Six albums deep and still The Maine are a powerhouse of fresh and beautiful alternative rock. The Arizona quintet’s sixth offering ‘Lovely, Little, Lonely’ represents everything the band has worked towards in their extensive career. It’s a culmination of lived experiences that feels as alive and fully realised as the people who wrote it.
I got the absolute honour of speaking with the band’s frontman and lead songwriter John O’Callaghan about this record and the artistic expression it represents to him. John spoke eloquently and honestly about their process yet before we dove into all of that, he was quite excited to share with me the things he was cooking up in his home studio…
Hey there, Matty, this is John O’Callaghan from The Maine. How are you?
I’m well, John! How are you? [Ooooh, a reverse interview start off, nice.]
I’m doing great, thanks.
So what are you up to today?
I’m just cooling off in my room in the house I live, aka the garage. [Laughs] It sounds really dreary but it’s actually the biggest room in the house and it’s the coolest.
[Laughs] So there’s no garage in that house? It’s just your room.
Yup, just my room! But I’m actually just hanging around, making beats.
As in… drum beats?
As in like, hip-hop beats. I’m trying my hand at it. There kind of turning out pretty cool. I’m pretty excited. I just bought a new Maschine Studio controller and it’s pretty sweet rig.
Oh, nice! They seem like great pieces of gear but they’ve got a hefty price. Is it worth it?
Yeah, the only setback for me is I’ve been working in Pro Tools for ages and was just getting good at that. The thing is, [Native Instruments] don’t make it easy to integrate it with Pro Tools. So my brain is trying to make them work together and have had to think about it and approach it differently. Like, Pro Tools is just gonna be for mixing in this instance. But yeah, it’s an amazing rig none the less.
Yeah, it seems that Native Instruments love Ableton above all else.
Oh, they do. It’s funny though, the parallels; I was making beats in Fruity Loops and between Maschine and Fruity Loops it works great. So I had to job my memory on how the bricks in FL work and all that. But I’m just having.
Fruity Loops has always to me been the “simpler Ableton”.
[Laughs] It’s crazy, I’ve been watching a lot of videos on hip-hop production and a lot of producers actually use Fruity Loops. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Afrojack?
Well, he made like seventeen million dollars last year just using and working in Fruity Loops! [Laughs]
Oh god, the profit off of that!
I know! Like, what the hell am I doing in a rock band? I’ve got it all wrong!
[Laughs] So got any master plans for this beat? Are you gonna rap over them or are you gonna try and sell them to some Soundcloud rappers?
[Laughs] No man, to be honest, this is just about a different approach to songs and songwriting. I think for me, I’m trying to expose myself to as many forms of songwriting as I can. Writing six songs now for The Maine, it can become monotonous and I don’t want that. I don’t want this to become stale. I want to keep approaching things differently and gain new perspectives on songwriting. [Maschine] has a great sampling function and so I have been traversing the world of all this old hip-hop and old soul stuff. Trying to gain an appreciation for groove and melody and songs that I’ve never heard, you know? Experience different sides of music, I guess.
That’s brilliant, John. If these beats and songs turn out quite well, do you think you might like to foray into these other genres or write for other people? Or will this strictly exist in how you operate in The Maine?
Oh man, I don’t even know. It would depend. What’s near about it is that I’ve already messed around with stuff that isn’t straight up pop or hip-hop and stuff that could potentially actually be released under The Maine. I’m really weary of showing people music or bits of music of mine that isn’t up to par in my head. I have a lot of learning to do with this thing. But I’ve been messing around for a remix of our song ‘Bad Behaviour’. I got the stems from our producer and have been reworking it with electronic bass samples and stuff. It’s just cool. It’s cool to be excited. Excited about working off of a new platform. This is something I’ve been talking about for so long so I finally forked over the money and got it started.
Oh shit, that sounds awesome! One of my questions actually was how do you keep it fresh and interesting after six records so that answered that so thank you for that!
[Laugh] No worries! With this record actually, though, we did it vastly different from any other one in that we used to go from a voice memo on my phone to standing up as a full band and hashing out my ideas. But for this one, I got a new rig and setup with a new computer, Pro Tools and that EZ Drummer program and had full arrangements of songs before we even worked together as a band. We went into this whole record really knowing that we wanted to cut the bullshit early and not let our minds wander. We saved all the spontaneity for the studio and not the beforehand and the pre-production.
So that was so fun getting to take this full arrangement I had made and then deconstructing it with the five of us as a band and our producer Colby XXX. So this makes it the most cohesive work we’ve done to date. I know it’s what you always say when you have a new record or a new release but I can say we are most confident with this record than anything we’ve ever put out.
That’s so fucking good to hear, especially after six records, that you’re still developing new methods.
So I watched your documentary on recording the album and you guys used AirBnB to rent a house in California to record it. There were all these beautiful views and it had this vibe it seemed of being isolated yet still connected with the world. Do you think that had you recorded anywhere else, the record might have come out differently and it might have changed things?
I guess in retrospect it would have turned out differently but for me, the biggest thing was to match the sentiment that I wanted to share with the music with the environment we recorded it in. That house really conveyed this feeling of… I had this idea that I wanted to make the music seem like… This is just how my weird brain works but, I wanted to create the way a star would feel alone in outer space and the feeling of sitting, weightless in the deep end of a pool. That’s what how I wanted this record to feel. I had that imagery of being surrounded by water so that helped us narrow the search for a house. We originally were thinking of going to Costa Rica and I feel like after we weighted the logistics of travel and freight we realised it wouldn’t work.
But there’s just some level of serendipity with this record. I don’t believe in fate but there was a harmony here. I don’t want to sound too hippy but there like this alignment of the energy or the stars or whatever that really elevated the making of this album. You saw the house in the video. It was unreal. Like you could walk outside and you could not put it into words the beauty of that view. The video doesn’t do it justice but it made for a great creative energy.
That’s super interesting to hear about the stars and the swimming pool because I can see that reflected in the artwork of the lone hands in the darkness with the bubbled surrounding them. Which goes back to you saying you felt this record was your most cohesive too.
I think once you listen to the record in its entirety, I think people will connect those dots. The biggest thing is that we tried to make a full record from one to twelve. It’s seamless. Tracks go into one another and flow. You can hear it on ‘Bad Behaviour’ there’s a little piece at the end that just cuts because that goes into the next song. We decided to release that song because it sounded like the least amount of a departure from our last record. We didn’t want to scare anyone away. But being said, the song is rather poppy yet there are those undertones of darkness. There’s a swirl of that indescribable happy-sad feeling in the instrumentation and I hope you’ll agree Matty, and that others will too especially after they hear the full thing and sink their teeth into it.
Yeah, I did notice at the end there was that cock tease of what the next song would be.
We’ll have to leave it there John as we’re out of time. Thanks so much for the chat.
No worries, Matty, this was really good!
Hope you have a great day and make some sick beats!
[Laughs] Thank you, man. Take care.
‘Lovely, Little, Lonely’ is out now through 8125 records, The Maine’s very own label. Please, PLEASE, give that masterpiece a listen and get ready to see them on tour with All Time Low and Neck Deep next month!
The tour dates are below and you can find tickets here.