Founded in 2001, Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience – known commonly as “Mae” – have always worked to make their music a truly immersive experience for those who choose to engage. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that for their new EP 3.0 and upcoming self-titled album Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience (out October 26), they’ve taken inspiration from the concept of synesthesia – the phenomenon that sees the stimulation of one sense to prompt an involuntary stimulation of a second sense.

More than a decade after their last LP Singularity and fresh off a ten-year anniversary tour for their 2005 sophomore album The Everglow, Mae was invited to perform at the closeout of Forbes 30 Under 30 EMEA Summit in Jerusalem in 2016. The band teamed up with artist/ animator David Lobser, violinist Tim Fain, and neuroscientist David Eagelman to create a virtual reality (VR) performance / immersive experience that they called “LIGHT”. Also shared at the 72nd UN General Assembly and the Future of StoryTelling Festival, fans will be able to experience “LIGHT” for themselves at special “Mae Days” on the band’s upcoming tour.

Substream spoke with vocalist / guitarist Dave Elkins on the day before the EP release. Read on for the conversation, where Elkins went in to detail about the creation of “LIGHT”, the making of the EP and album, and the ever-changing process of making their music an immersive experience for fans.

Artwork by Melissa McCracken

SUBSTREAM: You’re releasing a new EP, 3.0, and then you have an album coming out next month and a big tour coming up. How do you keep yourself centered and sane with so many different projects?

Dave Elkins: I think it is about keeping people close that love you and you have real conversations about what’s going on. It can feel overwhelming even when it’s a lot of really good stuff, but then to talk about it and be like, “Oh, this is the dream, right? This is so exciting” – then you can take a breath…. So a lot of pauses and deep breathing, because there’s a lot of gratitude that comes with that.

SUBSTREAM: The EP came to be following this VR performance you did at the Forbes 30 Under 30 EMEA Summit in Jerusalem in 2016; how did that all come to be in the first place? What made you want to do a VR experience with your music?

DE: The band stands for ‘Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience, so from the very beginning it’s always been this other thing that we’ve executed on our own when we’ve wanted to, but we’ve also [looked for] the opportunity to collaborate with others to make something that’s everybody’s best.

[At the summit] everybody’s connected, and you’re hearing people speak and you’re breaking in to smaller groups and meeting and trying to figure out what the future is looking like and how to help and be innovative with that…. None of us are under 30, that’s for sure, but we were invited to perform at the close-out. It was our task to create the VR experience that all 600 people could have inside the Tower of David. It started with music and then it bloomed out at almost the exact same time where the pre-production was more about like, ‘well what does it look like, what do we want to sound like?’ – and that was such a weird question to ask but it was the appropriate one

We did “LIGHT” with our friend Tim Fain, he’s a violinist and he’s amazing. He plays with Philip Glass a lot and he’s just… I just can’t believe that we get to play with him! Then we collaborated with our friend David Lobser for this sort of outer space, iTunes visualizer on VR that we could give people as a synched concert. We’re the first to have done that, and that was our goal.

That happened two and a half years ago, and it’s crazy cuz it feels like it just happened. That was a jumping off point for us to really see what we could do when we would partner with others and see that multi-sensory aesthetic experiential side of Mae come out while we also could just be that Mae that writes songs and writes records, too – and we haven’t put out an album in forever.

So we’re thinking a four minute piece of music that’s gonna provide VR but you also need to make sure that the WiFi is there…. It takes a lot, but once it gets accomplished and you’re on the other side of it, and I’m in Israel for the first time and having at the exact same time these life-changing experiences and meeting people and continuing to open up and grow from a new perspective, being right there for a second, a blip… that started us getting back in to this idea of an EP and an album and now a tour coming up. We play our first show on Saturday night, next weekend.

SUBSTREAM: With the EP, there’s going to be visuals for every song for an immersive experience; will you be incorporating that on the tour coming up? How are you planning to bring these songs that you’ve just written to a live setting?

DE: We’re gonna start a lot smaller than that, even. We’re gonna take this time to work on really playing, performing live – put four new songs in the set, and sometimes five – and that’s a lot to ask. We’re playing songs from all over the other records, too, and we gotta get back in the saddle with those old songs…. We’ve been so immersed with this album. It’s one thing to create these songs; it’s another thing to play them live and make them sound like you are used to hearing them sound, so we’ve really gotta make sure that that is going to serve everybody well for this October run

We’re also doing this thing called Mae Day, which is a function of tour where we go multi-sensory and we host this other experience and that’s how we’re communicating that. It’s almost like a house show with a lot of Mae in it, I guess, but it’s more about encouraging everybody to have a discussion together. We start with a short film, and then we ask some questions, and of course at one point we are gonna take people in to “LIGHT”. They’ll be listening to “LIGHT” with headphones and viewing it on a viewfinder through a smartphone, but they’ll be wearing a vest that has probably about two dozen vibrating discs and so with that, haptics, it’s connected to both the visual and the music. You’re feeling, and you’re hearing, and in the virtual reality you’re seeing, and there’s this surprise towards the end with some colors and we go a little bit further and add fragrance to that too – just burning some wood and then blowing it out, and then you don’t even know but it washes over you.

