AU ABROAD

the AU interview: Dave Elkins of Mae (USA) talks about "The Everglow", his Schematic project and reunion of the band.

Influential Virginia rock band Mae will be touring Australia nationally in March 2015 for the first time in seven years to celebrate the anniversary of their album The Everglow. Earlier this month, I caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Dave Elkins to talk about the tour, and the return from their hiatus.

Following their hiatus in 2010, Dave Elkins has kept busy with his solo music project, Schematic which has helped him maintain his creativity for music. He shares his insights on Mae and his personal journey as a musician. Needless to say, his passion for what he does is astonishing and truth be told, hard work really does pay off.

Back in 2010, Mae announced an indefinite hiatus, could you tell me more about this and how did the band come to this decision?

Sure. But first of all thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to ask me about my band - it's super great that you're interested. Mae's been a band since 2001. We put out our first record in February 2003. In 2010, we've been doing it [making music] for almost a decade at that point and we had been doing it extremely rigorously at times. About halfway through 2002, we were constantly touring and getting ready for our first record. I think in 2003, 2004, 2005, we probably played about 300 shows every single year. Still, we made our first record on our own, we made our second release, which is Destination: B Sides on our own.

We always partnered up with Tooth and Nail records but you know we were in charge of the funding at that point, [we were] also in charge of recording production, mixing etc. So you know by the time our Everglow record came out, we'd already put in like I think more work than a lot of bands do. The reception and the amount of support we were getting by a number of fans was greater and they were connecting with our music which was really exciting. We made our way to Capitol Records and tried to see what it would be like if we were to gradually move to a major label. It was an interesting time in Capitol, about 90% of the people working in Capitol when we signed would let go. We sure had an identity crisis of our own because we didn't know who we were working with at that label and who was gonna be part of the record making process.

After that Capitol record release [Singularity], two of our band members took a break from the band and they were both married at the time. They were kind of interested in spending more time with their new families and stuff so the three remaining members of Mae: Jacob, Zac and I, we stepped back into the way that we had done playing at the very beginning where we were you funding our recordings, producing the mixing and engineering ourselves.

We had a label of our own and started putting our music out and we were all doing the management and the tour management. I guess halfway through 2007, 2008 and 2009 and then 2010, those were just really tiresome years just because of the fact that we were doing everything by ourselves. We were getting older and with so many things associated with the band we also just kind of exhausted ourselves by doing maybe a little too much. I felt like there was a time in 2010 [that I needed] to just take a break and let it rest for a while. We never intended to put the band away for good, that's why we raised a point that we were taking a hiatus because we didn't want people to think that we didn't want to do it again and if there were any issues within the band.

I live in Nashville, Tennessee and I've got a studio out here that I do production with bands and artists full time and our drummer lives in Brooklyn, New York. It was a time for us to just sort of like find out individually what we're capable of and start to just kind of, get out of that band world just enough to miss it more and to learn from the experiences that we've had in the past and what's kind of changed around us as we put things into the main basket and you know, it feels really, really great.

We're like three weeks away from playing shows on our first tour since like November 2010. It was a much needed break and I think everybody within the band has been longing for a reunite. So now we're here and we've had a few moments together in the studio this year. We're really excited to play this record from start to finish in our first shows in Philadelphia on January 2nd and we'll be in your side of the planet in March and that's incredibly exciting, you know.

During the hiatus of Mae you also worked on a band and solo project, Schematic. In what way is working on a solo project different to being in a band?

Oh, see I moved in Nashville and there's a community for music. I would say one of the main influences of the economy in this town is the music business. I wanted to get into more production, I wanted to learn my way around the studio. I was a drummer in a band when I was fifteen and then in the second band I played guitar and sang some back up vocals in my third band, then my fourth band was actually Mae so I had a lot of experience playing other instruments as I was a kid growing up but then when it came to being in Mae, I was primarily songwriter/singer and played little guitar. Moving up here and building a studio was about not only learning on more engineering and production but [it was] getting back to those instruments that I grew up playing when I was younger and just sort of learning and challenging myself to grow more as a musician and as an artist. So Schematic was a project of exercise for both.

Schematic was a project that took two and a half years to record because it was always about experimentation and it was always about learning and it was almost like the songs themselves that I wrote were from experimentation in the studio. It was truly a DIY approach where I was definitely writing and recording everything myself and then it was at that point when I moved into Nashville where I was like, this is like a communal town and some of these guys and gals are my really good friends so I was motivated to collaborate with them as I was used to doing that in Mae.

