the maine

The Maine reflect on ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’ 10 years later—an oral history

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.

The studio

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.

The Maine Can't Stop Won't Stop

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.]


The reception

O’CALLAGHAN: We always thought this could be really special. It all kind of goes back to that mentality of “we’ll eat fucking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until we’re 50 years old if that means we get to play.” But we were also extremely hungry—no pun intended—and we want to see what that feels like to play in front of thousands of people.

“We’ve always been content with what we have, but we’ve never been complacent. We’ve always wanted more.” —John O’Callaghan

We were also watching bands like All Time Low, Boys Like Girls and Panic! At The Disco who were enjoying enormous amounts of success. I think, for us, there’s never been a sense of complacency. We’ve always been content with what we have, but we’ve never been complacent. We’ve always wanted more. We were just ready at that point.

KIRCH: It got pretty crazy pretty quickly. I remember two specific things about release week. We were on Warped Tour for two weeks before the album came out. The album came out July 8, and our last day of Warped Tour would’ve been the 6th. We got the physical copies of the album at that show, and we sold like 500 copies of it at our merch table. And it just felt like, “Holy cow, people are excited to hear this.”

And then, the day the album came out, we were in Chicago for the first day of our tour with Boys Like Girls and Good Charlotte. We walked to go eat by the venue, and when we were ordering, the place filled up with people trying to take pictures. It was the first time that had ever happened. It also didn’t hurt that we were fortunate enough to be taken on one of the biggest tours that we could ever get on. The week the album came out, we were playing in front of 5,000 people a night. We didn’t feel completely confident in ourselves, but we wanted to work as hard as possible to take advantage of the opportunity. So we would walk the line to sell albums, and we’d be out after the shows taking pictures and trying to get people to buy the album. We just really wanted to take advantage of the fact that we had this album out, and we had this huge opportunity to play in front of all these people.

O’CALLAGHAN: I’d say out of all the cool things that Pat just mentioned, there’s one thing that really stuck with me about the actual release of the record, and it was not necessarily a cool thing. It was one of the negative things. There were review sites, and at the time, when you’d give out these albums as promo, it’d come with a promo item. We used a chapstick that had the cover of the album on it, and I remember a person that wrote a review said the only good thing about our album was the chapstick they got with the album, and that stuck with me. At the time, you couldn’t help but let it get under your skin. I think it’s hard to acknowledge the fact that you’re getting that because more people are listening and more people are aware of what you’re doing. But that will always stick out in my head.

The support system

KIRCH: At the time, we were excited fans were hearing about the band and enjoying it, but it kind of felt as if the “cool” people that we wanted to be into it didn’t like it. It felt like we were always considered the pop-punk boy band. It probably had to do with our outfits. [Laughs.] But I think eventually we were able to get past really caring what anybody thought. We knew we were going to do what was best for us and what was best for our fans, the people that were into what we were doing, and it helped get rid of all the outside noise.

O’CALLAGHAN: Totally. We listened to the people that actually affected change in our band—the ones going to shows and buying tickets. We kind of turned our ears off to all these other industry people at a very early stage.

KIRCH: This was when we started to see people come to multiple dates of a tour in a row, and then you start to understand that they didn’t just buy our album or come to watch us when we opened for a band. This is where we started to have fans of the Maine.

O’CALLAGHAN: Yeah, you started to know people by first and last names that are coming to shows. That was certainly a point where it was getting intense, but in the greatest way.

“This core group sticks with us, and they give us the freedom to make whatever kind of albums we want and do whatever kind of tours we want to do because they’re just as excited about the unknown as we are.” —Pat Kirch

KIRCH: There’s a girl named Steph that was a fan of Good Charlotte, and she was there when we opened that tour when the album came out, and she’s now been to like 180 shows over the decade. There are tons of people that heard about us then that have just been along for the ride the whole time. It’s that group of people that are the reason we are able to continue to do it. This core group sticks with us, and they give us the freedom to make whatever kind of albums we want and do whatever kind of tours we want to do because they’re just as excited about the unknown as we are.

A decade of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

KIRCH: I still remember John and Jared sitting in the back of the van. We were in Texas playing a show, and they wrote “Girls Do What They Want.” Not much thought went into it. It was just playing the guitar, and then John started to sing, and I think a lot of it in the beginning was just that. Parts just kind of came, and there really wasn’t much thought into what kind of a song it was going to be.

“I think this album holds a very dear place in our hearts because it was the first time we got to experience anything like it, and there’s never going to be another experience like the first.” —John O’Callaghan

O’CALLAGHAN: And in the same fashion, looking back now, that was very much how my brain was working when it came to lyrics, calling the record Can’t Stop Won’t Stop and thinking of the artwork. It was just intuitive. I guess that’s what my 19-year-old self wanted to say. There was a phase where I was like, “Oh man, what was I doing with my hair? What was I doing with my clothes? What was I saying in that song?” where I got somewhat embarrassed. I don’t view it as such anymore. I view it as just a really positive experience.

We got to the point where I think people thought we didn’t believe in this record. That was never the case. It’s quite the contrary; I think this album holds a very dear place in our hearts because it was the first time we got to experience anything like it, and there’s never going to be another experience like the first. Obviously, the fact that we’ve been able to stay a band and maintain relevancy the whole time has aided me in thinking it was a positive experience, but I think even without that, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop would still go down as one of the most fond periods of our band’s 10 years so far.

KIRCH: I think there were some mixed-up messages because we’ve always been so excited about what we’re doing next that we didn’t want to take time to look back. But it is fun to finally take a look back and appreciate where we came from. We didn’t think we’d make this many albums. I think there were certain times we thought we’d be way bigger than we are right now, and there were certain times when we probably didn’t think we’d be a band at all. We certainly didn’t think we’d be in the beginning stages of working on our seventh album. I don’t think we thought that was a possibility.

O’CALLAGHAN: It was all foreign, and even now, what’s exciting is that there are new things that you learn along the way. Even though you’ve done a million tours and you’ve met a million people, you’re still learning. You’re still excited and surprised by something every day in whatever kind of capacity that might be, and I think that’s why we’re still doing it.

the maine 8123 fest

The Maine are currently on the Vans Warped Tour, and you can check out a full list of dates here. The band will play Can’t Stop Won’t Stop in full at 8123 Fest, and more information can be obtained here.