“My Friends Are My Foundation”: Five Things I Learned About The Maine While Watching Miserable Youth
If at any point in the past decade you’ve been interested in pop punk or alternative rock, you’ve probably heard of The Maine, a five-man Arizona-based band. Over the years, they’ve always been one of the groups that has made a habit of interacting with their fans through platforms like YouTube, and they ended out 2016 with a video series called “Miserable Youth.” The compilation of eight videos and a studio tour gives fans a look into the band’s time spent making their next album, Lovely, Little Lonely, in Arizona (pre-production) and Northern California.
Though they’ve been around a while, The Maine never stop showing us new sides of their personalities, individual and collective, and their music. So, here are the top five things I learned while watching Miserable Youth:
Environment is everything
A huge part of the Miserable Youth series was that The Maine as a band needs the right environment to make music. From pre-production at Jared’s (lead guitar) family cabin in Heber, Arizona to the full production up in Gualala, California, a gorgeous house in the woods with a stunning ocean view. Even if this hadn’t been voiced by lead singer, John O’Callaghan, it seems obvious that getting out of Arizona and into a different place fuels the creativity of the band and Colby Wedgeworth, their producer/engineer and friend. Even their previous album, American Candy, was recorded and produced in Joshua Tree, California, which you can see on the band’s YouTube channel. The natural world seems to be the common thread between each relocation. Joshua Tree is famous for its national park, and Gualala is filled with forests, hidden streams, staggering cliffs, and gorgeous sunsets. Communing with nature suits the guys well and even served as a reminder to be grateful when frustrations set in. Not many artists choose to create their recording studio, opting for the pre-made, monochromatic settings provided by labels. One of the freedoms of not being beholden to a typical, corporate label seems to be the ability to record where you want, in the way you want.
The Maine are masters of hidden messages and wordless dialects
The Maine has been around for a decade, but the friendships between each member and the 8123 family goes back 20+ years. Being in a band with your closest, oldest friends isn’t always the best idea because you may hang out and have a personal relationship just fine but, working together is different. The Maine are no exception to the occasional argument and heated discussion but, they have a way of communicating with each other that rarely requires spoken words. When you hear that, it’s usually an exaggeration, but in the case of The Maine, they are incredibly genuine in the bond they’ve cultivated, not only as found family but as a band. It’s an incredible thing to see play out on screen.
“This album shouldn’t be for everyone. This album should be for anyone who needs it.”
I have been listening to The Maine for the entirety of their career. Every time I stick my earphones in and sit down to hear a new album, I’m always nervous that I’m going to hate it and that my long term love will have finally faded away like most adolescent favorites do. Each time, though, they’ve surprised me and come back stronger. I’d always know that they’d grown and evolved as a band, that’s an obvious and imperative requirement of staying power, but I don’t think it was until the Miserable Youth series that I grasped how they’ve changed and the reason for their constant evolution. In Episode #004, John is sitting on the patio of the house the band rented. After talking about how his writing process has been different this time around, he said, “This album shouldn’t be for everyone. This album should be for anyone who needs it.” That was when it finally dawned on me. Early albums like The Way We Talk and Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, even Black & White, are filled with indie-pop songs that you can’t help but sing along to. They are songs that were heard on the radio because they’re catchy even today and anyone can enjoy them. The difference between early albums and albums like Forever Halloween and American Candy is the change in purpose and, honestly, authenticity. The Maine isn’t making music for everyone to love; they’re making music that they believe in, that brings them joy and release. The point is to make sure that anyone else who needs that joy, who needs that catharsis is given it but if you don’t need it that’s okay. This simple statement made by O’Callaghan is a testament to how the band and its members have matured over their ten-year run. They aren’t hear to impress you. They’re here to make creative, honest music for them and anyone going through the things they have.
No matter how long you’ve been making music, recording an album, especially on-location elsewhere, never gets easier.
The Maine are on their way to becoming seasoned pros at making music. They have their process and their order of doing things, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bumps along the way. If you’re interested in the entire process of making a full length album, Miserable Youth is a goldmine of information and first hand accounts from the band on the bits and pieces that come together to make a record. Especially since the band went to Northern California to record, the obvious kink in the plan was the equipment they brought along the way. Bringing every instrument in your arsenal is smart because Murphy’s Law is ultimately at play during the creative process: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Other than technical difficulties, being in a band in general has its ups and downs. When everyone has a say, there are bound to be conflicting opinions and conflict, even between decades old friends. The Maine has been making music together for ten years, so having what Jared aptly called “a creative argument”or two or three is completely inevitable. They know each other through and through so, when you’re that close with people there’s a certain level of understanding and comfort. You’re not afraid to fight and argue with your oldest friends because if they’ve been around this long, a little spat isn’t going to send them running. So it’s not scary as a fan to see them have these arguments and discussions because seeing them in this series shows just how solid they are as a band. As they’ve grown, each album has gotten more and more cohesive and that certainly comes from this ability to be completely honest with one another. Making an album is a grueling process, exhaustion and frustration set in at a certain point but another bonus of making an album with your oldest friends his being able to go through it together as a unit.
One of the things that continues to set The Maine apart is their transparency
Something that has been entirely consistent throughout their career, and the thing that I think makes this band unique, is how transparent and open they are with their fans. They’ve gone from original tour videos and YouTube Q&A’s to these beautifuly shot studio tours and behind the scenes shoots. Entertainers, whether they’re actors or musicians, opening themselves up to fans probably isn’t easy; sure it’s an excellent concept but when put into practice it can easily go wrong. Yet, The Maine has opened their family of friends, 8123, up to the fans and really taken all of us in. Though they’ve always been open and honest, this series of videos shows them at their most raw, tired, silly, and vulnerable. You get to see everything from Kennedy drinking Siracha to listening to John talk about the frustrating, emotional, and exhausting process of writing lyrics. The band has perfected the balance of being completely open as a group, but always keeping their individual lives private. You’re given an exclusive look at their process, friendship, and collective life as a band, but their personal lives have always been somewhat obscured to us, as they should be. Transparency as a group and not as individuals isn’t an easy task in a world of putting your life on display in a series of tweets and Instagram photos, but The Maine continue to welcome fans into their family while also making sure they understand necessary boundaries.
Every one of them has said that there’s something different about this album, something special about it that they didn’t feel in any of their others whether it’s a result of time or serendipity. While watching, I kept wanting to say to them “It’s not just you! I feel it to and I’m not even there!” It’s a palpable difference that’s present throughout Miserable Youth. It may come from the fact that they’re men now, not boys, and that they’ve really grown into themselves over the past ten years but Lovely, Little Lonely is certainly one to look out for.
You can watch “Miserable Youth” and other videos from The Maine on their YouTube channel!