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  • Tiana Speter

INTERVIEW: John O'Callaghan from The Maine

Forming in the mid 2000s in Arizona, American rockers The Maine swiftly went from underground heroes to main event contenders and haven't looked back throughout their storied 15 year career. Straddling the realms of pop punk, rock, emo, and varied shades beyond the norm, The Maine now sit in command of eight full-length albums, published books and a touring rapsheet that covers everything from the legendary Vans Warped Tour and Soundwave, to sharing stages with Green Day, We The Kings, Real Friends and countless others.

Staunchly devoted to connecting with their fans alongside crafting consistently authentic and infectious material, The Maine have roared into 2022 with new material, the recent track Loved You A Little featuring Adam Lazzara from Taking Back Sunday and songstress Charlotte Sands, as well as a heap of live shows hurtling along before the band heads down under to join fellow Americans State Champs, UK rockers Hot Milk and Aussie bright stars PAPERWEIGHT for a run of shows this September. And it's right in the middle of a run of American shows that The Soundcheck's Tiana Speter grabbed a moment with The Maine frontman John O'Callaghan himself to chat Australian shows, the power of live music, and why we can thank Green Day for the group's ongoing mission to actively connect with their fans. Read on below!


TIANA SPETER: John, thank you so much for chatting today, we are now imminently about to have you here in Australia, you and State Champs will be bringing the pop, punk and rock here around Australia, along with Hot Milk and PAPERWEIGHT. Finally The Maine will be back down under, is there anything here in Australia you haven't done yet so far that you actually want to do? I know it's a pretty short space of time that you'll be here, are you gonna have any downtime while you're here in Australia?

  • JOHN O'CALLAGHAN: I think in our older age, one of the big things that I always look forward to going to Australia is - coffee! And it's something that y'all do extremely well, and breakfast as well. So, the foodie side of us, I think, is really excited (laughs). And just in general, just the fact that we're able to come back after so long, I think that's enough. There's plenty of touristy stuff that I'm sure we can get up to, but most of all I think coffee and good food. Last time we were there. I remember having one of the most amazing Italian dinners somewhere, I forget where it is, somebody will be able to tell me where it was. But - yeah! I'm going with foodie moments.

TIANA: These are all of the important things, and that's literally ticking off my favourite things too, this is fantastic. And tell me, what can we actually expect from a 2022 The Maine show, did the pandemic and all the weirdness that came with it give you guys inspiration or time to plot and plan for some new live shenanigans? Obviously at this stage of your career you guys know what works for you, but is there anything new potentially that's been thrown into the mix for these upcoming shows?

  • JOHN: I think being a band for so long, but also being fans of just music in general, that helps inform where we think our heads should be. You know, when we play live we don't like...or at least I can speak for most of us in our band, we don't enjoy going to see a band and only hearing unfamiliar new music, you know? But we also understand that as the artist you wanna share what you're usually most excited about, which is new stuff. So, I guess there's always a healthy balance of new and old, and we like to think that we do a decent job of appeasing a fan that's been around for 15 years, but also somebody that got dragged to the show 15 minutes prior. It's my job to hopefully have people leave and be entertained and hopefully hear songs that they can then discover on their own back at home and fall in love with.

"It's my job to hopefully have people leave and be entertained and hopefully hear songs that they can then discover on their own back at home and fall in love with"

TIANA: That's the thing, every time you speak with bands, you guys are the ones playing the same shows night after night after night, the fans aren't obviously....well actually, probably some fans are going to every show come to think of it!

  • JOHN: (laughs) There are some, for sure!

TIANA: But obviously is nice to keep it fresh when you can for yourselves too, and I know you've got your brand new track Loved You A Little that dropped this year, you've also got the recent album XOXO: From Love & Anxiety In Real Time. Can you tell me a bit about the latest track, it gifted some amazing collaborations, has all of that been in the works for a while or was it just a spontaneous "let's just do it" kind of thing?

