On this particular winter day, Aaron Maine looks the part of a typical New Yorker — black sweater, blue jeans, and black boots. He sniffles in the booth upstairs at Metrograph, actively recovering from a brutal seasonal cold. A few minutes into our conversation, he removes his black beanie to reveal a dark maroon dyed head of hair that is nearly identical to the shade of red nail polish glossed only on his right thumb. A tiny treble clef tattoo is visible on his neck along with two silver hoops that dangle from his left ear.
During the full hour that we spend catching up, Maine is only distracted once by a passing plate of beef brisket dripping in broth. Even though he has been trying not to eat as much meat with the intent of being more “health conscious,” the singer-songwriter can’t deny that he’s “a sucker for a turkey sandwich from the deli on my corner specifically.” These days, Maine is finally feeling grounded at the ripe age of 30. In-between sips of jazz mint tea, he reflects on how the past two years were like a messy blur, both “part of the same chapter as far as growing.”
“I don't know how long I can do this, but I think I'll be making music forever.”
Maine sat on a completed Porches project that he's been eager to release for more than a year. When he couldn’t resist the urge to wait any longer, he quietly returned with “rangerover” in the fall. (He proceeded to debut most of the album live in front of an intimate crowd at Sultan Room back last October.) Along with that single came a letter about the ongoing evolution of the Porches identity, which has served as Maine’s “love affair with music” since 2009.
“I don't know how long I can do this, but I think I'll be making music forever,” he tells me. “I feel like my window for being at all interesting or connected to the youth…Time is running out. That doesn't mean that I can't continue a career in another way, but I still feel like there's a chance to make a bigger splash and I love that.”
Not being rushed to release the album allowed Maine to just live with it though. Since then, he’s written 70 new songs and collaborated with peers like Dev Hynes, Mitski Miyawaki, and Zsela Thompson. He also got back into painting, which fans will get a glimpse of through the cover art for the newly released album, Ricky Music — the image is an acrylic self-portrait with the title written in a fitting font called Water Park.
“I'm single for the first time in my adult life, which is kind of adding all of this time,” he says. “It feels like everything is pointing toward me just hyper focusing and trying to make some shit happen in 2020.”
The latest single, “Do U Wanna,” offers a mantra for “convincing yourself that you do want to do something fun if you just say it enough.” Many of the new tracks act as a “meditation on something you're feeling,” which is a major part of Maine’s creative process. There’s even a not-so-subtle splash of Lynchian vibes in the mix that really brings the songs to life; “Lipstick Song” casts an unsettling spell as it borrows the second chord from the chorus of the Twin Peaks theme song.
“I Can’t Even Think” is the craziest by far as it depicts Maine’s real-life experience dealing with on-going construction on the building directly across the street from his Chinatown apartment, random crash cymbals and all. The dreamy trance track “Madonna” echoes the sensation, making you dizzy on impact with what Maine defines as a “frustrating tempo” that fluctuates so you almost can’t keep up.
“At least the way I work, if I find something that feels or sounds right, I whip myself into a trance or something by singing it enough times,” he says. “With new stuff I've been writing, it's a lot of repetition, which I think is cool to be minimal. Each time you say it, it seems totally different which is fun.”
And then there’s “Hair,” the biggest heartbreaker of them all. There’s no way around the fact that the intense ballad is about his most recent ex, Kaya Wilkins a.k.a. Okay Kaya. Even amid those gut sinking feelings around being “in the throws where it just flops out of you,” Maine finds subtle ways to lift the mood—the opening line calls out Mongoose, a Southern California bike brand that was founded in the mid-70s. The final version is actually the same vocal take from the day he originally recorded it in one go.
“There are moments where I'm totally lost, and kind of desperate for some clarity,” he explains. “I feel like ‘I Can't Even Think’ is an example of me just being like ‘I don't know what is going on.’ There are other moments where I think I'm a bit further away from the drama or whatever, have a little more perspective, and I can kind of laugh at how dramatic I am or how intense the situation was. Even if it was a dark moment, have some space to reflect on it in a way where it's not so like ‘What's going on? Why is everything garbage?’ Almost like making fun of myself and then just being a baby a lot of the time.”
An alarming sense of self-awareness shines through the new material while playing with Maine’s humorous side. He claims that this is probably the most that he’s ever paid attention to lyrics, which provided a strong foundation for the relationship that he built with the record. There’s genuine sentiment behind every word as he enunciates them with care, inviting the listener to really tune in on a deeper level.
“I feel like I had an awakening the past two years,” he says. “It felt more appropriate to talk about my experience of the situation without dragging anyone else into it. Took me 30 years to realize that…”
It’s not that Maine thinks Slow Dance in the Cosmos, Pool or The House don’t have depth — each album represents its own special stage in his life, “painting a picture of my world” during that period. While the catalog depicts how he was feeling at each point in time, Maine describes his older work as dark, dramatic, and heavy. Now, he’s more fixated on tapping into “whatever purest thing I can spit out that's uniquely me and a reflection of who I am.”
The ultimate goal is to continue making music and use it as an outlet to be as “raw and entertaining and weird and unfiltered as possible.” He wants to be a great artist and finds joy in every aspect of it from finding new ways to outdo himself to giving into the need for validation. It’s a delicate dance of keeping his “grand goals and fantasies” in check by managing expectations. At the end of the day, growth is the most fundamental element for his trajectory of success.
“I'm lucky to have gotten where I am now,” he says. “Even if it just stopped today, I'd be pretty proud. I feel pretty blessed to have this, but I want to move. I want to buy a little house in the country and get out one day. Make music up there, just quiet... That kind of vibe.”
“If I open Instagram by mistake, I close my eyes.”
At the moment, Maine is set on “working as hard as I possibly can, and grinding all of 2020” which means “taking every opportunity I have to perform, and record, and meet people.” He’s been experimenting with new mediums of performance art like acting and choreography. (A psychic once predicted that one day he would be accompanied by “performers involved in costumes.")
For him, the new decade feels like a super clean slate—he even admits that all he really wants now is to be “really clean all the time.” Maine has been following a consistent morning routine that he describes as a “chic spiral without pulling my hair out of my head,” which begins with running out for a cup of black drip coffee “within five minutes of being conscious” followed by a shower before any trace of madness settles in.”
“That's been big for me the last year and a half as far as feeling more equipped to face everything,” he adds. “Moving slower, breathing, and exercise helps arrange my thoughts in line with trying to put forward a more deliberate self.”
From there, Maine tries to avoid looking at his phone for the first three or four hours of the day—he leaves it flipped over screen down on top of the pile of his belongings. “If I open Instagram by mistake, I close my eyes,” he says. “I'm like ‘I don't want to see.’”
Another one of his new goals is to “stay off with that shit as much as possible” to improve his mental health. Yoga is an extension of his commitment to pacing himself more; he makes an effort to practice every other day. The prospect of traveling on tour, something he was reluctant about in the past, now fills him with a newfound excitement. He’s even looking forward to getting out of New York for a change and being “less of a hermit.”
“I've been happy to be here, but I'm at the end where I'm itching to go which is cool because usually it's like ‘Don't take me away, I really want to stay,’” he says. “I feel like I've grown a lot in the past two years and I'm down to talk. I feel a little more in touch with myself. I've spent time by myself, I feel like less of a whirlwind of a person.”