A week after the band released their new album, I was able to catch a hold of The Maine before they set off on their Sad Summer Fest tour with All Time Low and many other great bands. Garrett Nickelsen and Pat Kirch chatted with me in a Zoom interview to discuss everything that went into their fantastic new record, XOXO: From Love and Anxiety In Real Time. Garrett and Pat also described their band’s process for recording the album, how their songwriting has evolved, the unique connection to each of their fans, and when their loyal fanbase can expect new music on the horizon from The Maine.
Thanks, fellas for connecting with me today! There’s been a considerable amount of buzz about your great new album, XOXO: From Love and Anxiety In Real Time. At what point during these recording sessions did you come up with this album title?
Pat Kirch: It was fairly early on in the recording session. We generally have the album title, or John would have it done, before we even begin recording at all. So this one was later than that and he had the “XOXO: from something to something.” And he had that idea, but didn’t have the other part. So you know, I would say it was probably like a month or so that we have like, a final title.
Garrett Nickelsen: Yeah, I mean, we knew we wanted something long, and this just felt new and interesting for us. So yeah, we knew it was gonna be a long title, but weren’t sure exactly what until maybe halfway through the actual recording process.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, with the direction of these songs and how they talk a lot about mental health and taking care of yourself. But, what kind of stood out from the thematic elements and now looking back at the lyrics now that it’s out in the world to everyone?
GN: John is interesting when it comes to lyrics…we won’t really hear stuff. His demos are kind of like gibberish where they’ll just be melodies that impact you from just hearing it emotionally. It’s there. And then he puts in the words and it’s like another experience later on. But, lyrically, I think he nailed it. Yeah, just the feeling we were all kind of having during that time of recording, and just like, just the way life kind of felt. He really nailed it.
PK: Yeah, and I think, for our band leader, and the lyrical content of what we’ve been doing, and what John has been saying has kind of been the same on every single album. It’s just presented in a different way, but he’s singing about the existential, and what’s the point of being here, and singing about friendship, relationships and just everyday life, so I think it’s just always packaged in a different way.
Yeah, and it seems like a logical progression. I wrote in my review about how you went from Lovely Little Lonely, to You Are OK, to now this one, but it seems almost like there’s a little bit of both of those last two albums mixed into this one. And I think this one is gonna end up being one of my favorites. If not the favorite in your discography. So, looking back on the recording process, were there any challenges with certain songs? Or did you feel like the band was continuing to experience great band chemistry?
PK: Thanks for the kind words! I mean, there’s always like, tiny kinds of hurdles with certain songs that just take a bit to come together. But in general, when we’re taking a step back and not just thinking about one song, it was pretty painless, and pretty fast.
GN: Yeah, it’s the most we’ve experimented in a while. I feel like with Pioneer, we definitely went crazy with a lot of things and tried anything. And also on the first record that we had, and the last one we did in the studio, but the first record we did with all of our own gear, and it made us kind of think outside the box and just try some wild stuff. And we had Matt Keller who helped engineer and produce with us. He was all down for that, and was just throwing drums through guitar pedals and tape loops and all sorts of keyboard stuff. It was fun stuff we haven’t done in a second.
Well, there’s certain tracks in particular where you bring out some heavier synths and also with Pat’s drumming, there’s some like electronic elements to that. So can you speak a little bit to the production elements of what you guys did?
PK: Yeah, I think just based on how long we’ve been a band now and us having our own recording studio and really taking a liking to trying out the new equipment and new processes of how to add a record that just kind of like made its way into this album. And I think we finally got to the point on this one where we felt comfortable trying out that stuff on our own, and without having to have a producer kind of taking the lead on that kind of thing. So that was great. And I think just the rule we kind of made with this record was “let’s not worry about the cohesiveness as much as we have on a handful of records. Let’s just do what fits the songs the best.” So with a song like “High Forever,” it needed to have those elements, or it may have come across boring…
And you don’t want to get that same kind of vibe as you go throughout a record…Like, “did I already hear this song kind of thing?” None of that happens on this album.
PK: Yeah, it was just like, if that’s what the song needs, then we’ll go for it. And then there’s the song like “Pretender,” which doesn’t have any of that kind of stuff. It’s just drums, bass and guitar. And that’s what that song needed, you know?
So what about your guitar elements, Garrett? Were there certain riffs that you had pretty much way back in the early sessions of writing or did they come organically?
