Dissecting a Decade With a Band Called The Maine

Stephen Denton
The Maine

A group of guys from a band called The Maine shuffle out of the elevator and onto the 6th floor of Billboard’s Madison Avenue office. Donning sweaters, peacoats and leather jackets, February in New York is a far cry from their home state Arizona, yet none of them seem to mind, saying they're enjoying getting to witness the change in seasons.

The five comprising members -- vocalist John O'Callaghan, lead guitarist Jared Monaco, rhythm guitarist Kennedy Brock, bassist Garrett Nickelsen, and drummer Pat Kirch -- have every reason to be in good spirits. Just last month they celebrated 10 years as a band with 8123 Fest: A 10 Year Celebration of The Maine in Phoenix.

Though the festival’s over, the band still has a busy year ahead of them. The Maine have announced their new record, Lovely Little Lonely will be released Apr. 7, and even in February, fans have already been bombarding the group's social media to relay their anticipation.

As the quintet gets ready for their sixth full-length release, it’s hard not to wonder how the course of a decade brought them from excited, music-loving teens with a dream to an established band headlining their own hometown fest. Now, as the five sit around the table to reminisce on the last 10 years, they’re just as eager to dive in.

Between the ages of 16 and 17, the guys were all already personally immersed in music prior to The Maine’s conception -- playing with both each other and others in a variety of local bands, as well as actively supporting one another’s musical pursuits at shows.  

Like other teenage dreams, the idea to initially come together spawned from a drunken, late-night phone call. “[John] had called me at like 2:00 a.m. the night before, really drunk,” Kirch explains. “And I was in bed already. He was like, ‘We should be in a band.’ And I was like, ‘…okay. What the hell are you talking about?’ I didn’t even know that he sang or did anything. But I came over the next day, and he did.”

The two recorded a demo, and shortly began to assemble the rest of the band. Surprise over O'Callaghan’s vocal abilities seemed to be echoed throughout the group, since while the frontman dedicated time to attending local shows and supporting his friends, he’d never been involved in any of the bands.

“I was like, ‘No way John can sing!’” remembers Nickelsen, laughing and leaning back in his chair. “And then he [Pat] showed me the demo, and we freaked out.”

Within a couple months, the line-up had solidified, with Monaco, Brock and Nickelsen officially becoming members. The exact timeline is a bit hazy -- once together, their inception took off fairly quickly, a jumble of memories of excitement, and good friends unknowingly preparing for what would become the next 10 years.

 

#tbt #matchinghaircuts

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The decade of friendship is easily noticeable between the quintet, as mid-discussion, a rash of jokes break out about a series of physical challenges they made Nickelsen undergo for his spot in the band. “This did not happen, for the record!” Nickelsen laughs.

But for the five friends, a passion for music was what drove them -- along with Kirch's dad's van. Officially branding themselves The Maine, they began recording and posting their music online, where they built a small following via Myspace, spending hours responding to comments and messages.

It was soon after that they embarked on their first tour, still unsigned, along with the bands Brighten and Morning Light, a time they all remember fondly.

“No one showed up to our first tour,” says O'Callaghan, “but it was one of the most fun times I had, just because it was so foreign.”

Kirch chimes in, “It was just so cool because on the dates when like 20 people came -- those were the biggest dates of the tour, you know?”

Regardless of the number of people who came (or didn't come) to those dates, over the course of the tour, the band engaged in talks with numerous labels -- eventually signing to their first label, Fearless Records, in 2007.

Through Fearless, The Maine released their EP The Way We Talk, later followed up by their 2008 debut album Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. The LP saw music videos premiered on MTV and Myspace, and landed them tours opening for blockbuster rock acts Good Charlotte and Boys Like Girls.

The five have nothing but good things to say about their time with Fearless, but they jumped to major label Warner Brothers in 2009, with Nickelsen stating that at the time, changing labels “seemed like the next step.”

It was under Warner Bros. that they made their first of a few big musical changes, evident in their sophomore album Black & White. The band's songwriting noticably matured, and some of their pop inclination were replaced with more intricate drum patterns and chord progressions, delving deeper into the rock part of their sound.

Yet, their following record Pioneer ended up requiring a year-long fight to get released, as the quintet had recorded it on their own, and hadn't produced the type of record the label had in mind. “What eventually happened was they [the label] let us put the record out on our own, so it didn’t count towards our deal,” explains Kirch.

At times the group were having conversations considering changing their band name to get out of contractual obligations. It was this experience that eventually led The Maine to form and run their own label/management team -- which they currently reside under -- called 8123.

Looking back at it now, the band understands the label’s side, and don’t regret signing with them or leaving. “There were a lot of great people that we met, and influential conversations and meetings along the way,” says O'Callaghan, beginning to gesture with his hands at his four friends surrounding him. “I just feel -- and we all feel, and felt -- that we have such a fortunate group of people. We’re so fortunate to have people who appreciate our music support us the way they do.”

Their debut 8123 record Forever Halloween marked a number of firsts and significant experiences for the band. Produced by Brendan Benson -- who sang and played guitar in the rock band The Raconteurs, alongside Jack White -- the record was The Maine’s first analog recording.

