Interview: Maudlin Strangers’ Jake Hays Gets Deep on Addiction, Tour Stories, New Music, & More

Maudlin Strangers © Alvaro Navarro
Maudlin Strangers © Alvaro Navarro
Maudlin Strangers’ new in-your-face single “I’m Not In The Right Mind” is an intoxicating rock song sure to have you riveted. Frontman Jake Hays caught up with Atwood Magazine to discuss his band’s return from hiatus, their new music, share some tour stories, and more.
“I’m Not in the Right Mind” – Maudlin Strangers

Maudlin Strangers is… the idea of two people sitting in a bar who didn’t know each other before, but they’re sitting next to each other on the stools and they start telling their whole life story. I love the meaning behind it, being friends that were strangers.

We all have our vices we depend on to cope. It could be drugs and alcohol or other things such as social media and shopping. As we get older life just seems to get harder and harder. As a result of this we are constantly looking for our next distraction. Maudlin Strangers’ “I’m Not In The Right Mind” is a gripping, edgy rock track all about dealing with the cycle of addiction. Hard-hitting guitars, booming bass and shiny synths deliver a captivating Queens of the Stone Age feel.

I’m Not In The Right Mind - Maudlin Strangers
I’m Not In The Right Mind – Maudlin Strangers

Released October 27, 2023 via Hellbent Creative, the song showcases relatable lines like “I don’t want to care right now, I just want to fade out, I’m stuck inside a thought so loud.” Many of us have been in that situation. We are trying to do whatever we can to numb our negative thoughts not caring whether it’s healthy or not. Maudlin Strangers reminds us to not drown those out, but rather see how we can change them. It is a powerful act when you can recognize behavior and attempt to rectify it, instead of just covering it up.

Maudlin Strangers is a bold indie rock project that was conceived in 2010, initially as the solo project of Agoura Hills, California native Jake Hays. After a recent hiatus, the group is back in full force. The four-piece consists of lead singer Hays, Alexander “Schmorgle” Morgan on guitar/keys, Drew Bruchs on bass, and Richie Gonzales on drums. All of them are close friends allowing the band to share a very special bond. You can sense that connection in their tight sound.

Atwood Magazine spoke with Hays of Maudlin Strangers about the band’s formation and reformation, their exhilarating new single, addiction, therapy, and much more.

The worst thing you can ever do for yourself when you’re struggling is to bottle it up and keep it inside. I think it’s so important for everyone who’s struggling with anything, no matter how big or small it might be, to talk to somebody about it and let them know what you’re going through.

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:: stream/purchase I’m Not in the Right Mind here ::
:: connect with Maudlin Strangers here ::
“I’m Not in the Right Mind” – Maudlin Strangers


I’m Not In The Right Mind - Maudlin Strangers

Hey Jake, it's great to meet you! Maudlin Strangers is a really cool band name. How did that come about?

Jake Hays: It’s so funny. I came up with it in 2010 or 2011. I wanted to start a band with friends of mine that all didn’t know each other. I knew that I wanted strangers in the title because I was going to be bringing these friends together that didn’t know each other. I was just looking up different kind of adjectives to describe the strangers. I came across maudlin at the time. I had no idea what it meant. The meaning behind it is being overly sentimental when under the influence. I got an image in my head of literal maudlin strangers. It’s the idea of two people sitting in a bar who didn’t know each other before, but they’re sitting next to each other on the stools and they start telling their whole life story. I love the meaning behind it, being friends that were strangers.

How did this innovative indie rock band form?

Jake Hays: It’s so funny, it was a drummer that was from a different local band who his dad was friends with my dad and then we hung out and started playing together. He was amazing. Then my bass player was also the son of other family friends and my guitar player at the time, we were in a different band together in high school and he went to a neighbor’s high school. It was just like all these different fractures in my life that went in different directions. Grabbing people from those different areas and bringing them all together. When we did all hang out, it was like they all knew each other for years. It was wonderful. The band has actually taken a few forms, but that was the original friends of mine that were in it. It was probably from 2011 to 2014.

Then in 2014, I had a different drummer who came into play. He’s the one I’m still playing with to this day, Richie Gonzales. I needed a bass player and I had asked my friend who was a guitar player at the time, if he would be interested in playing bass for it because he was also in another band that I loved. It was just all these different friends I loved. I thought, oh, this would be fun to play music together. Then we all just got together and it was always so easy.

