Michael Astley-Brown of Maebe: Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. Makes a Definitive Musical Statement

Michael Astley-Brown of Maebe: <em>Rebirth. Relive. Repeat.</em> Makes a Definitive Musical Statement

Written by Andrew Daly

Looking back on it, Maebe's self-titled debut still hits hard. In fact, it's so fresh and deeply invigorating with each listen that it's hard to believe that it's been three years since its 2020 release. What's more, it seems all but incredulous to think that Maebe's maestro, Guitar World's digital editor-in-chief and all-around masterful guitarist Michael Astley-Brown has not only followed his debut up but bettered it with the just-released Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. – and by a large margin.

"Since the release of the first Maebe album, my confidence has definitely grown," Astley-Brown told me. "I put the first album out, but I had no plans to promote it. And then COVID happened, so I just went, 'Right, okay. There we go; it's there and done. It exists in the world.' I felt like I had done what I set out to achieve, but didn't really know where to go from there."

He continued, "But since then, my confidence has built up to where I felt like I did things this time around that I didn't know I was capable of during the first album. [And] I had to put a band together [to do live shows and promote the album], meaning that Maebe would no longer be a solo project in the future. So, I really wanted Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. to be my definitive statement as a solo artist."


Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. album cover. Photo courtesy of Olly Curtis.


Making his definitive artistic statement couldn't have been easy, especially since he lives a dual life as a journalist and musician. As Guitar World’s online editor, he deals in words daily, making his choice to steer Maebe into exclusively instrumental waters all the more poignant.  

"That definitely factored into the thinking," Astley-Brown laughed. "When I get home, I don't really want to read stuff anymore. So, I think my music is borne out of that mindset. That, and I realized pretty early on in my teenage years that while I can sing a bit, I can't sing well enough to where anyone would want to listen to me (laughs). The good thing is Maebe will never have the problem where people say, 'Oh, I love the band, but I can't stand the sound of the vocals.'"

Still, the task of ruddering Maebe through the harsh waters of today's musical landscape has fallen solely on Astley-Brown's shoulders. While that's undoubtedly been difficult, giving up some of future creative control may be equally challenging.

"It's a slightly scary thought," Astley-Brown admitted. "But I don't think I ever thought I'd find a group of guys who would be so dedicated to learning the material, be open to feedback, and bring ideas in to improve things. The guys in the band speak the same musical language as me, and that's been very gratifying after doing this alone."


Thinking about the uncharted waters ahead, he noted, "I'm confident in the rest of the guys. I feel like I've gotten as far as I can working as a solo artist. I'll continue to be the primary songwriter in Maebe, but I'm excited about the idea of collaboration. I think some outside influence can only benefit and make it an easier process for me because it's difficult making this kind of stuff on your own. I'll go insane if I keep on that way. I think it will be a move filled with healthy, creative debates that will result in an evolution."

Using his trusty Fernandes JG-40 guitar, Astley-Brown is intent on fearlessly pushing the soundscape of guitar-driven music forward. He has pushed his vision to a space he once thought unreachable. Where Astley-Brown's sonic adventures take him from here remains to be seen, but the Maebe faithful will be gleefully going along for the ride.


Michael Astley-Brown. Photo courtesy of Ellie Rogers.


Astley-Brown is aware of the challenges ahead. "Getting the first album out was very much about, 'Can I do this?' And when I look back, I am a bit frustrated I didn't have more physical [media manufactured], which is why I'm doing a proper campaign for the new record. But it is hard for smaller artists, and it can be frustrating. It can [also] be a little demoralizing."

"The scary and frustrating thing for me fundamentally is that this is where my savings are going," he continued. "I'm paying to have physical media produced. And we’re usually breaking even or even taking a loss on every show we play. It's hard to build this up. You've got to be absolutely driven to do this. It's got to be your calling."

He concluded, "But I didn't do it for a really long time. I was doing cover band stuff, playing weddings, and things like that, but I always felt something was missing. And this is what it was. But it wasn't until I made the first Maebe album that I knew that was the case. And now I can't live without it. It absorbs all my time, stresses me out, causes anxiety, and makes me feel overworked and exhausted, but I can't live without it. I absolutely can't. And whether anyone hears it or not, I will be making music because I've just got to do it."

During a break from the action, Michael Astley-Brown talked with Copper for a track-by-track rundown of Rebirth. Relive. Repeat.

