The Mae Shi never broke up, technically. Still, the L.A. group's last show was nearly three years ago, in Germany, and featured only one original member.
In the meantime, they've all gone on to other projects; co-founder Jeffrey Byron has worked with Busdriver, Brad Breeck is a television composer, Tim Byron became an attorney, and Ezra Buchla develops music software and synthesizer firmware.
But tonight — at Sean Carnage's weekly Pehrspace event — The Mae Shi will return to the stage with this complete line-up, which originally made a splash on the local circuit with their raw, almost chaotic sound and in the early '00s and emerged from the acclaimed DIY scene surrounding downtown venue The Smell. As for the name, Jeffrey claims he doesn't recall its origin and it doesn't have a meaning.
We caught up with Jeffrey Byron and Ezra Buchla separately to talk about all this craziness.
What brought you back to The Mae Shi?
Ezra Buchla: We're just doing this one show because Kyle Mabson asked us. Personally, I thought it seemed kind of funny to do it at a small place for no money. There could be a lot of gross ways to do it as a comeback or an attention grab. I thought it would be fun to do it for our community and our friends.
What are your thoughts about what was going on in the L.A. underground during the time you were in The Mae Shi? Was there a lot of inspiration surrounding you?
Buchla: I think to some extent, we were influenced and inspired by a lot of the bands from The Smell scene at that time, bands like Godzik Pink and Polar Goldie Cats, who were doing really deconstructive things, combining certain elements that were exciting and appealing and direct with other elements that were disruptive or alienating. That's kind of what we wanted to do.
I think maybe even more so than the downtown acts were the younger bands coming out of the Inland Empire, where we lived, especially the Riverside scene.
At that point in time, so many bands were coming out of the Inland Empire. What was going on there that ended up spawning all these bands?
Buchla: Honestly, I don't know. Boredom. Dissatisfaction with popular culture and the fact that there actually were places to play. A little bit, not very much.
During the time you were in The Mae Shi, the scene surrounding DIY spaces, The Smell in particular, started getting some mainstream exposure. Did that affect the band at all?
Buchla: Yeah, I think it was a big motivation for me to leave the band, actually.
Why was that?
Buchla: I don't know. I was sort of averse to the attention and, perhaps, the idea of moving into more mainstream directions of songwriting. But, that's just a personal tick. It's probably why I've had this pattern of starting bands and quitting them when they get successful.
Do you remember The Mae Shi's first show?
Byron: The first time we played, we played in Pomona. It was at this dive bar. I remember that only four of our close friends came to see us. One guy, at the bar, was making fun of us the entire time while we were playing. After the show, he came up to me and he was like, “If you want to be like Van Halen, you have to be able to play like Eddie Van Halen, not just look like him.”
When did you start to notice that there was a following for The Mae Shi?
Byron: We put out a record on Kill Rock Stars and that did a lot for us, but it really didn't start to get crazy until we put out a record in the U.K. on Moshi Moshi. Then, all of a sudden, we were playing festivals and stuff. I don't know how it happened.
A theory that I have, and I don't know if it's true at all, but I think one of the reasons why kids liked us in the U.K. was that every band that we played with in England and Scotland and Ireland was technically perfect. They were so good. They could play their instruments so well and they could sing so well. Then we would get on stage and we would just throw our instruments on the floor and shout and scream and that would be it.
Did you get more attention in the U.K.?
Byron: Absolutely. It's probably because they used one of our songs for this TV show called Skins. That, and Moshi Moshi and we were in a couple commercials there.
We had a lot of friends and fans in L.A. and we played some big shows in New York, but when we played in the U.K., we could play for four days in a row and it would be packed.
Once The Smell started getting mainstream attention, did it have an effect on the band?
Byron: Yeah, actually. I was in England once and this kid came up to me and was like, “What's it like to be in a Smell band?”
I was like, “What? How do you even know what The Smell is?” There was this sort of romanticized idea of The Smell as “The Smell Scene.”
It took us forever to get a show at The Smell. I remember my brother was like, “All I want to do is play a show at The Smell. After that, I don't care what happens.” It took us months and months and months. It was not easy for us. We're not built into that scene.