Now to this day, the new formation is because my old guitar player, Jeff Lehrer, he went off to Arizona to work and start a life and do amazing things. He’s over there. My old bass player Kenny Benson, he’s just actually moved to the UK to get married and be with the love of his life. It’s amazing. Everyone’s going off and doing their lives. Now I have another couple of great friends that are playing with me. I have Richie Gonzales who is the original drummer and my friend Alexander Morgan who goes by Schmorgle. He’s an Internet producer and he’s amazing. I’ve known him since we were 16 probably. We always just have respected each other’s music. I got to produce his first EP ever which was awesome. We’ve had such a rich history of working together that playing together is like a no brainer.  He lived in New York and then he came over a few years ago to live here. Of course, immediately I was like, you want to be in a band? Then my bass player, Drew Bruchs, came on. He’s also spectacular. He’s played with a bunch of other artists, like Oliver the Kid, La Bouquet and 1990 Nowhere. They’re just amazing musicians and even greater people. I’m just so fortunate to know such great people that I get to play music with. It makes the whole experience not feel like a job. It’s truly just getting to hang out with your buddies.

I understand the band was on hiatus for a while. What was the reason for the pause and what brought you guys back together?

Jake Hays: The band took a hiatus after a bunch of touring in 2015. We had toured with Bad Suns at the beginning of the year, which was incredible. They brought us out to open the show for them with this other amazing band called Coasts. Then we had toured the West Coast with Lany, and we had done a handful of other tours. The last tour we did was direct support for Cold War Kids on a big tour for them. It was awesome, but it was so much touring throughout the year that I fully burnt out. I got sick every time we got back from tour. I was so exhausted.

I decided I want to take some time at home to do some of the other things that I love. At the time I wanted to also pursue acting. My mom is a musician. My dad is an actor. I had done the musician thing for so long. I’ve always wanted to try acting and go to acting classes. I was unable to do that if I was out on the road. So I chose to take the next year to just pursue acting. I went to acting class. I had felt as though I was losing my voice throughout all the touring and dealing with a label. All these kind of things put me in this negative headspace. I lost the reason as to why I was making music and it was no longer fun to make music. I felt like I was making music for other people and not for myself. I wasn’t enjoying what I was making which is what led to the burnout.

So I took a break from everything, but did some little releases here and there. Then I was working on a new Maudlin album to release at some point in 2018 or 2019. I had gone to Texas to do a small ‘80s action film – I think it’s finally coming out after all these years. Then while I was there, the California Woolsey fires were happening. My house, my studio and everything burned down when I was away. That’s where I had the hard drives. I can’t even remember how many songs it was, maybe 20 or 30 new ideas that I was working on. All of those were gone. Then it was a fresh start. When I came back, I was going to release stuff again. We decided to just put it out under my own name to create a fresh start with everything. Then after doing that since 2019 up to this point, it felt like it was the right time to bring back Maudlin Strangers. I had all these negative memories with it and how it ended, but I kept thinking why have these negative memories with a project that I love so much. I could just continue it and make new memories to overwrite those.

The band’s hard-hitting banger, “I’m Not In The Right Mind,” exudes an infectious, penetrating quality. How was the track’s sound developed?

Jake Hays: It was funny how that one came together. I wrote it with Schmorgle (Alex). It is one of the first Maudlin collaborations. Normally I’ve written it, produced it, done all of it myself and played everything myself. One of the things with bringing back Maudlin Strangers was I wanted to put all of these amazing musicians that I know on it. So this track has Richie playing the drums on it. It has Drew playing bass on it. Alex and I wrote it. I had the chorus and had the bass line. I also had the opening riff of what I wanted, but I didn’t have a verse. I asked Alex if he wanted to come help me write it and we sat down. I think it was one session. We just busted out all of the verses and it was really fun. It really took on this Queens of the Stone Age/ Arctic Monkeys vibe. I have a rock background, even though I love making pop, indie rock and alternative, stuff like rock is always in my blood. So it felt nice to do a song that had a big riff and had a guitar solo. The intention was let’s make a big freaking rock song. Rock was dead for so long and I’m so happy to see it re-emerging. So many pop artists are putting out rock versions of their stuff. Rock is being brought back. There’s this huge wave of nostalgia with middle school rock for me.

The bold piece is about attempting to break free from the vicious cycle of addiction. Can you describe this idea in more detail?

Jake Hays: I have a lot of addiction in my family. I’ve experienced and witnessed a lot of it growing up. I’m a huge stoner myself, but I’m thankful that for me, the addiction really only manifested itself with weed. It could have been with a multitude of other far worse things. So I’m appreciative of that. I do find the world is so stressful and fast paced. It’s difficult sometimes and you can get so overloaded, especially our generation. It’s so easy to get absolutely overwhelmed with everything. It’s so hard to, especially living in Los Angeles, fathom the idea of buying a house one day and all these things that were so normal to the previous generation. Those things are so out of reach for the majority of our generation.

