Rock

The Maine on Reaching Career High With 'Sticky' Hit: 'Did We Accidentally Do Something Really Cool?'

The Maine "Sticky"
Courtesy Photo

The Maine "Sticky"

The group is also plotting a new way forward with their fan-centric Pillar platform.

Arizona rockers The Maine have been doing it their way for nearly 15 years.

The band, led by guitarist/vocalist John O'Callaghan, tried the major label thing early in their career -- but since 2013 they've released albums on their in-house 8123 label, which is exactly how they liked it. But after partnering with Photo Finish Records (Shaed, Marian Hill) earlier this year, the band is now celebrating their best-charting single to date with the aptly titled earworm "Sticky."

"We've released four or five albums on our own and were still doing distro deals to get things out there and printed, but were mostly doing things in house and [then] we had this opportunity to work with Photo Finish," says O'Callaghan, who notes that the Maine have been friends with Photo Finish founder Matt Galle and his partner Mike Marquis -- who is also their agent -- for their whole career. "The opportunity to work with a label under these terms, with people we trusted and knew and who knew who we were, where we came from and where our hearts are and had a semblance of our vision... it just lined up."

As for why "Sticky" is peaking now -- it recently reached an all-time chart high for the band when it hit No. 19 on Billboard's Alternative Airplay chart dated June 26, and is holding steady at No. 44 on Rock Airplay -- O'Callaghan laughs that if he knew the "exact formula" to write a song like that he would have done it a long time ago.

He began working on "Sticky" in January 2020, just before the COVID-19 lockdown, and says in the band's entire career he never recalls a "eureka" moment like the one he felt when he finished the track that will end up on their XOXO album (July 9). A writing session in Los Angeles fell through and O'Callaghan says he wanted to get out of town quickly after a less-than-fruitful visit, even as something compelled him to, yes, stick around and give it one more shot.

"It came together so naturally and organically, we didn't really overthink anything," he says of the track he co-wrote with pal Andrew Goldstein (Demi Lovato, Maroon 5). "It took us about three-and-a-half, four hours and I remember getting back into the car and listening to the demo and having the chills and feeling like, 'Wow! Did we accidentally do something really cool?'" He sent the track to the band and they felt the same way -- and even after more than 100 spins, O'Callaghan still gets that tingly feeling.

Before The Maine came together, 8123 was simply the address of a parking garage where O'Callaghan and his friends would gather in their Arizona hometown to "smoke cigarettes and talk crap and cuss and talk about girls." Then they signed to Fearless Records for their their debut 2007 EP, The Way We Talk -- and after a stint on Warner Bros. the band went out on their own with 2013's Forever Halloween album, which was released on 8123. While they were still cutting distribution deals, the Maine kept most of their business in house, until teaming up with Photo Finish after what O'Callaghan says was a rough 15 months of not touring and being stuck at home during the global pandemic.

He says Marquis told the band that Photo Finish would help facilitate what they had already been doing after the label looked under the hood and realized  that there wasn't that much tweaking necessary. What the label could offer was the robust streaming, online and radio push via Virgin Music that helped make"Sticky" their biggest single to date. "We never really bet on ourselves before, and from the get-go Mike was vocal about having 'Sticky' lead the parade for this record," O'Callaghan says, citing a push to playlist the song on streaming services and other outlets to build anticipation for the album.

The band's longtime manager, Tim Kirch, agrees that Marquis understood that the key to the deal was to "amplify" what the band was already doing, even as he's helped push further than they ever imagined while retaining their "authentic, independent spirit."

Another major cog in that DIY wheel is the digital fan club the group launched during the pandemic, Pillar. What Kirch says started as an HTML fan site in 2009 that the band had always wanted to expand has turned into a vibrant hub, where they post just about anything a fan could want. For a monthly fee, Mainers can deep dive into everything from home videos to an exhaustive archive of albums, singles, demos and Pillar-only audio and video, as well as exclusive livestreams and one-of-a-kind experiences (guitar lessons, making of song docs, personal photos, Q&As, wedding albums).

"We kept coming back to the idea and it was never the right time -- but after we left Warner, we felt like we caught a groove of how we can run our career and it was time to bring back that vision," Kirch says of building a digital world specifically for the Maine and their super-dedicated audience. Pillar launched in beta last April and officially opened up to subscribers in August, with more than 40,000 users checking out the platform in the past year.

And though it wasn't originally conceived as a pandemic solution to keep the fan fires stoked for the typically hard-touring band, with dates off the table both Kirch and O'Callaghan say that it's turned into a potentially lucrative, forward-thinking path to their next phase. As the band members are getting older and starting to have families, they like having a space where they can keep an intimate connection to their fanbase, even when the group is not on the road. Fans can sign up monthly, annually or on a one-time basis for exclusive livestreams and events.

"It's also about fans connecting with each other... so it's like when the first 100 people in line at a concert and they're waiting all day together," says Kirch. "It's about making the digital space feel like relationship building." (Kirch declined to talk about revenue for the site, which charges $9.99 a month, while adding that so far it's proven to be a boon for the band.) Pillar has also made room for other acts, from baby bands who might draw a few hundred visitors a month to more established artists such as recent signee Andrew McMahon; other bands with Pillar pages include Movements, The Dear Hunter and Stand Atlantic.

"It's a place where you can go as far as you can with our material for someone who wants every unreleased demo, every thought behind every," says O'Callaghan, 32, who notes that each band has used the space in their own unique way, drawing anywhere from 500 to 5,000 monthly/annual supporters.

Among the percolating ideas The Maine have about how to maximize their Pillar presence is posting 30 unreleased songs that you can only hear on the site to whole live shows and maybe even exclusive documentaries. "The beautiful thing about the era we're entering is that we're taking total control," the singer says. "We've felt what it's like on both ends of the spectrum -- being on a major and feeling the pressures of that, and then pulling in a different direction. And this is just our band in its purest form."

Check out the "Sticky" video below.