We do that, we have a listening party for the new album, and we play an acoustic show, and so there’s a whole lot of different ways that Mae is performing on this tour. We want to encourage you to have your own [experience] and then share it the way that you would want to share it. The visuals are more, if you want them, they will be there – you don’t need them to have the experience. And then we’ll play a show in the same city either the next day or the same night, and learn from what we’re about to do in October – and then November will be hopefully a lot better, cuz we’re just getting the feel for what we wanna do when we hit the road.

It was also inspired by – we had an eclipse in totality go over Nashville, which is where I am, last year, and we did all of these things… it included a meal [that] was catered by a top chef master. We had an astronaut who was there while we performed this acoustic show at the studio. We shot it in VR, but the next day was the eclipse itself. There’s this park called Percy Warner where I love to go and hike often; there’s walking, hiking, horseback trails. It’s beautiful. You can go about a mile into this place and hike up and get to seeing Nashville, maybe two or three miles north of you.

SUBSTREAM: So you’re not even that far removed from the big city.

DE: Exactly, exactly. We had all these people the next day hike with us to the location and experience the eclipse up there. That was insane. It rivaled being on the stage at the Tower of David; it was unbelievable. They can’t all be like that, but the thing is when you put people together, something amazing can happen and… we are figuring out how we can play shows, put out music, connect with people, and encourage this multi-sensory aesthetic experience whether we’re there or not.

SUBSTREAM: Right. It’s an on-going process, and maybe that’s the beauty of it – that it’s always an evolving process and you’re not just doing the same thing night after night, tour after tour, year after year – that it’s creating new things, new ways to experience what Mae is, time and time again.

DE: Yes! Our first album came out when I was 20; I’m 36 and I feel that excitement that I felt before our first record came out when I was 20 right now because it does keep changing and it keeps me guessing or learning or challenged, on my toes, and that’s the best part…. When you tap in to your own creativity, you want to be surprised. You want to be captivated and challenged and in awe of it as it hits you and as it hits others, and then you like to see how other music that you didn’t create hits you and hits others and you’re fascinated by that and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s like beginning again, which I’m so grateful for and did not expect, honestly, and am in love with

SUBSTREAM: It’s like that song “Big Yellow Taxi”, where they say, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” – the idea that sometimes maybe not having something at the forefront of your mind and your pursuits for a while, and then coming back to it, you do have, in a way, a greater appreciation.

DE: Yes. That is definitely a massive part of that. When we did our ten year anniversary Everglow tour back in 2015, that blew my mind because we did not have a label that we were trying to impress, or a manager that we were trying to go execute something else with; we were just going to connect to each other and then immediately connect to all the humans that wanted to hang out with that music, and us, on that night. Those experiences, talking to people, and ten years passing and somehow, we get to be a part of that yet again, and then of course in ways we don’t even know until they tell us – it’s unbelievable, and of course it’s so obvious; that’s what music does to all of us. My fond childhood memories with my parents are always mom at the piano, dad singing in the car on a Friday night, drinking a lot of beer and blaring Clapton or something – and so I’ll go there and to have that with people, and be able to do it right now, and feel like it’s for the first time, is amazing.

SUBSTREAM: The visuals / animations for the EP were created through Vertigo. How did that partnership with Vertigo come to be? For people who aren’t familiar with what Vertigo is in the first place, can you explain it?

DE: We met up with Vertigo and were able to produce “LIGHT”. Vertigo is a tech company. They are putting together basically a real-time playlist that it would not matter what platform you enjoy streaming, but I could make a playlist and ask you – “Let’s go hiking on Saturday wherever you are and wherever I am, and let’s listen to this playlist” – and you could listen to it on whatever [platform] and I’ll do the same. Then in real time, I can talk to you socially through it. I can send you a text on the platform and be like, “Did you hear that snare drum?” or just, “How’s your hike?”. It’s a really cool concept that does connect people [through] music.

Greg at Vertigo, we’ve known him for a number of years now, and so when the time was ripe for us to put this whole thing together, we asked Vertigo if they would help us get there and they were all about it, so they were our sponsor. They also made the VR viewfinders so that way their brand and our brand would be on there. It was an amazing gift, and then we were able to connect the dots to get David Lobser to create the visuals and Tim to play with us. I produced the song in the studio and pushed it out right at the times that had all the stars align, and that’s how it was when we were on that stage that night. We’re trying to do more sets with Vertigo constantly, cuz they’re amazing and there’s so many ways that I think a lot of artists will end up working with them, too, so it’s exciting for us to see them growing.

