The Maine: I Want Candy
It’s been a pretty sweet year for alternative rockers The Maine. After releasing their critically acclaimed fifth record, American Candy, earlier this year, the Arizona natives are now in the midst of gearing up for their first headline tour of Australia. BLUNT spoke to frontman John O’Callaghan about losing the emo tag, giving back to the fans, and the abomination that is musk flavoured Life Savers.
It’s been a while since The Maine made their way down to Australia, how are you preparing for your first headliner here?
Off the bat we’re very excited [laughs]. I guess what’s really exciting is that it’s the first headliner that we will have done in Australia, so we’re kind of doctoring up the set accordingly and including a lot of old stuff, but at the same token including quite a few new songs. Hopefully people dig what we decide to put on the setlist. I certainly know that we’ll be very excited to be on stage so hopefully they feel that if nothing else. If they’re pissed off they didn’t hear their favourite, they’ll at least hopefully leave knowing we let it all out on the stage. We’re really appreciative of the fact that they’re allowing us to bring our music to them. Other than that, we’re excited to get out of the cold. I guess we’re getting ready by packing a swimsuit and sunscreen.
Are you excited to do any of the cliché Australian things like eating Tim Tams or taking photos with koalas?
We just ate Tim Tams actually! The promoter just sent over a big box of Australian candy and we made a little video of us trying the different types of candy out. There was a sleeve of Life Savers and they had a musk flavour. Is that a thing? What is that about?
It’s a thing, they’re just really strong tasting!
Is it a joke? We all had our different opinions about what it tasted like. To me it tasted like Potpourri. It wasn’t a crowd favourite within our group that’s for sure.
American Candy really blew up and even hit the Top 40 on the Billboard charts. It seems to be loved by both old school Maine fans and new ones. How’d you all find the success of the record? Did the response surprise you at all?
We could definitely feel the difference from, at the very least, Forever Halloween to American Candy. I definitely felt, at least online, like people were connecting more immediately than they have with the previous album. It’s always really hard to get a grasp on how tangible the reaction is and where it actually is resonating and how it actually is resonating until you really get out on the road and see how people are feeling. I think that we just went into this album with a different mind frame. I guess I just wanted to make something that was more uplifting sonically to start. I think that people can just sense the authenticity in the approach, I would hope so anyway. We feel like it’s still resonating with people so that’s really reassuring. The fact that we get to come back to Australia is something special so we’re just excited, it feels like momentum is still on our side so we’ll see where it takes us.
Did you worry about how fans would react to the album really playing with the pop side of things?
I think you always worry. It’s inevitable. I think that with any decision you make you’ll feel like there’s an alternate route, but I think that what’s really important is that if you decide to go down a path you go down it with authority and with all your being. You can’t fret too much on how people are going to perceive things because at the end of the day you have no control over how somebody feels about what you’re doing. I think that the only thing we can control is the earnesty and sincerity in what we’re saying and I think for us, we can fully stand behind what we’ve created and I think that’s all that really matters. I think that, for people to support it the way they have and to put us in a position where we have the opportunity to make another record, I think that that’s just fucking flattering and so humbling. We’re trying to say thank you in as many ways as possible but it’s just a really cool feeling.
You recorded this one out in Joshua Tree National Park in California. It’s quite an intriguing choice of location. How did it add to the experience of recording it?
I think part of the mystery of Joshua Tree added to the attraction of the location for us. We’re really huge fans of The Rolling Stones and a lot of that era, the early ’70s of rock’n’roll and Joshua Tree has so many tall tales, stories and folklore in that region and has a lot of greatness that has come out of it. I think that one way it certainly did help us is the fact that we were off the grid when it came to the internet and stuff like that. We made a decision to disconnect and to halt all social media announcements and stuff like that. We just stopped using all of it and I think that really just let us focus on the task at hand and I think that brought us closer together as a band. It forced us to live in a confined space together, as if we don’t already do that enough being on the road on tour. I think it brought out the best in not only our music but in our relationship with each other. I think it’s made us stronger as a band. The idea that we can go record anywhere has really opened our eyes and made us think, “Where can we take it next? Where can we visit and how can that geography influence our sound and influence the record?” It was an exciting process for sure.
