It's been 10 years since alt-rockers The Maine formed in Tempe, Arizona and quickly released the Stay Up, Get Down EP. The following year's Can't Stop Won't Stop album proved two things: The band likes cohesive, parallel record titles (Black & White was next), and they're capable of writing intensely melodic, heartfelt but also contemporary and marketable rock anthems.
An early single like "Into Your Arms" from that debut album is a fine example. Essentially a power-ballad, the tune avoids total schmaltz by keeping tongues in cheeks. Dig this line: "And I'll state something rash, she had the most amazing ... smile/I bet you didn't expect that." Such humor is hardly atypical. The same five guys have been in the band since its 2007 inception, so there's camaraderie, a tone of "buddies getting together for a laugh" about The Maine.
Yet, don't hold bros hanging against them because there's been evolution. For one, they became adults—the members have gone from ages 18 to 28 together—and that just can't happen with gaining at least some wisdom. For bassist Garrett Nickelsen, it's only when he looks backwards that he can see ...
"It's been interesting," Nickelsen says. "It's weird hitting that ten-year point, and looking back, realizing all the things you've done. It's hard to put into words. It's just gone by so fast. It's not going to be until this whole thing's over that I'm going to be able to look back and realize everything we've done. But every record, I feel like we've done something different. We're always trying new stuff, which is important for musicians. It's been pretty wild."
The fact there has been virtually no turnover within the band's ranks, certainly none since the first recorded output, is extremely rare after a decade down. Usually, at least one guy falls by the wayside. Nickelsen puts it down to simple contentment, and time moves quickly, especially in an on-demand, all-information-right-now existence.
"It's one of those things," he says. "When Jared [Monaco, lead guitar] joined, I knew him but we weren't super-close friends. We've been building relationships and friendships together for the whole ten years.Pat [Kirch drums] I've known since I was 14 years old, and we've been best friends since then. If someone's being an asshole, it's nice to have your best friends keep you in check. It's such a weird thing that we do, so having people around that you trust and have the same goals in mind, I think it's what makes us stay happy."
The Maine's sixth studio album, Lovely, Little, Lonely, will drop in April, and Nickelsen and his bandmates will be relieved to see it finally emerge. It's been a haul this time, with the songs written last summer.
"It's taken the longest time to get everything going," Nickelsen says. "It's kind of been like every day we're doing something to make it come out. It's getting close to the time of people being able to hear every-thing, so that's really cool. It's a record where we really focused on the small things. ... There are sounds that connect on every tune. We've tried to do things like that for so long, and now that we finally sat down and were like, 'These are things that have to be on the album.' It's really rewarding and exciting, and we're hoping that people connect with it."
It's normal for a band to think that the most recent album that they've been working on is their best to-date. That's what they all say. But The Maine might have a valid claim with their latest, Colby Wedgeworth-produced LP. The band has continued to mature without losing any of the youthful verve, humor and energy that made them appealing to begin with.
"I honestly think that you can hear things that we've done before, and there are new aspects of things that we haven't tried before," Nickelsen says. "But I think it's us at our best. I'm super-proud of it."
Leadoff single, the fat-chorused power-popping "Bad Behavior," finds laddish humor intact—"You say you like the sound of cigarettes after sex/And I say yeah, yeah, yeah"—and Nickelsen says the tune is fairly representative of the rest of the record.
"I think it's one of the more happy-sounding songs on the album," he says. "There's definitely a darker tone, but we've been not-great about releasing the first song off of albums that don't represent it really well. I feel like there are aspects to it that are definitely within the whole album. But then we're going to be putting a new song, "Black Butterflies & Déjà vu," out pretty soon, and it's definitely a little different."
It's definitely a heavier track with a firm emo-punk suburban atmo, a sound that homages the many influences the guys soaked up over the years, and were soaking in while growing up in Arizona. Their homes are still spread out over the Phoenix area, and Nickelsen has fond memories of the scenes in the area.
"I've been in bands since I was 12," he says. "I remember being a teenager and booking shows in people's basements, the laser tag place or the pizza place. The scene was rebuilding at that point, and there were a lot of local bands coming on, and just doing it super-punk. Basement shows, and wherever you could possibly play. Then it grew into a bigger scene around 2005."
Of course, once The Maine achieved national success (major media outlets like People Magazine are raving about the new album) and had to spend a significant chunk of each year on the road, keeping in touch with the Arizona music scenes became more difficult.
"There are bands like the Summer Set who came around, and Anarbor who I've known for a long time," he says. "Hopefully, people are still playing shows [in Arizona] and not everyone has turned into a DJ."
On April 11, The Maine play Tucson, a show that brings forth good memories of driving here in their teens to see shows at places like Club Congress. Nickelsen admits that he's been on vacation in Tucson, but he's always enjoyed the little differences between our city and Phoenix. The set should be a doozy.
"We're trying to make the set more crowd-oriented," he says. "Doing little jams and having people sing." After that, it'll be tour, tour, tour for the rest of '17, and a possible album of B-sides, but there won't much rest. Great work if you can get it.
Nickelsen: "Hopefully, people go and it'll be fun and exciting. [Just] five dudes playing music."