GN: Well a lot of the songs start with a bare bones idea from John or me or we call it a “bonehead version” of the guitar parts, and bass parts. And then when we actually get together, we’re all working on it as a group, and figuring out what’s the best version of this and what does every part need to be? So, it’s a group thing. More than specifically anyone doing a, “Oh, I came up with this guitar part! I came up with it. Or it’s my drum part.” Instead of everyone saying, “Oh, this is my thing, no one should touch this.” It’s everyone being like five brains working on a part.
I asked that question because with a lot of people that I’ve interviewed during the pandemic, they said they had to do band collaborations through Dropbox or whatever. So what went on with this one? Did you record this during the pandemic, after, or what was the mix?
PK: It was right in the thick of it, but we quarantined and then we lived in a house together and recorded the record, and we didn’t go home or anything for a week. For us, we can’t work over the internet. We tried a few times, and it’s just…hard to get that vibe.
It <the new album> probably would have sounded completely different, right?
PK: Oh, yeah. I don’t think the record would be what it is.
GN: If we had a song like, “High Forever,” and if John didn’t see us get excited about something that was that outside of the box, that could have been like a throw away demo for him. But we said, “Yo, this feels fucking crazy! This feels really cool!”
PK: Yeah, and part of the process is us sitting in the studio and just talking in a circle about a song for two and a half hours. A lot of time is spent talking about what we’re going to do. And then it doesn’t take that long to actually do it. But you kind of have to get on the same page with what we want to do. And there’s a lot of…especially with John because he’s coming up with the initial idea, so it’s very easy for him to have a preconceived idea about what the song is. Or when he wrote it and he instantly said, “This isn’t a song for The Maine…” But then when we heard it we were like, “What the hell are you talking about? The only rule for it to be a song for The Maine is for it to be good!” <Laughter>
You have some great material to put on the record, right? <Laughter> What goals did you guys set out collectively with this record? It’s your eighth studio album, so you’re definitely an established artist by now…
PK: I guess the goal is to not repeat ourselves. The thing we talked about a lot, especially coming from like the Warped Tour world, is so many bands that we have liked growing up, it’s their first two albums you love. And after that, no one really cares anymore. And then they just go out and tour and play the old albums. And that’s just something that we’re not really that interested in doing. I mean, we kind of don’t play that old stuff as much anymore. And so the goal is for what we’re doing now is for it to be our best work. And that’s kind of the only goal every time. I mean, we’re in a modern time now, but it’s kind of gone back to albums being really long. Now people are putting out 16, 17, or 18 track records, and we would have done that too, if we had that many that many good songs, but we’re very harsh on what makes the cut. From the get-go now, if what we’re doing isn’t groundbreaking for our band now, then what’s the point? So I would say that was just to make the best record.
You always want to outdo the last one, if nothing else, right?
GN: The fans’ reactions to what we did the time before with You Are OK was definitely a reaction to Lovely Little Lonely. It was kind of similar, but it’s in its own world. And then there’s You Are OK it was this chaotic mix of how fucking crazy can we go? Then this record was a reaction to that. That’s just how it goes.
PK: What’s interesting with that, is that I can see some of our records would make sense in a different order than what they are. I think when American Candy came out, if that would have come out after our first record, before Black & White, and if Pioneer would have made sense around the timing of this record. I feel like coming out with American Candy then Lovely Little Lonely and now XOXO maybe feels like a more smooth path.
GN: Pioneer would have had more people reacting to it.
So when you do the vinyl box set, you can ultimately rearrange them, right? <Laughter>
PK: <Laughter> We couldn’t have made each record without the other one before it, so you kind of can’t think of it like that, you know?
Yeah, and Jason wrote in his Liner Notes recently, I don’t know if you guys read it, but he compares a lot of this new album to American Candy. From a lot of the elements where you went with the pop-driven vocals and stuff like that. Do you see any of that in retrospect, or hear it?
GN: For sure! I mean, we’ve definitely said that a lot of it comes from what Pat was saying earlier, about worrying less about the whole record sounding cohesive and more about living in the same world. That’s just gonna end up happening because of the references you’re pulling for it. But like not being like “Anxiety In Real Time,” “High Forever,” and “Pretender” are all living in the same album. When we did that with American Candy…that record’s all over the fucking place. But with this one, I think we nailed closer to being living in the same world because of the production elements we used. But if you just look at the songs, they’re fucking all over the place. And we were excited about it and it felt cool. I felt like something living in the same box didn’t make sense right now.
