Everson Poe: An Interview

Everson Poe

Mae Shults is a musician from Chicago. 

With Everson Poe, Mae has created over 30 musical releases including albums, EPs, and singles. The music is equal parts ephemeral layers of electric guitar soundscapes and a tumult of drums, samples, and forays into the more profound domains of loudness and cathartic noise. Watch for a new Everson Poe album called Grief to be released on the 2nd of April on Trepanation Recordings.

Weirding: Tell me a bit about how you came to make music. You've been very prolific... is that something that was obvious from the beginning? Like did you know that you had a lot of music in you or is it something that happened over time?

Mae: I definitely didn’t start out that way. I tried to play violin as a kid, from seven to ten years old, and I wasn’t very good at it. I think it’s partially because I’ve never been a huge fan of classical music, or of playing music written by other people to which I have no emotional connection. I started playing guitar basically as soon as I quit violin, but it was slow going.

Weirding: What was it that made things start to click?

Mae: I invested in a Tascam 4-track when I was 15. Once that came into my life, I was unstoppable. Over the next couple years, I wrote and recorded a lot of music. From the end of my sophomore year until the end of my junior year, I was in a band with my friends Ben and David that we called We Three Shadows, as a play on the Bauhaus song. We did everything from short songs influenced by The Locust to Naked City-esque thrash to punk and post-punk songs to long-form improvisational noise. And that was some of the most fun I’ve ever had collaborating with other people.

Weirding: And how did that start to shift into what became Everson Poe?

Mae: In the fall and winter of 2004, the first few months of my senior year of high school, I recorded about a hundred songs in three months. It was absolutely my most prolific period. But it was also surrounding a suicide attempt, so it’s definitely hard to celebrate that fact. I’ve recently released some of that music, as well as more that I did leading up to my first album as Everson Poe from 2009, as archival compilations on my Bandcamp. There’s lots in there that I still find really beautiful and really cathartic. I don’t really expect everyone to rush out and listen to it, but I hope that the people who do enjoy it.

I’ve been in a few bands and small projects including The Elizabeth Dane, Number Six, and Methodist Hospital for which I also handled all recording and production duties. And I’ve also done a lot of different things under the Everson Poe umbrella in the last 12 years. But the last two years in particular have been the most productive I’ve been in a long time. Unfortunately, a big part of that is that I’ve been going through a lot of horrible stuff since the fall of 2018, and I’ve been largely unemployed since the end of summer 2019. Thankfully I’ve been able to turn a lot of that negativity into creative productivity, which is one of the only things that’s helped me get through the last couple years. And a good portion of what I’ve done is some of my favorite music I’ve ever had a hand in making.

Weirding: As a multi-instrumentalist, I'm very interested in your process. Could you walk us through the writing and recording of a track from the perspective of the instrumentation.

Mae: My three main guitars are a Fender Telecaster, in standard or drop-D tuning, a Fender Jaguar Baritone Special, in standard baritone or drop-A tuning, and a Fender Stratocaster with four strings tuned to CGCG. It allows me a lot of flexibility when writing and recording without having to fuss with anything.

Weirding: So those guitars can be blended as needed to add different colors. And the core of your work seems to be around dynamics and how things shift from A to B to C.

Mae: Most of my songs are structured around changing dynamics, so I tend to start writing a quiet section on guitar and build from there. I often work linearly, meaning I’ll do section A, then B, and keep going, recording one or two guitar parts for each, until I reach what I feel is the proper section on which to end the song. Some of my recent material has ended up all the way at tracks labeled Guitar H. Once I have that basic structure, I’ll usually do drums, then bass, and then come back through and add more guitars to each section.

Weirding: That makes sense.

Mae: Occasionally, I’ll do all the guitars before I move on to other instruments, but I usually like to have the drums and bass to play off before I build too much.

Weirding: So you are sketching out the parts on guitar first then really solidifying everything with the drum and bass. And then a whole series of guitar tracks gets layered over that.

Mae: If I remember correctly, “Fallow, Hallowed” off Rituals has something like 40 guitar tracks total in its 12-minute run-time.

Weirding: I like that sort of method of sketching and then filling it all in. Sounds like those initial guitar tracks are like your pencil drawings.

Mae: It’s very rare that I’ll start with another instrument, though “Acceptance”, the final track off my upcoming album Grief was structured around the bass. Lyrics and vocals almost always come last, as they’re most certainly the most difficult for me.

Weirding: A lot of your work has deep conceptual heft to it. Listening to your most recent albums provoked in me similar feelings to watching a film. How do you develop the contours of what becomes the sound for each album? Do you have a palette of musical colors chosen from the onset? A cast of characters? Or is it more something that develops through the recording process?

Mae: I’ve always tried to give my albums a cinematic feel. I love film scores, especially when they can stand on their own, like Clint Mansell’s collaboration with Mogwai and Kronos Quartet for The Fountain. And I strive to make music with the same presence. Occasionally I have a clear concept ahead of time; sometimes it comes about while recording the music, even based on the placeholder names I give the pieces; sometimes the story doesn’t appear in my mind until I’ve started working on lyrics.

Weirding: And the lyrics come from all kinds of sources?

Mae: I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from other things in pop culture, and always give credit where credit is due. One of my favorite things I’ve ever done is This Is My Design, the EP I released in 2018 that was so completely inspired by the TV series Hannibal that I used a bunch of dialogue samples from the show in the songs.

