Mae

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Mae

With a new major label deal (Capitol Records) and a new album (Singularity), you’d think this would be a prime time for Mae. Instead, the rock act has found itself battling tension from within as two of the band’s members, keyboardist Rob Sweitzer and bassist Mark Padgett, recently announced their decision to leave.

Still, all things considered, the band is flying high. Their recent release charted higher than ever and the band’s fanbase continues to grow with each tour. Drummer Jacob Marshall recently took some time out to speak to Stereo Subversion about the changes within the band, the excitement around them and answering the simple question of “What is Mae?”

SSv: You mentioned recently in another interview about how the title Singularity comes from the band questioning everything around you. Can you speak to that and how important is that for the artist?

Jacob Marshall: I think Singularity was an appropriate title for a record being made during a season like that, of asking those questions. Because by definition it’s the absence of the known. It’s that place where everything we understand as far as science or anything provable for that matter hits a wall and is unable to be answered anymore. There are examples of it all in nature, like the Big Bang, the origin of the universe is the initial singularity; black holes are examples of them. Anywhere the unknown exists in a way that transcends our ability to figure it out.

I think that was important conceptually in this point and time because we’re trying to figure out our place. Not even just as artists in a music scene, but people in a community. I think that was really at the core of all of us at this point in time, having travelled all around the country and even the world to some extent over the last five years and having experienced so much. Music has been the vehicle to take us to those places.

So in turn we wanted to get back into the creative process and the musical process in a way that began to address some of the questions that we had from those experiences. That led us to really kind of conceptualizing a record about trying to figure out that process and in a sense coming up with a worldview. It’s figuring out what it means to have a belief system and what it means to have a perspective and goal in life and have that be a foundation that’s strong and that’s not built on other people’s answers, but answers that we’ve really worked hard to seek out for ourselves.

We've worked so hard to get to this point where we're able to create music for a living and take it all around the world. We're on the verge of being able to do all that. So we're so excited but it's hard when everyone isn't sharing that vision. Those guys were ready to start a different chapter and I guess it's as good of a time as any.

We've worked so hard to get to this point where we're able to create music for a living and take it all around the world. We're on the verge of being able to do all that. So we're so excited but it's hard when everyone isn't sharing that vision. Those guys were ready to start a different chapter and I guess it's as good of a time as any.

SSv: Art is a great place to explore the unknown but rock music isn’t exactly the genre that jumps to mind for that exploration. Isn’t that an odd tension?

Marshall: [Laughs] It is a little bit but all along our process has tried to dig as deep as we can to honor, I guess, what it means to be an artist and to have that realm of creativity and discovery at our disposal. We want to take advantage of that. It would be a shame to be in the arts and not push the boundaries for yourself at least. And maybe we’re not pushing them for everyone, but we’re doing it for ourselves and that’s all we can do the best that we can.

We can offer our story and that’s what we set about to do. I feel each album we make is a flag posted along the journey. I’ll never be dissatisfied with any record we put out because of that. It’s a record of where we are in this journey as a band and group of friends getting to experience life through the lenses of art and music.

SSv: Even your website asks the question “What is Mae?” [whatismae.com] and that seems a good question to ask. And has that answer changed in the last year?

Marshall: You know, it has and it hasn’t. The foundation of that question was born out of a desire to understand why we react the way that we do emotionally to art and to music. It was a question that had one foot in the realm of science, trying to understand systematically how to define something, and one foot in the arts, the emotional side. One is very objective and one is subjective.

When you approach art or spirituality for that matter with any kind of objective system, you’ll get frustrated quickly. You’ll notice how much of it is truly subjective. In that respect, it is changing and evolving all the time. The more that we learn, the more our perspective grows and the more the journey to understanding something is changing all the time as well.

SSv: Specifically how has that changed, then?

Marshall: For the first time ever, we were able to bring out a visual aspect of our show on this last tour. That’s something we’ve been striving for for awhile. The name, Mae, came out of an experiment in college on that relationship between our senses and how they perceive information and then the emotional response to that information and how you can put visuals with sounds and use them to express the same artistic idea. It’s to create an environment and a moment in a live show to allow them to connect with what we’re doing.

SSv: What experience?

Marshall: In college, I was studying art, philosophy, science and all of that. I actually created a major called Aesthetic Theory that deals with the human response to art. That was a four year story and in the middle of that, I got to do a funded research project based on the relationship between color and sound.

SSv: Wow, how exciting was that at the time?

Marshall: Oh man, it was awesome! Absolutely! And out of that study came this concept for Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience.

SSv: Which is Mae?

Marshall: Exactly.

SSv: Obviously, there’s been some recent events within the band with Rob and Mark leaving. And on Rob’s personal blog, there seems to be some negativity with the split even though the official things I’ve read seem amiable.

Marshall: Yeah, there is and that’s unfortunate. That seems discontinuous with the other things that he’s alluded to with us. So again if there’s something else being communicated, that’s an inconsistency as far as we’re concerned as well. I know both of those guys hit a spot recently where the pull of what it takes to work a record and to be gone for a good portion of the year just conflicts with trying to have a family. I think both those guys have expressed for awhile that that was the interest. Both of them are married. They’ve been doing this for five years.