PK: Yeah, and I guess as far as the American Candy reference it’s because of the chaotic nature of every song sounding different. But yeah, it’s a pop first album, where You Are Ok or Pioneer, they’re stuck where the guitar riff or something that’s the thing that draws you into the song. This record is all about the catchy vocals, and we did that if you listen to “English Girls” and other songs on American Candy.
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. What keeps you guys motivated as songwriters now at this point in your career, and musicians in general?
GN: Really, it’s just getting excited about something you’ve heard. I mean, it’s weird when you listen to music, and you make music in your career, it’s one of those things that you’re listening in a way that you’re enjoying it, but you’re also thinking about it and thinking about a song while you’re hearing it. For us, going to a show and thinking about the production and saying, “Oh, that’s so cool!” I could take that, or whatever, and that’s kind of how I listen to music. Now, it’s like, that’s such a cool thing. And to put that on the song and steal that thing. And I think I’m still excited about that stuff. And when I hear a song I like, I’m wanting to figure out how they did it, and I get excited. And of course being in a band is still the coolest thing. But when it’s just the bare bones of making something I think that’s the most exciting part.
PK: I mean, I get excited! I think part of our trick is that the goals that we’re reaching towards are more ambitious. Where if your references are only working with other bands or something, and they only have a handful of albums or something, you don’t have this goal to reach towards. If we’re looking to the Rolling Stones to draw inspiration from, the fact that 30 years after the band began, they had a hit record. And a great album that makes us feel like that’s what we have to do on our eighth album, and it feels like you’re not just going through the motions, you know? And I think the biggest thing is that we’ve taken a lot of chances on different types of albums and songs, and the fact that the fans are still there, that makes us not be afraid to try anything. I think you’d be surprised by how many artists are affected by the fact that they have to make a certain kind of album or the fans aren’t going to like it, and then they’re not going to come to the show…Where for us, we don’t have to think about that because our fans are kind of down for a 10-minute song, or a minute and a half pop song. So we can do whatever sounds fun at the time. Sometimes that is making “Flowers On The Grave,” an epic 10-minute song with key changes and tempo changes. And sometimes it’s making a really simple, catchy song.
GN: But also, I think we know in the back of our heads, at some point this is going to end. So how can we do all the things that we need to get out of us now? Because this shit doesn’t last forever.
And especially during the last year and a half…Life just seems fragile in general, you know?
GN: For sure. And it’s just like, how do you have fun and experience all of that? Even if it’s the weirdest fucking thing on the planet? Let’s try it. Let’s do something crazy!
What have you guys noticed on social media, and also from the recent concert where you guys did the livestream broadcast, what’s the overall reaction to this record from the fans?
GN: It’s been wild and super crazy. And the coolest thing is the weirdest songs are the ones that people seem the most excited about. It makes me feel like we could do fucking literally anything now. And it would be something that people would still want to be interested in.
PK: Yeah, I would say the biggest and the most sick thing for me so far has just been that it seems like people like every single song, or there are a chunk of people who are into every single song. So it feels good to know that we made an album that’s not just a couple of good songs.
Yeah, and you guys are going back on the road relatively soon for the Sad Summer Fest with All Time Low. How is this tour going to compare to your own show? Like for “The Mirror” tour, that I was in attendance for,…what production elements are you bringing to this summer tour?
GN: I mean, it’s definitely festival vibes. So it’s not like production is going to be this crazy, flashy screen or anything, but I mean, we’re always trying to make the show feel like our own even when we’re in a situation that isn’t our own. So I think more than anything, we’re just excited to play in front of people again. That is the bar that we’re trying to reach. And then other than that, how do we make playing in the middle of the festival feel like some element of what is ours?
PK: And yeah, I think in this kind of an environment, we kind of give this space for John’s personality to come out and do his thing. And, I think we’re a dynamic band, and when we did “The Mirror” tour, it was very heartfelt and emotional. Now we’re going to go and play this festival. And, it’s gonna be chaotic. I don’t know what John’s gonna say from night to night. <Laughter> And I think leaving as much room for spontaneity as possible is kind of where we excel in this kind of environment.
And it seems like you’re getting pretty good notoriety from the other bands like All Time Low since you guys are good friends with them, but what are you most looking forward to getting back on the road?
