Sometimes, that major label record deal every band dreams of isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Just ask The Maine. The Tempe, AZ, pop-punk darlings made their splash into the scene with their 2008 full-length debut Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, which drew attention from fans and label executives alike. Before long, the band was signed with Warner Bros. Records and found themselves in the studio with hit-maker Howard Benson and a host of co-writers, creating what would become their 2010 breakout Black & White. While the decidedly more pop-oriented outing expanded their listening base, landed the band near the top of the Billboard charts upon its release, and helped secure slots on some high profile tours, The Maine felt that their next project called for a little more creativity and authenticity.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the band approached Warner Bros. last year with their initial collection of self-written and self-produced songs, the label brushed them off. To step outside of the mainstream formula for success in today’s music world is supposedly a death wish. But where many bands would have caved to the desires of major label know-it-alls, The Maine did the unthinkable—they wrote, produced, and released their own songs. The result is Pioneer, an ambitious and unexpected collection of tracks from a band determined to expand its sonic boundaries and change everything you thought you knew about them.
No longer bound to the chains of the typical pop-rock recipe, Pioneer draws influence from classic rock, 90s alt-rock, and even country. A diverse yet decidedly cohesive collection of tracks, the album showcases growth and maturation in the most sincere ways as vocalist John O’Callaghan appears to have hit his stride as a songwriter. O’Callaghan recently took a break from the band’s tour of the UK to chat with PopMatters about the creation of Pioneer, major label politics, and the future of The Maine.
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How did your recent tour in the UK go? What’s the response been like to your new songs?
The tour has been rather beneficial. We’ve been fortunate enough to play for large [numbers] of new listeners and hopefully have won some of them over. The response overall has been very positive, but we’re more focused on playing well together and putting forth a high-energy effort each new day.
It’s been noted widely at this point about the maturation of your sound on Pioneer. Was there a moment or a specific event that you can recall that pushed the band in the direction you took with the new record, or was it more of a gradual shift?
We had a supremely beneficial talk with a former employee from Warner Bros. Records, and I believe that was the birthplace of our newfound mentality. More importantly, we feel as though we must unify ourselves as a band in order to create what it is we want to sound like.
While a lot of bands fight to get their shot with a major label, you guys have taken a huge risk in going against Warner Bros.’ wishes in releasing this album independently. Was there ever a point where you second guessed the decision or considered shelving the project?
Until we fully committed ourselves to the project and let go of all inhibitions, we were stuck second guessing each decision we were making. I feel as though that’s where the sincerity of Pioneer comes from. From how we actually feel and felt and not some facade painted by people who know nothing about creativity or originality.
In a recent interview with Alternative Press, you referenced fights “ever step of the way” with the label during the process of recording and releasing this album. Was there any specific point that pushed you guys over the edge or somewhat solidified your desire to do Pioneer your way?
After taking the first nine songs to the label and being rejected, the decision was an easy one to make seeing as what we were creating wasn’t aligning with the vision of the people in charge of putting material out.
As opposed to 2010’s Black & White, you handled the lyrical duties on this album yourself as opposed to working with co-writers. Some of the lyrics on the album touch on ideas like letting go or refusing to fall in line. Even the title of the album sends a message of forging your own path. How much of that was related to the situation surrounding the creation of the album and where did you find the most inspiration lyrically?
To be honest, the lyrical content and the album itself are in no way in spite of anyone. It wasn’t so much of an epiphany I had, but more so a wall I broke down inside of myself that allowed me to take things to places I hadn’t yet. I refused to settle for mediocrity. In no way am I saying I wrote ground-breaking shit, but I set goals this time around and felt like I accomplished something personally on this album.
Having stepped out of what had traditionally been your comfort zone with this release, where did the band draw influence while writing Pioneer and how natural was it to capture that?
We drew influence from many different places, but the reoccurring theme we found in all of the influences we had was that the mood is the most imperative part of songs. When I say that, I mean creating and setting a mood in a song. When we felt happy we created a whimsical sound, and sadness called for eerie and somber sounds. Moods. That’s a funny word.
The Maine has been a band that’s had enough diversity to tour with someone like Augustana but also be a part of something like Warped Tour. Where do you see your band fitting in now when it comes to touring?
I’m not so sure. We’ve had the pleasure of toying with both worlds, but honestly we just want to play. There is a line we will draw now, but we also understand where our roots lie and what we’ve done in the past. We have a clear idea of whom we’d like to tour with, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen time and time again.
Have you noticed a change or addition to your audience since the release of your new album or do you feel as though your longtime fans have been maturing and growing with you?
We had a special time being able to grow with a lot of the devout fans that come to see us tour after tour, but there have definitely been more unfamiliar faces in our crowds as of late. That is very fulfilling on both ends of the spectrum. We’re attempting to create a culture around our band and to see both old and new faces means we’re continuing to move forward with that attitude.
You recently released a B-side from Pioneer for free download and I heard that there was something like 18 songs in all recorded and finished during the recording process. Will any of the rest of those songs see the light of day?
I sure hope so. We may mine some of the songs for parts we felt good about, but we hope to be able to release some of the others down the road for a deluxe edition or something along those lines.
The Maine has consistently pumped out new music: you’ve had releases in one form or another at least once a year since the band’s inception. Have you already begun writing new material or are you taking a break to focus on touring Pioneer?
I’m constantly writing. Idle hands and minds become dull and tired if they’re not consistently trying to get better. That being said, we are quite proud of what we have created in Pioneer and that will remain the focus until the time feels right to head back in to the studio.
Finally, it seems important to you not to be just another “scene” band that doesn’t leave much of a lasting impact. What’s your ultimate desire for The Maine and how do you intend to achieve that in the years to come?
We’ve been a band for five years now, which is so fucked in a great way. Another five sounds good to me, and if we accomplish that then you ask me the same question then.
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