As the twenty-tens enter their penultimate year, the dynamicity of music has shifted. Some bands have broken their moulds to burst through the underground and into the mainstream with brand new pop-driven sounds, like All Time Low and Paramore. There are also bands who either broke up or went quiet and are now touring their debuts on unnecessary nostalgia trips, like We The Kings and Cute Is What We Aim For.
There's one band ripping up the Venn diagram by both sticking true to their roots while optimising their sound for the necessary evolution all bands aspire creatively to achieve. That band is The Maine, and on their seventh album ‘You Are OK', they're opening the floor for rock music to return to our ears once more, as vocalist John O'Callaghan explains.
"The biggest door that we wanted to walk through and felt like was wide open was rock music, like straight-up guitar music. I know that sounds so lame, but there isn't a lot of bands doing that anymore."
It's a brave statement to make when describing an album that mixes the bubble-gum pop-rock of 2015's 'American Candy' with the noir alt-rock of 'Lovely Little Lonely' in a coffee pot of orchestral strings, guitar solos and arena hooks; but one that allows the band to look to the future as much as it nods to the past.
"When we started in 2007, there was a scene, and that scene has since dwindled. That's not to say there aren't bands doing rock music or guitar music, there's plenty sure, but in our world, in our small pond, there's a lot of space for an album with guitars, and we felt like it was our time to step into that role.
"You think back to the My Chemical Romance days and the early days of Taking Back Sunday, and even earlier than that with Sunny Day Real Estate, and you think about what was it about those albums and that music that made such an impact on their fans' small worlds. It was that raw rock approach, and that's what we wanted to bring it back to."
‘You Are OK' is The Maine's bravest record in their twelve years as a band, painting messages of positivity across a canvas of colourful guitar-driven alternative-rock that comes alive with string arrangements and hooks that demand bigger venues. For many, it would seem like the logical next step in their career progression, but for them, it was a make-or-break situation where writer's block threatened to rear its ugly head.
"It stems from a desire to push ourselves. Life and habits and just the way you walk can just get so formulaic, and if you just punch in and punch out of a job for twelve years, you're bound to run into some monotony. For me, it was imperative that I got uncomfortable and scared to death and manic and nervous."
"I was just trying to do something I hadn't yet, and I wanted to keep this exciting because it can get stale and you can see how it can very easily become part of the job. Like, ‘Oh, I'm going to make a record, so I've got to go to the studio because it's part of my job', and that's bullshit because this is not a job.
"It's such a unique thing to be able to do, to be able to make music and to create and to express yourself, and really that's what it boiled down to, me wanting to do something with creative integrity and full expression."
Expressing themselves as fully as they desire, The Maine have explored as many roads as possible in achieving their guitar-driven vision. Using previous album closers, ‘We'll All Be…' ('Can't Stop Won't Stop') and ‘Another Night On Mars' ('American Candy') as platforms to springboard off of, The Maine have evolved their defining sound beyond sing-along set-pieces into progressive territory.
"With those previous closers, the sentiment was just about friendship, comradery and living for the moment. When I was writing this album, I knew I didn't want to reach that 3.0 because it wouldn't take away from the past, it would just add to it, so we made our longest track ever by far called ‘Flowers In The Grave'. It's an odyssey, it's the closest we'll get to the spacey and the psychedelic, and it's everything we needed to make sonically."
Across 'You Are OK''s ten tracks and forty-five minutes, The Maine once more explore the notion of existentialism through the concepts of life, loss and loneliness. The themes have notably been littered throughout their recent offerings, and yet this time around it's presented with more conviction and importance, thanks in no part to their desire to share their experiences and tell the truth.
"I just try to focus on speaking things that I believe in and telling the truth; I feel like people can sniff out bullshit easily. Writing songs and writing poetry, that's therapeutic for me. It's important to speak from experience and the heart, so I hope people will connect to that."
Each song on the record covers its own individual ground yet collectively centres around the album's title and central theme: you are ok.
"It made sense to the sort of place I was in my life. I've been experiencing more anxiety lately than I had when I was in my early twenties, and it's become a sort of mantra and something that I felt like I wanted to share. I don't think enough people hear that and I wanted to put an emphasis on mental health in the era that we're living in; it's important for people to spread positivity, there's so much noise and negative space being filled up, I just felt like it was important.
"The older I get, the more I toy with the idea of existence and why we're here. There's a song called 'Heaven, We're Already Here', and that's a representation of where my head is at right now. I feel like for all the bad this is an incredible life that we live and we're so fortunate to have breath in our lungs and vigour in our steps, so I think it's less a biblical approach and more of a contemplative, old-age existential approach."
Wearing their existential approach firmly on their sleeves like they do their hearts, The Maine are a band who've surpassed their own expectations time and time again yet remain humble throughout their journey. As they grow older and mature, they tackle the topic of their longevity while using 'You Are OK' and the 8123 community, they've spent twelve years growing as their need to continue to keep doing what they're doing.
"I'm thirty now, the possibility of children creeps into your mind, and you wonder if you could keep up at the same pace that you have if you were to bring someone else into the world. My instinct says no, but you can't help but think about the future.
"With that being said, I want so much more. Our band is capable of so much more. The message that we're trying to spread needs to be heard by more people, and that's simply that you're not alone in feeling alone and that you are ok, so I feel like we're ready to take that message and our music further. I don't want the world; I just want most of it."
Taken from the April issue of Upset. The Maine's album 'You Are OK' is out now.
Featuring SWMRS, Simple Creatures, Grandson, American Football, La Dispute, Ex Hex, The Maine and more.