Tomorrow is a new day and the beginning of a new era for everyone’s favorite Arizona emo group The Maine. After all, it’s been almost four months since they released “Sticky” and announced their new album (out tomorrow, July 9th via 8123/Photo Finish Records), XOXO: From Love and Anxiety In Real Time.
In addition to “Sticky,” The Maine have released “April 7th,” “Lips,” and “Pretender” in advance to get fans excited and it’s been as exciting as ever to be a fan of the band. Each single has provided a different look into XOXO and what the band has put together, which is perhaps their most poppy-record to date. But it should come as no surprise, as The Maine have never shied away from doing whatever the want and simply never looking back.
Last week, I got the chance to catch up with John O’Callaghan and Pat Kirch about XOXO and talked about everything you need to know about the record: the most ambitious song on XOXO, what song “Love In Real Time” is an extension of, why they teamed up with Photo Finish Records now, and the overall theme behind the record itself. Read below, and make sure you head here to pre-save/order the record before its release tomorrow.
You guys have stayed relatively busy, at least as busy as possible during the pandemic. John, you did the John the Ghost record. And for the Maine, you guys did as many on-brand extra things as possible with live streams, including a drunk one, and the concert in a van. How important was it for you guys to still do these things?
John: Obviously, it’s just — it was an extreme balance of like, picking our spots. You want to still let everybody know that you’re still a thing, you’re still a band, without overdoing it. Every livestream in particular that we did, we wanted to make sure that it was different enough every time. We didn’t want to re-create the same livestream experience that people were having in their bedrooms or living rooms or wherever.
It was really important for us to kind of remind ourselves, too, that we were still a band and the idea that we’re so lucky and so fortunate to till be doing it in such a tumultuous time for the world. So, it was a good balance of picking our spots and really putting effort into everything we were releasing.
Now that we have something of concrete — our new record — it feels nice to at least be seeing the horizon line. It doesn’t look as hazy anymore.
Which one did you enjoy most?
Pat: I would say the first livestream that we did, which was the end of the You Are OK era. That one was cool. It was the first one that we did, seeing what that experience was going to be like and playing that album in full for the first time. And to see the significance of that era.
John: For me it was the kick off announce for XOXO. Because the environment that we played was a venue out here called Celebrity Theater, which I had seen a concert probably when I was 15/16. What’s special about it is it’s on a circle stage that spins. It was a really neat experience, really historical, a lot of stories of like Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, artists like that that had graced the stage. For us, it was — I don’t know, it was kind of like manufacturing that feeling of excitement for ourselves. Even though we can’t be with you in person, we have this huge announcement of new stuff on the way. I’m feeling that way again now that we’re single digits away from the album coming out.
It was a different way to promote the new record, which we’re gonna talk a lot about here. But with XOXO, you guys teamed up with Photo Finish Records. How did that partnership come together and what made now the right time to — not sign to a label again, but work with one in this capacity?
Pat: I think the fact that we know how we want do things now independently and how we want to release records, that we feel like we have that down. It was the idea that none of that has to change. What we do for our band and our fans is the exact same as it has been since we’ve been independent for over a decade now.
Then there’s this little extra piece on top of things that could be potential opportunities, like having a song on the radio where they can help out with. Its this great partnership where they leave us alone with what we do well, which is a big percentage of what people see and how the album is presented, then there’s this extra team to help with the things that we haven’t ever had before.
John: I will say the unique part, too, is that we can wholeheartedly say this wouldn’t have worked with any other label. This works because we know and have worked with Mike and Matt from Photo Finish since the inception of our band. They were and still are very much in tune with the way we operate and they believe that we have our band’s best interest at heart. They know that we have proven release and create on our own, they’re just there to facilitate these extra things that we haven’t been able to do in the past.
It’s obviously been working — Pat you mentioned looking for help on the radio, I think “Sticky” is top 20 on alternative radio now.
