The morning I meet Aaron Maine is a warm and wet day in New York. It happens to be raining outside and we're seated downstairs in the corner of a coffee shop on the Lower East Side, an almost too perfect setting for discussing the newly released Porches album The House. Our conversation falls a week ahead of the record's release and Maine is feeling "pretty relaxed" about closing this chapter of his life.
"I'm ready for it to come out and speak for itself," he says. "I think I've lived with it long enough where I've gone through lots of ups and downs just thinking about it, but I feel in a really good place and am excited for it to come out."
Unlike the striking accompanying visuals for the album that were shot by photographer Jason Nocito, Maine's middle-parted head of blonde hair is no more — he buzzed it all off and reverted back to his natural brown locks for the next phase to come. "I'll have my brown hair tucked behind my ear and a mustache kind of like a villain," he grins. "This one's funny because you have to prepare for it and let your hair grow for like two months."
Over the years, I've watched Maine perform live a few times as both Porches and Ronald Paris, but the man sitting next to me here appears to be his truest form. Whereas he was channeling "Old Navy, back-to-school shopping 2003 kind of vibes" in the music video for "Find Me," on this day he is dressed in a relatively normal outfit — he wears a bright orange sweatshirt under a black denim jacket with dark wash jeans, camo rain boots, and a dangling earring. As he explains the origins of The House, he takes brief pauses to conceive his responses while sipping on a cup of tea.
"Throughout the record, it's just meditation like my relationship to my surroundings and how comfortable or uncomfortable I was in them at the time," he says. "Some realizations about things maybe not so much in the moment of writing, but looking back on it is definitely really interesting to listen to with more perspective and to try and pick apart what I was actually thinking at that time."
While many aspects of The House grapple with anxiety and the urge to retreat to isolation, there are also bright moments of clarity that will provide a sense of internal contentment for listeners. It's an outpouring of suppressed emotions that have been stripped down to their raw elements within an 18 month time span and translated into 14 synth-pop songs. In a way, the collaborations serve as a reminder that if you're lucky enough to be a part of a supportive community, you don't have to go through any of this alone. At the root, it's all so simple, but Maine manages to convert each moment into something complex worth exploring.
The House is out now on Domino Records. Learn more about the channels of Maine's mind while you stream the record, below.
Do you have any plans for release day like a big party to celebrate?
It's going to be pretty lowkey. I think we're going to do a small party at my place so I'll just have a piano and the record on and we'll get some champagne and prosecco or something.
I've been doing Dry January to detox, but that all sounds great!
It feels amazing to not drink. I did a few stints this past year, not longer than like two weeks, but you get so much work done and you re-adjust your whole social life and everything you do has more purpose 'cause you're not sitting around with the goal to have a drink.
You filmed the music video for "Country" in your hometown of upstate New York which had me wondering how living in an environment like that shaped who you are now.
In so many ways, it's hard to choose. It was a very small bubble that I grew up in. I was lucky enough to have some like-minded friends. I grew up skateboarding for 10 years and in eighth grade I started playing in bands and I had some friends that liked music so I'd do that. I was into painting and I had some art friends. I was really lucky. I know some people that were the only person in their school that were the only person interested in what they're interested in so I was pretty content staying there. I didn't come down to the city all that often even though it was only a 45 minute train ride. I'd come down occasionally to shop or see a friend perform, but besides that I was pretty occupied in Pleasantville. Besides that, I just started to write songs and anyone's surroundings sort of make their way into the content. I don't think there's any physical examples of how it's made its way or affected my music.
Did you grow up in a creative household?
My dad is a house painter and a songwriter as well. He's been writing songs since I was a kid so I did grow up with some of that. My parents split up when I was nine I think and my dad moved three hours upstate shortly after that. But I do think that was really important in just being exposed to someone so close to me being creative in that way. I just felt the midst of being a songwriter or a musician so it always felt like something... Not something that I could do naturally necessarily, but possible if I were to inclined to try and write a song so that was cool. My mom was really adamant about me and my brother enrolling in a school music program — I played trumpet from fourth to twelfth grade and my brother took really intense classical piano lessons and started studying in college. She's musical, but in a more classically trained way like disciplined and she used to be a dancer at one point so kind of that old-school style.
Your music always has these references to water through beautiful metaphors. Are you a water sign? Regardless, what is your connection to it?
I'm a Libra which is not a water sign I don't think... This question has probably come up in every interview and it's funny because I have not once thought about my relationship to water while writing Pool or this record, but it's obviously a theme that I keep circling back around to. I did grow up swimming. I was randomly obsessed with the public pool like way more than any of my friends, I'd be begging them. There was a lake that I also grew up swimming in which has always been a really special place for me. I just feel kind of at peace there and everything. It puts me in my place and makes me feel less heavy. The idea of being submerged in water, all the sound disappearing, floating and just being a part of the world in that way. When I'm trying to establish the scene or a mood, the first thing that comes to mind is the temperature or precipitation so I think that might be why. I like how simple it is, but it's everywhere.
