Just last week, The Maine announced that they would be releasing their new album, XOXO: From Love and Anxiety In Real Time on July 9th through a partnership between Photo Finish Records and the band’s own label, 8123 Records. XOXO will mark the band’s sixth full-length studio album released as an independent band, something that goes all the way back to 2011’s Pioneer.

The Maine’s journey to independence is one that is a cautionary tale as much as it is an inspiring one to aspiring artists everywhere. To give you the full-picture of this, take yourself back to the year 2008. Pop-punk as we knew it had largely disappeared from the radio, with the aptly titled “neon pop-punk” era having it’s ever-so-brief time in the spotlight. This had bands like All Time Low, Forever the Sickest Kids, We the Kings, Mayday Parade, and of course The Maine front and center with music that was more pop than punk and decked out in bright, neon colored t-shirts.

It was a fun time for music, as there was hope that this type of music could crossover into the mainstream world after “Dear Maria, Count Me In,” “Check Yes, Juliet,” and even “Whoa Oh! (Me vs. Everyone)” all kinda sorta did. But, such a continued breakthrough into the mainstream never quite materialized. Forever the Sickest Kids largely faded away after 2011, We the Kings’ popularity dwindled, while Mayday Parade carved out a livable and sustainable career for themselves. All Time Low attempted a jump to the major label world with 2011’s Dirty Work, only to not hit their expectations and quickly return to Hopeless Records and quickly reverse course.

Much like All Time Low’s jump to Interscope Records, The Maine attempted a similar journey when they signed to Warner Bros’ Records and released Black & White in 2010. The record, for the band, was a stark contrast from 2008’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop — they kept their pop-side and catchy hooks, but traded in their little punk elements for country. They waste no time letting fans know this is the direction of Black & White, as the Tom Petty-sounding “Don’t Stop Now” kicks off the record and quickly introduces a new version of The Maine. To this day, this specific writer here considers “Don’t Stop Now” their best album opener and one of their best songs overall.

The rest of the record follows suit, as you may expect. “Right Girl” could have carved out a nice spot for itself on the radio, “Growing Up” and “Every Road” may be the most country-sounding songs on the record — and with a little more twang behind John O’Callaghan’s voice, both could have been spun regularly on CMT. “Inside of You” served as Black & White‘s lead single, and was the perfect gap between Can’t Stop Won’t Stop and Black & White. “Color” found The Maine doing their best 90’s alt-rock/Goo Goo Dolls impersonation — and they absolutely crushed it.

Don’t get it twisted, Black & White is a great record. But, like I said, their journey to independence is a cautionary tale and Black & White truly almost de-railed their career. The story behind the record has everything you normally hear from bands when they talk about their jump to a major record label, most of which can be traced back to broken promises and interference from the label. Warner Bros forced them to do co-writes, got heavily involved in the process, and of course did not follow through on the promised radio campaign to get The Maine in front of a larger audience.

So for Pioneer, The Maine decided to do things on their own terms. They wrote the record themselves and didn’t tell Warner Bros until it was done, and when they took it to the label, they essentially outright rejected it and said it wasn’t good enough. Clearly The Maine (rightly) disagreed and that set in motion what was to come. It was a long fight to get Pioneer released, and after 8 months of going back and forth trying to get off Warner Bros, they finally got their wish of being released.

Following their release from Warner Bros Records, rather than shop the record around and join another label, The Maine decided to put this one out themselves and see what they can do with it. So, on December 6th, 2011 Pioneer was released via their very own Action Theory Records. The record was later re-released in September of 2012 as Pioneer and the Good Love via Rude Records, containing 6 additional bonus tracks.

Without a major label backing, or any label at all, Pioneer debuted at #90 on the Billboard 200, a drop-off from Black & White’s #16 debut — but for The Maine, it was never about chart success. They believed wholeheartedly in Pioneer, and wanted their fans to hear what they had crafted. No co-writes. No label interference. No songs written for the radio. Just the five guys in the band writing tunes that they felt were their best to-date. To this day, The Maine still operates this way — writing songs that they feel are their best, and whatever happens, happens.

Stylistically speaking, Pioneer finds The Maine once again pivoting and showing off their chops as songwriters. Once again, they shed the skin of their previous record: gone are the country vibes, but rather than bring back their pop-rock/punk sound from Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, The Maine dove heavily into their rock influences and introduced a whole new side of themselves to the world.

