Infectious Magazine’s Liv Simister recently had the opportunity to chat with The Maine’s John O’Callaghan to discuss their acoustic EP, Imaginary Numbers and full-length Forever Halloween, John’s take on “Fifty Shades of Grey” along with their current tour. Check it out below, and purchase a CD or buy concert tickets here.
Liv: Hey, thanks so much for doing the interview. How are you?
John O’Callaghan: I’m good thanks. Just playing some golf at the moment.
Liv: You recently released Imaginary Numbers, your amazing acoustic EP. What made you decide to go the acoustic-route?
John: It was kind of a multitude of things, I think timing played an integral role in allowing us to make it. We heard from a lot of people on social media and on our networking were saying they wanted to hear acoustic versions of our songs that we’d had in our back catalog. We’ve been piecing together recording equipment for a studio, and we’ll eventually have a utopian studio of some sort, but for now, we’re just goofing around and buying gear when we have the money. We decided instead of doing previously recorded songs, we would just write new ones. It was the stars aligning, I guess. We had the gear, the time, and the awareness that people wanted it. We were very fortunate to be able to do it. For the last few years, our process hasn’t been forced; it’s been very natural.
Liv: Well the difference in your approach definitely resonates in your sound. It comes off as very well done.
John: Well thank you. The change in our sound is an indication of our ages at the time, and the headspace we’re in, and it’s all just been very natural. It just feels like how it’s supposed to be.
Liv: There’s a very melancholy, yet haunting feel to the EP. Where did you draw the inspiration from?
John: There was no direct inspiration, but it was just where I was emotionally. I think there’s a misconception that acoustic songs are more somber, but that’s really just instrumentation. For us, it was important that we showed that side of ourselves, more for the sake of versatility. Now, on newer releases, songs like that won’t come out from left field at people, especially those that have been with us for a long time. I think it just opened up new doors for us. It wasn’t a purposeful, “Oh, let’s write sad songs,” thing. I think that some of the meanings are pretty optimistic and looking toward the future, not just reflecting on the past.
We’re growing up, and coming into our own. We figure out more about ourselves, even if we never figure ourselves out completely. At this point, these are just introspective observations, and we’re happy with the results
Liv: For Forever Halloween, you kind of took it “back to the basics,” stepping away from modern methods of recording. Was there a reason you wanted to do that?
John: I think it had a lot to do with Brendan Benson, who produced the album. That transition from our old methods and habits to the analog and to live recording, which I think was seamless, thanks to the guy behind the board. He thought a bunch about not only the music, but who we were as a band. We just needed him to introduce us to that process. We are so thankful we teamed up with him. It was an imperative step that we had to take in order to continue to be a band and to grow. We’re thrilled we had the opportunity to work with him and to be introduced to the analog process.
Liv: It seemed to leave a ton of room for you guys to test your limits.
John: Yeah, I mean, it leaves tons of room for imperfection and for just; it leaves room for, lack of a better word, vibe. It captures what everyone in that room is feeling at the time, and it doesn’t come off like a toothpaste commercial. It’s very indicative of what we were thinking and of where we were and what the vibe in the room was. It’s going to be very hard to ever want to record differently. But given the age we live in, and the technology we have at our fingertips, we can’t go out and spend a ton of money on all this old gear, but since that recording process, we’ve already purchased a ton of stuff that we’ve used on the album, so it will definitely carry over. If it’s not in the actual kind of recording, it will carry over in the approach.
Liv: For my own curiosity, I have to ask, “These Four Words” is such a raw, vulnerable track. Was it difficult to strip down and open up to write the song?
John: I think the most difficult part was me getting over the fact that the person I wrote it about was going to hear it. It was a song that almost wasn’t going to make it. It wasn’t until, like, the last week of recording that we’d hit a roadblock, that I finally brought it to the table, and Brendan was really thrilled about it. It just kind of fell into place, and by stroke of fate, or whatever you want to attribute it to, it worked. Lyrically, I was a little apprehensive just because I like to think I’m a pretty good person with a solid character, and it was a little tough to think that the person I wrote it about was going to hear it. But at the end of the day, it’s real, it’s what I really feel. Since then, it’s been a lot easier to, you know, come to terms with it.
Liv: Often times, I find The Maine’s music to be quite narrative, if not fit for the silver-screen. Do you go into creating music with the idea of inspiring a visual?
