When I say HLLL you say YH

L.A. spazz-punks The Mae Shi thrive on change

Using techno noise dance and indie rock to shatter punk rock expectations has been Los Angeles spazz-punks The Mae Shi’s modus operandi for the entirety of their seven-year existence. Founded by Tim Byron and Ezra Buchla in 2002 the band has evolved over the course of two albums three EPs and countless CD-Rs. One of the most forward-thinking and downright entertaining independent bands working today a big part of their dynamic stems from the band’s constantly changing lineup.

Self-described “new blood” Jacob Cooper has only been with The Mae Shi since 2008 but the drummer maintains the band’s blog and often acts as the band’s spokesperson in interviews. Still while new band members are welcomed with open arms The Mae Shi stay The Mae Shi by refusing to ignore their past.

“There has always been an original member involved in some shape or form” Cooper explains. “Most recently we started working together on a new record with Jeff (Byron) and Brad (Breeck) both original members. When we play live Jeff is still with us. Sometimes we find a lot of original members in one city at a time and we play shows together.”

HLLLYH the band’s 2008 full-length showcases their penchant for addictive melodies bizarre instrumentation and high-concept art. From the laid-back charm of underground hit “Run to Your Grave” to the buzz-saw tones that push synth-heavy jams like “Lamb and Lion” and “Young Marks” the album deconstructs itself with a 12-minute remix at its centre. It’s the sign of a band desperate to push their limits at all levels or as Cooper humbly puts it “to be as dumb as possible or somehow try all of our dumb ideas out.”

The record is also unique in its subject matter. Like contemporaries Fucked Up and The Thermals before them The Mae Shi use their latest to take a progressive look at Christianity that attempts to see the belief-system from all sides (the record’s vowel-less title can be interpreted as both “hell yeah” and “hallelujah”). This open-minded approach stems from each member’s differing opinions.

“Some band members are religious and some are devotedly anti-religious but I think it’s an issue we are all very interested in” says founding member Tim Byron. “We realize the power of religion. Christianity is the most powerful brand in the world — way more powerful than [New York graffiti artist] Shepard Fairey’s Obey campaign.”

Enlightened in both subject matter and sound HLLLYH propelled The Mae Shi into the international spotlight allowing for endless international tours and high ranks on year-end lists in the coolest of music rags. Commercially the band’s sonic diversity allowed them to expand beyond the noise-rock scene of their L.A. home to a more universal audience without completely ditching their roots. It was the perfect timing for a breakthrough as the band were just perfecting their live antics.

HLLLYH definitely helped define our live sound and shows for starters” explains Cooper. “Previously there were never any major tours for The Mae Shi. We sort of had to condense things and learn how to try things out in a live fashion.” Playing countless shows throughout Europe and North America the band became known for their boundless energy and “The Mae Sheet” a giant white bed sheet that they throw over crowds during their sets.

Their touring led the band to a fantastic set at Calgary’s Sled Island Festival last year. Playing a sold-out and highly interactive show at Broken City the band cut their set short to join their fans in running down the block to catch their friend Dan Deacon at the Warehouse. “It was really awesome and we got to see some great bands play too” Cooper recalls. “Dan Deacon made everyone [in the crowd] repeat a poem and it was truly powerful.”

The Mae Shi are getting mighty powerful themselves but whether this current lineup is the one that sticks remains to be seen. Even Cooper is unsure. “I hope it is” he says. “I can be a real jerk sometimes though so who knows.”