A lot can happen in 10 years—just ask the Maine. In the last decade, the band have released six full-length albums (along with their new collection of favorites-turned-acoustic), toured the world over (and over again) and even celebrated their dedicated support system with the properly titled 8123 Festival. Ask the band when they really started gaining momentum, though, and they’ll tell you it was their freshman full-length, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, which made its debut the summer of ’08.
Read more: 12 albums released in summer of 2008
“I can remember that time period a lot better than I remember things that happened even five years ago because it was just so exciting,” drummer Pat Kirch says. “Everything was happening for the first time.”
It was the Maine’s first time recording with a producer. It was their first time hitting the road on massive tours. And with it was the first step on their path of sonic discovery that’s continued over the last 10 years. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop features stand out pop-rock anthems such as “Girls Do What They Want” that keeps fans singing along show after show. There are heart-tugging tracks that slow down with “Whoever She Is” and groove with an electronic beat in “You Left Me.” Not to mention, the album’s folk-tinged closer “We’ll All Be…” that Kirch says has to be the “most important song of [their] career.” The 12-track record takes Americana, douses it with a sense of electronic exploration and, ultimately, documents the band’s youth and wide-eyed readiness to take on the world.
“I think, apart from our early songs, this album might be the rawest form of who our band is,” frontman John O’Callaghan explains. “It wasn’t a whole lot of overthinking. It was just writing songs because we were a band, and we were making an album—that was it. But it led us to this point, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As the band reflect on their start—and the places they’ve been—in the last 10 years, the “We All Roll Along” lyrics “Eighty One Twenty Three means everything to me” have never felt more relevant. Ahead of their performance of the record in-full at the band’s second 8123 Festival, follow the Maine and album producer Matt Squire as they take a step back in time to reflect on the release that started it all.
JOHN O’CALLAGHAN: We had very little experience writing music together prior to Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. The whole approach was foreign. We had worked with Matt Grabe on our EP, [The Way We Talk], but other than working with him, our knowledge of what it meant to work with a producer was very limited.
PAT KIRCH: We recorded it halfway through what was supposed to be my senior year of high school, so I was 17. My parents let me graduate early to go and record the record. John and Jared [Monaco, guitar] had lived in a dorm before, so they had a little bit of experience living outside their parents’ house, but for me and Garrett [Nickelsen, bass], it was very new.
I remember sitting around a computer we had set up in the studio, and we were starting to pick out the clothes we wanted to wear onstage and talking about the album artwork. We were living together and working on every aspect of it all at that time. It was just so cool to be on our own and to feel like the band was the only thing we had to put our attention on. There weren’t any distractions. It could just be 24 hours a day; the band was what we had to focus on.
O’CALLAGHAN: We were very into the idea of working with Matt [Squire] because of his resume. The obvious ones were there, but he also worked with Northstar, which I was a huge fan of growing up. So it was clear his talent was very eclectic. He could reach different sounds.
MATT SQUIRE: I was really excited to work with the Maine. I had heard some demos and was pumped for the whole thing. I always thought the band had a really unique sound, and I heard that right away. The thing is, at that time in ’08, we had already seen a lot of bands find success in our world, and my feeling is that every band needs their own unique sound based on who they are and what they like. The opportunity with the Maine was the Americana influences. That’s a big part of their personality, so I wanted to use an instrument palette that supported that and featured something unique on every song.
O’CALLAGHAN: I think the fact that we were fresh to the whole experience lends itself to us being open to Matt helping dictate the sound a little bit. Jared was kind of thrust into playing the accordion and guitar and all these instruments that had never been put in his hands before, and that was a real testament to Matt and his drive and his yearning to be different.
KIRCH: I think we had 13 demos when we went in, and a handful of them were only a minute long. So we got very lucky with Matt; a lot of other producers would’ve taken what we had and only heard one aspect of it. We had a sound that fit in with what was happening at the time, but he took all the weird parts of us. John was writing stuff that some people were comparing to the Replacements, Tom Petty and all these things that were very outside of what people were expecting a band like us to do. But Matt embraced all of that stuff.
His big thing on the first day was that he wanted every song to sound totally different as opposed to having us make 12 songs that could potentially be on MTV. He really pushed us, and it just so happens that John had a natural knack for writing songs that were a little bit outside of the box of what bands were doing at that time. The weird instrumentations and the time signatures that changed and all these things that we didn’t even really know how to do just came out of John in a natural way, and it was great to have somebody like Matt there to be like, “Oh no, do that more.”
