Exclusive Q and A: The Maine Talk Moms, Cover Songs, and Reputations

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The Maine have progressed far beyond their days as a fledgling pop-punk band trying to stand out in a sea of sound-alikes. Since releasing their third full-length album Pioneer in 2011, the band has cemented a reputation for being willing to take creative risks and experiment in ways that musically diverge from their past releases. Now, The Maine is releasing a DVD that follows them through the process of writing and recording their genre-breaking third studio album. We caught up with frontman John O’Callaghan to talk band reputations, maternal approval, and the secret advice for recording a live show.

OS: Your new DVD is just about to come out, and I understand that it details a lot of the struggles you had surrounding the release of Pioneer. Was there any footage that you were afraid of including in the documentary?

JO: I guess that there shouldn’t be. I don’t think you should ever try to censor yourself after the fact. There are certain things that were just a little too heavy, or too overloaded with swear words that might not add anything to the documentary, but occurrences like that were very rare. We tried to put as much of that stuff in there as we could because we were fortunate to have a camera rolling through pretty much the entire process. I think that people deserve to hear that stuff. Hopefully it’s a better indication of who we are as people and what we had to go through to make it happen.

OS: What does it feel like to look back on that stuff? You probably have a different perspective now, but how is it to look back on the footage from that era of the band?

JO: It’s fun to look at. It’s fun now, obviously because we’ve put the record out, but at the time we were very heated and very passionate, and I think that was a huge step for us as individuals and as a band: putting our foot down for once and fighting for what we believed in. It’s interesting to look back on, and I think ever since that whole thing went down we’ve even matured as individuals and as a band even more. It’s very cool, the outside perspective that we have now.

OS: I know you guys also recorded your live show in Sí£o Paulo for the DVD. What was that experience like? Did you approach that show any differently because you knew it was going to be filmed?

JO: I think subconsciously we probably approached it a little differently, but after looking back”I’ve watched some of the clips of the footage” it really is an embodiment of who we are as a band at this point. I don’t feel like we forced anything or made anything feel scripted. But to be honest, the only thing that we were told was “don’t fuck up the first or the last song” [laughs]. So just knowing that, I think we added a little pressure on ourselves to make sure the first and last were alright, but other than that it was pretty much same day rules and just do what you do.

OS: The DVD’s title shares a line from your song “Don’t Give Up On ‘Us.'” Is there any reason you guys chose that line in particular.

JO: I think it coincides with the whole process and the whole mentality that we took while recording and making it all happen. I think we actually share that mentality with a lot of our fans, fans who have been with us for the past five years or even the past five months. We have a very die hard group that follows us. They’re very passionate. And with attention spans being so short these days, I think that kind of passion and that excitement and enthusiasm is kind of dying off a little bit. I think it’s a testament to our band and the people that have made it possible for us to be a band for this long. Hopefully that only grows stronger, and the numbers continue to grow.

OS: And besides a good relationship with your fans, you guys seem to have really good relationships with other bands too. It seems like you guys were having a great time with This Century on The Pioneer World Tour. What’s your relationship with them like?

JO: Yeah! Totally. It’s easy to go on the road with people you’ve already established healthy relationships with. By the same token, it’s also really fulfilling to meet a band that you’ve never met before”somebody that can be from a different part of the world, or from a different part of the United States”and to find out that you have so much in common with somebody and click very well. That’s something that not a lot of people get to experience. We’re very fortunate to have made some friends that hopefully we’ll have far beyond the lifespan of our bands.

OS: Were there ever any people you met on the road who you initially didn’t like, but then realized that you actually did have a lot in common with them, despite not clicking initially?

JO: Personally, I try to reserve judgment for as long as I can until I’ve actually given someone a chance. I think everyone deserves a chance. It’s funny that you say that, though, because we’ve had scenarios where bands will tell us later on, after we’ve developed a solid relationship, that they thought we were going to be dicks and prima donnas and divas [laughs]. To hear something like that is a little strange because you don’t know what you did to deserve that judgment, but at the same time, it’s rewarding to hear that because actions speak louder than words and we like to think that we roll with a really humble group of dudes who really try to promote good vibes. There has never been a scenario where I thought somebody was going to be an asshole. I guess that intimidation plays a huge role in that: thinking that you’re not going to form any sort of relationship, or that you couldn’t do it. We went on tour with Good Charlotte way back in the day, and never in a million years would I have thought that we were going to be friends with those guys, but it turns out that we ended up creating a really good bond with those guys. Paul came out to our last show and Billy came out to our show in Baltimore. We just got off the road with Taking Back Sunday not too long ago and the same thing happened with them. We never go into a scenario thinking that we’re going to hate somebody. I don’t think that benefits anyone, but we’re really stoked on the friends that we’ve made.