Pat: Yeah, it’s insane. It’s one of these things that from the first album, every time it’s kind of this like goal that over time we just accepted probably wouldn’t happen for us. That’s just not the band we are. Then we have this song and all of the sudden its starting to work. It’s kind of one of those things that it really is this extra icing on top, because it’s something we’ve grown used to not having. So we’re continuing to operate as if it isn’t happening, then we have this extra fun thing going on.
John: And to see, you know, our band’s name amongst the names on the list in the top 20 is pretty special. It makes us feel like something really important is happening when you see Imagine Dragons, Twenty One Pilots, Kings of Leon, Weezer, and bands like that, where you’re like “Oh, we’re being essentially thought about in a similar realm.” It’s really exciting.
Pat: One of the coolest things is seeing the fans be proud of that. Every day we’re getting messages upon messages of people sending pictures or videos of them hearing the song in the car on the radio. They’re just so excited — we’ve built this community where the fans understand they’re a big part of why we continue to make albums, they’re the reason why we do the things we do. I think it feels just as exciting for them as it does for us, and that just comes along with what we’ve built.
I think if this would’ve happened on our second album or first album, there would have been this feeling of “Oh, this little band that I love is becoming this thing that isn’t mine anymore.” Now it’s the opposite feeling of, “I’ve been telling you people about this band that I love” and they’re excited that other people are hearing it.
I wanna talk about some of the tracks here, because you know, I’ve had the record for a while now and haven’t been able to really put it down. “Sticky” was the first single, and it’s almost criminal how good that chorus is. It opens the album, how obvious was it that it would also be the first single?
Pat: I think we knew it pretty instantly.
John: It’s the first song that we wrote for the album and after writing it — we’ve written hundreds of songs at this point — it’s the only song that I’ve ever almost had an epiphany over, or just had that “ah ha” moment. Like we might have accidentally written an instantaneous song, something that feels very gratifying. What’s so special to me about it is that it hasn’t been played out, like I can still hear it and I’m still enjoying it.
It still feels just as special as the day that we wrote it. It was almost like a sort of catch 22, because we felt so great about this song, and then it was like “Well shit, can we keep beating that out?” But it was also like, we already have this thing, we already filled this void. So it added pressure but also took a lot of pressure off.
For me, what’s really exciting is that it being the first song on the album, I think, when people play this thing in full, there’s new territory to discover along the way. Hopefully people will find a lot of depth to this record and enjoy it from start to finish.
It doesn’t take long for it to dive into new territory. You’ve got the singles kind of spread out across the record, but “Love In Real Time” comes pretty early. It’s also I think your shortest song released yet right? It’s very indie/poppy. Tell me a bit about that song and what that song means to you.
John: “Love In Real Time” actually odd enough, I had initially written it as a part of “Lips.” It was an extension of that though, and then after the record sort of evolved, it was clear that it was going to be more impactful for it to be it’s own entity, and sort of the first time that the theme of the album is introduced.
I think that this record in it’s entirety — and that’s kind of a big thing, we don’t make records just for one song. Like “Oh, Sticky is done, and so now we’re just gonna write songs and that’s it.” It’s very intentional and everything on this record is very intentional and meant to be a journey. It’s meant to be devoured in its entirety and not just piece by piece.
Obviously we know the climate of how people listen, but we also know that there’s a large percentage of people who dig what we do that enjoy the full body of work. So “Love In Real Time” is just a piece of the bigger picture.
Well tell me about the theme, like what do you want people to be able to take away from it?
John: I think this one is probably more ambiguous than [anything] that we’ve done in the past, especially coming off of You Are OK, which was very deliberate and very overtly about being sort of manic in your head and coming to terms with that being okay.
This record is more personal on my level but hopefully what people get out of it themselves is what they need about it. I’ve said that about a couple records, but this one — you know I already got what I needed out of it. Now it’s for them to decide their own meanings to the record. This one is less of a hand-hold, less of a hey come this way, more about them discovering what it means to them along the way.
I wanted to also ask about “High Forever” – which I almost think is the most surprising song on the record. I think a lot of this record is a generally new sound, but this one stuck out to me immediately in a “Oh, that’s fun” kind of way.