  • JOHN: The record had been completed and then the world stopped spinning and we had an abundance of time to sort of kick ideas around in the studio. And we'd sort of just like thought: hey, we don't often collaborate. Like, this could be a really great opportunity to reach out to somebody. And we got Adam from Taking Back Sunday on the song, then we did a tour called Sad Summer and Charlotte Sands, who also sings on Loved You A Little, she performed at the Boston date - and we were just blown away. So we fast forward, we asked her to be on the song. And we've managed to only play the song twice without Charlotte, which was pretty incredible because we had her on our tour here in the States. And she was so generous in giving her time every night after her set, sticking around, playing that song with us, we did a full tour and it was like a brand new song essentially. It definitely took people a bit to warm up to it, and then we weren't playing any shows for a couple weeks. But then! We played a couple of weeks back in Philadelphia and we played Loved You A Little and people were singing every word. So it'll be interesting to see what happens with these upcoming shows, we'll see how much homework everybody has done in Australia!

TIANA: Australia, we're officially on notice, we've got a few weeks to make sure we know the lyrics! And I guess on that note, I mean, obviously you guys have played that many shows at this point in time, I always say to people I'm not gonna list them all because my Zoom will time out and that'll be a pointless interview. But going back to those really early days, you guys kicked off with incredibly massive shows, everything from the Warped Tour to Good Charlotte and countless others. From then until now, do you spy if there's constantly a typical or "standard" The Maine fan that rocks up to shows no matter where you play, can spot a Maine from a mile away?

  • JOHN: What a real trip at this point is recognising faces all across the world. We're about to leave actually tomorrow morning, we're playing in Hawaii and then we're playing in Denver next week. And at all of those shows there will be inevitably people that you recognise and have known for essentially 15 years. And then when we go to the Philippines before Australia, there's gonna be people that we see and know there. So, once we make it to Australia, I'm sure there will be familiar faces - and that actually makes us feel like we've accidentally done something bigger than just our music. I think the quintessential Maine supporter, I can't really narrow it because there are no boundaries. I feel like people just enjoy it and, and make friends because of it. And I think that that's sort of the accidental brilliance that we kind of chanced upon. There's no one form, it's all faceted.

TIANA: I love that. And I think that's the thing, for yourselves recognising people it's that amazing moment. But then it's also incredible for us as fans...I mean, there are people that I know through music and through gigs that I probably don't even know their names, but we'll always see each other and rock out at gigs and it's always that really beautiful, unspoken moment of connection for everyone. And we all have a really awesome thing in common, which is the music, it's so nice to have that.

  • JOHN: I'm still I've been searching for that word that that would be appropriate for being in a room full of strangers and feeling like completely all one unit, you know?

TIANA: There's probably one in another language or something, they've come up with this beautiful word and I'm just here clutching at like 50 words trying to capture it.

  • JOHN: Yes, exactly!!

TIANA: And tell me, like, I don't wanna put a fine point on it and don't wanna say you've been on this musical journey for "so long"...but obviously it's been 15 years now. You had so much happen so quickly from such a young age when you first kicked off, and a huge constant has been your live shows, they're so energetic and potent. Tell me, how do you all get yourselves "gig fit" these days, have you got any secrets or backstage rituals that help you unleash onstage? Or are you all just blessed and just born with it?

  • JOHN: A lot of it, when it comes to our material and the songs, a lot of it is muscle memory. We definitely have to make sure that we allot a couple days, you know, a week of rehearsal and whatnot. But you can't really prepare yourself for a room full of people that are potentially, you know, able to do whatever the hell on the night, you know what I'm saying? The spontaneous aspect of live music is what I love about it. And we also like to pride ourselves, even if we're playing the same songs night after night, I like to allot and allow for complete mania. There's a certain intimacy about that, the feeling that people feel in Sydney should be vastly different than the feeling in Perth or Brisbane. You know, it should feel like a brand new night every time. I haven't done any treadmill stuff, I should probably do it (laughs). But I guess I've got a couple weeks...

