March 20, 2008
By Eric Pettersson
Upon arriving at The Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA, I met up with the band’s tour manager to be taken to the place of the interview. However, since I am under 21, I wasn’t allowed up to the backstage area where the venue allows alcohol because they obviously don’t want to get busted with me up there. So after a little shuffling around on stairs, Zach came down and we walked across the street to the Senorita Burrita. After Zach ordered some tacos and I got a much needed cup of coffee, we began our interview.
Eric, IVM: You can start with your name and what you do.
Zach Gehring, Mae: My name is Zach and I play guitar in the band Mae.
E: On a unique tour right now, with it connected with Habitat for Humanity and Invisible Children…
Z: Yeah, Habitat for Humanity more so. Invisible Children is working with us, bringing pamphlets and literature when they can, but it’s not every day. Habitat for Humanity is every day. Every day we can actually possibly do it, we’re having a small acoustic performance before the show starts, before the doors open, either in the club or nearby. Today we did it at CI Records, right here. And basically it’s just a $5 donation that goes to Habitat for Humanity and we play as long as we can before the doors open. we wanted to it because on the last tour (we did with Motion City [Soundtrack]) we joined up with Toys for Tots, and to get in to the acoustic performance they had to bring toys to donate. We had brought in more than 600 toys for Toys for Tots at the end of the tour, so it was really successful and we thought, “Why not keep trying it?” And so this time, so far it’s been successful as well. We’ve done two of them, and so far so good. So hopefully we’ll be able to go build a house with the money that we’ve made.
E: With the acoustic shows, what do you play at those?
Z: It’s mostly requests. We try to play songs that we’re not playing during the main set. And if kids request a song that we can play, we will play it. A lot of times we haven’t played the songs in so long that it’s hard to please them. We’ll play like a Tom Petty cover here and there, but other than that it’s just songs that you’re not going to hear at the show, and requests. And, you know, it’s great to just meet [fans] and hang out too.
E: But fans voted for the setlist at the regular show too, on your myspace?
Z: Well, we didn’t give them every one of our songs to vote on. We didn’t give them the whole record and say, “What songs do you want to hear?” We just gave them the songs that we had already set to play. We wanted to please as many people as we could, you know? All the songs that we listed, we really wanted to play, so we just thought, “Hey, well, let’s let ‘em know that…you know.” So everyone’s happy! They voted for the song, and then they get it! It helped us out a lot though, in knowing what kids actually wanted to hear from the old record. And answers always surprise me, but yeah, we’re just trying to reconnect with kids in a new way. I think that’s important now more than ever, not just with Mae but with every band. It is getting so hard for kids to pay for shows. It’s getting hard for bands to go on tour because the money involved. We wanted to get back to square one.
E: You’ve only been on tour a week, right?
E: Anything crazy happen so far?
Z: Not yet. Last night we were in New York City and we get to hang out with some friends, but nothing crazy. The first show, we actually played a show at James Madison University in Virginia, and it was actually unannounced. It wasn’t a part of the tour officially, but it was just a show that we had booked separate. It was an awesome show for a number of reasons, just because we had been in Australia before this tour, and we got back and we had probably ten days before we left on this tour and we put together a projection and lights for this tour in a matter of ten days. And the first time we got to use it was in Virginia, and we hadn’t rehearsed for it, we hadn’t seen it, we hadn’t played a show with it. So we were really nervous. I mean, Jacob’s computer is running it, and it crashed like three times before the set started just trying to get the visuals in order. But it went off so great. The kids were great. There were a lot of kids there, and it was a big auditorium, and it was awesome. So that was the craziest event in a good way. It set the tour off in a very good morale.
E: Singularity came out about half a year ago. A bit of a change from the previous sound, a lot of heavier guitars on some of the songs. Why switch in that direction?
