By Josiah HughesAs you may have heard by now, L.A. post punks the Mae Shi have recently seen their band split in two. According to various reports, the group's current live line-up has lost three of its four members, who have gone on to form the new outfit Signals.
The reasons for the line-up shuffle are numerous, but at the top of the pile is that original member Jeff Byron was beginning to suffer with substance abuse issues. In an exclusive email to Exclaim!, drummer Jacob Cooper opened up about the situation, saying, "Helping hands were extended; we were supportive and respectful about the time to heal and even tried reaching out to Jeff when we were specifically told not to contact him by those closest to him. I don't know where the notion that we blew him off came from."
Byron's problems most recently surfaced on a European tour, leading him to fly home to the U.S. while remaining members Jonathan Gray, Bill Gray and Jacob Cooper completed the dates. Once the European leg of the tour was concluded, Byron decided he wasn't well enough to keep playing live, and asked the band to cancel their remaining dates, including an appearance at last weekend's Pitchfork Festival. Rather than cancel the show, the rest of the live line-up decided to play the fest, calling it their last show as the Mae Shi. They asked Byron to perform, but he declined.
The Mae Shi always had other members who worked strictly in the studio, including Jeff Byron's brother Tim and Brad Breeck. Along with Jeff, they were upset about the other members playing live, posting a lengthy message on their MySpace blog. Along with giving a long explanation about the history of the Mae Shi, the message had this to say the Grays and Cooper: "Jeff will not be there. Tim will not be there. Brad will not be there. You will see 3/4ths of the most recent touring band. What you will see will be Signals...This is all, in our view, a tremendous bummer. It makes us deeply sad. The Mae Shi have had their share of tough times. We are a dysfunctional bunch. But we've always been friends, and we've always believed that we are generally good people. We've always been family - real family. Byrons and Grays, a Buchla, a Breeck, a Cooper. A Fogel and a Savino. But this seems extremely opportunistic and inconsiderate, and not how friends treat one another."
Cooper's full statement to Exclaim!, which highlights a lot of these issues and accusations, can be read below:
I feel like I either have to say a whole lot to keep things honest, or not say anything at all because it's not worth dealing with people who fabricate the truth and treat you like nothing more than "touring members" in the end. I don't want to denounce anyone or try to sound disrespectful with these comments even though it can be assumed by a few as the type of thing I would usually do. The reality is we were all part of the Mae Shi creatively: Jon being on the latest Mae Shi record, and Bill and I on a majority of new songs that were played during the last year and a half (and recorded a few short months ago). To be demoted to "touring band" status is an extreme slap in the face to all of us. This is why we left: when you aren't given recognition for essentially keeping the PMA flowing, the fans united, and the music coming, while other people around you are continuing to deal with and justify their personal issues, then it's just not really worth it. Now Jeff avoids me, doesn't talk to me, and has blamed me for a lot of ridiculous things like ruining his relationships. Mae Shi was always about staying positive and keeping things fun. I don't know what happened.
Helping hands were extended; we were supportive and respectful about the time to heal and even tried reaching out to Jeff when we were specifically told not to contact him by those closest to him. I don't know where the notion that we blew him off came from. It was all a very confusing time for everyone but we aren't bad people like that. Maybe everyone has a different spin on what really happened but stories can shift when your reality is altered at the same time of dealing with an unknown substance abuse (though we didn't learn about that until after tour either).
We all loved and still love Jeff in many ways, but I don't think it was fair for us to not be able to keep going and follow through with our promises and obligations (already booked shows), then later get blamed for it by not contacting someone who failed to reach out to us in the first place. There are too many reasons that can be said for why we left, but at this point I don't want to criticize anyone for being human or dealing with a hard time. We are all fuck ups and dysfunctional people who are all trying to do what is best in the end. We want to be good people for everyone who believes in us and gives us opportunities that we have never had before. Here is to both bands new and old. Thank you for the opportunities and fun times, Mae Shi. I will always be grateful for that.
Cooper and both Grays are now playing in the band Signals, while Jeff and Tim Byron have said that they will continue on as the Mae Shi. Contrary to what was stated on the Mae Shi MySpace page, Signals will not be playing any Mae Shi songs.