By A.J. Wachtel
Brian and MaryBeth Maes are the best-kept secret on the local music scene and are probably the most talented unknown artists in New England today. With voices like angels, these two great musicians won’t remain unheard of and undiscovered for long. The fact that they are married and in the same ascending band just adds more magic to their story and illustrates how the whole is greater than the parts in this great group.
Noise: At Berklee you studied classical piano and scored an A- on your senior recital, performing an hour of memorized classical pieces and an hour of memorized original material. Why didn’t you get an A?
Brian Maes: At that time in my musical development, I was pushing very hard against the limits of my abilities as a pianist, practicing six to eight hours a day. My teacher and mentor, Emmanuel Zambelli, put extreme demands on me while also expressing great faith in me. His belief in me made a better pianist out of me than I thought I could ever be. During the classical segment of my recital, I lost my place in one of the pieces. Fortunately, I was so well-rehearsed that my muscle memory took over and I played all the right notes as my mind slowly caught up with where my fingers were. Unfortunately, my dynamics and phrasing suffered a bit as did my score.
Noise: After you graduated you joined American Teen. Was that the band with ’80s keyboardist Mark Williamson in it? American Teen was a popular local group. What do you remember best about the local music scene in those days? What clubs did you gig at?
Brian: Yes, Mark Williamson was the band leader and I was approached, while playing in an original progressive rock band called Shire, to take the place of the original lead singer in American Teen. Since I was also a keyboardist/ lead singer just like Mark, we shared the lead vocals and the two keyboards made for a big sound. I played in that band for about six months and really enjoyed it. They were all good guys. We played the Channel a few times, Jonathan Swifts, lots of college gigs and traveled to Vermont a number of times. The local scene was flourishing with lots of great bands. WCOZ was playing American Teen quite a bit and they were already very well established when I joined, so I felt pretty lucky to have stepped in.
Noise: In 1982, you hooked up with RCA recording artist Robert Ellis Orrall. What kind of music did you play and was this your first experience with a major record label? How do you release your material these days and do you need the support of a major label to get your music heard anymore?
Brian: I auditioned for the band on a Monday, got the gig and we played the local television show, 5 All Night, Live All Night on that Wednesday. We played mostly original songs that Robert wrote and this was my first experience with a major label. I traveled to the U.K. a number of times to record with Robert Ellis Orrall and also to work with other folks I met while recording in Wales and England. That was how I met my long time friend and guitarist, Kook Lawry as well as my drummer pal David Stefanelli.
Noise: In 1984, you began your long relationship with Barry Goudreau and joined his band Orion the Hunter. The band toured as the opening act for Aerosmith on the Back in the Saddle tour. Care to share any cool Aerosmith backstage stories with us?
Brian: The band treated us great and it was my first big tour. I had my own hotel room every night! Gotta save some stuff for my book Brushes With Greatness... been working on it since 1982.
Noise: Do you get along with Tom Scholz? How do you stay beyond the wrath of Scholz and his constant lawsuits? I’ve heard you sing Boston songs and you do them real justice with your great vocals.
Brian: I have never met the man. Thank you for the compliment.
Noise: You were also in RTZ. Care to share any stories about Brad Delp and his great voice? What was it like when you two sang together and how did you figure out and arrange your vocal parts?
Noise: Brad loved to show us director’s cuts of movies in the back of the bus. He arranged all the backing vocals based on what he knew we were good at. It was exhilarating to sing with such a masterful singer. I am a better singer because of the time I spent with Brad. When we did the RTZ reunion shows with Brad, he told me that he thought that MaryBeth had one of the finest voices he had heard. He asked if he could sing on her first record and of course, we were very glad to have him. It was shortly before he passed and to the best of my knowledge, it was the last record he sang on … The CD is called “Just Like Me.”
Noise: You collaborated with Peter Wolf in the studio during his Come As You Are studio time and again in 1993 when you toured with him in The Houseparty 5 to support his Long Line album. Care to share any Peter Wolf stories with my readers?
Brian: Only to say that Peter was a great band leader and teacher. I have never witnessed anyone who can control an audience like him.
Noise: Your 2004 solo album Songs for Madeline is dedicated to your daughter. Is she a musician also?