I think the glamour of the idea of being on the road quickly gets lost in the reality of what it means to be travelling in a new city every day and living in a small space with ten other people. The reality of it is just different than the idea. And over time, your interests and passions change. Life works in seasons. We know that, I think, internally but when it affects personally in a situation like this, it’s hard. But those guys are just ready for a different season of life.

Ultimately because [guitarist] Zach [Gehring] and [vocalist] Dave [Elkins] and myself are not ready for a different season, this is exactly what we want to do. This is exactly where we’re supposed to be. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point where we’re able to create music for a living and take it all around the world. We’re on the verge of being able to do all that. So we’re so excited but it’s hard when everyone isn’t sharing that vision. Those guys were ready to start a different chapter and I guess it’s as good of a time as any.

SSv: How do you decide ownership on all of this after so many years of the five of you laboring toward this identity and then a split happens?

Marshall: That’s tough. That’s one of the things we’re in the middle of right now. Again, just to clarify with absolute certainty, I know some people speculated on message boards that they were kicked out or that Capitol Records had something to do with it. That’s absolutely not the case. It surprised us, honestly, as much as it surprised our fans. They left. And so we’re in the middle of figuring that stuff out now.

I know that we just got back from a show at Valparaiso University in Indiana on Saturday night and a friend of ours from a local band in the area filled in on bass for us. It was awesome. It was absolutely a moving show experience. To feel the energy and support from the crowd and the intensity of singing along and just extending their appreciation that we still showed up in the middle of this whole experience meant a lot to us.

SSv: How do you deal with the tension of “we owe it to our fans to tell them what’s going on” versus “we’re real people with personal lives and it’s none of your business?”

Marshall: That’s a little bit of a stress because they’re invested into this community and vision with us. So when it happens, it doesn’t just affect us. It does affect our fans. From the beginning, we’ve set out to be a band of community, a band that does incorporate our fans into the process of what we’re going through. With the internet, blogging, video logs and journals is a part of that. We want them to feel connected emotionally to us because this is an emotional experience for us.

That’s what makes the art and experience of it all so meaningful. That’s very much important. So that has its pros and cons. [Laughs] It would be easier to get through something like this, but we’d also miss out on the support – the genuine support they gave back to us that night. They’ve been online and we’ve gotten so many notes. They’re sad, but even in that, they’re also giving us what we need to move forward, too.

SSv: I’d love to flip back a few months to a recent chance you had to hit the Capitol and speak to the powers-that-be about art and culture.

Marshall: That was awesome. That was so cool. The fact that people in Washington recognize art and music for what it is, its an influential medium but only because it’s a platform for genuine expression. You can unite or divide based on the content. So the fact that they wanted to hear what we thought about that and offer their services to help facilitate social issues on justice and the environment and a whole palette of issues that artists are concerned with… we’re concerned with a lot of those, too.

It was a good dialogue session. We got to meet people there and it was an introductory thing in a lot of respect. We’ve had a few follow-ups since then.

SSv: Was it out of the blue?

Marshall: Absolutely out of the blue. We had gotten to go on tour with The Fray this past summer and they had been invited earlier, so they gave us a bit of an idea of what to expect. But it was just cool to be the recipient of an honor like that but also have a place to go to do some work and make a change with these issues that we care about.

SSv: You guys are getting ready to tour with Anberlin and you’ve toured with The Fray. Both of those acts are very thoughtful acts – about their own identity and their place in music. And you guys seem to be the same. But how do you feel when you’re touring or forced together with the typical “we play music to have a good time” band?

Marshall: We walk that line sometimes because we’re very reflective and we care very much, but we also have worked hard not to get pushed into some Christian music scene. [Laughs] That tends to be a smaller box than the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll box. We really don’t feel 100% home in either world. I feel more comfortable there than something that doesn’t really capture who we are and what we’re about.

Because we think about that stuff and we talk about spiritual things and scientific things and philosophical things, I think the communal aspect of being in a band that can either pull you apart real quick or pull you together. In our case, at this point, it’s really pulled us together, especially with all that’s going on right now. It’s so refreshing to find community within ourselves.

It’s funny. The part of touring that takes its toll the most is that aspect of relationship where you begin to find yourself making first impressions every day. You never really get outside of that kind of surface level of conversation unless you really make an effort to do that. That’s one thing our fans have embraced is going deep right away. [Laughs] We try to come out after every show and meet people and take the time to let them know we appreciate them being there. And in those moments, we want as many quality conversations as possible. The byproduct of that is that it teaches us a whole lot, too.

SSv: Tangibly what are you going to do to fill the holes in the band.

Marshall: Actually right this second, we’re about to meet with a guy who has also been a part of the Virginia music scene to play keyboards for us. [Laughs] If you’d called thirty minutes later, I could tell you. Again, we’re not prepared for it, so we’re just doing it the best that we can. But I feel confident that especially after the show this weekend, the level of confidence is high and we’re moving forward and continuing to do what we set out five years ago. It feels good. I don’t think we’ll be stopping anytime soon. I feel like we still have a whole lot to say and we’re just getting started.


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