OS: You guys are covering “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” for Fearless Records’ Punk Goes Pop 5. Was it your own choice to do that particular tune?

JO: You know, we used to be on Fearless Records, and we created a good relationship with them. We’ve been a part of compilations with them before, and you know the way they run those compilations”it’s usually the modern songs”and to be quite frank, we’re not really fans of many modern pop songs. At least me, personally, it’s just not my bag. So, when thinking about it, I proposed the idea. Initially, I wanted to do a really dark and macabre version of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” [laughs] but it wouldn’t really fit with the band as a whole because it would have been really stripped down and very dark.

So, we rethought it and reapproached the whole situation, and I had this idea to do “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” I came up with the riff and played it for my mom yesterday, actually, and she said that she couldn’t even recognize the fact that it was that song. I think we accomplished what we went in to do. We didn’t want to do a photocopy of a song. We’ve done that in the past. We did a version of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and it was pretty much just a photocopy of Def Leppard’s version. We didn’t want to do that again. We wanted to make our own approach, as if Cyndi Lauper gave us the idea and the lyrics and we could make it our own. So we took that approach, and after we finished it up, there was a part where Adam from Taking Back Sunday mustered up some recording gear from his crib and laid down some vocals. Also, Colby Wedgeworth, who we did Pioneer with, melded it all together, and we’re really really excited with how it turned out, and very honored to have Adam on the track. I’m excited for everybody to hear it.

OS: The band also recently released some B-sides from the Pioneer album. Why did those particular songs not make the initial cut on the album?

JO: There wasn’t necessarily a feeling that we didn’t like the songs that prevented them from going on the album. It’s funny, because there are clips of us sitting together in the documentary and we’re talking about track listings. We had recorded nine songs, and then went back to the studio and recorded about 16 or 17 more. We were actually all sitting down and creating a track listing, and everybody kind of had a similar vibe for a track listing, which was interesting. When we went back, we had so much material; we had about 26 songs recorded to choose from. The 13 that we chose felt the most cohesive and set the stage for this album. With that in mind, we had so many tracks that we felt like it was necessary to release more, because the whole recording process was a moment in time and we didn’t want to shelve them and revisit them later on. You’ll get the vibe of the six or seven that we added as B-sides once you listen to them. You’ll kind of understand why some didn’t make the cut of the first 13, but we wanted to show the mindset that we took and the headspace we were in while writing and experimenting.

OS: The band has progressed a lot stylistically since you’ve began. Do you have any idea where you’re going to move in the future, or is it all pretty undecided from here?

JO: I think that’s the beauty of it. There are so many open paths. I don’t think we’ve pigeonholed ourselves into having to make a record like Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop again or Black & White or Pioneer. I think we’ve expanded enough to where anything is possible, and I think that at the end of the day, our band is going to put out the songs that we feel are the best material that we have regardless of the way it sounds. You know, that being said, we’re not going to put out 13 electronic tracks that sound like songs on the radio.

I think that’s the beauty of music and creating music and being artistic: the canvas is completely blank. There is no notion of what we’re going to do, and hopefully there’s nobody out there who is expecting something. We want to catch people off-guard and we want to catch ourselves off-guard and push ourselves to write better songs. Lyrically, I think people will find a huge difference, but maybe not! I don’t know. I’m writing more personal stuff this time around, more stories. But as far as the vibe of all the songs go, it’s too early to tell because we haven’t stood in a space yet together. That’s going to happen in December when we’re all jamming and I bring all my ideas to the table and we start hashing them out as a band. Until that point, we really have no idea as a band of the direction in which we’re going to head. But the uncertainty is kind of the motivating factor. That’s what makes it fun, you know?

Catch The Maine on tour this fall and check out the band some behind the scenes footage of the recording of “Girls Just Want to Hav Fun” below.