"Hello, It's Been a While"

In some ways, I wanted "Hello, It's Been a While" to be a bridge between the end of Maebe's first album and Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. It was always intended to be an intro piece that felt like tentative first steps back into a full album project. The goal was to almost take the listener on a journey that starts off with an almost insecure, tentative feeling. It's that same feeling you get when you're seeing someone for the first time in a long time, and you need to rebuild the connection. Or maybe it's like reconnecting with someone you've had a relationship with but didn't end on the best of terms.

The song feels like a wave of emotion with a climax toward the end, which humanizes the track. That's where my head was, but it came together quickly. It's one of the more straight-up rock songs on the record, but I still wanted it to have the extreme of [going from] super quiet [to] super loud, crash cymbals going everywhere, which was very much inspired by a band from Manchester, U.K. called Oceansize. I feel "Hello, It's Been a While" is a state of intent: "Hey, we're going on a journey. This is the first leg. Hold on."

"Rebirth. Relive. Repeat."

This goes back to when I interviewed Tim Henson of Polyphia. At the end of the interview, I asked him, "What's the future of guitar music?" To be fair, he wasn't feeling well, nor was he in the best spirits, but he said something to the effect of, "I hope guitar music dies a painful death." And I recall that when the article went online, a lot of people were shocked by it. But I didn't find it argumentative, rather more of a persona he was taking on at that time that he's since dropped. Still, it left me feeling inspired because I agreed with the idea that guitar music, just for the sake of guitar music, should not be a thing. It needs to make a statement, not just be a vehicle to show off.

So, that's what "Rebirth. Relive. Repeat." is about: making a statement. What Tim said drove me to push my playing and writing into different areas. There are new territories that I'm exploring as a guitarist that I haven't gone through before. But it was also about having fun and being honest throughout that process. It's an example of me evolving as a player and a human being. And once again, this moody song takes the listener on an epic journey.

"50 Words for Bro"

This track was inspired by my conversation with Tim Henson as well. At the end of that interview, I was like, "Okay, right. How far can I push my guitar playing?" I challenged myself to make fast riffs with a lot of interesting notes while still making it musical and memorable. And Polyphia does a lot of that, but what I was really going for was a happy Tool song (laughs). I did a sort of Adam Jones triplet thing but then tried to see what would happen if I put it in a major key and built an entire riff around that.

And I must admit – that song is really f*cking hard to play live, but it usually goes down just fine. The song's general vibe is pretty upbeat, and then it turns into an almost Smashing Pumpkins kind of Siamese Dream thing halfway through. But the title, "50 Words for Bro," is inspired by the idea that your friend group, or tribe, can have different names for things and each other. And those names really do influence your understanding of the world. I like that idea of when you're so close with someone that you can use any word as a term of endearment.


This is absolutely one of my favorite songs on Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. It's one of the tracks that came about through my use of a baritone Telecaster, giving it a gentle yet dark sound. That influenced my writing as I was putting the song together. That vibe dates to a conversation I had with Jeff Buckley's guitarist, Michael Tighe. I asked him what he learned from Jeff, and he talked about how great Jeff was at casting a spell over an audience. And so, I really wanted to achieve that with my music by not being so schizophrenic.

I wanted to create a sonic landscape where the listener could lose themselves in the music. It became about making something cyclical that would basically eke out over many minutes. And that's where the word "tautology" comes in, which essentially means when you use a redundant word in a sentence. I come from a linguistics background, and I'm always curious about language anyway, and I was happy to find a word that related to how I felt about this song. In my editorial life, tautology might be considered a bad thing, but I embraced that ideology by having a song that alternates between sections, creating an ebb and flow.

"Harsh Realm"

As far as Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. goes, I feel this song is the definitive statement. That's why I made it the first single. It's got hooks, heaviness, and even some goofiness in a few places. But it's also got some stupidly trendy bits, which were off-the-cuff, but I kept them in. When I improvise my solos, if I'm feeling it, there's a nervous energy throughout them. And a lot of times, I end up going into like a Kirk Hammett [lead guitarist for Metallica], shreddy-type place. I don't know why, but it's always this sort of Master of Puppets type sh*t that comes out of me (laughs).