“John’s lyrics are really a huge part of the band. He’s got a really unique sound, a really unique voice and a really unique perspective, and all that stuff, from my standpoint, was strategic.” —Matt Squire
SQUIRE: I mean, there were ways we broke the rules. We can still also do some glitchy computer stuff and not just be traditional Americana, so there were some really disruptive moments like that. The whole approach was let’s go as left of center as we can possibly go. Let’s use the ukulele, let’s use an accordion, let’s do anything that we can so that it’s not just the normal setup that you would expect: two guitars, a bass, drums, vocals. Let’s give every song its own flavor. John’s lyrics are really a huge part of the band. He’s got a really unique sound, a really unique voice and a really unique perspective, and all that stuff, from my standpoint, was strategic. Let’s support that left-of-center vocal with anything else that we can find that feels a little bit weird.
O’CALLAGHAN: I remember we were doing pre-production, and Matt said, “Write a song in 3/4.” We had never approached a song with, “Oh, what time signature are we writing this in?” So I think we legitimately had to look it up on the internet.
KIRCH: Yeah, Google it. “What is 3/4 time signature?”
O’CALLAGHAN: So we said, “Oh, OK. Now let’s write a song in this time signature.” [Laughs.] What was it, Pat?
KIRCH: “Kiss And Sell.”
O’CALLAGHAN: Yeah, “Kiss And Sell.”
KIRCH: He came in and met with us, listened to stuff for like 10 minutes and then he said, “Write a song in 3/4 time signature.” Then he left. He just left the room for a couple hours, and he gave us a call. He told us to play it for him over the phone, and he said, “OK, this is good, keep working on it.” That was the first day, and our minds were just blown.
SQUIRE: It’s cool when a band will listen to me when I say, “Hey, you should try something like this.” That’s always a really special thing. Not every band is into that, and it’s a testament to who these guys are. They’re willing to try stuff on and see if it works. And if it does, great, and if it doesn’t, that’s all good—at least they tried.
KIRCH: On drums, he really pushed me to play things that were outside of my comfort zone. There was a time where he was trying to give me an idea for a part, and he was hitting his legs to mimic what the drumbeat was. He was getting frustrated with me because I couldn’t get it, so he started hitting on his computer, and he was hitting it so hard to show me how to play this part that he broke his laptop. He had to go buy a new one. [Laughs.]
SQUIRE: All I can say is that I’m very passionate about my work. If I need to break a computer to drive a point home, so be it. [Laughs.] I don’t remember him not being able to get the part. I just remember saying, “Hey, why don’t we try it like this?” But I fondly remember what happened in the aftermath.
KIRCH: We were working long hours, and it was a crazy experience in that way. But regardless, it didn’t really phase us because we were just so excited.
O’CALLAGHAN: It was certainly intimidating. Not only were we making a record with this guy who had done other big records, but we also had people coming in and listening to stuff that wasn’t mixed and just off the board, so that made it feel like, “Oh shit, we have to deliver.”
SQUIRE: We had the opportunity to play the album for some people along the way. Anytime you do that, you hear it through that new person’s ears, and the reactions were really, really good. We didn’t want it to come off so modern that you couldn’t find a shred of history in there, and we got modern-day Tom Petty and Springsteen comparisons. I think everybody was really pumped because when you’re in process, you feel like you’re achieving something. But when you start hearing it from other people, it’s a great moment.
The finishing touches
O’CALLAGHAN: Everyone has their utopian tracklist. And when you throw in that sixth member who has done it a few more times and might have more of a prowess because of his resume, it throws another sort of wrench in it. But Matt was actually a great voice of reason. I think he said to do “Everything I Ask For” first, right Pat?
O’CALLAGHAN: So that would certainly not have been our way of starting the record. It was such a bold way to start the album because that song didn’t really sound like much else that we had put out up to that point. You compare that to even the first few songs we released, and there’s a night-and-day difference. It has more of a groove and backbeat than anything else.
SQUIRE: I just thought that from the EP to “Everything I Ask For” would be a really cool progression. I thought that both their fans and also people who hadn’t heard the band yet would be stoked with the song. At that time, we were still making a CD, and the mentality was that it’s the first song that people are going to hear. My big thing is energy, and I felt like that song has such a cool, hyper ’90s vibe and that it’d be a super-engaging first track.
O’CALLAGHAN: Everything else was generally straightforward. I think the one thing that was universally understood was that the closing song was going to be “We’ll All Be…” It just felt like a closer from the jump. When we actually recorded it, we had our buddies come out and do the group vocals with us, and listening back, you can definitively hear some of our friends talk in it.
“I hear ‘We’ll All Be…,’ and I picture the friend’s house that everybody hung out at at that time. It was a way to translate that into a song.” —Pat Kirch
KIRCH: That has to be the most important song of our career. Putting a song like that on our first album made it so that we weren’t pigeonholed into only doing “Girls Do What They Want” 10 times. We felt like this was our chance to let the world be a part of what we were doing in Tempe, Arizona, in 2007. It was kind of a look into what our lives were like. I hear “We’ll All Be…,” and I picture the friend’s house that everybody hung out at at that time. It was a way to translate that into a song.
O’CALLAGHAN: So now, just talking about it, it does feel like 10 years. [Laughs.]