Ryan Adams invited us out -- he has this awesome little house [PAX-AM Studios] that he converted into his own compound, his own little dream world,” recalls Kirch, fidgeting with his hands like a drumming lifer. “We were originally talking about making a record with him, it just didn’t end up working out. But he’d said that computers are used for emailing your mom and looking at porn, and a tape machine is only used to record an album, so he’s gonna go with that.”

“That was a huge change for us,” Brock pipes in. “We had never done anything like that -- we all recorded everything at the same time. Bands do live records, but vocals are usually done later, but he [John] was sitting there doing it.”

Forever Halloween’s darker imagery and alt-rock tendencies were later replaced with the group's candy-sweet fifth album, 2015's American Candy -- the shift in sound evident from the record's bubblegum-blowing cover art.

“For American Candy, I remember sitting down when we were doing the initial writing, kind of agreeing that we wanted it to be more upbeat and have a more light-hearted vibe,” says Monaco. Recorded in Joshua Tree, the album’s added grooves and uplifting nature were enticing to fans, and American Candy debuted at No. 37 on the Billboard 200.

Through it all, The Maine’s fans have remained at the backbone of the band’s decisions. Over the course of the decade, The Maine have put on a free tour, held free meet-and-greets, and recently have been on location prior to their current tour so that fans who came to buy tickets could meet them.

“Finding out what it is [the fans] really want out of us and finding that balance between the music we’re making for them and doing all the things we’re doing, is to make it an experience where everyone feels a part of... whatever this thing is that we’re doing,” Monaco explains.

“And recognizing what we see in other bands that we feel is mistreating people, and over-charging people for meet-and-greets, and charging people for whatever,” adds O'Callaghan, delving into a discussion of their free meet-and-greet policy at last year’s Warped Tour.

“It was a subtle jab, but we had a sign at our tent that said, ‘Why would you pay to meet a human being? Just meet us for free.’” O'Callaghan says. “We just feel that the over-privileged don’t deserve a better chance at hanging out with who we are, just normal people.”

Those people have brought them to now, to Lovely Little Lonely, their upcoming sixth studio album that landed them back in New York, where the record began.

“We’ve always wanted to record out here [New York]. Pat had the idea of taking a week and coming out here,” says Nickelsen, discussing the record’s formative days.

 

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The quintet spent a week at the Brooklyn Patch -- a house with a built-in studio that bands can crash in -- owned by the candy brand, Sour Patch Kids.

“That was cool to have a spot to stay at like that. The whole vibe changed for us being out here, being in this cool, kinda small practice space,” reflects Monaco, the others nodding in agreement. “There was really no window to the city in that room, but just walking around and having that experience in that week affected how our writing approach changed."

When the week came to an end, there was still a lot left to be done. After experiencing the deserts of Joshua Tree, the band were looking for something else: for oceans and mountains, for more change.

Though they shortly planned to go to a place like Costa Rica, logistically it couldn’t come together. And so the fivesome ended up in Gualala, California, staying in an Airbnb that boasted windows overlooking the Pacific and a back porch looming over the cliff’s edge.

 

Studio views // --: @_lupe

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They gathered their gear, padded a walk-in closet and got to work creating -- the details chronicled in their YouTube series “Miserable Youth.”

The first single to drop was “Bad Behavior” -- an upbeat whirlwind of catchy riffs and dulcet lyrics like, “I inhale you in small doses/ And adore you like the roses/ But you're bad for me, yeah,” depicting an unhealthy yet intoxicating relationship -- which they had created in New York. Deciding it would be the album’s debut single was a group effort.

“Everybody kind of felt the same way -- it was kind of infectious in the control room,” O'Callaghan explains, saying that producer Colby Wedgeworth's reaction tot he song sealed the deal. “The way that he talked about it, the way that we talked about it, the way that Tim [Kirch] talked about it, and some friends of ours -- that’s a really good gauge."

About two months later, The Maine released their second single “Black Butterflies and Déjà Vu,” a fast-paced and drum-propelled track. The two songs easily encompass Lovely Little Lonely -- a record simultaneously teeming with nostalgia and an appreciation of those with you in the present moment. As in the past, The Maine have shed traces of their last album, while still managing to create a sound blending undeniable riffs with beguiling melodies that’s distinctly recognizable as theirs.

“We get bored rather quickly and we like to keep occupied,” O'Callaghan ruminates on the band’s evolution. “Sometimes we thrive on chaos and the idea that, 'This next decision, this [determines] what the next two years of our lives are gonna be.' But those blips of manic mode I think help some of that space too, and I think we’ve found a pretty unique way of working within our dynamic. 10 years doesn’t seem like 10 years, for sure.”

The group have invested so much of themselves into their aspirations and taking it all in, they’ve never taken the time to think of what an alternate universe without The Maine could have held.

“I didn’t think we’d be a band still,” Kirch says with a smile. “I didn’t think it was really possible. I didn’t really care -- I was just so excited about what would happen the next week!”

Lovely Little Lonely is set to be released Friday, Apr. 7.