Z: It wasn’t a switch in any direction for us. It was just what we wanted to do,.Our shows have always been more energetic than our records, especially in Destination: Beautiful’s case and a little bit in The Everglow. And if you look from the Destination: Beautiful to The Everglow, I think that’s more of a jump, stylistically, in aggression. Or, not aggression, but the style of the songs are a lot harder. Some of the songs are more dissonant, some of the songs are louder, you know? I think that jump from The Everglow is more so than the jump to Singularity, but for some reason people are…hmm, well… I think it’s a reactive kind of thing, because we signed to Capitol, our fans didn’t know what to expect, and I think people’s knee-jerk reaction is to not like what comes out, it’s strange. It’s as if it’s instilled in people’s psyche just because of the whole negative stigma of going into a major label. For me, Singularity is not such a departure, it is just where we were going naturally. We didn’t sit down and decide to write these songs in this direction. We just wrote songs, and they came out the way they did. But we had been listening to a lot of 90s stuff like Pearl Jam,Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine, etc. All of this great music from the 90s that we grew up listening to and that energy is something we wanted to capture for sure. And the songs are great to me, I like the record. It’s so funny, people ask me if I like it… I do! Why wouldn’t I like the record? People’s reactions were kind of strange, and it’s understandable I guess in a lot of ways. But I don’t get it, people seem to be afraid of a band or anything that changes too much, and that’s just so strange because I don’t even think we changed that much, but people are like “Oh my gosh, it’s so different! It’s so different! What happened? What happened?” And, you know, it’s frustrating and amusing all at the same time. I can’t understand it, but for me the record is a lot of things. While we were writing it, so much stuff was going (both exciting and negative) with Capitol and what not, and I hear it and I can feel it in the record. I don’t know if anyone else can hear that, but we just in a really trying place … I don’t want to dramatize it, but it was both more exciting and more of a drag to make that record than any record previously, and it wasn’t because of the songs, and it wasn’t because of the people we were working with. We met and worked with great people at Capitol and we’re grateful for the experience. It was just because of everything going on around us that we couldn’t control. And so it kind of bled into the morale of the record, the sound of the record somehow, like voodoo, you know? We wrote the songs long before we went out to LA, a lot of them almost had a different life, and as a band, we mostly hate working in LA. Maybe something happened from when we wrote them to when we started to record them. We were just drinking so much, and trying our best to just deal with being out there, and I think it made its way onto our record somehow, and that’s what I think of when I hear it. But aside from that, objectionably listening to the songs, I love the it, and I’m glad we did that record without giving up. I’m glad we did it the way we did it. I’m really proud of it.
E: I think you just answered my next four questions in the middle of that.
Z: [Laughs] Well if there’s any one you want more details on, just let me know.
E: Oh, no, it’s cool. With the switch to a major label, it means your songs can be on the radio. Have you ever just been driving in the car and heard your song come on the radio?
Z: You know what? I’ve heard our song on the radio, but I was ready for it, I knew it was gonna be on. It’s never been a random thing.
E: Was it weird hearing it on the radio?
Z: No, it wasn’t weird, because in a lot of ways it’s not as big of a deal anymore. I mean, I don’t want to downplay the experience of being a young band and having that success. But the landscape of the industry has changed so much, it’s amazing really. Generally, I love the fact that we’re on the radio. We were played on NPR one night in our home town and that was really cool to hear, we all love NPR,and we’ve been on the countdown on our local radio stations, but as far as being somewhere else completely and hearing our song on the radio, that’s never happened to me before. And the whole radio campaign from Capitol pretty much fell on deaf ears. So I haven’t really experienced that too much. People have called me and said “Oh my gosh, I heard you guys!” I’ve just never experienced it for myself. So I can say that it’s rarely happens, and when it does happen it’s cool. I love hearing it. I’m babbling so much right now.
E: [Laughs] It’s alright. You’ve lost two members since Singularity came out. Can you answer why or is that too personal?
Z: No, I can answer. I think it was a lot of reasons. It was getting harder to be a person in a band, in Mae, that had a wife and the idea of a family in the back of their heads. Over the past year and a half or two years, you know, with Capitol and everything that’s been going on, it’s become a lot more stressful to be in the band and be on the road, and I think coupled with the fact that they’re leaving essentially the other half of them at home… it can just start affect things in a negative way. It affects the relationships within the band. It affects the relationships you have with the music you’re making. It affects the relationships with fans and the idea of touring. So I think to a point it wasn’t fun for them anymore, and I think they had much more to worry about. So they just decided to stop, and I think it was best for them. It’s probably best for the band. If you have people on the road that don’t want to be on the road, it’s the worst misery you could ever imagine.