“I think it’s a fucking shame when it becomes a contest of how much your mum or dad makes and that dictates where you can stand or sit at a show.”
What were you going for with the title American Candy? What’s the message behind the record if there is one at all?
I didn’t necessarily want to have the title blanket the album in its entirety because I think each song represents something different in itself and the message is vastly different track by track. But I think the approach is what tied it all together for me. Actually, it’s funny because when we were last in Australia, I saw a sign for Australian candy and it was like Australian candy 99 cents, or whatever it said, and it got me thinking: how do the rest of the world perceive our culture and on that note, how do I perceive our culture? And I mean more so on the entertainment side of things and on the creative side of things. American Candy for me is the bullshit and fluff that passes for real art I guess. And I’m not the one who gets to dictate what real art is, I can only develop my opinion on what authenticity means to me so I used the bassline to make sure my approach was extremely sincere and the things I wanted to say actually held weight and it wasn’t just the BS version of “I hope I get a million dollars because of these tunes”. It wasn’t blah blah blah; it was creating for the sake of creating with no other ulterior motive. I think that if you ask 10 people, you’d get 10 different responses about how they feel about popular culture and modern society and I suppose that was just my view of the whole thing.
Off the back of this record you had a “free for all” tour where you offered free shows to your fans. It’s so rare that you see that happening in an age where bands are charging through the roof for meet and greets. What motivated the band to do that?
It’s something that we’ve thought about for a while. It was more so our interaction with those who fund and support this whole project. We truly feel like the folks that support our music in any possible way as are much a part of this as we are. This was really just our way of saying thank you for continuing the process and helping us reach that next record or next tour or what have you. It was also just the music lovers inside of us that sparked the idea and fuelled the idea. I think it’s a fucking shame when it becomes a contest of how much your mum or dad makes and that dictates where you can stand or sit at a show. When you talk about paid meet and greets I think that’s just ridiculous, I think that the musicians or artists or whatever should take a second to realise why they’re in that building and why they’re doing that meet and greet. Just for a second they should put themselves back into that set of shoes that is in the room. Obviously they don’t, but I think for me it would just make me question my allegiance to something I give so much to. I think that this was again our way of saying thank you and hopefully we didn’t ruffle any feathers by any bands, but if we did, fuck ’em [laughs].
If there’s one thing that’s consistent with The Maine it’s that you’ve changed it up on each of the five records you’ve put out and you’ve always experimented with different sounds. Do you think not sticking to one single genre has been what’s allowed the band to succeed?
I think it is part of the reason but it’s not a forced thing. We don’t go into records thinking we have to make something vastly different to what we just made. I think it’s a natural evolution. I don’t actually want to use the word evolution because I don’t know what it is we’re evolving towards, I just think it’s a natural maturation I suppose. I think that might be what people are gravitating towards. I suppose that if we had “sold out” that would’ve already happened because we were already on a major record label and would’ve done the song and dance for them. Since we’ve seen that through we’re just doing what feels right and people are just connecting with that and we’ll keep changing just like anyone does from day to day. As long as we’re given the opportunity to make another one, we’ll do our best to just exude what we’re feeling in the moment.
This record’s pretty upbeat compared to your previous release, Forever Halloween, which is a lot darker. What motivated this change?
Yeah, I was sick of people telling me how sad I sounded [laughs]. I think I’d be a fool if I said I was happy all the time, I mean nobody ever is, but I will say that making the album definitely helped me see things from a different perspective and different point of view. That’s important for your psyche and morale, at least acknowledging that there is the possibility of seeing things differently. And again, it’s just about the two years that had passed from the other record and the person I was at that point. I’m excited to see what’s to come of the future and we’ll see where we take it.
Catch The Maine on their east coast tour next week!
The Maine / With Confidence Tour Dates
Mon Nov 30th – The Brightside, Brisbane (18+)
Tue Dec 1st – The Factory Theatre, Sydney (AA)
Wed Dec 2nd – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)