TIANA: Being onstage is already enough of a workout, you see bands come off dripping and exhausted, so you've probably done more of a workout with all these shows than most of us will do in a lifetime, so I feel like you're already one up on us. You don't need to overdo it!

  • JOHN: Yeah, there's very little that you can do to prepare. And other than just knowing the lyrics and knowing your songs, that's obviously pretty important. But other than that, I think it's just allowing for the night to dictate how it goes.

TIANA: I think that's the beauty of it, because otherwise you'd just be going through the motions and doing the same thing night after night after night...

  • JOHN: Absolutely, it becomes too much of a job at that point. And I think this job is way too abnormal to allow it to be monotonous!

TIANA: Yes, and as we all know, life on the road is not as glamorous as it seems...

  • JOHN: That's for certain (laughs). That is for certain.

"The spontaneous aspect of live music is what I love about it. And we also like to pride ourselves, even if we're playing the same songs night after night, I like to allot and allow for complete mania"

TIANA: Now tell me, I know, obviously we are about to get you guys back here performing in Australia, entirely not the first shows for you all as we've touched on already. But for you as a punter, what was the first live show you ever went to? Like, what was your first official gig that you ever actually saw in person?

  • JOHN: The first, like, probably big production show that I went and saw was Jimmy Eat World, Green Day and blink-182 in Arizona. I think I was in eighth grade, and I think we left school early. There was only one dad that took all of the kids that I was going with. And it was just kind of mayhem. You know, you can imagine like a blink-182 and Green Day show at that time, people were frothing! It was definitely a religious experience for sure.

TIANA: And tell me, after all this time is there a potential standout Maine moment for you personally, whether it was on stage or on the road, something ridiculous that's happened in your past that you just look back and think: how the hell did that happen?!

  • JOHN: I mean, different things for different reasons, right? We've been doing this festival of ours, 8123 Fest in Arizona, we've done it three years now. And somehow with this most recent one, there were like 5,000 people that came from all over the world. And it's just those kind of moments from a live show perspective where you can feel this sense of connectivity and oneness with a group of strangers, that definitely is unmatched. But then we've had ridiculous things happen too. We actually had a really sweet thing happen in Philadelphia, the show, I was just talking about a couple weeks back. A young lady had a sign, she must have been 11 years old or something, and the sign was her asking to play drums to one of our songs. We brought her up and she played - and she crushed. Again, kind of in keeping with the improvisational aspect of live music, those things are the things that always stand out. You might need something to jolt the memory at times just because there's so many shows. But if somebody in our band brought something up, then we'll all join in and be like: oh yeah, I remember that!!

TIANA: That's super special, and that fan story too, that thread of everything you guys have stood for as a band and what you've put out into the world just continues and grows. I can't even imagine what that girl would've felt playing drums in that now if you guys ever need a backup drummer, you're sorted!

  • JOHN: Funnily enough, the real reason that I love bringing people up on stage is because of that blink-182 and Green Day show when I was in eighth grade that we were talking about. At that show, Billie Joe from Green Day, their singer, brought up somebody from the crowd to play guitar on one of their songs. And I could see it from where I was sitting in the arena that it was my camp counsellor from like the year before. And I thought that he was like a superhero, you know? I felt like I was nervous and I was so fulfilled, like watching this dude that I barely knew play with Green Day. And when we started our band, I thought: if I can make somebody feel just even the slightest bit of that, then I wanna share that with people. So, you can thank Green Day for it!

TIANA: Well, thank you Green Day, and also thank you The Maine for continuing that and then some. We absolutely cannot wait to have you back here in Australia, it's been a good couple of years prior to your return, but we are all primed and ready for you guys to thrown down with State Champs, Hot Milk and PAPERWEIGHT too! Thanks for the chat John!

  • JOHN: Absolutely, thank you!


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