E: So it’s been good since then?
Z: And since then, it’s funny, I mean, the guys that quit are home. And I’ve hung out with them numerous times. We’re still on good terms. They’re great, and they have like their internal glow back. You see their faces at the end of last year and it’s just like walking machines, but then you go back and they’re human again. And that’s really good to see. But as far as the band goes, it is, it’s great! We have these two new guys from a band called Tokyo who’s also from Virginia Beach, and they’ve never been on tour before really. So it’s awesome to see their energy and their enthusiasm, and their kind of naïve good time. I don’t mean that as an insult. I mean that when you do anything for the first time and it’s romantic and it’s ideal, you know? That works in our favor as well, it’s a good reminder of how good we’ve had it. Our dynamic of traveling is a lot better. It’s just more refreshing to be on the road right now. And we’re actually having a really good time, and we had a really good time last tour. So I think all in all it’s for the best. Our shows are still the same. You still have piano. You still have bass. You still have back-up vocals, all that stuff. But just two other guys playing it who are music lovers just like we are, so it feels good.
E: What inspires you as a band? What keeps you writing music?
Z: Creativity in itself is an inspiration. When you see it in others, when you see it in other things. You can always hear it when you listen to music you like. And I think new ideas inspire us. Human nature in general, the questions about it, the paradoxes that are involved. I don’t know, there’s nothing really specific. I mean there are certain songs that are inspired by certain events, but as far as a genuine kind of general intrinsic creativity that we have or all want to have, it’s like… I don’t know, I think free time is an inspiration, because I think when people don’t have free time, they have time to be just thinking about things that don’t go anywhere, you know? If you think about philosophy or if you think about history and how it repeats itself or if you think about science in a way that is not restricted by school curriculum. If you think about it in a very organic way, I think that’s inspiring in itself. And that’s what Singularity was an outcome of, Jacob and Rob were reading this book by Paul Davies at the time called Mind of God. And the book had nothing to do with music. It had to do with science and its execution in nature. And just to think about that. I mean, you can watch a documentary on Nation Geographic, and it’s really grounds your feet and if you listen to what’s going on and how everything works without our interference at all or even in spite of our interference and it still continues to work and kind of grow around that, that in itself is just mind-blowing. So if you sit back, and kind of do your best to free yourself from distractions that everyone has to have, you know, I think that’s inspiration in itself. You think about living, I think it’s possible to find inspiration anywhere, whether it be music, art, people, discussions, whatever.
At this point, my tape cuts out. There were a few questions left that Zach answered in person, but I couldn’t totally remember them, so he was kind enough to re-answer them through email.
E: When do you think you’ll get to the point that you don’t want to play music anymore, and what will you do instead?
Z: I’ve thought a lot about what I would do instead of being in a band and it’s a scary thought in certain ways. I’ve been touring in bands for over 7 years and it’s become a part of my architecture. I think that if I could do anything else, I would just finish school and keep learning, maybe become a professor in some southern college town, maybe be a stay at home father. My ambitions aren’t great, as long as I can enjoy myself in a simple way.
E: Does Mae have any tangible plans for the future beyond this current tour?
Z: We’re going to start writing. That excites us.
E: Thanks for doing the interview (and answering these questions a second time). Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Z: Thank you for reading, and please try to avoid being a passive music listener, there is so much to learn from it all, from art in general. It’s over-whelming. I think that when you dip your eyes just below the surface of what you normally see, this whole new world opens up.
Catch Mae on their current tour until April 23. Then, apparently get excited for them to start writing their next record. If you didn’t get Singularity yet, I recommend it. I was one of the people Zach complains about in this interview thinking it was so different because it was on a major, but I decided to give it a chance that weekend, and I’m actually listening to it now. It’s pretty good, and if you didn’t like it the first time because it didn’t sound like The Everglow, give it another chance with an open mind.