I needed to do it, I needed to let this music take on the influences of another individual or several individuals. The first half of the Schematic record was me just messing around and recording and writing and playing and experimenting by myself. In the last half or so, it was me playing unfinished songs for some of my friends who were in Nashville that came in to put their own little stamp on it. One of my best friends in town, played bass on the entire Schematic record and some friends of mine from bands that I've known for years have come along and played the guitar parts.

One of the songs I wrote with a good friend of mine was Stephen Christian from Anberlin. He helped me write the last track on that Schematic record and the song is called "What It Means". It was actually going to be a potential song for his Anchor and Braille project and I took it and I said "I love this song, if you don't mind, I'd like to keep working on it and change some stuff and put it on my solo record." And of course, he was cool with that but I think the main thing is like when you’re collaborating with your friends or with your brothers in a band like I do with Mae, you take for granted everybody's instinct, not just the musicality as an artist. It's [working solo] a really tedious process so I had to learn more about the studio and that created an environment before I could just start pressing record. It was a long process and I'm really happy with the results and I think in the future I would like to release a Schematic record of some sort, whether it be an EP or another LP or something.

Working on the Schematic project has definitely kept you busy during the hiatus of Mae. You could say that it recharged your creativity for music in that time period.

Yeah, it definitely has [chuckles].

So I can't believe that The Everglow is turning ten years old. How would you describe the journey of the record and what has it brought to the band?

I think The Everglow, it was definitely Mae's commercially successful record and so it really brought the band a lot of new fans. I always had these dreams of playing music for a living and really just connecting with other people through music. When I was like 16, 17, 18 playing music in these high school and college bands, I just thought it was a hobby that I was going to enjoy until I had to sort of wake up and face reality and find a new way to pay attention to what the future was and kind of enter the real world and taking on responsibility of bills and family and different things like that.

When I was 10 years old, I used to write lyrics down of other bands that I loved listening to just so i could see what it looked like to have lyrics in my handwriting on paper. I wasn't creative or experienced in life when it came to writing lyrics but I already wanted to write. I already wanted to tell stories through my songwriting and music and The Everglow for me is about seeing these things actually happen and realising that, a dream is worth having and worth pursuing to become a reality.

During touring and the accomplishments we had from Destination: Beautiful, I understood that I was born to write music and I was born to play music and to express myself and meet other people who do the same thing, and then meet people who rely on songwriters and musicians to write music so that they can get out the emotions and the expressions until they can find music that can help them get there. It's just an amazing thing that I was born to do this.

A lot of people are and a lot of people aren't and so I think The Everglow for me is just about the expression of gratitude. It kinda starts at the beginning and end of the journey and it takes you through the realisation of a dream coming true. Generally speaking, that could be anybody's dream. It doesn't have to be the dream of playing music. For me it was, 'cause that's what i was experiencing but i wanted to write these songs so I connected people in their own journeys.

It wasn't necessarily hopping on a stage and singing songs and getting into a studio but I wanted to write and tell the ups and downs of the journey that was ultimately about finding yourself and finding the dreams in the passion that you have are sort of worth your time. The Everglow turning 10 years old is pretty amazing.

I can't believe it myself, it makes me feel pretty old. I mean I was 22 when that record came out. It's just crazy to think about that and I'm just super grateful that it feels like something that people want to experience. Knowing the fact that people are still interested and connect with that record enough to wanna buy a ticket and celebrate the anniversary with us is really gratifying.

That's awesome, man. I really love that record because I came across it when I was like 15 or 16. I think the first song that I actually connected with was "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making". I freaking love that song.

Oh sweet!

Following on that statement though, I know with "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making" you released an incredible statement about the meaning of it. It also caused a lot of discussion amongst fans. Do you find it interesting that many people had different interpretations of that song?

You know it's interesting because I was talking to a friend about that. Not specifically about "Mistakes..." but really just about music in general. There's a song that I wrote on Destination: Beautiful called "This Time Is The Last Time" and that song was about distancing myself from people that were just negative influences in my life that were controlling, that were telling me that I couldn't ultimately be who I wanted to become. We played that song at a show in Detroit, and I met a guy who came to that show.

So basically, this guy had been addicted to heroin for two years and "This Time Is The Last Time" was like a hopeful song for him and described this sort of like self-induced curse that he had over his life - that's when I realised that I could write a song about one thing and it could mean something totally different to somebody else and that's the beauty of music. It's like even though it's a universal language, it's a universal language that still lends itself to many different interpretations.

So when it comes to a song like "Mistakes..." or when it comes to songs that I love, I really would prefer sometimes to just have my own interpretation as opposed to like sit down with Thom Yorke from Radiohead or Paul McCartney from The Beatles and be like "What's your interpretation of this song?" Sometimes you might be disappointed with the results or it might not be as magical or as special as it has been since you've been able to come up with your own memories, interpretations and experiences attached with it.