PK: I mean, obviously playing the shows. I mean, we haven’t played in what will almost be like five months from when we released “Sticky” to when we perform it for people for the first time. So that’s going to be a really cool experience for sure.
GN: The show and then just getting back in the groove of touring. Yeah, it’s gonna be interesting. I mean, we hadn’t stopped for 14 years. We would just go, go, go. And then we now had almost two years of just kind of figuring out how to live a normal-ish life. And that’s gonna be fun to go back and bring the chaos.
So now you’re joining the traveling circus, per se! <Laughter> That’s cool…so with this album, as I mentioned, was your eighth one to date. Where would you rank this one in your discography, if you’re going to re-rank your records? I know it’s kind of a bittersweet question for most artists, but are there certain albums you look most fondly upon?
GN: I mean, so far, it’s felt important to where we’re at right now. It’s so early to tell. I think we really need to let the people decide. You know, we’ve sat on it <XOXO> for a year. And it was crazy to just have it just ourselves. I would walk my dog at night and listen to it and think, “This is pretty great!” But it wasn’t until we did a show, last Wednesday, or the first time people heard it we did this movie theater thing. And we made some visuals for the record and whatnot. And it was the first time people besides us or close friends had heard it, and just seeing the reactions there…it felt really great. And so it was like, “Okay, it’s not mine anymore…” The fans can decide now and they seem to dig it. Because if you were to ask me the day after You Are OK came out, then yeah, this is our best record. And then as things sit you really notice what it is. And so right now, I think it’s too early to put it on some list, but it still feels great.
PK: I’m really, really proud of it. I think it just takes everything that our band does well and is on another level with that, so that’s exciting. I mean, I think Lovely Little Lonely is a record that we’re all really, really proud of still and has become this kind of cult thing with our fans. And I feel like now this record is right up there with that. But in a year, we’ll see.
And just seeing everyone’s reaction as you go from city to city with this new material, I think you’re going to feel that this was the right time to release the record. With the summer vibes that it puts out, you know? So one of the last questions I have for you is you’ve built an incredible community with the 8123 page and the subsites. Obviously, I see that tattoo on your arm, Garrett. So what does the future have in store for your fans? And is there anything upcoming that you would like to potentially tease today? Any vinyl reissues or things like that?
PK: I mean, our fans are insane. They’re awesome. Every band says that they have the best fans, and this and that, but I think anybody that’s kind of in our little world understands that we have something going on with the fans that’s extra special. And it’s kind of this thing that you can’t explain, but once you’re part of it, you understand it. We’re just so incredibly thankful that we have this group of people that make it possible for us to do what we do. And we’re always working on something to give more to our fans. When we saw the Warped Tour was gone and we wanted to help form a new way for that to happen, it’s now the Sad Summer Fest. And now people are going to come out and experience that. And we’re doing the 8123 Fest in Arizona, at the beginning of next year. And we’re always working on new music. So I’d say, more music will come out faster than it has in the past. It’s also the 10 year anniversary of Pioneer coming up. And we recorded 27 tracks for that record, and we put 13 on the album. We put about five of them out on the B-Sides record, so we have some unreleased songs from that that haven’t ever been heard. They were made during that album and were finished and were intended to be on that album. So something will happen with those songs. And I think the 10 year anniversary would be a good time to put those out.
Definitely! I think about your interactions with the fans, and I know you guys are always very big about, especially when it’s your own show, meeting as many of the fans as possible after the set. But any interesting reactions to the new material?
GN: I mean, it’s crazy that they’ve allowed us to do it for so long. I mean, it’s one of those things that you’re just in awe every day of, you know, that we get to do this. And yeah, like Pat said, we’re super happy.
PK: Yeah, and the interesting thing is it’s our interactions with these people that come to support us, so it’s weird calling them “fans,” you know? I mean, we have conversations with them. And that last year now, the last few years, you just pick up right where you left off. Like I know where people work and what their favorite cocktail is. <Laughter> I mean, we talk about the fans all the time, and we’ll just throw out a first name and everybody in the band knows exactly what you’re talking about and what city they’re going to be at. It is certainly very tight knit.
Thanks again for your time today, Garrett and Pat! I greatly appreciate your time and everything you’re doing for your fans and the community.
PK: Thanks, Adam!
GN: Have a great one!