At a time when much of the Maine’s class of 2007 cohorts have been relegated to hazy, neon-tinted memories, the Phoenix fivesome continue onward unabated, cracking the upper half of the Billboard Top 200 with every album release to date (the last two on their own 8123 label) and touring to a legion of now-grown fans, 2,700 of whom made their way to Arizona this January for the band’s self-curated 10th anniversary bash, 8123 Fest.
The key to maintaining that fanbase, despite the lack of a radio presence or a label to grease the wheels? “I think that all stems from the origin of our band,” frontman John O’Callaghan surmises. “We all went on Myspace; we would log on for a couple hours a day. We literally made it a point to just sit there and respond to people and converse. That was what we attribute some of our initial success. Success meaning our initial tour, where seven or eight people showed up. Those were the seven or eight people we talked to from that city.”
Indeed, while Myspace is now as much of a relic as the groups the Maine toured with in their early years, the band have carved out their space via a steady stream of revealing content: everything from behind-the-scenes videos to one of the most active social media presences in the scene to keepsake items like books of photography and poetry that provide glimpses into the band’s inner world. Virtually all of it is made in-house. “We’re our best publicists,” O’Callaghan acknowledges. “We’re not getting love from SPIN, we’re not getting love from all these other places, so we have to generate our own content.”
Still, while the Maine have worked hard to maintain their reputation as one of the most accessible acts on the internet, when it comes to his own life, O’Callaghan could take it or leave it. “If I didn’t have the band, I wouldn’t have social media, because I don’t give a fuck about [people] from high school anymore, you know what I mean? If we were friends, we would just call each other and hang out.” And while the group recognizes the essential role interactive media plays in their career, they refuse to concede to the drama engine that feeds fans hot gossip but chews bands to pieces. “I believe that if we were to buy into that bullshit, maybe we would be a little bit bigger in each market,” he admits.
“But our whole focus is, we’re a fuckin’ band. We make music. Personally, I don’t care who is dating whoever from whatever fuckin’ band. That’s just not something that we’re going to put out there in the world.” It’s a fine line to walk, maintaining a personal connection with fans while keeping some things for himself, but O’Callaghan seems comfortable on his self-made tightrope, acknowledging that “it’s an interesting balance.”
"I’m humbled with what we have and I’m more than satisfied with what I see... but I’m totally hungry for more.”
Of late, a big piece of the Maine’s ongoing dialogue with fans has been Miserable Youth, a video series that debuted this past November and revolves around the recording of the band’s new album, Lovely, Little, Lonely. Miserable Youth found its genesis in the band’s constant quest to find new ways to connect with fans. As drummer Pat Kirch points out, “In the past, we have always gone silent while recording albums. So this time we thought we would do the opposite and show everything in real time.”
The inspiration? “When Blink-182 were recording their untitled album, they would post videos all the time and had a live feed from the studio,” Kirch recalls. “I would watch that all day. This was our take on that. We wanted to give a similar feeling to people following our band.”
Today, we’re excited to premiere the debut episode of Miserable Youth season two. For Kirch, the decision to extend Miserable Youth was an easy one. “We love having Lupe [Bustos] around hanging out and filming everything that happens, so we decided we would continue.” Season two will take fans out of the recording studio and onto the road with the band, bringing the Maine’s diehards an equally intimate look at a whole different side of the group. “We will be on tour for the first time in awhile,” Kirch notes, “so we are all really excited to have some fun. I’m sure it will be lots of ridiculous footage of us hanging out on tour, doing things that only we will find funny. It will all be caught on film, so I think people will get to see what it’s like setting up for a tour and playing shows each night.”
O’Callaghan concedes that, sometimes, he daydreams about those shows being a little larger than they are now. “On the stage in front of all those people in Arizona [at 8213 Fest], I just had this moment when I was like, ‘If this could possibly be a reality, not just for this festival but for a tour, and we could play to 2,500 people everywhere we go...’ If there was some magic button that we could press that would get our music into the ears of millions more, of course we would want to do it, because we’re so proud of our music and we write all the songs.
Why wouldn’t you want more people to listen?
“I have this, I don’t know, this thing within me. I’m humbled with what we have and I’m more than satisfied with what I see... but I’m totally hungry for more.” Fortunately for O’Callaghan and the Maine, their fans seem to feel exactly the same.