INTERVIEW: The Maine talk Sad Summer Festival and their seventh record “You are OK”
Editor’s note: We may have mentioned once or twice that our personal tastes in music sometimes overlap with our work here at New England Sounds, and never is that more accurate than when we’re talking to The Maine. The “Arizona emo group” as they were once described have long been on the playlists and mix CDs of just about everyone with a NE Sounds byline.
The Maine are just as relevant – if not more – here in 2019 than in 2009 when their year-old debut “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” was bringing joy to emo and pop-punk kids worldwide. The same scene that first propelled The Maine into the spotlight was faced with a huge loss last year when the VANS Warped Tour made its final cross country run. That’s when The Maine came in and came up with Sad Summer Festival. The summer’s newest emo/pop-punk touring festival that’s currently thrilling emo kids both current and former across the USA right now. As the tour stopped in Worcester, MA on Sunday, Colleen Johnson caught up with members of The Maine, read their conversation now.
I’ve spoken to you guys a lot over the years, but some big things have been happening lately. The new album is great, and you guys have done a great job consistently putting out something different every time.
John O’Callaghan: Yeah! It’s fresh!
So when did you start working on this one (You Are OK) considering it came pretty quickly after Lovely Little Lonely?
John: The cycles have kind of always run the same way. We’ll finish the tour – whatever the last tour may be – and I can’t write when I’m on the bus because there are video games and there are babies. There are so many things around, so usually whenever the last tour is, that’s when the writing begins. So whenever Lovely Little Lonely’s (touring) cycle ended, that’s when the other one started.
It took us a while to write. We recorded it out in Baltimore with the guy who did our first record (Matt Squire).
I was going to ask about that next.
John: Yeah, Matt. But, it was really like what do you really do on your seventh album? That’s a lot of albums, and I think there’s a good balance of trying to re-invent and also trying to not overthink.
Jared Monaco: That’s what took us the longest. Just thinking about what it was going to be. How do we shape it into its own sound. I feel like for Lovely Little Lonely, you had a concept, somewhat of an idea to grab on to upfront. This one, we just wanted it to be bold and be different for us. Finding out what exactly that was probably took the longest as far as writing. Once we kind of had that dialed in, pieces kind of started to form together.
John: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of accidental things that have happened. Even just sort of in the span of our career, especially in the last three records. We leaned back into dressing up for shows and presenting ourselves in a way that feels like a thought. Feels like effort has been put into it is opposed to where we sort of slacked off.
Jared: But we were just in the anti-phase for a while. We were anti everything. It was like being a teenager. That was the teenage phase for our band. ‘I’m just trying to find myself’. But it was that for us and then, coming out the other side of that I think we were like let’s tap into what the important parts of it are. Sometimes it’s hard to dial back the wanting to be anti and that whole thing we went through to get to it. But back to the original question, yeah we probably started writing after Warped ’18?
Jared: We had stuff going into it, but John really started to churn out all of his stuff at that point when it came to the record.
You talked about it a little bit, how over these past few albums, each album is very different, but you’ve put thought into how you dress on stage, the visual presentation of your show. For example, having the roses on stage for Lovely Little Lonely and then the pink and white theme for You Are OK from what I’ve seen, but speaking to a lot of bands, depending on if they are more of the alternative rock sound or the alternative pop side, they aim to be like you for the alt rock side and The 1975 for the alt pop side. It’s the two names that always come up. You’ve kept this career longevity, you see bands make the same album over and over again and kind of falter away. What is the importance of doing that for your career, constantly switching it up?
John: Maybe it’s sort of symbiotic. It would be really boring for us to do photocopies of what we already have done. I think for us, we wouldn’t find joy in the process anymore. And I think that people certainly wouldn’t appreciate that. I’m not saying our peers, I’m only saying it’s evident in the albums that you hear from people that we’ve toured with that are photocopies of the previous work. And I think that the evidence is that their careers sort of start to taper a little bit. Whatever the case is, for us it’s been so important to focus on ourselves and what our operation runs like and not to worry ourselves too much about other’s operations.
