“I want it to be a celebration of instrumental guitar in all its forms”: Meet Maebe, the British guitarist mashing up prog genres to build his ultimate wall of sound

A portrait of Michael Astley Brown holding a guitar on a purple background
(Image credit: Olly Curtis)

“I want it to be a celebration of instrumental guitar in all its forms,” says Michael Astley-Brown, the man behind Maebe. Raised in the Cotswolds, Astley-Brown grew up on grunge and pop-punk before discovering the joys of post-rock at university. Hearing Mogwai proved a transformative experience, because “it made me realise I don’t need a singer to get my ideas across”.

The love of guitar led to a career in music journalism writing for Guitar World before a series of personal upheavals provided the impetus for Maebe’s eponymous 2020 debut. “I was like, ‘The shit has really hit the fan, why don’t I try to do this thing I’ve always wanted to do? I’m going to make an album.’”

On Maebe and now Rebirth. Relive. Repeat., Astley-Brown played or programmed everything himself, cherry-picking concepts from multiple progressive genres. “I wanted to pull from the post-rock soundscapes, the math rock slightly wonky riffs, and I’m a big Joe Satriani guy, I grew up on that shred stuff as well,” he says. “That sense of melody is something I felt I could bring into a post-rock, math rock context without it verging into cheesy 80s shred territory. It’s striking that balance.”

On Rebirth. Relive. Repeat., Astley-Brown wanted everything to be dreamier, heavier and more melodic. “It’s a bit of a cliché but I do want to take the listener on a journey, and I want each song to be almost its own dimension that the listener can get lost in,” he says. “That’s what drove me to do so many guitar layers and different sounds, but also keeping the melody very much at the forefront. I tend to make every song quite epic. It’s probably that Smashing Pumpkins euphoric, happy guitar explosion thing and I lean into that on some songs.”

While Maebe began as a one-man studio project, it’s grown into a live beast powered by fellow guitarists Will Thomas and Duncan Stagg, as well as bassist Patrick da Costa and Nicholas Appelgren on drums. “It’s very much a wall of sound because I wanted to replicate those layers on the album and I didn’t want to use tracks or loops,” says Astley-Brown. “Meeting a group of like-minded individuals who have all grown up on the same weird musical diet has really helped to solidify the sound of the band. And the feedback we’ve had from live shows has been amazing.”

Maebe marked the release of the new album with a headline show at Rough Trade in their hometown of Bristol, where the vibrant math rock scene has embraced them. “To start playing a riff and someone goes, ‘Yes! I love this song!’, that’s what I dreamt about as a kid,” says Astley-Brown. “I grew up in Gloucestershire, there’s no music scene, all this stuff seemed impossible to me. So, to be doing it now in my 30s, even though my body’s a wreck after every show, I feel like I’m finally where I want to be musically and in my life. It’s genuinely a really powerful thing.” 

Rebirth. Relive. Repeat. is out now via Bandcamp

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.