Pat: Yeah, I think that was pretty intentional. I think this kind of happens a lot where we’ll have those ideas for songs or just a sound or part, and sometimes we just — we won’t complete the song. It’s this kind of odd ball part, or we’ll change it to make it fit in more. Where this one, it was — it already has a vibe, let’s just go with that 100% and don’t attempt to make it fit, just make it be what it is supposed to be.
John: I think that’s sort of a snapshot of our mindset for the entire record, and it sounds kind of corny but it was like, we tried to be a bit more fearless on this record. We tried to be a bit more ambitious in the idea, like Pat’s saying, normally a song like “Lips” or “Dirty Pretty Beautiful” could be, at least in our heads, we can’t travel down that avenue because its far too pop for our band. And I feel like you know, every song we just tried to give ourselves completely too. We let the ego go by the wayside and just dive in fully to what we were trying to accomplish and not be afraid of it.
I think, “High Forever,” it’s one of my favorite tracks because it doesn’t sound like us. But somehow when we start playing together, it doesn’t feel that off to me. And I’m interested to see how people like it, because it could be a complete split or it could be like ‘Yo we don’t do dig this at all,’ but I think it does carry a higher purpose to the album in its entirety.
And this track lyrically, people have been asking me the theme of love and anxiety — love isn’t always just sunshine. Love can be manic and chaotic as well, I think lyrically this one was the idea that it’s a love song, but it’s more about the sort of allegiance you pledge to someone when you are in love. Even through the fucked up moments of being together, I’ll follow you all the way down sort of thing.
I do love it. Like I said, it caught me off guard but I think it grows really quickly. You mentioned it doesn’t really sound like you guys, like it doesn’t I guess but then I think it does because what the fuck does The Maine sound like, right?
John: We ask ourselves that question all the time. That goes back, again, to the support that people have shown us. There’s not a lot of bands I can think of, and if I do think of the bands, they’re bands that we really look up to that can experiment. Bands like Wilco, or artists like Neil Young, where you can have a full psychedelic record from start to finish and then follow it up with something really folk-y. We’ve always tried to be not predictable, we’ve always tried to keep people on their toes. Sometimes it shows, and people didn’t really like this as much. But I feel like this record is a healthy balance of familiarity, but the right amount of innovation for our sound.
Pat: I think the worst thing we could do is have fans sit and listen through the album and not one time be like “Oh wow that’s different.” Then they would just be like that’s cool, I was expecting that. I think we’ve had a country song with “While Listening to Rock & Roll,” we’ve had “Ice Cave,” we’ve had “Am I Pretty,” and this is just another one of those turns, you know?
John: I think experimenting like that only helps. That’s the most exciting thing about releasing a record, we have all these biased ideas and all these biased opinions of “Oh, people are gonna love this!” Then you put it out and people say “Hey we don’t love that, we love this” and you go oh, we just figured out how far we can kind of explore and push the boundary. So once July 9th happens, we find out what the favorite song is and have to play it forever.
John, “April 7th” — come on man. That song is almost unfair to everyone who wants to write a love song to their wife. Watching the fans try to decipher what April 7th was, before settling on the Lovely Little Lonely release date, and then finally figuring it out. It was a fun time on Twitter, how much do you enjoy watching these theories play out?
Pat: It’s cool to know that people are interested enough to do that. It’s something where, you know, a lot of these things aren’t intentional by us to make people think into it. But they get excited.
John: It’s a testament to how involved they are, you know? The fact that people — like on “Lips” I can reference The Way We Talk, and people talk about it, that means people have been listening to us for 15 years now. That’s a testament to how deeply rooted they are in what we’re doing and how much they believe in it.
It speaks to a higher power, just the idea of how magical music is. That’s what we love about music in general, it’s ability to sort of leave things open ended. When I was growing up and discovering new music on my own, I’ll forever have those nostalgic ties about songs that could be about jumping in a swimming pool, but for me it’s more than that. I think that it’s unintentional, but it’s also — I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think a few people would notice a reference to The Way We Talk, or nods to our journey and the path that we’ve been on with these nice people.