Jared: Well not to mention, rock music in general is kind of on a slippery slope. We talk about this all the time, hip hop is what’s really pushing the boundaries. It’s tough to be in a genre where you know things need to get pushed to the next level. It’s so fun to come out and have people be like, ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting this at all’. Getting those reactions and then still having the content be good, still have the music be good, it’s tough to do that. For us, we have to at least try, at least attempt it. This isn’t like a global thing, oh we have to push the needle forward in music, but I think it’s important that you know that there are a lot of bands not doing that. So that leaves you plenty of room to become a more unique individual and capitalize on that. So, if anything, for us, it’s a blessing in the overall scheme of things. I just wish I saw more of it.
That’s very true!
John: There’s a lot that we do take from fundamental human interactions that I think is really important. When you meet other bands. That’s what it’s been great touring with Mayday for so long. We love Mayday because they are sort of cut from the same cloth. They’re hustlers, not saying our bands are hustlers, but we hustle. It’s like what he’s saying about the hip hop stuff. You know their story.
Yeah, I’ve covered them just as long as I’ve covered you guys, I think my first interview with them was maybe 2010 or something.
John: Yeah! And they put in the work. Not that the other bands on the tour don’t, they do. But, we’ve known them for so long and we respect the heck out of them and it pushes us. I think there’s that friendly competition where it’s like, ‘Alright, you’re doing that, now we’re going to do this’. And that’s how that metaphorical needle gets moved, is by people taking risks, taking chances, but also being great people at the core of it all. It’s really humbling if people are saying that about us but we are so focused on the experience that we’re delivering to the people that are actually buying the tickets and not so concerned with the outside stuff.
Jared: That stuff doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t. Like John said, catering to the people that are going to want to watch you change and evolve, we want to give them new stuff.
John: It’s important, that’s the great thing.
Jared: Yeah, it’s what’s fun about all of it, for me. Because we can go directly to those people. We’re an independent band, why would we not? It’s been really fun.
And you can see that. I know, looking at Warped, walking in last year and seeing Garrett and Pat right at the front of the line trying to sell CD’s. Walking around the grounds later, Brooks (of Mayday) was holding a sign trying to sell CD’s and people wouldn’t even recognize Brooks, they’d just be like, ‘Oh I love Mayday!’, and I was just like he’s right in front of you pushing and trying to sell these CD’s. I didn’t see many of the smaller bands doing that. I saw Kosha Dillz doing that, but that’s Kosha Dillz too, he’s a rapper on Warped playing a tent.
Jared: For that stuff, you have to set your ego aside. You definitely have to just be like, why am I out here?
John: Or you don’t, and you reap what you sow at that point.
Jared: Yeah but in order to put yourself out there in that sort of way, like that’s not for everybody. That I understand, but the result we’ve seen from doing that stuff has been awesome. Everything we do is DIY, it’s all grassroots. This festival wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the DIY mentality we have. It’s very important. Luckily, not everyone thinks that way but there is a lot of upside to it.
I know you did 8123 Fest for the second time earlier this year. When did the idea of Sad Summer Festival come together? I saw the amazing anti-harassment policy. A few months ago, removing a band from the tour once you heard about allegations, it was kind of an instant thing. What’s the importance of that, creating this safe space? Was it like when Warped Tour decided it was going to be done, maybe seeing how well the festival did back home?
John: Yeah certainly, the sort of end of Warped helped but we’ve had the concept.
Jared: It shifted a little bit.
John: It started as more or less a triple bill that we’ve always wanted to do. And that sort of morphed into this.
Jared: We wanted one bigger artist to front the whole thing, then it kind of came back to this. The thing about putting a festival together is that there are so many moving pieces. And honestly, hats off to Kevin Lyman for doing Warped for so many years.
John: Oh my gosh, yeah.
Jared: Looking at all and being like, okay first off what is the pool of bands that even makes sense? Basically, if you had one stage from Warped Tour be a festival, how do we make that a thing. So, we went through all the names, had bigger bands selected that we maybe thought could front the whole thing. And that kind of fell through so we came back to us, State Champs and Mayday. Once we had that locked in, it was right on Warped?