I feel like we often numb ourselves just to deal with all of it. I think that a lot of the song is being in that state of mind of I don’t want to care right now. I just want to fade out. The first couple lines being like, I keep numbing myself instead of just dealing with this. I’m tired of defaulting to numbing myself instead of just figuring out what’s not working and figuring out how to change it. So that’s where the song was coming from. It’s being in that place where you’re recognizing the addiction that you’re in.

It could be anything. It could be a codependent relationship, drugs or alcohol. It could be anything where there’s somewhat of a toxic level of addiction or dependency. Humans are creatures of habit and that’s just something that we deal with as a species. It’s definitely about trying to get out of those habitual circles that we can get sucked into.

Maudlin Strangers © Alvaro Navarro
Maudlin Strangers in 2023 © Alvaro Navarro

What advice would you give to someone struggling with the same situation this single describes?

Jake Hays: I’d say first and foremost the biggest thing is to talk to someone. The worst thing you can ever do for yourself when you’re struggling is to bottle it up and keep it inside. I think it’s so important for everyone who’s struggling with anything, no matter how big or small it might be, to talk to somebody about it and let them know what you’re going through. More often than not, you’ll discover that whomever you’re talking to is probably going through something similar, has gone through something similar, or you opening up about your struggles will help them in the future if they’re struggling.

Also therapy is amazing. That’s another thing too, is with our previous generation, therapy was so frowned upon. I’m really proud that our generation views it for how wonderful and important it is.

You mentioned that you’ve previously played with larger acts like Bad Suns and Cold War Kids. Any interesting tour stories you can share?

Jake Hays: One of the most hilarious things was I got chickenpox on the Bad Suns tour. I had never had it. I guess I was not vaccinated for it as a kid. I started to feel very sick. I can’t remember where we were. We might have been in North Carolina. I remember when I played a show I would always wear a Hawaiian shirt and a leather jacket on stage and I had a specific leather jacket that was for stage. It was very thin and then I had a really thick actual leather jacket for being outside in the cold. I knew I was feeling bad at that show because I was so cold that I wore my in the snow leather jacket on stage to play that show. I felt so chilly and I must have had a fever.

So I got through that show. Then I remember waking up like the next morning touching my arm. It woke me up out of my sleep. I felt this weird bump on my arm and I was a little itchy. I was so confused. We were driving to Nashville and we drove directly to the hospital there. I ended up staying for five or six days at the hospital and they couldn’t figure out what I had. From day one though, my mom said, you have chickenpox. I’m not sure maybe the doctors thought I could have measles or some new disease. It did turn out to be chickenpox. So we actually had to leave that tour early because I was stuck in the hospital. I stayed in Nashville to get better to then eventually fly back home. The guys drove from Nashville straight back to LA minimal stops. It was pretty brutal. That was a crazy way for our first Maudlin Strangers tour to end, which was really funny.

Besides those acts you toured with, if you could pick any band or artist to open for who would it be?

Jake Hays: I’d say Queens of the Stone Age would have to be my number one. Josh Homme, the singer and mastermind behind it, he’s the motorcycle king of the redheads. I appreciate him in that sense being a redhead myself. I would say opening up for Queens of the Stone Age would be quite a bucket list check. Arctic Monkeys as well, although I would get chewed out for sounding too similar to Alex Turner. Even though I can’t help it, that’s definitely the one feedback I always get. I’m not trying to; I just happen to.

Maudlin Strangers © Alvaro Navarro
Maudlin Strangers © Alvaro Navarro

What’s next for Maudlin Strangers?

Jake Hays: I’m really excited about this upcoming year. It is an effort to make up for lost time. I spent this whole year just figuring out the next year of releases for Maudlin because “I’m Not In The Right Mind” was finished back in January. So I’ve been sitting on it approaching a year because I wanted to finish everything else so that we could have a set release schedule. We have a single coming out every eight weeks. So the next one will be mid-January, and then so on. I’m very excited about it. We’ve currently got six songs set aside, five ones that are unreleased and, at this point they’re my favorite Maudlin stuff that’s been created so far. I’m very excited to be able to keep dropping these out over the next year and touring.

Lastly, can you recommend some artists or bands that you are really digging at the moment to our readers?

Jake Hays: Of course, it comes back to Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age. Also there was a band that we toured with back in 2015 called Strange Names. They are awesome. We did a little tour called The Strange and Stranger Tour because they are Strange Names and we are Maudlin Strangers. It was very fun. Young The Giant and Tame Impala are great as well.

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:: stream/purchase I’m Not in the Right Mind here ::
:: connect with Maudlin Strangers here ::
“I’m Not in the Right Mind” – Maudlin Strangers

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I’m Not In The Right Mind - Maudlin Strangers

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