Music

Don't Give Up on "Us": An Interview with the Maine

Kiel Hauck

They had one of the most public major-label blowouts in recent memory, but the journey from being a songwriter-assisted pop-punk act to a fiercely independent group unafraid to throw a country song into their latest disc is a wild ride, and the Maine tell PopMatters all about it...

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.

* * *

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.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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