There’s something wonderful about Arizona in the winter time. Sure, it can be blistering hot in the summer time (here’s an article from two years featuring a compilation of things melting and more), but for this midwestern resident, Arizona’s 60 degrees in January feels like a perfect vacation weather. This past January, The Maine hosted their second-ever 8123 Fest, returning after a year off in 2018. When it was announced, they teased it would boast a bigger lineup — and it did not disappoint.
Much like it’s first installment, the festival was held in Phoenix, Arizona over the course of 3 days — January 18th through 20th — with the band doing a warm-up show on Friday, holding the actual festival portion on Saturday and a large meet and greet with their fans on Sunday. However, unlike in 2017 when The Maine performed their 2011 release Pioneer in full at their warm-up show, the band elected to do a b-sides request show. On December 18th, they had sent those who purchased tickets a list of potential songs to be played and asked for them to vote. ”
“At this point, just having so many albums, it makes it tough to curate a setlist,” The Maine frontman John O’Callaghan tells me on January 19th, about 5 hours before their set. We’re discussing their warm-up show from the night prior, and how it was also a way of helping them get back into he mindset of some of these older songs. He explains that this helped prepare them for playing Can’t Stop Won’t Stop in full later, as keeping true to the record and not changing its sound to fit what they currently sound like. Wrapping up his thoughts on the request show, O’Callaghan shares, “What’s cool is like, you know, people voted on all of those songs. So to have a song, from like b-sides of a record that wasn’t by any means super popular, but to have a song like ‘Bliss’ go off the way it did, that’s super heavy. That’s super sick.”
Before we really dive into our discussion though, we take a moment to soak it all in. “You can just sort of see the layout — well obviously this is audio so you can’t see it but,” O’Callaghan pauses for just a second, collecting his thoughts on how 8123 Fest has improved from year one to year two. “I don’t know, this just feels way more legitimate this time. It’s just crazy. It’s so hard to put it into words, and articulate how neat it is for us. We’ve seen so many different people from so many different places. Seeing our friends and having people travel in is just unreal,” he expresses. He finishes his thoughts with highlighting the improved location, and being tucked in the middle of downtown Phoenix, summarizing it as “a big block party.”
In fact, it’s that improved location that O’Callaghan really hones in on being the biggest improvement. “I think that the big thing we learned is that there were so many people that were willing to travel. I forget what the breakdown was, but it was probably 80/20 — 20% were from Arizona, and the rest were from around the world,” he explains in regards to the first 8123 Fest. Along with the bigger space, came the idea of wanting to bring in bigger bands as more of an incentive for fans to make the journey out to Phoenix — and with bands like Mayday Parade, Real Friends, and We the Kings, that’s just what they did.
The 80/20 number was astonishing at first, until I remembered that I had flown essentially cross-country myself, and that I personally knew friends that had flown from Massachusetts, Illinois, and Nebraska. I actually share with O’Callaghan that, for their Friday night show, I had spoke with a security guard who mentioned while checking ID’s, he had counted up to 30 different states (just from their own firsthand experience), and a few different countries. “I think that’s a testament to what the people have sort of built together. They’ve built their own community, their own circle of friendships, and just to kind of be able to facilitate that is like, pretty insane. Not to mention, to be able to share our home state, and where we’re from — just to see the logos up there (referencing the 8123 side banners on the main stage) is pretty unreal,” he shares explaining the fans ability to connect with one another.
While I express my admiration for the band for them having a billboard up in downtown Phoenix promoting their new album, You Are Ok (due out March 29th), O’Callaghan returns to his amazement with seeing the numbers 8-1-2-3 in big banners on the festival grounds. “It’s a trip. I was just standing with my homies, it was just us on a parking garage and thats where the numbers came from, and to see them up like that, to see them with all of these people surrounding them, is pretty unique and pretty special.”
Since we first got together about 5 hours before their set on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but ask O’Callaghan what song he was most excited to play live. “You Left Me” was his answer, and albeit a little surprising, he explains that “It was heavily electronic when we wrote it, and we’ve only do it one other time. We’ve played it once, and it was an acoustic version of it.”
When I interviewed guitarist Kennedy Brock back in April of 2018, I brought up the fact that their debut album, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, turned 10 years old that year, he mentioned they had “ideas”” on what they wanted to do to celebrate this, but stated they didn’t want to do an anniversary tour like everyone else. “We just felt like we’d be dating ourselves if we played Can’t Stop for a full tour,” O’Callaghan shares with me, reiterating Brock’s original point to me. “We’re always so focused on what’s going on right now and what’s to come, so that will sort of manifest from whatever most recently we’ve put out, that it was just like — it just made sense for it to be a one time thing and in our hometown, for 8123 Fest, it just sort of felt really right.”