You guys just released “Pretender,” which is certainly the most upbeat song on the record. I’m not sure if that’s the right word for it, but I look at it as it’s kind of that got that same pop-punky vibe to it that “Slip the Noose” had. But I think shows you guys can still kinda do whatever you want and it works so well. You’ve got that, a more acoustic driven song, and it all works out so well.
John: Yeah, upbeat is the right word and I also tie it with an energy. The idea of thinking how things would translate live, too. It would be boring as a listener and for us live if every song was mid-tempo. I think it makes a song like “If Your Light Goes Out” that much more impactful, not only to the record but to — again, like the idea that these records are meant to be journeys. They’re meant to be hopefully not tiresome, but it goes back to how we’ve approached being a band for the last 15 years.
That exploration and the idea that the leash is as long as listeners allow it to be, and fortunately for us the leash is pretty long. We definitely take some liberties and we take some chances. It doesn’t always work out but this one feels, in my opinion, really well balanced.
Yeah, I don’t think there’s a song I would particular worry about. You mentioned “High Forever” and that’s one I’m curious about, too. Other than that, I think all of them are going to go well. The one I’m really excited about is “Dirty Pretty Beautiful,” which you mentioned earlier. The chorus is very funk-y, and I think that’s one that I can imagine being on the radio in the summer. It’s very poppy but I think people will vibe with it.
John: We’ll see, that’s the goal. Those are the chances that we took and we stand behind them. If people don’t vibe with songs, that’s well and good, but we put it on there for a reason and we fully believe in them. It’s kind of like, we can’t lose because we really love all of these songs. There were 30 more [songs] we could have recorded that just weren’t up to our standards. I think you’re truly getting the best of what we’ve got to offer and all that we’ve learned.
It’s crazy to think that we produced this thing ourselves and, not on purpose, but we are even forgetting that we produced it ourselves. So many people are asking about the actual record and we’ve failed to lean into the idea that we did this on our own, we produced it and it sounds pretty fucking good.
Well let’s lean into it for a second then, how was that? Obviously very different, it was simply just you guys. You normally work with the same producers a few times, but this time you split off from that. How impactful was that to the overall record?
John: I think the big thing is that we didn’t have a ton of time to process the undertaking. We didn’t have a lot of time to be like “Are we sure we want to do this?” Because of the restrictions that were in place all of 2020, we knew that we would only have this finite amount of time to work together and we had to follow these guidelines and this stuff to think about that it was like “Well if we don’t do this, we’re not going to have a record.”
So I think if we would have had more time to think about it, we might have been scared or scared ourselves out of fully committing to doing it. Matt Keller, who ended up engineering the record, played a huge role in just facilitating the kind of just chaotic synapses that take us from “Hey let’s put a drum set between two doors and open the door as we’re recording” — just any odd ball ideas that we had, he was down for. He helped man the battle station.
I’d like to think this is a culmination of every experience we’ve had in the studio, and we took the parts that we loved and felt we were best at, and really tried to make the best of the situation.
The last song on the record, “Face Towards the Sun.” It’s clearly a heavy and important song for you, so I guess just tell me when you wrote it and how cathartic it was to record it and put it on the record. I can see people having emotional reactions to it because you lay it out so clearly and so well. How important was it to have this one close out the record?
John: Pat said it yesterday, but last songs are very deliberate on our records. We put a lot of pride into finishing a record in what we think is the most special way. I think with the artwork being the way it is and people asking about that, I feel like there will be a lot of answered questions when they hear the last song.
“Face Towards the Sun” is very representative of the peaks and valleys that are love, anxiety, and depression, just every feeling imaginable; acceptance and the process of letting go. This one is kind of, when you have this vision for what you’re doing and the idea that, for example, I came up with the album title but I had been kicking around numerous titles other than what it ended up being. I think when you give in to the process and give in creatively, you try to get out of your way, things naturally just fall into place. This is a great example of the record as a whole and just sort of a good send off for whatever is next to come.