Alter The Press!

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ATP! Interview: The Maine (2013)

Halloween. It’s the one time of year where it’s socially acceptable to dress up as anything. More importantly, it’s the time of year where you can dress up as what you dream to be. The Maine's upcoming new album, Forever Halloween may have pulled its name from an offhand comment from one of their own idols, but it stands for so much more than that. It not only evolved into the band’s best effort to date, but offers a glimpse at the change the group has made. It’s clear that the Arizona quintet has seen and grown a lot in their seven years of existence. Much like a fine wine, they are only getting better with age. With just over two weeks until Forever Halloween’s release date (June 4th), frontman John O’Callaghan discussed the album with us, as well as their summer headlining tour, writing process and the very evolution of The Maine.

Alter The Press: How did you guys decide on Forever Halloween for the title of your new album? 

John O’Callaghan (vocals/guitar): Awhile back we got to meet a dude named Ryan Adams, who we’re like, huge fans of. He’s a singer/songwriter, and if you’re not familiar with him, I strongly urge you to become so.

ATP: Yeah, he’s amazing!

John: Yeah! And, so by the luck of the draw, or I don’t know, thanks to Twitter, we got hooked up with him and he gave us a tour of his studio. He was shooting a music video or something with some of his friends and he was talking about a Halloween store. He didn’t know the name of it but he said “Forever Halloween” and he said it really nonchalantly like that Forever 21 store. I don’t even think that’s the name of a real place but for whatever reason, when he said it, it kind of resonated with me. So I wrote it down, as I do a lot of the thoughts and cool ideas that I hear or come up with myself and that one just kind of... I don’t know, it lingered. In a good way. And after the process and going through what we went through and how we got to the point that we did today, given the change in physical appearance, the changes in mental headspace over the last six or seven years we’ve been a band, I felt like it was a really appropriate, all-encompassing title for the album. For me, it captures exactly what we did this time around. I guess on a more basic level, it’s like the daily kind of camouflage that we all wear in scenarios we put ourselves in and how easy it is to forget who we really are, and pretend to be something we’re not.

ATP: When I heard it, I definitely thought it was along the lines of Halloween being the time of year you can be whatever it is you want to be.

John: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

ATP: [Laughs] Now, this is the second album you guys have released independently. Do you guys like releasing them that way as opposed to going through a label?

John: For us at this point, it was just imperative that we created one more album that was really just us. You see, the thing with labels is that there are so many people that are depending on what you’re doing because they have to make money, you know, they have to feed their kids, so it ends up becoming some sort of business venture than really creative and artistic outlet. It becomes something that it shouldn’t ever be. Not to say that there aren’t great records that are made on record labels, but at this point for us, fortunately we had some coin to work with that we had saved up and we kind of figured that we wanted to do it again. I guess the huge thing that kind of made us do it was the freedom and the liberation that you feel when there is no one else to answer to and no one else that you have to deliver for or to. So luckily we got to team up with Brendan Benson (producer/musician) and he worked with us and that was what we were most concerned with. Having that sixth kind of member being a part of our band and giving an unbiased ear to what we were creating and not just kind of nodding yes and no and really diving into the material and becoming a part of it himself. Being a musician and an artist, he knows how delicate the process of songwriting and record making can be. He understands it, and he got it and we couldn’t have been more fortunate to work with such a great guy.

ATP: Do you think having that freedom is what caused the change in sound from Black & White and Pioneer? Because if you listen to what you came out with in the beginning and what you’re producing now, it’s like two completely different bands. Not that it’s bad, they were both great sounds, just two different sounds.