SUBSTREAM: Will people have to download Vertigo in order to see the visuals, or will you be making them available on YouTube?

DE: I’m sure that at first it will start with Vertigo exclusively…. We’re calling them musical, instrumental, meditation-type contemplative pieces, and that will have an enhanced experience where you would not want to necessarily go to YouTube. I know that there’s a VR functionality with YouTube, but we want to make sure that you had full awareness of what you were going to do before you started and it was in VR and you didn’t realize it…. I think it starts with [Vertigo] so that way it encourages people to set themselves up in to this environment, [but] it will be on YouTube, no doubt.

Everybody does go to YouTube, and at the same time, through this app, there will be a lot more functionality that we’ll be sharing that keeps it more multi-sensory even still, so we’ll keep going back and trying to work with Vertigo and the people who work with Vertigo as often as we can – and then we also have to meet people where they’re at and make sure that they’re gonna get the experience. So we’ll share it at a show, we’ll share it at Mae Day, we’ll share it through Vertigo, we’ll share it just through our album, we’ll share it on YouTube – hopefully everywhere, that’s the goal.

SUBSTREAM: The EP comes out tomorrow, then there’s an album in about a month. Why do an album and an EP so close together – is the EP a preview of the album?

DE: Yes, it really is. There is ultimately two versions of the album that are done. One is the Mae album, and then the other one is the experiential Mae album, so the sequence is a little bit different, some of the songs have intros and outros that aren’t what you did hear when you were streaming the Mae album. And there are additional meditations, a total of three, on the album experiential; on the album standard, there’s still one. There’s a meditation on the EP that’s not on the standard version of the album.

There’s a whole lot going on, and then [the songs] are really engaging and if you take time and jump in, you’re really gonna dive in. I think an EP is a way for us to set that up. We’re not stalling; the album’s done, and I think since we are kind of unveiling a lot in terms of an EP, an LP, a Mae Day, a regular show, a new song every month, we want to let that sit for a second.

I’m producer on the Mae album, and to have taken so much time away from Mae and worked on production with a lot of other artists, coming back in to it, it was really awesome to wear the hat where you ask the band, “Why do you call yourself Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience?” Cuz I’m supposed to make you guys what you want to sound like, with your vision… what do you want to do, what do you want to say?”

There was a lot of Easter eggs that I started hiding – on one song, one chorus versus another, kind of thing. Once the LP shows up, the EP is gone, and you won’t get to hear some of these unless you digitally download or purchase the thing; if you just stream it, it’ll go away, and then the version that you’ll hear next time [on streaming services] is like, “Wait a minute, I thought that faded out, but now it ends?”

I love to have fun all over, so starting with this EP, sharing one meditation, getting one new song and an acoustic version of the song that’s almost totally different on the album… this is a pretty large bite size. It’s like tapas – one tapas and then we’ll get right in to some main course stuff.

SUBSTREAM: Okay. I like that metaphor.

DE: Yeah, I think that’s what the EP does, in my mind. And truthfully the EP was not my idea – I’ve been writing, creating, and producing towards this album, and then putting so much of this idea that there’s gonna be two versions, and all these different things – “Well, that’s a lot”, people would say, “that’s a lot to digest. How are you gonna explain that?” [The EP] was wonderful because I was like, “Okay, just give me two nights in the studio and we’ll close that out.” I think that really set us up for sharing the album with people very, very soon. Cuz I am still listening to the record and trying to figure it out! [Laughs.]

SUBSTREAM: That’s cool though – because I imagine it could be very easy to get sick of hearing your own songs again and again and again.

DE: Well, you know, over the last eleven months, it has been a lot of that. It’s been listening to the same pre-chorus on loop for thirteen minutes accidentally – which that imprint is there for good on my brain – but to finally let go of it and then start to… not take from it, but receive, is cool. It’s really cool. I’m sure EP will teach me a lot too, if I just listen to it a little bit and learn what I would do differently, what lyrics did I sing that I didn’t actually write, that was Jacob’s [Marshall, drums] lyric in that spot, or, “Okay, that was my thing. Would I change it? Do I really stand by this?” It’s taken eleven months to really feel like, “yes” all the way through, and… now it starts to have its thing.

SUBSTREAM: To clarify, had you finished the album when you went in to make this EP or did you make the EP and the album concurrently?

DE: So for instance on the EP there’s a song called “Our Love Is A Painted Picture” – and that’s on the album and it’s also a song that came out on Valentine’s Day [in 2017]. The version that you might have on vinyl, or the one that you heard on Spotify, is gonna be different than the version that’s on the EP, and it’s also gonna be different on the LP. I had always wanted to start doing some of that, and so as we’re closing out the album in real time, we’re talking about the EP and it’s like, “Okay, I have got some ideas I’d like to run with if we’re gonna all of a sudden have this EP of some stuff that people have heard, and then people will be surprised by, still.” How do we keep that a common thread throughout, even though some of these songs came out a month or two months ago, or even eighteen months ago?