So getting back to "Mistakes..", I appreciate that people have found the lyrics so intriguing that they wanted to talk about it. Really the way it started, I was reading this book, I can't remember what the book is called anymore but it basically had if you flip it upside down and turned it over, it had another little book and the title of that was "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making". Basically the author was letting you know what was erroneous [wrong; incorrect] in the book that you just read and I thought that was a really cool title. I thought that maybe if I were to take that and write a song about it, just using that title could be used as a diving board to songs that I would write.

"Mistakes We Knew We Were Making" for me was about the idea of this couple that fell in love and as a result, a child is born. So what happens before the child is born? What are these people thinking? How does it measure their love to each other? How does it measure the selfless love that they think that they have when someone says 'I love you'? What exactly does that mean and how far does this go? Sometimes we say that we love somebody and time passes and that could be a mistake, at least in our minds. I think in general when we start talking about love and you use that word, sometimes you do things that are unwise out of love and that could be a bad result.

The whole story is sort of a fabrication, I wasn't in a relationship at the time, I was just kind of using it as a creative writing session for myself. Like I said, I'm just grateful that people listen to the words to our songs in general and like really, think about them and have their own interpretations. Sometimes we inspire people with our lyrics and that's just unbelievable to me. I'm so grateful and I don't understand it. It's just kind of beyond me that music has that effect that I get to be a part of.

I know life hasn't been easy for you and in a past interview you've mentioned that music has been your only friend because of the fact that you moved around a lot as a kid and barely had any time to maintain any friendships. It's clear that music has been a constant for you in your life. How did your passion for music initially start and what made you so intrinsically motivated to be a musician?

I have this weird memory when I was a kid with pencils in my hand, looking in the mirror and teaching myself how to play the drums by just moving my arms to the beats that I heard on like The Blue Album by Weezer or Nevermind by Nirvana. As I got more musical before I had a drum kit, I'd be listening to Soundgarden and something more progressive rock.

Bands like Failure and just a bunch of alternative grunge bands was what got me started on wanting to be a musician. Everything that came out that was on the radio during that time [the 90s] was so diverse. You would listen to a countdown on like Top 40 pop radio but you would have Nirvana or Michael Jackson or Snoop Doggy Dog or Nine Inch Nails and then Pearl Jam like all in a row. Whether it'd be in the RnB world or the rap world or the rock n' roll world or the alternative world or the punk rock world,iIt was so artful, creative and self-expressive.

There wasn't any meaningless hooks - there was something where every artist was trying to in some way self-express and I thought that was just only music all was and always would be. Obviously you're gonna find stuff like "I Want To Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles which is sort of like for screaming girls to sing along to but if you could break down the chord progressions, you start to realise that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You” has just some interesting stuff musically.

In the 60s, 70s, 80s, you had both self-expressive popular music. Like David Bowie could write a song like "Fame" or "Under Pressure" (with Queen) and there's just something where you don't have to get lost in the words if you don't want to, you could get like a completely different feeling and I thought that was just so special.

I think that just going through the awkwardness of puberty and switching schools a lot like I did when I was a kid was that you don't have enough time or brain capacity or emotional awareness, you're like "I know what's happening in my head right now, I know what's happening in my heart right now, I know exactly what's going on in my soul right now.” I didn't know any those things but music was helping me get to the next day and to the next school and to the next semester.

I did have a lot of friends in school but since I moved around so much I wasn't able to spend a lot of time with them. I was just constantly moving around and music was that thing that was always going to be there when I got home to a school that day. It was gonna be that thing that was there when I couldn't get a ride to that party where everybody was going to or when I came home from the party - music would still be there and that would be constant. I've grown up to having divorced parents like a lot of us do, you spend a lot of time to yourself just kind of asking “Why?” and music was something that I could get lost in, providing some comfort and understanding that sort of transcends the confusion that life brings.

Whether you’re 10 or 50, whoever you are, music can always really make you understand who you really are.

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Influential Virginia rock band Mae will be touring Australia nationally in March 2015 for the first time in seven years to celebrate the anniversary of their album The Everglow.

MAE AUSTRALIAN TOUR MARCH 2015
With special guests Nova and the Experience

Thursday March 5th – The Bright Side Brisbane
Friday March 6th – Shark Bar The Gold Coast
Saturday March 7th – The Small Ballroom Newcastle
Sunday March 8th – Baker St Gosford
Thursday March 12th – The Roller Den Sydney
Friday March 13th – Uni Bar Adelaide
Saturday March 14th – The Corner Hotel Melbourne
Sunday March 15th – The Amplifier Perth

Tickets are on sale now.