Music News

The Maine's Black and White Has Put Them in the Driver Seat of the Valley's Power-Pop Explosion

Don't look now, but there's a revolution going on in the Valley music scene. No, not that kind of revolution — no dope, guns, and fucking in the streets. But, over the past few years, the Valley has quietly become a hotbed for young, Internet-savvy power-pop bands weaned on Jimmy Eat World and possessing the type of sugary hooks and immaculately disheveled hairdos that make teenage girls swoon.

At the forefront of this burgeoning scene — which includes such bands as Anarbor, The Summer Set, and This Century — are The Maine, who sold more than 115,000 copies of their 2008 debut, Can't Stop Won't Stop, on indie label Fearless Records before jumping to Warner Bros. Records last year.

The band's sophomore effort, Black and White, was released on July 13 and debuted at number 16 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album had sold more than 35,000 copies as of press time, according to the band's publicist at Warner — pretty remarkable numbers in an era when virtually any album can be illegally downloaded for free in a few mouse clicks.

They're very much of the digital era, too, though not tethered to it. They used the means they had, as an upstart act, to get attention and have since parlayed that into a very serious career.

Barring an unforeseen sea change in the world of social networking, The Maine —singer John O'Callaghan, guitarists Jared Monaco and Kennedy Brock, bassist Garrett Nickelsen, and drummer Pat Kirch — might wind up with the unusual distinction of being one of the last MySpace success stories. The band formed in 2007 just as MySpace was peaking in popularity, and they utilized the once-popular website to its fullest potential, uploading music and pictures, writing frequent blogs, and personally responding to messages from a rapidly expanding fan base. Since MySpace's decline, the band has shifted its priorities.

"We use our own website as kind of our hub now," says Monaco. "We used MySpace to really build our fan base. Our timing was great with that. I feel, like, right around the time we were getting started was when the traffic going to our MySpace — or any MySpace — was really high. So for us, that was really helpful, but nowadays, I feel like it's starting to fade out a little bit."

A fancy, professionally designed website is just one of the perks associated with signing to a major label. Marketing and promotional ideas that may have been pipe dreams as an unsigned act — like, say, a $38 "keepsake edition" of Black and White that comes with a customizable book and "making-of" DVD — are now easily attainable.

"There's a lot of people at our disposal that are smart and can do things we need to do," O'Callaghan says. "We're very hands-on with everything that we do with our band, so it really helps when we have a lot more people that are right in the same path. They see what we're seeing."

The band says the keepsake edition, which has already sold more than 2,000 copies, was not a direct attempt to combat illegal downloading, but it hardly seems a coincidence that, as music has become increasingly easier to steal, many bands have begun offering spruced-up versions of new releases with more tangible features such as elaborate, die-cut packaging, bonus DVDs, and vinyl and/or digital versions of the release. According to The Maine, it's simply about giving fans what they want, a goal made much easier with backing from a major label.

"It's easier to accomplish things that go into building our vision," says Monaco. "We came out with this book called This Is Your Life, and it documented our whole summer on the Vans Warped Tour last year. It was so easy for us to say, 'Hey, we want to put out this book. We want to have pictures of our summer. We want to have journal entries in it.' To me, it seems like such a far-fetched idea to have that come to fruition, but it happened so easily. We just wrote these journals, submitted them, and Warner came back to us with these books that were just phenomenal. They really make things easier for us and let us focus more on touring and playing music and writing."

That's not to say that the transition to a major label was completely smooth, however. The band admits that Warner took a much more hands-on approach during the recording of the new album than what they were used to at Fearless. Monaco recounts a story of flying to L.A. and back in one day just to re-record a brief guitar part at the insistence of the band's A&R rep.

"They do have a lot more input, but also, these guys have such a high success rate," Monaco says. "You do have to pick your battles and you have to listen to what they say sometimes. Especially with this being our debut album on Warner, we really wanted to make sure that both sides were happy."

With their label satisfied and the new album in stores, The Maine's focus has shifted to spreading the Valley's power-pop gospel across the globe. The band has a series of overseas dates scheduled in early October, including a handful of UK shows that have already sold out. They'll follow that with a fall tour that will keep them on the road through November. The band is wrapping up their first headlining tour, with Tempe pop-rockers This Century providing direct support. The Maine intentionally eschewed putting a larger bill together in favor of showcasing the Valley's growing power-pop scene.

"We're used to playing a maximum of 45 minutes to an hour, so this is like double what we normally did," Monaco says. "We just wanted to get as much of our material into the set as possible without killing ourselves . . . There's only a couple bands on the bill. I know a lot of tours lately have been five-band bills, but we wanted to keep it simple, make it more about the music in the set, rather than five different bands. It's so hard to stay focused when you're watching 20-minute sets of five bands, rather than a couple good, decent sets from two bands."

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Mike R. Meyer