But this song is also a great example of me as a guitar player because it starts with my favorite chord, E minor 7. That's the one I'm usually playing first when I pick up the guitar, and I wanted to build a song around that. So, I built a progression out of that, and everything else fell into place from there. I love the math rock sections, but it's also got a big [Joe] Satriani-style hook in the chorus section, and then hits like a sledgehammer a la Deftones or Thrice. It's got a lot of heaviness to it, but by using some ambiguous chords, it's still light and playful enough to install a sense of optimism.


"You Are the Host Now"

The title of this came about during the pandemic when everyone was on Zoom all the time. So, if somebody had connection problems or didn't want to speak, they'd leave the meeting, and I'd be left alone. And when they left, this notification would pop up saying, "you are the host now." And I was like, "Oh, my god, that just feels so creepy." It was weird, but I found the phrase so evocative. So, I quickly wrote it down before they returned to the call and thought, "one day, there will be a song that will fit this weird mood."

Later on, I was messing around with a bassline that felt like something from Radiohead's In Rainbows, like a rejected song or something (laughs). So, I started tracking it, and through that bassline, I came up with chord progressions that felt logical to me. But this song felt like another big trap where I said, "right, we're just gonna marinate in this groove, and then I'll bring the heaviness later on before I leave you with an ambiguous ending." It felt like a milestone to be able to do something like that because I never would have attempted it on the first record. It's the sort of thing that can only happen through the growth of confidence, being more comfortable with space, sustained notes, and resisting the urge to shred.


This is the oldest song from the album, meaning that it was around before the first Maebe album came out. I see it as pushing the early Maebe template to the extreme. It's my attempt at doing a proper epic. But it felt akin to Frankenstein's monster because I bolted it together with so many different sorts of elements. It builds slowly throughout, which makes sense because I was in a pretty low place emotionally when I wrote it. I wanted it to illustrate the idea of being trapped within a feeling you can't escape, like climbing halfway out of the slump, only to slide back down into it again.

It's sort of like the feeling of climbing only to find that you're deeper than ever, almost at the bottom of a pit, and then the pit collapses, and you plunge a little bit deeper again. It's got that vibe, and then there's this super dark outro fadeout. I remember that after I decided to include "Malaise" on the album, I was [thinking], "man…this is so convoluted," but I just loved its vibe and emotion.

"Stay Together for the Cats"

If you're of a certain age, you know this is a play on Blink-182's "Stay Together for the Kids." Being part of that generation, they were a formative influence on me. I grew up playing Tom DeLonge's riff from that song. It has a great melody, and I find it very distinct within Blink's catalog. But as far as my song goes, that came about while I was married, and it was clear the relationship was not working. We reached a point where there was no going back, and things were over. So, things were falling apart, but I still had to go to work and review a guitar, and I picked up this Ibanez and [thought], "This thing sounds great."

It had beautiful clean tones, and while I was messing around with it, the opening line for what would become "Stay Together for the Cats" just came out. It was so sad, and because I was emotionally fragile [at the time], it moved me to tears while I was playing. I [thought], "Okay, I'm not ready to do anything with this now; let me record it on my phone and I'll come back to it later." One day, I did revisit it, and was able to turn one of the lowest moments in my life into something that's [maybe] not positive but tangible and moving. To get it on Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. felt like a major achievement.

"Far Enough/Catastrophize"

This was another song where I grabbed the baritone Telecaster, was messing around with it, and this sort of came out. I like that it taps into a similar place that "Malaise" does in terms of that total sense of despair, [of] not being able to escape, and feeling like you're trying to outrun an awful feeling. But it's also got this sort of acceptance. "This has gone far enough and cannot go on any further." But the dualist aspect of my brain [thought], "You're just catastrophizing. [Things] isn't that bad at all." It's brief and basically acts as an intro to "Monolith," but [with] its own vibe.


I love Seattle grunge, and this song, via the baritone Telecaster, really taps into that part of my musical lineage. The main riff of "Monolith" is indebted to the riff from "Mailman" from Soundgarden's Superunknown album. It's got that same sort of feeling, but still, a different sort of vibe. I basically wanted to make it like the nastiest Seattle post-rock song that ever existed (laughs).

I love making nasty, almost sludge metal riffs, and doing that here was a lot of fun. To have those dynamic shifts and then run off into a sort of Radiohead thing and a wacky System of a Down, Deftones style breakdown…it felt like the combination of my heaviest influences coming together as one, taking the Maebe sound to the extreme by amping it up. I knew it had to close Rebirth. Relive. Repeat.


Header image courtesy of Ellie Rogers.

Back to Copper home page