When The Maine played “Numb Without You,” the first single from their latest album, You Are Ok, in January at 8123 Fest in downtown Phoenix, they knew they had something special.
“It was really neat to experience the first single live,” singer John O’Callaghan recalls. “It had only been out 48 hours and people already knew the words.”
It’s reassuring that musicians that have been around for over a decade are still giddy about putting their art into the world. The Tempe band say the record, which comes out on their 8123 label on Friday, March 29, was not only an attempt to capturing the alternative pop-rock sound that made groups like Taking Back Sunday so successful. They wanted to take listeners back to the moment of discovery.
“You felt like you were the only one who has heard of these bands and they were yours,” describes drummer Patrick Kirch.
To change things up for their seventh full-length record, the five-piece, which also includes guitarist Jared Monaco, bassist Garrett Nickelsen, and guitarist Kennedy Brock, added string arrangements to give the songs a sense of urgency. The instrumentation mirrors the intensity of the lyrics. O’Callaghan says some of the tracks deal with his own struggles with anxiety and depression. He also wants to assure listeners that they aren't alone in their struggle.
Check the comments section on any of The Maine’s videos on YouTube and you can see fans are getting the message. O'Callaghan and Kirch spoke with Phoenix New Times inside the 8123 Shop, which opened in January at 1319 East Van Buren Street, to discuss You Are Ok and how their relationship with fans has evolved over the years. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
New Times: The album’s title, You Are Ok, feels like a direct message to your fans. Was there something you wanted to tell them?
John O’Callaghan: It’s not a direct statement to the fans, but it’s a reassurance to myself. I feel like I go through bouts of anxiety. I had a little bit this morning when I woke up. You get anxious and you don’t know why, so you get more anxious because you are anxious about your anxiety. It’s a snowball effect for me. It started in my early 20s. Now that I am just turning 30, I am experiencing it again.
The album was originally titled The Glitter and the Gloom. I felt like it was a little more abstract. The more we thought about it, the more we felt it was important to be more direct, especially with the approach we took sonically. We really didn’t want to screw around with nuance. It was a more apt title. We deal with this. You deal with this. We’re going to figure it out.
I have been dealing with anxiety attacks over the last year. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you work through yours?
JOC: For me, I love to be outdoors and with nature. When I am staring at a screen all day, it can be mind-numbing to a point where it can cause anxiety. The triggers can be anything. Life is a tough business. It is really important that we talk about how we feel and put it out there. There shouldn’t be a stigma around feeling anxious or depressed. It’s important to continue the conversation and not be scared of being vulnerable.
Is there a particular track on the album that talks about this?
JOC: “Broken Parts” is a song on the record that says, in essence, that it’s okay to be fractured because that is the only way you can glue yourself back together.
I think humanizing our band and our music is really important. It’s easy for people to think that they are more than just squares on their phone or their Instagram feed. It’s easy to believe that a mommy blogger is really happy when all she posts are smiles but in reality, she cries and bleeds like everyone else. That’s being human and it’s important to us to instill that idea.
Patrick Kirch: We are obviously interacting with people in person or in an online world, but we try to do it in a way that doesn’t feel like we are above them. We are trying to do it in a way that empowers them.
You seem genuinely interested in having a relationship with your fans.
JOC: The mystery of rock and roll is fucking dead! The mystery of the artist is long gone. We could choose to be mysterious, but that’s just never been who we are.
PK: We are regular guys and interested in having a relationship with people. We have been afforded a really good living doing what we love because of our fans, so the least we could do is take a picture with them because of what they have done for us. We want to say thank you to the people who make this all possible.
You’ve been on Vans Warped Tour several times. It must have been a great way for you to build this relationship, but now it’s no longer a cross-country festival. Was the 8123 Fest and Shop a new way for you connect?
JOC: Having a space like the [8123 Shop] really makes it possible to pull off some crazy and not-so-crazy ideas. To me, that’s what makes it feel more like a band than a business. Hopefully, it helps people feel involved and part of the process.
You started involving fans on MySpace. Now it’s Facebook, Instagram, and The 8123 Podcast. You seem to be keeping up with the times.
PK: When we were first starting out, people were acting like any success we had wasn’t legitimate because they were hearing about us on the internet. It's clear to us that it is a part of our lives.
JOC: I think it’s easy for people to box things together. We’ve been a MySpace band. We’ve been a Warped Tour band. We’ve been a pop-punk band. In actuality, we’ve been none of those things. We’ve used them to our advantage. We’ve been our own thing since we started, but it’s not in a pompous way.
We recognize it’s important to be involved with social media, but as you said, MySpace has come and gone. Facebook is in hot water. The emphasis is on Instagram. For a second, Snapchat was huge. We were scrambling and wondering if we were going to be on Snapchat all the time. I think it’s important to be accessible, but doing things our own way is how it’s going to be for us.
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You wrote in a post on Medium that The Maine have never been a “household name,” but we are sitting in your store which is down the street from where you played the popular festival you curated in January. How has your idea of success changed since you started?
PK: I think there was a short period of time when we were on a major label that we were going to be the next band that plays in front of 10,000 people a night and is on the radio all the time. It’s very easy to get caught up in that and feel that anything below that is not success. Soon after that, we realized that endless pursuit wasn’t going to be something wouldn’t make us happy. After we released Pioneer independently, we had to redefine what success meant for us.
Obviously, we have to have a certain amount of people coming to the shows and into the shop or we have to shut the whole thing down. I think being able to create albums that way we want to, when we want to, that sound like we want them to, and live comfortably is what success means. All of the unchecked boxes lend themselves to what motivates us to still do it.
JOC: We are completely DIY, so we have to generate the buzz for ourselves. That’s why we did the cover of the Halsey song (“Without Me”) and why we do these extra things like the Medium articles. We have to step our hustle up. It makes us appreciate it more.
The Maine's new album You Are Ok will be released on Friday, March 29, via 8123 Records.