Brian: Yes, Madeline studies vocals, trumpet and piano. Music is a very big part of her life. She has been singing with our band for a few years already and she is 10.
Noise: You hear tons of pro and con stories about being in a band with your partner. It works out great for you two: What do both of you see as the difficulties and benefits of being in a band together?
Brian: For me, it is all positive… It’s a thrill for me to introduce such a gifted singer to our audiences. Being married to someone that truly understands the life of a full-time musician is a real comfort. Having MaryBeth as part of our band has made us better and seeing how much my other bandmates love her and her talent as well is very rewarding.
Marybeth: The pros and cons of being in a band together: pros—we get to spend time together doing what we love—time together that we don’t have normally throughout the week as we are both so freakin’ busy. We have a lot of fun together on stage! Maddy gets to see that her mom and dad can make a living being self-employed musicians together, and apart. I’ve learned a lot from Brian over the years about being a supportive musician, a leader and becoming more confident as a player. Cons—sometimes it’s hard for me to take direction from Brian, even though I know it’s in my best interest.
Noise: Ernie & the Automatics, with ex-Boston members Barry Goudreau and Sib Hashian, used to do some Boston songs. How do you feel about doing Boston songs and what is the reception to your versions from the audiences?
Brian: Performing the songs that Brad use to sing is an emotional journey … I feel very challenged as a vocalist and very privileged to be standing in for Brad. The music is very powerful and it always makes me think of how much I miss Brad so it is, sort of, “Bitter Sweet.” Audiences have been very supportive of my performances and that always makes me feel great. I am realistic about my skill set and also about how vast Brad’s vocal abilities were. If I can make people think of Brad during these performances, then I feel that I am doing my job.
Noise: You produced The Automatics’ CD Low Expectations. Do you hear the music differently as a producer or are your goals as an artist and a producer generally the same?
Brian: Maintaining objectivity is very important when someone produce their own music. I try to be the person who loves the music, loves the performances and does his absolute best to make it sound as good as possible. Feedback from all the musicians involved is very important to me and factors in to every decision that I make about the production. As an artist, I try to write the best music I can and perform it to the best of my abilities. As a producer I strive to capture the best performances and be diligent in exercising the best recording practicing I know.
Noise: Collateral Damage just came out. Tell me a bit about making the music with your great band. Who’s in your band and what is in the future for you two musically?
Brian: Returning from the tremendously powerful and positive experience of touring with Deep Purple for a month and having Ernie tell me the the band was being put on hiatus was difficult to process for Tim, Tunes and I. We were told that it had nothing to do with us but it was something that he had to do. He told me that he was sorry but in a way, we were collateral damage … He didn’t say it to be mean, he just wanted to make sure that we knew that we weren’t the reason for his decision. When I hung up the phone I called my band and said that we were going to make a record called Collateral Damage and everyone of them asked “When do we start?”
Collateral Damage will always be a special record for me because it helped me through the difficult time of saying farewell to a five-year-long project that I felt so strongly about. I will always be grateful to Ernie for all the opportunities that he gave us.
I am very lucky to have such great players in my band that are also such great people… Tim Archibald on bass, Kook Lawry on guitar, “Old” Tony DePietro on drums, Michael “Tunes” Antunes on tenor sax, and MaryBeth Maes on vocals and guitar.
I am finishing up the mixes for the rock opera, The Devil and Billy Shake, which I wrote with George D. Simpson. Our CD release party is Monday, November 25, at O’Brien’s Pub in Lynn from 7-10pm.
The Brian Maes Band has just released an original Christmas song… It’s about not being afraid to wish folks a merry Christmas. You can buy “Merry Christmas!” online at CDBaby. You can see our lyric video to “Merry Christmas” by The Brian Maes Band—look for it on YouTube.
I am very very excited to be producing MaryBeth’s new CD and am loving the new music that she is writing.
Noise: Marybeth, tell me about this project.
MaryBeth: One of the new things I’m working on is a new 6-song EP called The Extra Mile, dedicated to Bill Meehan. I’m working with Dave Fischer, Tony DePietro, Jim Puff, and John Wadkins in the Briola Records Studio. I gig with these guys on a weekly basis, they are my bandmates, and I’m lucky to call them my friends as well.