Weirding: So it’s really about the ideas or feel or concept as opposed to the specifics of the lyrics? Like things other than lyrics can help provide the thrust of whatever narrative there may be.

Mae: I usually work with a loose concept or theme that just naturally makes the songs cohesive; I never try to force anything to fit. Grief is the first album I’ve done that tells a complete narrative. I wrote and recorded the entirety of “Acceptance” before I had done anything else on the album, and I realized that I wanted to build from there as an end-point and actually develop a story. I don’t actually remember what the lyrics are for that song, as I improvised them when I recorded them, and they’re very much in the demon-screech range, so I can’t decipher them. But the album also makes heavy use of samples to assist the story in being told. I think I did a good job balancing that with everything so that it doesn’t feel too reliant on a gimmick.

Weirding: And does that approach translate to the instrumentation as well?

Mae: In terms of musical palette, I will sometimes set up parameters within which to work. On my 2017 album, The Great Disruption, which was inspired by The Mapmakers Trilogy book series by S.E. Grove, the only guitar I used was my baritone.

Weirding: Talk to me about album art. I notice that architectural references appear in the artwork of several of your albums — parts of both the exteriors and interiors of buildings, stairwells, occasional monolithic structures. I am interested in how you view the connection between these visual references and the music.

Mae: My most frequent collaborator is Ellie Lane, who I’ve known online for around 10 years. We met through a community of photographers and models on Tumblr and became friends. Our collaboration began with her creating all of the images for my 2013 album Colossus, which contains nine songs about overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Each piece tells the story of its own colossus, and that’s a theme that has continued to carry through my music. I’ve gone through a lot of shit and I constantly feel like I’m fighting to stay alive. I think architecture can often feel overwhelming in its vastness, as it is naturally so much larger than we are as humans. But it also requires humans to build it, so maybe there’s a deep metaphor in there for me creating my own monsters... or I’m just being unintentionally pretentious. Either way, Ellie always seems to have the perfect image to match my music.

Weirding: I’d totally agree. It’s like the music and the visual art are of one mind.

Mae: She has supplied the covers for all of my main releases in the last 12 months (Reviens…, Monstrous Existence, The Thief’s Altar, Mirror, Rituals, Orithyia, and Grief). She uses a lot of palindromic imagery in her photography, which works perfectly for me, as my main goal is always balance. Beauty and heaviness, quietness and loudness, pain and catharsis. It’s all about balancing things perfectly to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. Ellie’s photography is truly incredible and I’m extremely lucky that she’s consistently willing to work with me.

Weirding: Your recent releases are on Trepanation Recordings. How did that come about?

Mae: I didn’t really get into the scene or get much attention for my music until last year when I found “lefty metal twitter”, as I affectionately call it. It started when I managed to squeeze my way onto the Hope In The Face Of Fear compilation that Hope vs. Hate Records put together. Tommy from Order Of The Wolf is like the sweetest person ever and I owe him so much for the opportunity. Shortly after that I reached out to Dan at Trepanation Recordings — with a completely finished and ready to release Monstrous Existence. He immediately responded overwhelmingly positively to what I was doing, and from there things took off splendidly. Dan has somehow managed to keep up with the immense volume of material I keep throwing at him while also continually adding more amazing bands to his roster. I’m especially excited about the new Espi Kvlt and Chris H project Nehushtan, because I adore literally everything both of them do.

I want to take a quick aside and just say how thankful I am to have connected with db of The Sun Came Up Upon The Left, Revered And Reviled Above All Others, Populace, and AISTEACH. He’s been an amazing source of inspiration. He’s the only other person I’ve ever let mix pretty much anything I’ve done in the last 18 years, and he’s a wonderful friend. I’m so happy we got to do a split album together and that Dan put it out for us.

Weirding: I’d like to ask, how do you feel about the state of underground music right now?

Mae: I love how many people there are in the metal world who are challenging the status quo. Underground music has always been a place where those who exist outside the norm can find community and strength, but it was sadly co-opted by those who already held power and only sought more. Thankfully, there are a whole bunch of folks who are blatantly anti-fascist, who are queer and/or trans, as well as BIPOC, and who are injecting metal with some much-needed diversity and speaking out against the bullshit that was allowed to fester in the genre for such a long time.

People want metal to be dangerous? We’re making it dangerous for the rapists who have long tried to hide behind the rockstar persona as a way to justify their deeds. We’re making it dangerous for those who would seek to crush us beneath the boots of racism, fascism, sexism, and transphobia. We’re making it dangerous for those who would rather live and die for their hatred than try to learn to have empathy and compassion.

A lot of people are so wrapped up in outrage at what they perceive as “cancel culture”. But it's really just people trying to take care of other people by holding folks accountable for their negatively impactful actions. And that’s a good thing. We should all be taking care of each other.

Music has the ability to be a great unifier, and I hope that I can help inspire even one person with what I do.


Everson Poe is Mae Shults
IG: @eversonpoe / Twitter: @eversonpoe
Recent release: Ancestral Memory (split with The Sun Came Up Upon The Left)
Upcoming releases:
  • Grief (cassette and digital) out 02 April
  • “Lebensmüde” (digital single) out 05 March

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