John: You know, I think there are a lot of different factors that created all the different sounds that we’ve had. Earliest on with Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, our first album, and the earlier stuff, it was just a bunch of 17 and 18-year-old kids that were fresh out of high school. I was in college when we first started. So it was like our tastes and the way that we thought about music was vastly different than it is now. So signing with Fearless, we were just being thrown into it and all the stuff in our past has led us to where we are today so we don’t look back and regret anything that we’ve done. It’s all been a learning experience. Going into Black & White, our first major label record, was another thing where we were all wide-eyed and we didn’t want to rub anybody the wrong way or burn any bridges so it was just kind of “smile and say yes” and play along with what they told us to do. So that was when they introduced us to songwriting and co-writing with other people and I think that’s what caused the biggest difference in sound between that second record and the third. The third record, we went back and we just kind of said “fuck you,” for lack of better words, and we kind of remembered why we started to write music in the first place. One, because it’s what we love doing and it’s the only thing we know now, but two, it was because it was a way of releasing some sort of emotion and try to relate to people and say the things you aren’t necessarily comfortable saying in real life or face-to-face scenarios. So I think that’s what really contributed to the difference in sounds. It was just more of a carefree, for the love of music kind of approach than it was the second time around where it was more calculated and more thought out and contrived, I guess.

ATP: It basically goes back to what you were saying earlier about having more creative freedom.

John: Yeah, yeah, just kind of saying what you want to say and doing what you want to do.

ATP: So when you first formed, this wasn’t the sound you envisioned yourselves having one day. It just kind of grew with you as you grew.

John: Absolutely! Like I said, our tastes in music and our headspace when thinking about music has completely changed and that’s the coolest thing. I don’t think we let too much dictate what our sound is going to be, we just kind of let it happen and I think that’s the way you get a real natural progression, or evolution. You know, I would feel like a piece of shit if I was writing the same songs as I was when I was 18 years old, you know what I mean? I’d feel like I hadn’t experienced anything in my life or I would feel like a little kid, and I don’t think anybody deserves that and I don’t think the people that listen to our music deserve that. I feel like that’s kind of disrespectful if you just maintain this monotony of like “oh, girls suck and boys rule” and whatever it is. So I would feel like I was doing myself and injustice if I stayed on that path.

ATP: Yeah, and as a fan having grown up with your music it’s cool because as I’m growing up, the music’s growing up with me and I’m sure a lot of other fans feel that way.

John: Right on, I appreciate that!

ATP: Was there any moment when writing or recording this album that you thought “This is us. This is The Maine and this is what we’re all about?”

John: I suppose it’s more in retrospect. It was more of an eye-opening experience. Recording the album the way that we did it, kind of live to tape and just like a real band, I feel like it made us realize that that’s what it’s really all about. It’s always strange because people will never hear some of the songs that I’ve written just in my bedroom that’ll never see the light of day, but it’s only when you kind of publish your works that you really open up and are susceptible to judgement. I don’t think there’s ever been a point where we’re like “this is the sound, and we’ve captured it” and I think that’s the cool part. We like it to be ever evolving and ever changing. At this particular moment in time, I think it was just looking back on the experience and the process in which it was carried out that made us realize that we are a band at this point and we can proudly say that we are a band. In the land of the drum machine, we are actual musicians for once. So I feel like we can proudly say that. As far as our sound goes, that could change and I hope it does. I hope we get the opportunity to keep creating records and changing how we’re feeling and how we’re growing up. I think it was more so the process that made us have that epiphany of “Wow, we’re a band.”

ATP: Do you have any personal favorite on the album? Or right now, they’re all favorites?

John: I think just because it’s so new and so fresh, I think you’re right that they’re all kind of our favorites. I think it’s just the album as a body of work is what we’re really proud of. And as we start to tour and play new songs, I think that’s when it’s like “I like playing this one live” or “I don’t like playing this one.” But I think at this point, yeah, it’s an all inclusive deal.

ATP: You guys just released a Q&A, and in it you were asked if there were any emotional songs on Forever Halloween, and Garrett [Nickelsen, bassist] said ‘These Four Words.’ Was that song, or any other song, particularly hard to write and record?

