What do you call a guy who hangs around with musicians? A drummer.
How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb?
None. There are machines that can do that for them.
There's a reason that there are a plethora of dumb drummer jokes. But there are also exceptions to the rule. Virginia-based AltRock band Mae's Web site, www.whatismae.com, asks the question. Here's the answer, courtesy of the Jacob Marshall, the band's drummer and resident egghead: "Mae is a theory that I developed in college. It stands for 'Multisensory Aesthetic Experience.'
It has to do with translating sensory experience across modes. In other words, taking a passage of sound that evokes an emotion and translating that into a visual, based on all of the different variables that contribute to that. And you won't hear too many drummers talking about that."
Right. Sure. Exactly. As Gimenez points out, he's "not a stupid drummer, you know."
That doesn't mean that Mae's career was carefully planned and plotted out by a team of music business scientists. The band — which also currently includes bassist Mark Padgett and keyboardist Rob Sweitzer — started as a recording project for Gimenez and Marshall at Padgett's recording studio. Sweitzer was recruited to play on the recordings, and Padgett was asked to play bass when they realized that they were going to have to reproduce the songs on stage. From there, they signed a record deal with pseudo-Christian label, Tooth and Nail, after the company heard just four songs. This, after the band had only been together for less than a year.
"We started recording in March, and we didn't even play our first show until December," says Gimenez. "Things happened kind of backwards. We had the opportunity to record some music, out of the music became the band, and then we put stuff on the Internet, and it found the right ears at the right time."
It's easy to see what the label people liked about Mae. Themes of driving and running away pepper the band's debut, Destination: Beautiful. But it's not escapist fare. In the same vein as Jimmy Eat World's Clarity or mellower Death Cab for Cutie, Mae does the Indie/Emo thing with sensitivity and earnestness. Guitars chime, lyrics about girls wisp by, and it generally seems like well put-together Rock for slightly nerdy Pop fans. It's kind of wimpy, with light keyboards and pianos, plus slightly distorted guitars, but it's plenty meaty. Live, they have more balls than the melodic Pop of the record, and that's never a bad thing. There's also the newfound weirdness of a band with not much time under its belt figuring out the way it's going to work together.
"As easy as this ride's been, certain aspects have been difficult because we didn't plan everything out ahead of time," Gimenez says. "Like, we're getting to really know each other on this tour, which is good. But when you stick four guys in a van for two months, you get to learn everything, regardless if you want to or not."
After this interview, original guitarist Matt Beck amicably left the band, so there's obviously still some getting used to the new lifestyle. There's also the question hanging in the air about God. Tooth and Nail isn't a fire-and-brimstone Christian label, but it has a large share of the underground Christian Punk/Hardcore/Emo market. Gimenez, who thanks God "for the passion and the reward" in Destination: Beautiful's liner notes, explains.
"As far as I know, they're not a Christian label anymore," he clarifies. "We're not a Christian band. Some of the bands on Tooth and Nail tour in churches, but we don't. We don't play Christian-themed songs. If anything, we're on Tooth and Nail because they believe in our music. It doesn't have anything to do with religious beliefs. The long-term plan is to be on a bigger label. I don't know if there's a big Christian label or not, but we're not trying to get on one."
The other long-term plan, according to Marshall, is to present some kind of mind-blowing live show that expounds and expands upon his theory. Of course, Mae will have to jump to a much larger label to be able to afford it, from what little details he dribbles out.
"Our long-term performance goal is different than our short-term in the sense that we have a vision for, hopefully, taking what we have in our heads to the masses," Marshall says, over his bandmates' laughter. "It's going to be a live show, hopefully, different than anyone has ever experienced before. It's a surprise for about three years down the road. Imagine an environmental experience — the same way that music surrounds you — and you've got all these different variables, like dynamics, melodic progressions, timbres, textures and different instruments. Imagine being able to feel that or see that."
MAE plays The Void in Northside on Thursday with Elliott, Junior Revolution, Plain White T's and Shindig.