Published Jun 24, 2008Over the course of the last six years, Los Angeles noise pop crew the Mae Shi have operated in a tight-knit DIY setting, jumping to and from various labels, releasing a variety of sounds through unorthodox formats. Most recently they initiated their own label, Team Shi, to put out their latest album, HLLLYH, which saw a release earlier this year. Arguably their most song-oriented album to date, their fourth LP mixes up the bands characteristics intense start-stop changes, biting melodies, punk rock aesthetics and hi-speed energy for one mammoth blast equivalent to a mountain-sized brain freeze. Drummer Brad Breeck took some time out to answer some questions before the band set out on a North American tour, which stops in Calgary (June 24), Toronto (July 11), Quebec City (July 12) and Montreal (July 13).
HLLLYH was released on your own label here in North America. What made you take that route after having releasing a record on 5RC and Kill Rock Stars as well as so many other labels? Has it paid off for you?
We self-released this record basically out of necessity. There were some offers to put out the record, but none of them seemed as attractive as just doing it ourselves. It has paid off in the sense that we've learned a lot about how to put out a record and how the music business works. The record might be doing better sales-wise if it were on a proper label with more resources and stuff, but I feel like the knowledge we've gained from doing it ourselves has made it all worthwhile.
Can you explain who exactly makes up Team Shi and what its objective as a label is?
Team Shi is all Mae Shi members, past and present. It's all the bands we are in that aren't the Mae Shi. It's everyone who's ever helped us make a video or design a poster or a T-shirt or thrown a show for us at their parents house, or whatever. Basically, if you want to be a member of Team Shi, then you are. The objective is to use our band as a platform for learning how to do anything you ever wanted to learn to do.
To me, HLLLYH marks a shift towards writing a song-based album, as opposed to your older material, which seemed more chaotic and freeform. There are plenty of melodies, space, tempo shifts - is that something the band consciously set out to do?
We are pretty conscious of not wanting to repeat ourselves from record to record. We didn't decide beforehand that this record was going to be comprised of songs with more traditional song forms, it kind of just ended up that way. But I don't feel like the structures found on this record are really that different from a lot of the songs on Terrorbird - maybe some of these songs are longer, so they seem more like pop songs. We were aware, at times, that we were using more straightforward consonant melodies on this record. We've always written our music with no formula, no desire to force our music into traditional song-forms, this record was no different.
You've released a 59-minute EP, a 42-minute album with 33 tracks and a 15-minute album. HLLLYH seems rather conventional (barring "Kingdom Come" - see next question), by comparison. Did it just end up that way?
Yeah, it kind of just happened that way because of the material we ended up with. We knew we wanted to make a 50-ish minute LP. We didn't decide beforehand how many songs it would have. We just went through our process of writing and refining ideas until the album was obviously finished.
What was the idea behind "Kingdom Come, the megamix of the entire album and placing it in the centre of the album?
It has several functions, the main one being that it separates side A and B of the record. It's very clearly the middle of the record. Initially it was a much longer track, it was supposed to be TOO long, so that the listener would get bored or lost and really want to jump to the next track. It's also supposed to be a kind of journey "away" from the record - it takes you "out" of the record for a while then drops you back into the record in another place. Also, we just though it would be rad to remix the record inside of itself.
The band has such a DIY approach to everything, whether it's playing gigs at any sort of venue that will take you or making your somewhat legendary mixtapes. Is that your lifestyle, or is it just easier for you to get things done when there's no red tape involved?
It's definitely both. While we are all naturally curious and creative dudes, we've always recorded our records ourselves, designed and printed T-shirts ourselves, made videos with friends or by ourselves, because that was the only way we could get those things done. It's also usually more fun to do things for yourself, you learn more, you can make it exactly the way you want it to be.
Can you explain this sentence: The Mae Shi don't do things by halves?
We're not a band that tiptoes around ideas. We dive in headfirst. If our execution seems a little heavy-handed at times, it's OK, because we committed to that shit and followed it through! Hiya!!
Is there anything the press or fans often get wrong about the Mae Shi?
My big pet peeve with the press for this record is people saying that we just learned how to write proper songs, which I think is really funny. To me, that implies that everything we've done up until now was unintentional, and that more conventional song forms are somehow more valid. We also get the label "noise band" a lot, which I think is a misnomer. I think we're a noisy pop band. At least that's what we want to be.