John: Yeah, for me personally, with this record, I tried really hard to put more of myself out there and into the songs. I’ve always looked up to songwriters who can take a specific concept and make it relatable. So if a specific kind of event happened in their lives-- like Tom Petty, Neil Young or even Ryan Adams-- they’re so good at taking something very personal and making it broad and relatable. So I tried to, with this album, share some of my experiences whereas in the past I feel like I’ve maybe left things too broad and maybe too open to interpretation. I don’t know, you heard the songs. There’s stuff that I think is just more straight forward and more just storytelling than there has been in the past. So that’s something I definitely tried to really convey.

ATP: Was it hard to make yourself vulnerable, I guess, in writing those songs, knowing that there are so many people that hear them?

John: You know what, I think that the hardest part for me was knowing that there’s a chance that the people I wrote the songs about will hear them and and realize that they’re about them. I don’t like being mean. [Laughs] And I don’t want people to have hurt feelings, but like I said before, a lot of what I said and what I’m saying is stuff that I don’t have the audacity or the gusto to say to their faces. I guess that’s what makes it easy. I’m hiding behind a guitar, or a piano, or pen and paper.

ATP: I wouldn’t say it’s hiding, per se. At least they do get a song about them, there’s a bright side, right?

John: Yeah, and if they ask, I’ll say it’s about somebody else.

ATP: Just be like, “No! No, it’s not about you! That’s just coincidence!”

John: Exactly!

ATP: Now, you guys have released two songs already, ‘Happy’ and ‘Love & Drugs.’ How has the fan response been to them?

John It’s kind of hard to, especially for me, my roommates that I live with call me “Technology Dad” because I don’t really keep up. I don’t have the Twitter app or anything like that, and I probably should, but I just don’t care enough. And that sounds so elitist and pretentious to say, but that’s not to say that I’m not on like, YouTube and reading the comments and stuff like that. But it’s just really hard, for me personally, to gauge how people are feeling when we’re not out on the road. I feel like it’s really easy to communicate to others how you’re truly feeling. It’s like the hardest thing to do is convey emotions through a text message or a YouTube comment. Most of the YouTube comments start out nice and then they end up racist and religion bashing anyways. But I think that it’s going well. Like I said, it’s one of those things that, come June 4th, I’ll have a better indication of how people feel about it, and really be able to talk to people about it.

ATP: So are you excited to finally get it out and be able to share it with fans?

John: I really am! Because I’ve been sitting on this fucking thing for like a couple months now and I want to give it to all my friends and give it to people because I am just so excited about it, but it’s just one of those things. I don’t know, it’s like 15 days or something like that, which isn’t too long, but yeah, I’m excited to have people hear it and excited to hear what they have to say.

ATP: And I know usually bands write more songs than they put on the album, so did you guys have a large amount, and can we expect to hear any as B-sides?

John: We had like, two days, of extra time, so we recorded like a silly punk thing, but yeah, we have a couple songs that didn’t make the album. I think there were two or three that we tracked, but for this kind of effort, we felt like it was necessary to have just a clear idea of what we were going in with and just expend all of our energy on those songs. So we didn’t have 27, or whatever we had last time around, but there are a bunch of songs that we didn’t even take to Nashville with us. It’s one of those things that we probably can record those songs on our own at some point, and we do have a couple B-sides that we recorded with Brendan, so at some point down the road I would imagine those would come out. And then who knows. We could do some acoustic EP or something like that down the road, but for now it’ll probably just be the two B-sides that come out a couple months after the record.

ATP: Your headlining tour tour starts around the same time as the album is released. So do you guys have any big plans for it, or is it just going to be an intimate sort of thing?

John: Yeah, yeah, the venues vary in size. I think, for us, we have a free show in Arizona that we’re playing the day the record comes out, so that’ll be like the big hurrah with our families and all of our friends there. Then we drive to Los Angeles the next day and have a bunch of press to do, so I’m sure it’ll be a short-lived celebration. Then we’ll get to work and start having fun on the road and telling people about the new stuff.

Forever Halloween is out June 5th via 8123.

Words by Victoria Patneaude.