With a deep-seated love of both Beach House and catchy synthpop, Porches is looking to make a big splash with Pool, his new album.
When PopMatters got Aaron Maine of Porches on the phone, he was gearing up to head out on tour. Merch was being stacked, flight cases bought. Maine and I had crossed paths before: the first time I met him was at a show in a tiny student suite at Yale University; an old band of mine was playing alongside Maine’s former horn-heavy, SUNY Purchase-spawned indie rock band, Space Ghost Cowboys. I remember being captivated by Maine’s stage presence as well as the palpable devoutness of his friends. Everyone seemed to know all the words.
There's something essential about a songwriter that constantly changes. Since Maine started putting out Porches records, his aesthetic lens has turned like a kaleidoscope: his early stuff was lo-fi & synthy; his 2013 effort Slow Dance in the Cosmos more guitar rock. His latest is a different kind of dance-y, but what’s on the other end is that same moving target that he’s always trying to pin down. On Pool, Maine pins it neatly to the ground. There's a noticeable crystallization of style, with melodies that surprise and delight, and a newly reduced bed for his typically poignant, observational lyrics. It's also his best on the ears.
Our conversation revolved mostly around the making of the the record, his writing process, inviting inspiration, tracking recordings, and working with Beach House and Grizzly Bear producer Chris Coady.
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So when did you finish Pool? All said and done
I think like five months before it came out.
So we’re talking like summertime?
Yeah, maybe closer to the fall, like four-and-a-half months or something. Which felt really good. To wait that long. Kind of just like, plenty of time to make the videos, and do all the necessary prep stuff. The release date has been pretty leisurely. So I’ve just been taking advantage of that time, writing and recording a ton for whatever's next. I’ve been kind of scared of how much time these tours will take up, starting, you know, next week. I got a lot a lot done in those four and a half months. I’m feeling pretty good and I'm excited to play the record out for a bit.
So, between writing, making records, and touring, what do you feel you most strongly identify with? The writing?
Yeah, it’s 100% the writing, and now, kind of, recording too.
Are they becoming closer to the same thing?
Definitely. But even before I was doing the majority of the recording, I really loved the studio environment a lot. If it were up to me I’d spend more time doing those than performing.
Why is that?
I don’t want to like, complain too much about it, but it’s a lot of time. It just takes a lot of time. You spend about five percent of the tour -- of your whatever, month and a half -- actually playing music, which is the exciting part! And the rest, it’s ... not grueling. It’s fun to sit in a car with your friends to a certain extent, but it’s also boring at times, and exhausting, going long distances, but I would never trade it for any other job. And I feel lucky I get to travel and stuff like that. But I feel best when I’m being productive and writing and getting stuff down and creating music and, on tour, I’m not really in the headspace where I can be that creative. I have a hard time writing. But it’s still fun.
Were there songs on this record that had a life as a live arrangement before, which they closely approximated how they became on the record?
Yeah, there were a few, particularly "Mood" and "Glow". I have really early demos of those songs from like two and a half years ago, and we have been playing those for a long time on the road and they’ve gone through so many different arrangements. So that, specifically with those two, that was kind of cool to spend time with a song that way, and then go back and take the parts that I really liked and we’d tried out live. The ones with live drums basically are the ones that we had been playing for a while.
Interesting, did you track any of that in a more live setting?
Yeah, actually, the one place that we recorded that wasn’t my apartment was in Binghamton, where we did Slow Dance in the Cosmos. We just went up for like six days or something and Greta and Cameron came up to the first three days, and we tracked those first three songs, with the drums and bass live and I was playing along on guitar, and then the next three days the guitar player came up and recorded some live guitars on those tracks. That was cool to take it out of the house. I really love this guy Hunter [Davidsohn's] drum sounds and I don’t know the first thing about recording drums. But all of the keyboards and vocals and drum machines and other guitars and basses were recorded and performed here. I kind of like the collage-y-ness, that it wasn’t all here. It was fun to step out and work with other people sometimes. [laughs]
You mentioning that glow was one of the live-r songs. I really like the sound of it, in particular the bass. It made me think: there’s so much absence of guitar on this record overall, I was wondering, were you playing guitar and cutting it out? Or did you record bass?
At some point it became pretty subtractive. There were guitars on the intro of "Glow", and I remember the moment when I decided to take them out, and how good and fresh the track felt. Like, "Oh god, it sounds so good and clear and stark, like in a chic way," I thought. Greta plays bass on that song, but it also has live bass on the verses and then synth bass, and the interludes are live bass, and then it switches back to the chorus. I’ve never done that in a song before. That was interesting, carving it out. So yeah, Greta plays on "Mood", "Glow", "Car" -- the live-ish ones -- and I played on whatever else. "Underwater" -- there’s not that much live bass. I think she played most of it. It's hard to remember exactly.
