Listen up: here comes the Maine attraction

Having just finished the Brazilian leg of the 8123 tour following their recent stint in the UK as Deaf Havana’s support act, rock group The Maine show no signs of slowing down. In the wake of their fourth album’s studio release last summer, and their newest EP in December, I caught up with the group to talk musical maturity, experimentation and their newfound freedom.

The Maine were most recently in the UK last November, as part of the Vans Warped tour entourage that rocked the capital. “It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here so many times,” lead vocalist John O’Callaghan noted. Rhythm guitarist Kenny Brock, after debating if they’ve toured here 7 or 8 times, explained what this familiarity with the UK meant: “Every time it gets more and more familiar. We feel like we know it better and we just get more comfortable”.

As they play more within the UK, the Arizona group are noticing more differences between the music scenes across the pond, particularly concerning Warped Tour. “It was interesting, not in a negative way! It was just different from what we’re used to with the States’ Warped Tour.” Garrett Nickelsen, the band’s bassist, also found this. “Yeah, a lot of the bands were pretty heavy – more of the screaming type. Normally, we don’t play shows with screaming bands.” “It was a challenge, yeah,” Kennedy contributed, “definitely a challenge to get people’s attention.” Despite the unfamiliarity of the tour, The Maine are quick to see the positives. “It was fun. That’s the point of this, to get better and challenge yourself. I’m really glad we took the opportunity.”

John also acknowledged the band’s recent absence from the American Vans Warped Tour scene, noting that “it’ll be really beneficial to go back and show face again. We’re doing everything on our own now, so its nice being able to go back and make people aware that we have a new record.”

The independence John mentioned is due to the band’s break with their previous US label, Warner Brothers. It was this lack of a major contract which not only allowed the band to record their EP Imaginary Numbers themselves, but also to produce solely acoustic songs. Garrett was blunt about how he finds having no label – “freeing.” Kennedy took a more pragmatic approach, understanding that “this experience taught us a lot. We were forced to experience a lot of things: how we’ve done things and how we want to do things.” John, again, saw the band’s past decision as a springboard for their future. “I feel that we have grown stronger as a band. I think that there’s a whole lot of fight left in us, and I think that [for] seeing the whole process through we’re hungrier than ever. We want to create as much art as possible, put out ideas and questions and feelings into the world, cause we’re as confused as the next person. It´s just rewarding.”

In light of the success of their latest album, Forever Halloween, which debuted at 39 on the Billboard 200, being approached for another deal is always a possibility. “I doubt that it’d be a major label [as they had before]”, John pondered. Although Garrett suggested the band may consider an offer if the circumstances were right, John believes that after the break, a return to a label would not be fruitful. “The liberation we’ve experienced and enjoyed has been so overwhelming that in order to be on a record label again, there’d be so many – and here we probably sound like the biggest divas – there’d be too many requirements.” “Yeah, it probably wouldn’t work out,” added Garrett.

As a band who have previously experimented with everything from pop-punk to rock and acoustic, Forever Halloween was created in unusual circumstances. The band, along with producer Brendan Benson, recorded the album analogue-style, straight to tape. Rather than recording individually in a studio then digitally producing the songs, the group recorded the album simultaneously. It was Benson’s name and reputation that encouraged the band to revert to the past for Forever Halloween. “We were into [Benson] for many reasons. That was one of the things we knew we might get to do.”

The experimentation has also had a positive effect on The Maine and their outlook on music. “We were at a crossroads as far as recording is concerned – it wasn’t necessarily getting stale, but I think we were thirsty for knowledge, and we got that and a lot more with Brendon. As far as ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ history goes, he schooled up on some stuff like that, and how a record can be made utilising old technology in an age where its almost unheard of.” The band’s frontman was therefore unable to decide what style of recording he preferred. “We always enjoy recording in lots of different ways, but I think it was a wonderful experience.”

Forever Halloween marks a distinct progression for the band’s music, quite distinguishable from their more pop-punk flavoured 2008 debut. “We’re not 17 anymore,” John stated, with Garrett also piping up with a jovial “or 16!” “We’re almost 24, 25 years old”, the frontman continued. “I think it’s just a testament to growing up – not even in the sense of facial hair and stuff, but being passionate about music and really trying to turn this into what we actually do, rather than what we do… if that makes sense.” Kennedy saw this change as reflective of the band’s increasing awareness – “We have been exposed to a lot more music now.” Garrett also agreed. “It’s kind of crazy to think of the bands that don’t change more. I’m sure they’re exposed to just as much music, so for it not to effect them and for them to just make the same records over and over again – I don’t know how that happens.”

The Maine are also making conscious decisions to broaden their musical forays. Imaginary Numbers marks their first acoustic-only release, which stemmed from what they felt fans wanted. “From talk online, from people we heard and people we chatted with on the road, people wanted to hear acoustic songs. So, rather than just rerelease tracks we’ve already written, we had a bunch of songs left over. For us, it’s more about creating new material and putting new feelings out there, so the response has been great.” John then joked: “Hopefully they’ll like the new metal record we’re about to make too, a hip-hop, metal, dubstep record.”

Humour aside, The Maine are unsure which genre their next release will take them to. “Now more than ever we’re all listening to our own things. Everyone has their own bands that they’re attaching to, so there are so many different influences there. We’ll see where that goes.” John also considered what they want their music to do. “Definitely when we’re together in a room, hashing out an idea, we’ll reference vibes, we’ll reference moods of other records people have. Lyrically, I want to make people feel good on the next one, so that’ll be the main focus – ‘living is cool’.”

A busy year is still ahead for The Maine. Following their tours overseas and Warped Tour on home soil, the group plan to get back on the road, release a deluxe edition of Forever Halloween and start thinking about new music. For now, however, they’re still loving the ride. “We’re seven years down the road, and it doesn’t get old”, John concluded, “It’s surreal”. However, things look set to continue in this manner. “We don’t take breaks,” Garrett laughed, although Kennedy was quick to remind him of the facts: “There’s no time.”