Our conversation ultimately moves past 8123 Fest itself, and more onto their new album, You Are Ok, which was announced 2 days before their warm-up show kicked off their weekend. We start with discussing the debut single, “Numb Without You,” which was dropped with the album announcement. “That song really showcases some of the risks that we took on [You Are Ok]. Obviously, the strings are the most notable difference from anything we’ve ever done. So, it’s like — it’s not completely representative of the album, but I’d say more of the mentality we took into the album, being ambitious and not being subtle,” O’Callaghan begins, “It just felt like the right choice to go with. I’m just really excited for people — I mean, that song was crazy last night, it’s been out for 48 hours. I’m excited for people to hear the whole record, and tell us how they feel.”
The title, You Are Ok, is simple yet uplifting. Vague, yet inspiring and able to be used as a friendly reminder at any point in which you may need the reassurance. I tried to get O’Callaghan to elaborate a little bit on where this title came from and why they picked it, but he explained his desire to want to give fans the opportunity to listen to the record first, on their own, and put their own meaning to it. However, he did eventually express that “I think for me, it just, it’s sort of been a mantra. It’s really just — I said it on the last record, but I think our music is whatever people need it to be. ‘Cause I think that’s what all music is. If you’re looking to just roll the windows down and zone out, there’s something for you. If you’re looking to get deep and introspective, then there’s something there for you, too.” While he doesn’t entirely divulge to me what the message was that he wanted to convey, he does share that at some point he will dive more into it, before finalizing his current thought, “It’s sort of a coming-of-age thing, coming into your own and trying to embrace whoever it is that you think you are.”
You Are Ok was recorded this past October with Matt Squire, who first worked with the band back on Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. It was a more straightforward and scheduled approach to working on an album, compared to 2017’s Lovely Little Lonely which was recorded with Colby Wedgeworth in Gualala, California. This was executed by a strict schedule of getting in at the same time every day, and having that all mapped out, without any of the outside distractions they had in Gualala. “To be able to see the water right there, and sort of step out and clear your mind, those are like good distractions,” O’Callaghan begins to share. “But we really didn’t have that, it was like go and then record, then go home, and do it all over again the next day. It was definitely different, but I think that’s the goal every time out to kind of mix it up.”
At the time of our discussion at 8123 Fest — and even at this current posting date — “Numb Without You” is the only song to be released from You Are Ok. O’Callaghan has shared that The Maine took many chances on this record, and I wanted to discuss his personal favorites that he is excited for fans to hear. “I’d say the last song on the album (‘Flowers on the Grave’) is like a real big journey, but I would say I’m most excited for them to put it on and hear the first song (‘Slip the Noose’),” he states. He highlights this opening track as one that is different, and sets up the album well for the twists, turns, and scene changes that come along the way. But, when I asked if fans would hear this opening track before You Are Ok is released, O’Callaghan explained his hesitation, “I was really on the fence, because I felt like it could be one that people would enjoy, but I felt like it was too special to give it away before [the listener] put the record on for the first time.”
Our time together is not forever, of course, and O’Callaghan and I part ways. I’ve previously interviewed O’Callaghan and really all of The Maine on previous platforms, and one thing has always stood out: their genuine admiration and appreciation of the people that pay to see them. This has been seen in a number of ways over the years: free tours to free meet and greets after every show, even to putting together their own 8123 management company which has evolved into its own beast, one that now even has spawned off into an 8123 Fest that just completed it’s second year, and looks to return for a third iteration.
There’s a lot to be said for an independent band that has accomplished all of those aforementioned things, and through all of that their main concern is their fans. Where they have grown, you have grown. Where they have succeeded, it’s because you, the fan, put them in a position to succeed. O’Callaghan and The Maine truly feel indebted to those who have supported them, and in their own words from a Medium article they published yesterday, “To us, success will always be our relationship with our fans. Seeing them grow as individuals, creating memories that we can all share, and just being good people that actually care about other humans. We do not aspire to be ‘rock stars’ and for all we care, we don’t even need to be a part of the music industry as it sits. We just want to welcome people that need a place to go where they can feel OK, hopefully, while connecting to songs we write, and through all of that, maybe make life slightly more enjoyable.”
It all started with four numbers on a garage in Arizona, culminating into a simple lyric of “8123 means everything to me” (taken from “We All Roll Along”), and has now blossomed into something even bigger. Through it all, you are OK. The Maine want you to know you’re all in this together, and the second year of 8123 Fest saw 5,000 folks from around the world fly in to be together to prove that point. You Are Ok. You always will be, with 8123.
‘You Are Ok’ will be out on March 29th. The album is available for pre-order here, and below you can find the album artwork and track-listing:
You Are Ok artwork:
You Are Ok track-listing:
- Slip The Noose
- My Best Habit
- Numb Without You
- I Feel All Over
- Heaven, We’re Already Here
- Tears Won’t Cry (Shinju)
- One Sunset
- Broken Parts
- Flowers On The Grave