Exclusive interview with Mae’s Dave ElkinsPosted: May 12, 2012
I was handed a preview copy of an album called The Everglow. Covered in stickers about how the American government would hunt me down and bring me to justice if I copied or distributed it, I hesitantly put it into my computer’s CD drive and clicked play.
It was an experience as special as the moment I first heard Muse’s Absolution or Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown. In terms of music that has impacted me and stayed with me, The Everglow may just be the best album I’ve ever heard.
After following the band’s journey and devouring every song, you can imagine my delight when I discovered Mae would be playing a small UK tour and stopping by a few miles from my house here in Southampton at the legendary Joiners venue.
It was a realisation made even more remarkable by the fact the band were supposed to be on an indefinite hiatus.
The day after one of the best gigs of my life, I chatted to lead singer Dave Elkins on the phone about the history and the future of the most underrated band ever to tour England:
SH: Welcome to the UK. How’s the tour going?
DE: The tour’s amazing. Tonight is our last night in London and now that it’s almost over it’s a shame we can’t stay here a few more weeks. We haven’t been to the UK since 2005 and we’ve never been to mainland Europe before this tour.
Everything feels like the first time for us and for a band that’s currently on a hiatus, it’s pretty awesome that we get to have so many wonderful experiences, playing to people and getting the energy back for the band, it’s quite remarkable.
SH: You said at the gig last night that coming to the UK had made you re-think your future as a band. Are you getting back together?
DE: No, but as well we’re not broken up. The nature of the hiatus is after perusing the band for 10 years you come across some opportunities and you catch some breaks and on the other hand you miss some opportunities.
All of us individually are focusing a little bit more on the opportunities we’ve missed. Our guitar player is back in school finishing his degree and talking about perusing his masters degree.
I live in Nashville now, the band is originally from Virginia. I’ve got a studio in Nashville and I do production full time. Our drummer is involved in lost of different charitable organisations and plays music on the side as well.
As far as getting back together to pursue the band full time, that’s not something that’s on the horizon. But what is is the great opportunity we get to do something extraordinary like this tour. We’ve got a tour planned in Indonesia and opportunities like that, there’s no way we’re going to turn that down.
But to get back in the studio, write a record and start touring on it is for now not something that’s in the future.
SH: Tell us about your decision to sign with Tooth and Nail in the early days.
DE: When we signed with Tooth and Nail we signed a licensing deal which meant we continued to own the rights to our music. We tried to stay as self sufficient as possible, which allowed us to pick and choose when we wanted to be associated with a label.
Tooth and Nail was amazing for us and they brought us great success in the States within the indie rock scene.
SH: Tooth and Nail are a Christian label making music that doesn’t necessarily have Christian lyrics. We don’t really have a UK equivalent of that, so how does it work, and how has your faith developed?
DE: There were several bands in that label that I’d grown up listening to and it felt like a good fit. It wasn’t a decision based on a label that were faith based. We were just looking for an opportunity to meet more potential Mae fans and get our music out there.
Tooth and Nail would have access to some more Christian venues for sales like Christian bookstores. Why not have our record in places where otherwise it wouldn’t be? That’s just going to increase our exposure.
I was 19 when this band started. To be almost 30 now and had many opportunities to travel and meet people and see life through a different scope, it’s been quite a journey. Where I’m at today is still on that path of trying to understand life and how we’re all connected to each other.
SH: The Everglow was incredible. Tell us about how you came up with the idea to make everything flow with no gaps between songs.
DE: At first the songs were written as individual songs. Growing up listening to music the way I did, I was always introduced by my parents to full albums. I remember listening to Abbey Road as a kid and loving the way each song connected.
There was no conceptualization to that record but towards the end they put a few songs together to take you on this musical journey and I loved that.
The story we all wanted to tell through The Everglow was we’re finally accomplishing our dreams. It was always a dream but it never seemed possible we could let music drive our lives to the point where we’d make a career out of it.
SH: Why did you sign with major label Capitol Records?
DE: Our reasoning for wanting to sign with Capitol Records was just to see what kind of exposure they could provide for us in terms of radio and song placement.
When you become a big fish in a small pond you can either be noticed constantly or see where else you might be able to swim.
Unfortunately for us, the label imploded. EMI was changing hands and our label was overtaken by the staff at Virgin Records. There wasn’t anyone working at the label who had a secure job for one and also wanted to make Mae a priority in the label.
It was really bad timing for us but looking back on it, stories like these happen to bands all the time. How many records do the general public never get to hear because of dysfunctional label situations?
DE: We were all dealing with our individual, I don’t know what’s the right word to use? Anything from demons to individual life issues. It’s more of a disjointed record because we were not as connected anymore in the songwriting process. We became complacent.
I think singularity was overproduced and a bit overcontrolled. We let the machine take over. The heavy hand of the producer and label really took over.
We hadn’t worked with a label like that before and the label had a history that we respected, The Beatles, Radiohead, Coldplay etc. All these bands that had defined music for their generation and in some cases for all of rock and roll so it was important for us to be open minded.
When it came time to hear the recordings back I can’t say we were collectively convinced we had recorded our best material or that the songs the way they had finally been arranged and produced and mixed and mastered were up to the standard we had been used to.
SH: What happened after the release of Singularity on Capitol?
DE: We had signed a two album deal with Capitol Records and we had only released one. So in order to part ways, the label would owe us money for not delivering on the second record. That gave us the money that we used to record a lot of our early recordings for the Morning, Afternoon and Evening sessions.
Soon after that we had to live on a tight budget. We were giving 100% of our profits and total income from the download sales to different charitable organisations that we believed in.
It was pretty good. Ultimately it sparked a new sense of creativity, we had a new reason to write music.
2008-2010 was all about expressing the freedom of our music and labeling ourselves. We could only do that after we’d spent time in two different labels and management companies and seen things the way we’d seen them. I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to learn what I’ve learned and grown how I’ve grown. Now as an independent artist I have the freedom to pursue music inside of and outside of Mae the way I want to.
SH: You opened the gig with Bloom. Tell us about it.
DE: I’ve been talking with the band about that lately and it’s maybe the top song, if not top two or top three. It proves the soul of the band never died during that period when we were struggling to understand who were were.
A lot of songwriters will say my favourite work is the most recent work I’ve done but when I hear a song like Bloom I think when I’m 50 I’ll still be extremely proud of that song and it was a moment in time that was necessary to be captured within the band and us as individuals.
SH: What are your other favourite songs to play live?
DE: A song from the Everglow: Anything. It connects us with our audience and says we’re here to take you on a journey. From Destination: Beautiful, our very first record would be Sun, I still enjoy playing that.
From Singularity, even though we’re not playing them live there’s a couple I’m still very connected to: Waiting and Reflections.
The House That Fire Built, and Night/Day which we play every night on this tour is a favourite.
I Just Needed You To Know is a personal story about me and my wife so every night when I sing that I think about her back home and cant wait to see her. I was struck with the love bug and got married a couple of years ago and got to write about it.