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The whole thing makes little sense. If major labels can't sell music this populist, what exactly can they sell? O'Callaghan, far wearier than he should be at 23, is nearly as confused. "[I think] they all know that it's going to fall on their heads," he says.
"At the end of everything," O'Callaghan says, "I have to understand that everybody in my band — everybody that's a part of it — we signed on. We jumped on the ship. It's not, like, we can talk all the shit we want, but at the end of the day we wrote it. We inked it. It's really on us."
Though the pop music landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade, O'Callaghan cites as heroes artists who have benefited from Warner Brothers' traditional, career-minded approach, artists like Jack White, Tom Petty, and Neil Young. But the band's chief inspiration for fighting for Pioneer was an even closer Warner Brothers associate: former CEO Tom Whalley.
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"I think what actually sparked our entire process was a dinner in New Jersey, with [Whalley] when he was CEO. He had us over at his beach house on the Jersey Shore, which is like 50 feet from the beach, in the summer of 2010. And kind of the whole gist of the talk we had was basically him saying, 'Never compromise. Do you think Jack White or Neil Young ever compromised?'
"And he said, 'If you have faith in what you're doing, and you really believe in it, never let anybody outside of that alter that.' It was really weird, because the whole talk sounded like he was going to quit or resign or whatever. Well, two weeks later, we get this e-mail that says Tom Whalley has stepped down [as CEO]. It was this weird, kind of last message to us. The guy who [was] in the studio with Green Day — listening to the record, making sure it's good — is telling us, don't give in to what these people around you are telling you. He was telling us to give hell to all the people he was working with."
Pioneer, released by the band on its own Action Theory label on Tuesday, December 6, debuted on the Billboard charts at number 90 and sold 12,000 copes in its first week. The record peaked at number six on the Independent Albums chart. Respectable numbers, but are they respectable enough to earn The Maine the kind of leverage afforded to O'Callaghan's heroes when the group returns to Warner at the end of this album cycle?
O'Callaghan isn't sure, but for now, there's plenty to distract him from any worries: the Pioneer tour, interviews, and, of course, quick scans of the band's Tumblr mentions, which features dozens of photos of fans posing in front of "the Maine Wall" on Roosevelt and Second streets in downtown Phoenix ("I don't really check that out much," he laughs).
O'Callaghan is worn — but not down. "It's a win for us. We get to put out the music that we made, on our own, that we produced, that we own all the rights to. We get to put it out, and people are going to hear it. It's very exciting."