If you would have told me in 2008 that The Maine would use that guitar tone in “My Heroine” or put out a song like “Thinking of You,” I wouldn’t have believed either of those statements. The truth of the matter is, while many of their peers were trying to recapture the sound that broke them through — The Maine wanted none of that. They never wanted to rest on their laurels, or be anything that resembles a nostalgia act. This desire to grow and evolve can be seen even more on their next release, 2013’s Forever Halloween, but perhaps that’s a different article for a different day.

Up until the release of 2017’s Lovely Little Lonely, I would have told you that Pioneer is my favorite record from The Maine. There’s many reasons for this, but perhaps most importantly is because you can feel what this record meant to them. This isn’t to say that each record since has gotten anything less than their best at all, because never has there been a record where it felt like they didn’t pour their heart and soul into it. But, The Maine knew that Pioneer was essentially make or break for their career. Hell, they tossed around the idea of breaking up if Warner Bros didn’t let them out of their contract. There’s that sense of urgency in Pioneer, and it’s palpable from start-to-finish.

Where I think this all comes crashing in at once, in a wave of emotions is on track #11: “Like We Did (Windows Down).” I wish I could explain this with words, but instead I urge you to just press play on the music video above and listen to it with that mindset. See if you can hear it, because I’m betting you can. There have been hundreds of songs written by bands about nostalgia and wanting their youth back, for whatever reason. But, for The Maine, “Like We Did” is not just another song about nostalgia and wanting an ex-girlfriend or high school friends back. Rather, it’s almost a song about their love for music.

They’ve said since that Warner Bros took away their love for music when it came to the making of Black & White. This was a selling point in the letter they wrote to Warner to get out of their contract. This was a reason they considered calling it quits as The Maine if they did not get out of their contract. The love had been sucked out of them, for a variety of reasons. “Like We Did” has that urgency to it; if Pioneer was make or break, then this song was everything that represented that. That feeling of “Tell me how to feel / Like we did when we were young” and in the second verse, the lyrics of “Take me to the time / When things were fine, it’s all broken now / But always keep in mind, things are fine / And we’ll figure it out” represent their desire to chase that feeling back. That feeling of love and joy for music.

I would sell you that “Like We Did” is the perfect representation of The Maine, right there with “Black Butterflies and Deja Vu.” But Pioneer also contains the absolute heater that is “Misery,” which deserves more love and attention from fans. “Jenny” is the most Black & White sounding song on Pioneer, and showed that they could still write twangy-country songs on their own terms. The transition from “While Listening to Rock & Roll…’ to “Waiting for My Sun to Shine” is still one of the most stellar things The Maine have done and I would pay a lot of money to hear that live. No, seriously. I would. Someone tell twitter user @patmaine this.

So, how does all of this relate to The Maine today? Because The Maine today does not exist without Pioneer. It became a record that fans latched onto rather quickly, probably recognizing the revitalized sincerity in the songs. The effort, blood, sweat, and tears that went into this release. Now, in hindsight at least, knowing how hard they fought to get this record out there for everyone to hear.

Pioneer proved to The Maine that they could do this whole music thing as an independent band, and they’ve yet to look back since. 2013’s Forever Halloween found the band pushing their sound to a more indie-leaning direction. 2015’s American Candy found the band revisiting their pop-rock side, but with a modern flair that made it standout on it’s own, and so forth with Lovely Little Lonely and 2019’s You Are OK.

Not only has The Maine maintained their independence, they’ve managed to only get more popular with each release while doing things on their own terms the whole time. There likely is no 8123 Fest if the band had returned to a label — major or otherwise — and there’s certainly no free tour like they did in 2015. There’s no Pillar. And free livestreams? Yeah, good luck getting a label to go for it. There are no moments like this, without Pioneer and the way it was welcomed with open arms by what would later get identified as the 8123 family — which is everyone who has ever pressed play on a Maine song.

As we look forward to the next era of The Maine, the upcoming XOXO album is set to serve fans another reminder that these five guys are doing it all on their own terms. For themselves and for their fans — no one else. Critical and commercial success is never the goal, rather the goal is to continue to maintain and grow the 8123 community with new tunes that capture each respective moment in time.

At the end of the day, the biggest and perhaps most important thing that Pioneer proved is this: for as long as you are there for The Maine, The Maine will be there for you.