John: It definitely comes with the process of making songs and learning. I mean, mood was a huge thing on this album, and we wanted to convey feeling. We wanted it to be gripping. So we definitely took the necessary steps to achieve that goal, and I think that we did a pretty decent job on this last record. But it was something we had never set out to do before. Each turn, we’re stepping into the studio or creative workspace to work out new material, and it’s imperative we push ourselves and take things to places that we haven’t yet, because I think the monotony is where the problem starts, but for me, I get excited about going into the studio again, even if it’s far down the road, just knowing that we have the opportunity to do it again, is pretty cool.
Liv: You’re going to be on Warped Tour this year. I know you had previously been on the tour. How do you think that prior experience has prepared you for this upcoming tour?
John: Once you’ve done it once, I think you know what to expect. Having done it before, we’re a leg up, and we know that this time, we’re going to work just as hard, if not harder. I can’t imagine it’s changed that much in the five years since we last did it, so, we just know that we have to work hard and that it’s a great opportunity to play for people that might not know you. We’re just excited to be a part of it once again.
Liv: One thing I am morbidly curious about, and I’m sure I’ve asked about this before, is whether or not you’ve ever read the fan fiction or comments people write about you? If you have, how do you react?
John: I have absolutely not read it, nor do I plan on it [laughs]. For me, it’s one of those things where, in the beginning of our band’s, I guess you could say career, I was pretty concerned about comments online, and things in magazines, and obviously interviews I do are different than a kid on the Internet, but I was super curious. My mom would read comments on various websites, and she would get all worked up, and once she called me after reading a comment, I was just kind of over the online gossip stuff.
It’s been about six years since I was really, like, in the loop, in the online community. I think that fan-fiction is really funny but it’s really great that people are doing it. It’s such a cool form for young writer’s to practice their craft and I think that’s what’s really cool about it. Not so much the negative comments on YouTube, because that’s not really that constructive, but as far as fan-fiction goes, isn’t that what that Fifty Shades of Grey was?
Liv: Um…yeah, I think it was actually. Hey, for all we know, someone could be reading a romance novel and it was originally about one of you guys!
John: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s a pretty special thing. There’s pros and cons to where we’re at in our career and the online kind of world and that’s definitely a pro and a way for them to practice that craft.
Liv: Speaking of that craft, you’re known to be quite good with words. I know a lot of fans are curious now if lyricists, especially since Pete Wentz wrote his book, will create more than music?
John: I don’t claim to be much of a writer, but I appreciate it [laughs]. At this point, I would say it’s a little bit far-fetched, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m just so unfamiliar with the process of doing it that it just seems unattainable right now, partly due to the obligations that I have right now and where I choose to spend my time now. It’s a cool thing to think about, though. My mom would definitely buy it!
Liv: Speaking of social media, how do you think that has played into your success?
John: It’s pretty much the only reason why we get to do a lot of what we do. When we first started out as a band, that was the Myspace era, so when we weren’t able to go on the road because we were still in school, we got to speak to kids online and create kind of an online community that kind of transitioned when we went on the road to something more substantial and real, more tangible. Nowadays, still, you have to do it. If you don’t, nobody’s gonna be aware of what you’re doing and where you’re going, or where you’d like to go. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go into places all over the world without social media and we’d like to continue to fill in spaces.
Liv: Social media has definitely made musicians more accessible, and it seems you guys like to remain accessible to your fans with your FAQ videos and such.
John: There is a balance. For me, personally, everybody can trick themselves into thinking they know everything about the bands they listen to or the athletes they watch on the field or whatever, but there’s a level of mystery you need to have in place to kind of keep people interested and keep them guessing. It’s a balancing act.
Liv: What does 2014 hold for The Maine, other than Warped Tour?
John: We’ve got a tour in the UK coming up with a band called Deaf Havana and that will go for about a month, which is pretty awesome. We just announced we’re going back to Brazil…in, I think May? I could be completely wrong [laughs]. Next week, we’re all going to get into a room to hash out some b-sides that we’ve had laying around and possibly get something close to a deluxe edition for Forever Halloween in the near future. It’s a heavy enough load right now to really start to dive into and think about different things. We’re really excited. Warped tour is another great thing.
Liv: It sounds like you guys never stop!
John: We’re pretty much on the go. Hence why we’re playing golf. We just did a two-week acoustic run, so I’m blowing off some steam before we head back out.
Liv: Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to add that you think your fans should know?
John: I guess, thank you for the continued support. We just celebrated the seventh year that we’ve been a band and honestly, without the support of the people who are following us, we wouldn’t be able to do it. So, you know, let’s keep it going, and thank you very much.
Let’s do this again soon!
For more on The Maine, please visit WeAreTheMaine.net, and be sure to check out their tour dates. You can also get their new acoustic EP, Imaginary Numbers, on iTunes!