It Holds Up + Interview: The Maine – ‘Forever Halloween’

Posted: by The Editor

Somehow I’ve found that Arizona has produced two of the most important bands of my life–one being Jimmy Eat World, the other being The Maine. I’ll admit there’s some feeling of pride in knowing they’re neighbors to my home state of California. I suppose I feel some sort of camaraderie residing in this corner of the world and that someone like them could not have come into existence anywhere else but here. Funnily enough, the trajectory of both band’s careers are even a little bit similar, but The Maine’s is probably not as well known in the same capacity. 

Some people may never have followed a band’s career the way that I have with The Maine. I could certainly chalk it up to the time and place they came to be: late 2000s amidst the age of Myspace and Warped Tour still circulating the country every summer, but I’m more than certain that people who fell in love with music in my generation were not the first, and we’re hardly the last. The thing that my generation witnessed firsthand, however, was the way the internet and social media bridged the gap between musicians and fans, and for better or worse it allowed subcultures to continue existing and thriving more than ever before. After seeing The Maine at Warped Tour in 2008 or 2009, I found them to be one of the few bands I just grew up alongside in the digital age as a teenager exploring music at the time. Fifteen years later, I find myself still listening.

Hailing from Tempe, Arizona, The Maine were initially lumped in with pop punk/emo acts of the late 2000s. After two EPs (Stay Up, Get Down and The Way We Talk), their debut album Can’t Stop Won’t Stop in 2008, and a Christmas EP …And a Happy New Year, they found themselves leaping from indie label Fearless Records to major label Warner Bros Records where they released their second full length Black & White in 2010. It’s around this time that The Maine’s shelf life as a pop punk emo band essentially expired. When Warner Bros attempted (and failed) to craft the band’s image and sound into what could best be described as a slick Tom Petty-esque pop crusade, The Maine were dropped by the label shortly after. In a move that could have ended the band’s entire career, the period that followed is where they really emerged. Fresh out of the clutches of a major label that didn’t know what to make of them, they went on to release the album that reset their identity as a band. Their third album Pioneer was released in 2011, and it was the start of the true longevity of the band and the community that surrounded them as they self-released the album with all of its imperfections and boundless ambition. 

By the time any band makes it past a third album they either disband, go on to create much of the same material, or they branch out. The fourth and perhaps most crucial album within The Maine’s extensive discography is Forever Halloween. Released in 2013, it was a different side of the same coin as Pioneer. It’s their most straightforward rock album and contains some of their most self-aware and somber songs to date. Wistful and pensive, it somewhat disguised their pop sensibilities with a southwestern rock twist that exhibited a more mature identity than their pop punk peers. It’s within this album that the band established a stronger sense of themselves and understood maybe for the first time in their careers that they were more than just a Myspace fad, they were a genuine rock band and could accomplish whatever they wanted within their music.

“I’m really proud of it and I think even more proud of it now looking back. It was definitely an album that we were really going into new territory for our band that we hadn’t before and the sound of the album is very raw. We recorded it all at the same time and live and we didn’t overthink it at all because we didn’t have time to. It was just kind of like work out the songs, get in a room, jam it, and hit record. And so I think for that sake, it has a magic to it that none of our other albums have just because it’s an outlier in the process of how it was made,” drummer Pat Kirch says looking back on the album.

For the making of the album, The Maine recorded Forever Halloween the old fashioned way: straight to tape. As anyone could imagine, the nature of the recording process forced them to act in the moment and come together as a band much like they would on stage. With no room to second guess themselves, the amount of takes they had were limited to the length of an analog tape reel. It’s their most spontaneously written album that was based on pure instinct and captured the true essence of The Maine which lies entirely within their authenticity. 

“Now, music is so perfect that it really stands out when it’s not. And what’s interesting now, recording on computers and Pro Tools and stuff, you’re recording as much with your eyes as you are with your ears. You’re looking at the computer and you’re seeing if the drum part is in time, the bass part, and this and that, but when you’re recording to tape, you’re not looking at a computer. You’re only seeing what you think sounds good with your ears and you don’t really have the option to edit it and fix it. So you’re kind of just at the whim of how talented the band is and the thing is no one is perfect in our band. But it’s where the magic comes from when the five of us play together. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be us. I think that record was really just embracing that part of it,” Kirch expresses.

Produced by Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs, Forever Halloween gave them the insight and courage to continue as a band. “It really made us confident in ourselves because we had so much respect for him and I think we had really thought of ourselves maybe before that as a Warped Tour band. Like, that’s kind of what we need to stick to. I think working with Brendan and him being really excited about the music gave us the confidence to say that we can do whatever we want and that we shouldn’t think of our music like it has to be in some kind of box,” Kirch shares. 

Ten years after its release, Forever Halloween stands out as their dark horse album. It contains several songs that could easily fit within their later albums as they eventually returned to embracing pop elements, but also had a few tracks that were unique to that specific era. The heart-wrenching “Kennedy Curse” was the epitome of this album cycle as the song opens with a moody guitar melody that earnestly depicts loneliness and the devastation that comes with it. Songs like “Happy,” “Love and Drugs,” and “Run” all possess a carefree, upbeat, and dynamic feeling, but they also express self-destruction, chasing euphoric temptations, and never truly being content with anything. It’s a classic combination that they’ve mastered in their career since then. Anthemic tracks like “Sad Songs” and “Fucked Up Kids” are part of why it feels easy to rally around them as they have included such type of songs in their repertoire since the beginning, cultivating a sense of community whether in reference to themselves and their friends or the 8123 fanbase at large. 

The title track that closes the album is still a spectacular listen as it was probably their most ambitious at the time and featured a pedal steel effect and gospel-like background vocals that made for an otherworldly atmosphere. The portion of the song where John O’Callaghan sings, “We’re all monsters living in a dream / So you be you and I’ll still be happy,” within the context of the album, feels like emerging from a dream that signifies being comfortable with who you are in whatever monstrous form that may be. As the album abruptly finishes in the middle of a band jam session and the tape reaches its end, the silence that follows leaves listeners with a feeling of having witnessed something of significance. In all the time that has passed, it’s this particular song that Kirch shares he has grown to love more as he states, “‘Forever Halloween’ wasn’t really mapped out, we just kind of jammed it and that’s just what came out. I always thought it was cool, but I guess I just thought people would think it was too weird. I think seeing how much people embraced it really made me feel like maybe we can just do whatever we want.” 

The day the album was released on June 4, 2013, the video for the song “These Four Words” also went live on Youtube. I distinctly recall feeling stunned that it was the same band–not necessarily because it was a piano ballad about unrequited love, but because at that point they had never released anything quite like it. It was a brutally honest depiction that offered more depth and self awareness than run-of-the-mill love songs of the pop punk variety. It was also by far their most vulnerable song at the time and throughout the album there is an ongoing current of moments of epiphanies, self discovery, and recognizing all the shades of inadequacy and self-sabotage that exists within some of us. It was truly the ultimate coming-of-age soundtrack for me at the age of 21. 

Forever Halloween is one of many love letters to growing up, but more specifically it’s a reflection of the restlessness, disappointment, heartache, and adrenaline fueled days and nights that I think are most poignant in your 20’s. It’s essential to their discography in that I don’t know that all of the albums that followed would have been possible without this one. While they have never been ones to repeat themselves on any album, The Maine truly captured lightning in a bottle with this one, and I firmly believe it’s still one of their greatest and will stand to be their most timeless.


Loan Pham | @senseofexile

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