Aaron Maine is a little bit reserved, but frankly, I was expecting as much. It’s somewhat early on a cold February morning, and the enigmatic synth-pop and indie rock artist is fielding the phone call from his New York apartment – a living space that doubles as his principal recording studio and creative epicenter. Maine’s wariness is palpable at the beginning of the call, which is understandable given the considerable public scrutiny of his personal life in recent weeks: a feature story in Out Magazine had recently stirred up some controversy, as had Maine’s original response to comments via social media. And although Out eventually apologized to him and their readers for mischaracterizing Maine’s words in the original story, he had already been put through the outrage vortex: pulled in, spun around, and thrown out by those refusing nuance.
With that experience as the context and backdrop to our conversation, I was somewhat surprised he agreed to this interview. After all, this call was coming on the tail end of a press cycle, and Maine had done enough to promote his latest record. And to be honest, until he actually picked up, I wasn’t certain he would answer the phone – a skepticism only further compounded by his dial tone, a very long excerpt from Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”. The first few minutes are tense with small talk, as if he’s expecting me to start with a body blow, and it’s only when I ask Maine about this unusual hold music that he begins to soften.
“I bought like a ringtone on a cellphone ten years ago and when it expired after a month it dissolved into that,” he says, with a satisfied laugh. “I don’t know. Some people like it, some people think it’s menacing.”
(For the record, Aaron – I thought it was funny).
2016’s Pool was the record that launched Maine, as Porches, firmly into indie-rock darling status. The record had a cool, self-assured detachment throughout, underpinned by funky bass grooves, heady synths, and Maine’s enveloping vocal stylings. At the time, Maine and his then-partner Frankie Cosmos were at the center of the New York DIY universe, even if the end of their relationship was not too far on the horizon. If anything, The House, released in January this year, is achingly transparent – pointing out the visible cracks in the façade that were always there but we chose to ignore. Although none will ever be able to accuse Maine of being a literal lyricist, this is his most direct – and some of his best – work yet.
Porches plays Washington, D.C.’s Black Cat March 22, The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn March 23, and the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan March 24. The House is out now on Domino Records.
Brightest Young Things: From what I’ve read, there was an element of asceticism in the process of creating The House – a real routine, a lot of discipline throughout. Was this any different from your usual way of creating music, and if so, how?
Maine: It wasn’t so different from the process of Pool, which was kind of the first real experience I had with producing my own music and recording it by itself. The main difference was it was just like an intensified version; just highly concentrated. I spent even more time on [The House], and kind of without planning on a regimented process it just kind of became that way. I think my time at home started to feel a bit more precious, knowing it was limited – you know, kind of in between touring Pool and stuff. I’ve always been inclined to make music and art as often as I can and I think that now that I’m able to do it on my own time, or do it at home on my computer, there’s kind of nothing stopping me which is mostly a good thing. [Distractedly] Sometimes it’s a bit obsessive.
BYT: You recorded this album at home, as you also did with Pool. Do you think you’ll ever want to go back into a studio to make your music or do you need that intimacy and close quarters and ultimately, the control, of recording at home?
Maine: I think that I will always need at least a certain level of intimacy and time alone during the writing process. But I am yeah, really curious to hear what it’d be like to work with another producer. I’ve just been so interested in the production part that I have been inclined to just figure it out myself, but I think it would be kind of stupid to not get involved with someone else – at least somewhere down the line – and collaborate that way. Making music is always an extremely personal thing. I can’t write the like, “meat” of the song with anyone around, so that’s in my journal or my phone or something like that. I’ve never really tried to write a song while in the room and about to record; at least I’ve never tried to write a song of my own in the room with someone else.
BYT: You’re describing your creative process as being rather solitary in nature. However, you seem to have a solid history of collaborating with others ranging from Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) to Alex G, Frankie Cosmos, and Bryndon Cook (Starchild and the New Romantic). How do you manage to navigate the tension and dichotomy between feeling really comfortable working alone but also wanting to bring other voices into the room?
Maine: Well, the way I went about it with this record is I didn’t start having people over to work on it until the songs were almost completely developed, or at least mapped out, recorded to a certain extent. I think by the time they were there I felt comfortable enough where they were in a place where my idea of them was down and I was open to anything people have to contribute to it. So, it’s pretty organic and it wasn’t; it felt good. I think it was the most successful form of collaboration I’ve ever been a part of in terms of letting go and it feeling right and natural.
And yeah that track “ Åkeren” that OK Kaya sings – that was actually a totally unexpected day and is an example of one of the first songs I’ve written with someone there. I had asked her to come over to maybe sing on some other tracks on the record and we ended up making that, so that was a pleasant surprise too, to see that I happen as well.
BYT: Let’s talk about Pool again for a second, it was a critically acclaimed record and I think it upended or greatly shifted common perceptions of you as an artist. I can imagine along with that there has been increased attention, popularity and ultimately some scrutiny in your personal life as well. How have you navigated that?
Maine: It’s definitely been a learning experience and I think that a lot of trial and error. As painful as a way that is to learn, I think that’s kind of the only way, but it’s been good. It’s a very different thing… Your actions and words translate very differently in a public context as opposed to your personal experience and I’ve just learned to just be careful and be aware and share… Just really ask yourself what you’re comfortable sharing. Whether it’s stuff about your relationship, your romances, your friendships, your choices. Yeah, I imagine for anyone there’s no, like, rule book you just kind of have to figure it out.
BYT: I can imagine that’s difficult. I mean, I haven’t experienced it myself but I can imagine it’s difficult.