I’m learning, constantly… maybe like what Kanye West is doing, putting out albums constantly and having all that creativity or changing something. I know Travis Scott changed something after his album came out. Being inspired by people trying to capture their most recent creativity and put it out there is important when you make an album for eleven months. In that eleventh hour, closing out LP and EP was a fluid thing, where you’re going on a long ride anyway and then someone needs a ride to where you’re going, and you go, “Okay, let’s make it comfortable for you and then let’s get there.” I think that’s what the EP is; it was started and finished in no time, and then contains music that was recorded eighteen months ago, or came out even eighteen months ago, so it’s got history and it had to be in the moment as well.

SUBSTREAM: What do you want listeners to get out of this EP and this album coming up? What do you want people to take away from it?

DE: Selfishly, that it was made with love, because it really took some time. This is the best thing that Mae has ever done in my opinion, and it’s definitely the best thing that I’ve ever been a part of creatively, and I’m super honored and proud. [With] those Everglow reunion shows and being part of something very quickly, yet dynamically, at the Tower of David, with a bunch of other people that were impressing me, and made me feel like, “Wow, do I really deserve to be here amongst these amazing humans?” – But then receiving a little bit of self-grace and be like, “Yeah, of course – anybody deserves this, cuz this is a beautiful moment, this is a beautiful life.” I will listen to any side and engage in a whole lot of discussions, but I think everybody feels like if we were more accepting, if we were more open to forgive… it starts within yourself and [you can] extend that to anyone.

There’s a line on the song “Sing” that’s on the EP and LP that says, “Open up until you know there’s more than either / or.” I think that’s a really good jumping off point to try to love yourself and not think that you have to be either this or that to love someone else; they don’t have to be one of these two things, or three things, or whatever… there’s all this spectrum. I think humanity and our dark times in America need that – dark times in the world need that, and I need that. I need to see that it’s not black or white. Everything that I look at already has my spin on it; it’s one degree away from the truth, cuz it’s my perception, and then if I want to have connections with other humans, I need to not start presupposing and judging and I need to start opening up and deciding beyond either / or, and everything’s kind of out there and open as a possibility.

That’s what this season of life is- for me, for Mae, for the album- and we hope that that’s the case for the people to take it in. It’s really important for us that [we got] this album out before the end of this year, cuz we want to encourage people to approach  a new year with some sort of, “Well let me try this, or do this” – if our album is part of a soundtrack in any way, it’ll remind me of some of the stories that I’ve heard from people that came to that Everglow ten year.

[We’re] just trying to think about our future and wanting more of that grace and more of that love and more of that hope and more of that peace and more of that forgiveness, but then the album’s a journey album. Just like The Everglow for 2018 or whatever, in my mind it’s journey song after journey song on a journey album and people will get lost in it. If you want to get in to this Mae album, take time with it, because it was made with love and it did take a long time. It’ll keep growing, I hope. I believe in that, cuz some of the themes are things I learned that I want to be better at and want to say, “How can I change? How can I offer that grace, or love, forgiveness, peace – what can I do to get out of the way and let something else better happen?” – and then make a rock record at the same time; it’s rad. That is a long-winded way of saying, “Open up till you know there’s more than either / or.”



3.0 is available on the streaming platform of your choice here. Mae will be going on tour beginning this coming Saturday, October 6 in Nashville, wrapping up on November 23 in their hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. See a full list of tour dates and Mae Days (more TBA) below, and visit the band’s website for more information.

Mae Tour Dates:

Oct 06 – Nashville, TN @ The High Watt
Oct 07 – Goodlettsville, TN @ Schematic Studios (Mae Day)
Oct 09 – Chicago IL @ Schubas
Oct 09 – Chicago, IL @ Secret Location (Mae Day)
Oct 10 – Pontiac, MI @ The Pike Room
Oct 11 – Millvale, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theatre
Oct 12 – New York, NY @ The Cove
Oct 13 – Boston, MA @ Middle East – Downstairs
Oct 13 – Boston, MA @ Secret Location (Mae Day)
Oct 14 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
Oct 18 – Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA (Mae Day)
Oct 19 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry at The Fillmore
Oct 20 – Vienna, VA @ Jammin Java
Nov 08 – Durham, NC @ Motorco Music Hall
Nov 09 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
Nov 10 – Orlando, FL @ The Social
Nov 14 – Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Studio
Nov 15 – Dallas, TX @ Curtain Club
Nov 16 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk
Nov 18 – Little Rock, AR @ Revolution Music Room
Nov 23 – Norfolk, VA @ The NorVa