mae Shi and then we’re gonna split up and have our own projects, but we’re going to guest star in each other’s projects. Brad’s gonna be like the RZA, and Jeff’s gonna be like ODB. Jacob’s gonna be Ghostface. The moral of that is that each of us has so many other things going on musically, all our other projects in L.A. – it’s not even fair to call them “side-projects” because we care about them equally. In a way, when you tour with a band as much as we tour with each other, you tend to be a little more excited about the things you’re doing at home anyway. Mae Shi is our jealous mistress, our side-project bitch, our fuckin’ annoying girlfriend, the crazy one who doesn’t let us hang out with other girls. In closing – we need love and support from everyone. Oh, and we need a DJ also.