I was reading that you had a pretty big winnowing process when it came to the songs that ended up on the record. A lot of the songs do follow a certain theme, a lot of water, etc. Was discovering the themes important to you in terms of choosing that songs that made the cut?
No, not quite. There wasn’t any like really dramatic cuts. I kind of knew throughout the process which ones were my favorite songs and which ones I planned on including, shortly after making. I’d spend a couple days making a demo, and then I’d decide I wasn’t that into it. But the ones that made it were the ones that stuck with me through the process, ‘cause they felt like they were similar dramatically. Also, I think it’s just like that because I wrote them over a longer period of time, where I was in one place and had some sort of routine. So I think just naturally they were bound to be connected, and if I find like a theme that I like, or a thought, I tend to write a lot about it, and it makes its way into multiple songs. I kind of like revisiting themes or ideas from older songs, even like referencing other situations in songs on the same album, or from older stuff.
Do you write a lot by hand, or is it a lot of it writing through the demoing process?
For this, for a while I was waking up, getting coffee, and writing in a notebook for like an hour or two until I found something, like a couple lines of something that I thought were good, not trying to write a song just kind of going and letting it out, and then coming at my guitar and seeing what couple of lines felt good. Once I had the basic melody, I would write the song around those lines and use what I had written that day, or flip through my journal and find things that fit and use that stuff. So I tried to be pretty methodical about it, for the first time.
Really? As in, the songs in the past went underwent less editing, or careful placement of ideas?
I think I would just wait for something to happen. I felt like I needed this jolt of inspiration to write a song. But then I realized you don’t. The more you keep that channel open, the more likely it is, that something good is gonna come through it. Like, people go and paint every day. In every other practice, you write every day, you don’t just wait around. I didn’t have a job, and I really wanted to take advantage of that time, so I really enjoy doing it like that. Like a practice, almost.
That’s really interesting. I have conversations with songwriters a lot about this idea of chiseling away at a song versus it coming quickly, and that there’s no one right way, but, for a lot of albums, both can happen. Were there any songs that, while the channel was open, came particularly quick, or almost fully done in one sitting?
That’s so amazing when that actually happens. It’s hard to remember. I was talking about this with someone else, how quickly after something is done or out, you (or I) forget and have a hard time imagining what I was thinking or doing when I actually wrote the song. I’m sure there were one or two or three on the record that kind of I sat down and the lyrics came out and the melody was there. And some of them I’d take two weeks on a verse. Or on a note, finding what note to sing. I feel like the songs that do come out fast are for the most part really special. And there’s not as much success rate with ones that take longer. But that doesn’t mean they’re not gonna be good. I just think sometimes, it’s hard to tell when to quit when you’re hung up on a song -- if you’re wasting your time, or if you should keep going.
Cool. What was it like working with Chris Coady on the mix?
Oh it was great. So nice. I was pissed at first, because I thought he was in New York and I was like "Sick, I’m gonna work with this guy and it’s gonna be really easy," and I got attached to him. And after deciding to do it with him, I found out he was in L.A., and I was like, "What?" That’s fucking crazy, to go to L.A. alone for two weeks to mix just seems so over the top. But I just decided to go with it, ‘cause I really liked the idea of working with him.
At that point, was Domino funding the mixing?
Yeah, they paid for the mixing which was sick. The album was done pretty much being recorded -- there were no costs there -- so the recording advance, we were able to splurge on mixing, which is chill. And got to take it to the next level.
Right. So you went to L.A..
Yeah, so it was fun. And great to just get out of the city and take myself out of all the emotional and physical distractions and just be in his studio. He just did most of it, like the first eight days, he needed no input from me, that was just him getting everything to sort of sit -- EQ, compression-wise -- not stylistic stuff at all. And the last three days was when we went in with like deciding what kind of reverb, what needs to be side-chained to what, basic adjusting of levels, stuff like that, and that was cool. And I totally trusted him, so it was just me sitting on the couch making sure he had all the files and the tracks and hearing him make it sound better for two weeks was fun. I wanna work with him again.
It makes perfect sense to me why you would: he’s such a great match for your music. Were there any records he did in particular that got you excited about working with him?
Yeah, he produced [Beach House's] Teen Dream which is one of my favorite records. To me, it has always been pretty blissful listening to those recordings, just like, the sound quality... And the Grizzly Bear stuff is really strong too. So yeah it just seemed like a good fit. He does mixes through analog gear which is cool too. It was recorded all digital, so it was cool to just put it through all that crazy gear and give it all sorts of new character.
Were there any references or parameters you were pretty set on, going into the mix?
I can’t remember, I think I showed him a couple songs as references, but we just talked about it, and I kind of described what I wanted, and I had my mixes sounding like basically - that was enough of an idea for him to just improve upon those. so it was just getting it there and better than there, quality-wise.