Maine: Yeah, it’s difficult sometimes, but it’s a responsibility that comes with having a platform and ultimately that’s no one else’s responsibility but your own. That is something that kind of takes a second to wrap your head around, too.
BYT: Has this elevated platform affected the way you think about music, about making music and does the baseline expectation of potentially commercial viability play a role in a way it may not have before?
Maine: I like to think that it hasn’t. I think I’ve always made music from the same place, for the same reasons, and one of those reasons is not commercial viability, or something. I think if anything The House might be a testament to that. [Laughs] I thought I was exploring and doing something exciting with these interlude type songs, these short songs, and I was shocked when people were like “learn how to finish a song!” [Laughs] It’s like the last response I was expecting; to me still these are some of the most exciting moments on the album.
I believe the only way you’re going to make something as good as you can possibly make is to completely embrace what you’re inclined to do and go with it against all odds, because that’s the kind of art that only you can make and that’s what people want, I think – that uniqueness. I don’t know. I’m kind of stumbling through this answer; but in short, no. Obviously I want my music to resonate with people and reach a lot of people, but first and foremost I have to be able to stand behind it and believe in it and if it resonates with me, I feel comfortable sharing it and dealing with what people think of it after I’ve come to terms with what I wanted to put out.
BYT: That critique – that you should “learn how to finish a song” – was so curious to me. I thought those vignettes and short musical interludes were a great way to add further color to the record. They never came across to me as unfinished ideas, but rather something that stands on its own even though it’s short.
Maine: I’m glad, you know people…everyone likes what they like. It seems like the rawest, truest version of an idea of a song is that first thing, and I felt like they could stand for themselves and it would be interesting to hear that way. [Exasperated] Ofcourse I know how to finish a fucking song – I’ve released seven or eight full records. [Laughs] I don’t know. I can’t help but feel a little sore about it but obviously it’s just funny to me now. At first I was like “are you kidding me?”
BYT: The House is much more direct lyrically than Pool. In a way it’s evocative of what you described to my colleague Peter Lillis as “turning shitty situation into a beautiful song”, which is something that you said you were moving away from doing on Pool.
Was there a conscious decision to move back to grappling with the more personal and direct on The House, understanding the context of how this record was written?
Maine: Yeah, I guess. I don’t know how conscious that decision was or if it was just a natural gravitation towards that kind of style of lyricism, but I did recognize that Pool was very abstract lyrically. It was kind of soft and left a lot to the imagination, and I think that was that way for a number of reasons. For this record, for whatever reason, it just felt like I wanted to say more and I think I’ve continued to go into the direction with the new stuff I’ve been working on. Just trying out new ways to communicate through my music and lyrics, and I’m into all sorts of stuff you know? From the most vague, abstract mood lyrics to like… I really love when people talk about the opposite of what you would consider like a “nice string of words” or something to describe. I think it takes a certain level of honesty or courage to reveal certain things about yourself; that to me is sometimes more powerful than a bunch of nice words together.
BYT: I want to switch gears slightly to discuss to a recent story that generated some news – the profile of you in Out Magazine. There was a fair amount of backlash directed at you and at the publication and ultimately, Out ended up posting an apology to you and to the readers for misrepresenting your position through unfairly editorializing your words rather than letting you speak for yourself.
As a response to the original controversy you posted a statement on your Instagram story explaining your position and one thing that caught my attention was your statement “I’m interested in queerness, but mainly performance. Porches has been a platform for me to explore who I am and have myself reflected to me since I started the project almost 10 years ago.” Can you elaborate on that response and the broader response you gave a little further?
Maine: Well, I’ll say that that first response was hasty and insensitive in a lot of ways which is why I took it down – I didn’t feel like I could stand behind it. It is not something that I feel prepared to speak about publically again just yet and I think until I am it, definitely weighs very heavily on me. It’s been a very good learning experience and I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends and people, strangers, and DMs about it, so it’s an ongoing conversation for sure. I think it’s a very necessary one to have.
BYT: I respect that and I appreciate your transparency about not being ready to comment further.
You’ve made music under several different pseudonyms and with bands throughout your career: Porches, Space Ghost Cowboys, Ronald Paris, Sex God, Ronny Mystery, and under your given name. Does each of these identities have their own artistic or creative lane? Which is to say: does Ronald Paris make music that sounds like Porches?
Maine: Not exactly. That’s not the reason they exist. I think the main reason they exist is they kind of represent different versions of myself that I’ve seen throughout the past 10-12 years I’ve been making music, and as time passes and my tastes change and the type of music I make changes, it feels appropriate to me or useful to me to kind of treat it as what it is. Just a different version of myself making art. Especially when it’s all under the blanket of Porches, it helps me to have these chapters and these bookmarks in the larger arc of my career. I don’t know what the criteria is for what is Porches and what is not, but sometimes you know something will just feel like it should be released under a different name. Or some stuff feels Porches. I don’t know – it’s again kind of just a natural inclination.
BYT: What are you most looking forward to in 2018? What do you have ahead of you that you’re excited about?
Maine: Well, I feel a lot of ways about tour, but one of those feelings is excitement and I’m super happy with how the live set is sounding. We start tour tomorrow, like I said. I think it’ll be great to go out into the world with this record; I’ve kind of been off the radar for the last year, so it really does feel like some sort of a rebirth – at the risk of sounding cheesy, because it is just me, but I realize I haven’t seen people in a while and people haven’t seen me or the band in a while, so it’s exciting to catch everyone up. I’m excited to keep working on music, writing music, recording music; excited to try and do some traveling this summer with my girlfriend, and to keep on working on music with her. I’m excited to fucking keep going.