o hasn’t been a kind number to Mae. This fall marks two years since two members left the band. Their last two records have come out on two different record labels—and now they’re currently label-less.
Combine all that with the current state of the music industry and they definitely have too much on their mind.
But a simple redirection of their gaze has infused enough passion for the rest of the year.
Instead of focusing on the downs of the past two years, the remaining three members of the pop/rock outfit looked outwards—and they found fuel.
“The vision for this project came from the obvious chaos going on in the music business,” says Dave Elkins, the lead singer of Mae. “Instead of waiting around to figure it out, or for someone else to figure out how to be a band nowadays, we wanted to do something we could be really proud of and believe in.”
This decision led Mae to sidestep the natural cycle all bands fall in to. Instead of rushing to the studio and recording their follow-up to Singularity (released in 2007 on Capitol Records), they’ve committed to releasing one song every month this year.
They will stream the songs on their website, but will also give fans an opportunity to download the tracks when they donate at least one dollar to Habitat for Humanity (so far, over $5,000 has been donated). And as their slogan clearly displays—"12 songs. 12 months. 1 goal. Make a difference."—they’ve aligned themselves with new numbers to create positive change.
“When all the flames came rushing, it was oh so beautiful / But I wanted something more to say when I spread this blaze / So I left that fire and started a new one,” sings Elkins on "The House That Fire Built," the first song released in the project.
He explains that while the project has no official name, this song acts as the mission statement for Mae. “At first we were trying to say that maybe the fire had died inside of us in a certain way, but that wasn’t necessarily true," Elkins says. "As the music and lyrics were hashed out, it was making more sense that what we should be writing about is the passion we’ve always had and how to re-stoke it.”
The project is an opportunity for Mae to get their music directly into the hands of their fans, while also impacting their community and showing others they can be a part of something beyond themselves. “In our lives, if there’s any power to change, it’s through our music,” says guitarist Zach Gehring. “If we can encourage closer communication between our fans and us for that to happen, we should find any way to do that.”
This venture isn’t Mae’s first stab at using their music to give back. On tour a couple of years ago, the band noticed they had an excess of time and an unfocused desire to help. They didn’t know who exactly they wanted to help, but they wanted to act.
“We didn’t have a specific cause or organization to partner with,” Elkins says. “Not because we didn’t have things we were passionate about, but probably because we have too many things we’re passionate about.”
They started organizing acoustic shows before or after that day’s actual concert, and they began encouraging fans to donate to certain charities. A couple of weeks after suggesting they donate to Toys for Tots, the final count topped 6,000 toys.
Not only did that experience inspire Mae, but it also showed them that people wanted to come out and make a difference.
When Brett Brownell, a friend and filmmaker who traveled with Mae for six years, told the band about his experience working with Habitat for Humanity, they were sold. They met with their local Habitat representative in Virginia, and decided all money raised would go to a house being built for Rhonda Floyd and her three children.
As it’s built over the next four to six months, Mae hopes to spend more time with Floyd and her children, getting to know who they are and introducing them to their fan base. “I think you really feel the impact of community most in moments of struggle,” Gehring says. “If you’ve ever helped someone in a moment of need—or if you’ve ever been in need and been helped by someone randomly—that’s a testament to the power of love. And true love is love that’s not looking for reciprocation … it’s an act of helping someone who doesn’t necessarily benefit you.”
Throughout the year, Mae will release the 12 songs on three separate EPs, entitled Morning, Afternoon and Evening. Each disc will include at least one new track, along with alternate mixes and added sections. Although they’d welcome distribution with open arms, they’re more than content being without a label. They’ve never had this type of freedom before—freedom that allows them to remain in continuous contact with their fans every month and experiment with new musical approaches.
“The EP version of the song we’ve written for February has this musical experience at the end that’s basically as long as the song itself,” Elkins says. “We’re in a place where we have that freedom.”
The band doesn’t know how long it will take to raise enough for Floyd’s family, but they’ve committed to seeing the project right until its end, before they begin supporting another cause.
“For us, we look forward to that moment at the end of life to look back on the story we wrote,” Elkins says. “And we’re asking ourselves now, ‘What do we want that story to look like?’ The only way to make it mean what you want it to mean is to just do it. That’s the motivating factor for a project like this—to be the answer to the problem we see.”
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