John: We had the luxury of being able to talk to them directly. Because when you get involved with managers a lot of the time, there’s a lot of communication lost. It’s like a game of telephone. The manager will relay the message from our manager back. By the time it gets to the band, it wasn’t even remotely close to what we were talking about.
Jared: Didn’t Pat literally go straight to them?
Jared: That’s what happened on Warped Tour. They were like three buses over, Pat’s like dude, screw this and just went right over to talk to the guys.
John: Like Jared says, it takes a lot of setting the egos aside to make something like this happen. So, we were very lucky that we got to go to direct to the source and start figuring it out kind of on our own.
Jared: Because once we knew it was going to be a rotating headliner.
John: Our manager, Tim, was already in because he’s like the sixth member of the band.
You’ve had the same team pretty much the whole time.
John: So, then it was like how do we sort of convince our booking agent, Mike, then how do we convince Mike and Tim to pitch this correctly to Josh, Mayday’s manager. So, it sort of took a while to get all those particulars sorted out but, once we had the bands it was pretty neat to see the chips kind of fall after that. So, it took months and months and months, and it took a lot of great promoters to help us along the way.
Jared: A lot of local promoting happened. We were talking to Mike about it, our agent, yesterday. About how it really adds something to the show. When it’s a promoter that’s excited to have the tour. Today feels really awesome and I can just tell they care. They want to have something like this. So, for us, that makes us want to work even harder too. It’s half on them and it’s half on us. It’s a symbiotic relationship for sure.
And it’s cool to have this really great outdoors space.
Like A Day To Remember is doing their Self Help Festival here, as well as in California or they had Have Heart do a big reunion show out here the other day. It’s a great space to have.
John: Totally is. It’s been good. The vibe of what a festival sort of feels like for people. People that might not go to festivals all the time. Myself included, all I really know is Warped Tour. So to at least try to provide an outdoor space that feels like more then just a normal club show is nice.
You guys have been really busy obviously, you released “Numb Without You” right before 8123 Fest earlier this year. You did the tour with Taking Back Sunday, you did your own headliner with Grayscale, now you’re doing this. You’re pretty much nonstop, but I feel like that’s how you’ve always been, except when you’re making an album. What are some focuses or goals for the near future?
Jared: We certainly came out of the gate with flames. We said the other day, oh my god the record’s been out for three months.
John: Yeah, it’s only been out for three months.
Jared: We were like, only three months, that’s insane!
John: We have a lot chalked up on deck but, I think from our perspective, it was just really important to re-center, re-focus because I mean for twelve years, it can get so routine. Especially when you run the same cycle. I think from our end, it’s important for us to get together as a band. Talk about what the future looks like. How we want to sort of mold things. Really again, focus on the people that are listening. We’re not going to be played on the radio, we just know that, we’ve never been played on the radio for the twelve years we’ve been a band. That’s not going to be a goal.
Jared: We’ve had a lot of moments in the last few record cycles that we’ve had that stick out. We had a free tour, we had the funeral for the last record. Things like that, to me, are the most important in the in-between. This festival is a great example.
I mean, for the ticket price, kids are getting to see all these bands for $40. You’re not trying to upcharge them $200, and these are all bands on their own that would be probably $40 each if they were touring on their own. So it’s something clearly for the fans.
John: Totally, I mean again, it’s a credit to all the bands agreeing to do it, and coming together knowing that. I mean we couldn’t play to 5,000 people alone in Boston, or in Worcester, so getting everybody together for a collective cause. And again, trying to create an atmosphere for people to enjoy themselves. To feel like I don’t have to think about all the exterior just for a day and just really focus on music.
Jared: To go back to your question, I think this is the big moment that is going to stick out for us on this cycle. Now what comes next is focusing on the record that we have out and really driving that point on. Making it to as many places as we can. Elevating the live show. So much effort went into this festival that we’re just now starting to get to the next planning phase but we’re really excited. It’s the most excited that I think we’ve been in a really long time.
Stream or purchase The Maine’s new album You Are OK by clicking HERE.
Find more info on Sad Summer Festival by clicking HERE.
Featured images by John Hutchings