As I told them at the beginning of the interview, I never really know what to expect from them anymore. Undoubtedly, however, 2015 is going to be the best year yet for Phoenix, AZ's The Maine, ushering in their most powerful work yet. The band released their fifth full length studio album, American Candy, at the end of March to critical acclaim. I caught up with Garrett Nickelsen (bass) and Kennedy Brock (guitar) when their headlining tour came through San Francisco with Real Friends, Knuckle Puck, and The Technicolors.
Honestly, I never know what to expect from you guys. 2013 showed us Forever Halloween, and now we have American Candy. This is usually a very general question to artists, but in your guys’ case, I think it’s appropriate: how did you approach making the album this time around?
Kennedy: You know, we wanted to do it in a cool spot. We actually rented a house in Joshua Tree and brought all of our own gear. That was completely different from anything that we’ve done before. Every piece of equipment was stuff that we brought from home. That was really cool aspect of it.
Garrett: I think the big thing with us was that we talked about what we wanted to make. [For] Pioneer and Forever Halloween, we didn’t really talk about what we were going to try to make. It was just whatever songs that came out. We wanted to make something a little more fun, upbeat, and happy.
In my opinion, I think this is very well the best record you guys have ever written. Every song is so beautifully constructed. What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned about songwriting as the years have gone by?
Kennedy: One of the things that I think the last record and this one allowed us to focus on was making sure each part counts, not just throwing in multiple guitar [parts]. It’s just what feels has to be there.
Garrett: That’s a huge one. On Black & White, there’s like fuckin’ ten guitar tracks on every song. Each part had tons of guitar parts and it was insane. When we did the last record, we were doing it live, and you can’t do that. It sounds cool, and it sounds great. We knew we weren’t going to do this one live, but let’s keep that in mind. Like, ‘how do we pull this off live’?
Kennedy: Yeah, I think that’s really important. Making sure what the song is going to be like in the live scenario afterwards so that you’re not doing something that’s not possible.
Garrett: Well it also sounds bigger! It’s crazy when you add and add and add, and then it turns into mush. Then you subtract stuff, and it’s like “Whoa! This is way bigger than it sounded with all of this other shit on it!” Less is more, all the time.
What was the inspiration behind the song “My Hair”? I have to ask. I felt like, lyrically, it was a little more of an outlier.
Kennedy: I think we can’t necessarily speak for what John (O’Callaghan) was going for, but my take on it was slightly deeper than him talking about his hair. I think it’s [about just] being yourself, being free, and doing what you want to do. I think that ties in very well to how we treat this band. We want to be ourselves and not be something that’s sugar coated and what everybody else does.
Who did the album artwork and what does it represent to you guys for American Candy?
Garrett: Dirk Mai shot it. To me, it represents the sugar-coated bullshit. It’s like, too perfect.
Kennedy: Yeah, I think that was the goal with it. It looks too pretty, too perfect. Everything down to it being super symmetrical and looking as clean as it does, that was an idea that John had early on in the process. We kind of switched that around with some other ideas. But that’s exactly what it’s about.
Another song I would love to ask about the process for is “Another Night On Mars”. It’s the perfect closer, and it’s the song I can imagine a bunch of people singing together in a bar, having the best night of their lives. How did the recording session go down?
Kennedy: It kind of felt like that!
Garrett: Yeah! It was the last one that had vocals on it. We had a bunch of friends in the studio that day. Eric from A Rocket To The Moon (now in Cobra Starship) was out, Dirk Mai was out, Tim [Kirch, manager] was there. We were literally like, “Okay, we’re gonna get this done, and then we’re going to listen to the record the whole way through.” By then, we were kind of drinking all day.
Kennedy: Yeah, we were drinking and just having a good time, just having fun. Pat [Kirch, drummer] came up with this game. He wrote down words on different pieces of paper, and I don’t know if you could even really pick out certain voices of ours, but you had to yell it out when you got it. (laughs) It was so ridiculous, but we were just laughing and all having a good time together. It’s very fitting for what the song is about.
“24 Floors” showcased a bit of a darker, more serious side for you guys. Personally, would you say that writing that song was a form of therapy for you?
Garrett: Totally! Yeah, for him [John] a few years ago, he was struggling with just being young and trying to figure out life. I think for him, it was the song of “okay, I haven’t figured it out, it’s totally fine, step back from the ledge”. It’s like, life is good, and you have to find your peace in that.
Kennedy: Yeah, musically too, I think we were going for that and trying to get that emotion out so that we could move onto things that were really good, like the rest of the record.
What kind of message, if any, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
Garrett: I think it depends on what year you’re talking to us. (laughs). I mean, we’re always trying to be positive, but we’re also trying to make you think too.
Kennedy: Something that we definitely get across in our music is that we all can be lost. Everyone is. It’s about being okay with that and moving forward, and trying to enjoy whatever it is that you want to enjoy. That’s what we get to do, and that’s what I think links us so well with our fans. They know that we are so, so excited to be doing this everyday and it’s something that we love. We try to strive to make people feel like they can do that with whatever it is they want to do.
What does music mean to you?
Kennedy: It sounds cheesy, but it’s everything we do. I enjoy music, I listen to music, I love playing. That’s all there is to it.
Garrett: It’s the coolest drug there is. (laughs)
American Candy by The Maine is available now via Eighty One Twenty Three. For more from The Maine, go to www.facebook.com/themaine
This has been another Shameless Promotion.