When it comes to music, there’s one thing we can all agree on: This is home. Every band creates their own community in the industry. They bring together fans who then become our best friends, they deliver music that teaches us who we want to be and where we want to go, and they play shows that are our nirvana, the place where time stops and we feel like we truly belong.
It can be easy to forget how safe we are here when the craziness of the world crawls into view, but our best defense against it is to unite as a family. One band that goes the extra mile to maintain that feeling among their fans is The Maine. They’re good people, with a good agenda, who are trying to make the music industry a better place. I got together with vocalist John O’Callaghan to discuss his music world view, in hopes to remind us all (myself included) that the industry we love is still out there.
When John calls, he’s preparing for the Vans Warped Tour, something he’s really eager about. “I already started packing yesterday, that’s how much I’m looking forward to it. I don’t even leave for a week,” he tells. You’d think after all the years the band have been on the tour the enthusiasm would have worn off, but the excitement in John’s voice proves it hasn’t. It’s their last tour of the year before heading into the studio, they’re playing mainstage, and they’re anxious to spend the summer with their friends. “We know a lot of cats that are gonna be on the tour.”
After thanking him for the interview, we dive right in and chat about what drew him to music in the first place. Music has always been in the vocalist’s life, and his dad provided the soundtrack of his upbringing. “I guess for as long as I can remember, it sounds very poetic but, for as long as I can remember there’s always been music playing...Growing up I vividly remember just like on weekends, being outdoors and hearing music and just being around it.” As John got older, he started to realize that there was music outside the confines of radio and his dad’s collection, and that’s when he started to develop his personal taste.
So what does John look for in a song, exactly? If you guessed lyrics because of his position as frontman, you’d be… well, very wrong. “As far as an emotional connection, melody is what drew me in… A song doesn’t even have to be in a language I understand for me to feel some connection to it, and it’s all because of the melody.” He explains, before admitting he has a hard time with lyrics at all. When karoake comes up, he’s the first to bow out. I suggest he picks his own songs for those nights out, and he laughs. “I can barely remember those lyrics.” We plot a teleprompter for The Maine’s stage over more laughing.
From there, we move on to the moment John knew he wanted to be in music. For a decade old band, you might’ve expected this decision to be at least that old, but he tells me it came only a few years ago. “You know what, I think honesty is important,” he starts. “I would truthfully say that within only the last few years have I really been like, ‘This is without a doubt what I want to do with my life.’ It’s more so beyond just the band, it’s feeling like I know that this is where I wanna be. I wanna be creative within the spectrum of music and within the community of musicians.”
It wasn’t until the recording of Forever Halloween that John felt the band had really come into their own. “That’s kind of when I realized like I don’t have to be as afraid, as intimidated, to be in a room with really talented and respected musicians,” he starts, before continuing with some iron clad advice no matter what job you call your own. “Seeing that whole process through made me realize so much of everything is your approach and how you handle things and the way you react. As opposed to being shy and shying away from the whole situation, we really embraced it. And that’s when I really felt like, hey we’re actually a band now.”
Now that he feels right at home, I asked what parts of being a musician he misses the most while he’s taking time off. I originally wondered what complete downtime was like, sans touring or songwriting, but John was quick to explain it’s always one or the other. “I can’t really creatively express myself on the road as much,” he says, so instead he fully embraces each situation separately. When he’s on the road, it’s about friends, travelling, and seeing all he can see. When he’s home, it’s introspection and creativity. This time around, John pushed himself out of his comfort zone for the writing process. “I took a few trips and tried to really just put myself in a zone I’m not normally in and see what happens.”
It’s after this that we get to arguably the most important aspect of The Maine formula—their DIY attitude that’s remained intact after all these years. I tell John I’m impressed with how the band ran their own merch and walked the line promoting themselves during a Vans Warped Tour I covered, and he says it’s just embedded in their DNA. They’re independent as hell, and for good reason. “For us, the only way that we can really gauge where we sit is actually going out there. That sounds like we’re politicking, but it’s not.” The guys want to see how they’re affecting people, and they want to hear what kids have to say. “We’re just trying to hopefully set an example of the way things could be, not the way things are or the way things should be, but the way things could be. I think that that’s important.”
If you couldn’t tell by now, you can’t find a more humble group of guys, so when I ask John how he sees the sanctuary concerts create play out in real time, he admits it’s easy to lose perspective of what’s happening on the other side of the barricade. “The way I look at it is, I guess, from personal experience… For me, there is a therapy and there’s a slow catharsis that comes from just performing on stage that hopefully is reciprocated by the people in the crowd.” This isn’t to say John doesn’t know exactly how the crowd is feeling, though. “I got to see Tom Petty two years ago and that was one of the greatest nights of my life. It was just one of those moments that you really truly lose track of time, and you really truly believe that that’s the only place in the world.” I ask if it’s surreal to know that kids view him the way he views Tom Petty, and he tells me he just can’t conceive the thought. “We don’t view ourselves like that. We view ourselves as just normal cats… I don’t think we’ll fully realize it ever.”
While John knows the band is doing something special, he says they aren’t the only ones. “The people that are digging what we’re doing, they’re also doing something special simultaneously. They’re building this community of friends and that’s the stuff that I see more so than anything else, is just seeing the camaraderie form and that fraternity that they’re creating within their own community is really insane.” He credits the family to 8123, his voice filled with admiration as he talks about the organization and what’s next. “It’s something far bigger than the Maine or just one particular person or one particular band, and that’s what people are really starting to catch onto and that’s what makes me, like, overly excited for the future.”
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner are exclusively of the author or interviewee and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization. If you're a musician or an industry insider and would like to participate in our Artist Corner, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.