You're an air sign by the way.
I sing about air a lot too, no one's mentioned that! [laughs]
Let's talk about The House. Where did that title come from? Is there an overarching theme that everything connects to?
The title refers to the apartment that I was living in before the one that I'm in now. That's where I wrote and recorded the whole thing so that obviously had some significance. It also felt like a really strong reference point for everything that I did felt like it was in relation to how far or close I was to being home and then how I was feeling when I was home. Originally the title was "leave the house," but I was talking to a friend about it and she was like "Well, it sounds like more of an ambiguous thing like you kind of leave it up to yourself and the listener to decide what their relationship is."
The first song is all about leaving the house and just wanting to do that and literally the second song the first lyric is "I think that I'll stay inside" so right from the get-go you realize that there's a pretty intense restlessness that runs through the whole thing. That seems to be the theme I'm realizing talking about it more, having listened to it more and had some space. I think it's just my affliction or something as a general restlessness, maybe a discontent to give it a little less connotation. I guess it's the classic "the grass is always greener" situation, but some people have more energy to complain about where they are to try to get to the greener grass.
All of the collaborations on this album are really great, you selected so many special and talented artists to be a part of this from Dev Hynes and Bryndon Cook on "Country" to OKAY KAYA and (Sandy) Alex G.
Yeah, it feels really good to have these people on it. It's very heartwarming. I kind of reached out toward the end of the recording process, most of the songs had been written but they just gave it such a new life. It's so much more listenable when it's not just my voice for 14 or 15 songs.
"Country" is cool, that's the last song that I wrote for the record. I'm so happy that it worked. I wrote it when I was in the throws of falling in love. It felt like a fresh beginning, some severe optimism going on and that felt nice to include on the record and point toward something new like a rebirth. I feel like the rest of the record is sort of like a closing of a chapter. I was wondering if I should include it on the record or not because obviously I really like the song, but in terms of the whole arc of the story I was wondering if it was appropriate and I'm super happy that I put it on because it does feel like a bright moment.
Another song that I really like is "Now The Water."
I like that song too, I really like the beat. It's kind of like the "Car" of The House.
On "By My Side" there's this line where you say "If you call me by your name, I will call you by mine" and it obviously made me think of Call Me By Your Name, but you wrote this before the movie came out so...
No, I'm sure people have. That's funny. Yes, this is true. If only they had waited.
Looking back now, what are some of the tracks that really stand out for you?
"By My Side" from the beginning felt like one of the more clear songs. I felt like I touched on some stuff that really resonated with me so that felt good and kind of heavy. I think it was the first one I recorded when I decided to record the album. I've always liked that one, it feels like the centerpiece. I'm excited for people to hear "Ono." It rocks in my opinion, I like the production on it and I think the melody and the relationship to the words is dissident in a beautiful way. "Goodbye" is one of my favorites too. "Understanding" when my dad sings, "Åkeren" when Kaya sings, two of my favorites as well.
How are you hoping to continue to evolve Porches?
I've just always been trying to outdo myself and to keep it as exciting as possible for me and hopefully that can end up being exciting for the audience too, and just sharpen my skills as a artist in my production, lyrics and everything. To find it super enjoyable to work all the time. There's no real direction, just to establish myself more. I hope I can connect with more people and be supported as an artist and afford myself all the time to work.
I'd love to talk about the visuals for the album starting with the cover. Why did you end up picking that image?
From a pretty early point in working on this batch of songs I decided that I wanted to put myself on the cover. Not exactly sure why still, but I was feeling very raw. I'm sharing a lot with the listener almost to an uncomfortable point and I thought in the vein of that I might as well go full on and have a photo of me without a shirt and a little eye makeup on the album cover and expose all of me like emotionally and physically. I keep saying "expose myself" and it sounds horrible, I need to figure out another way to say it! So that was a step out of my comfort zone, it felt scary committing to something like that.
We took all of those photos with Jason Nocito, he's a photographer down here that I've been admiring for awhile. It was a really beautiful two-day shoot with an amazing stylist and I just shot a bunch of stuff with the press photos in mind and the images surrounding the record about how I wanted to put myself forward… I feel like I was on a tip with my blonde hair parted and feeling really good about the clothes I was wearing and the whole visual theme I wanted to ride that wave and figure out how to have that translate around the whole campaign and have it be as satisfying, digestible, interesting and cohesive as possible.
Based on where you are now, what sort of advice would you give to yourself when you were first starting out?
So much, so many things I would have told myself. I would have told myself to get out of West Chester sooner. Staying in that bubble for too long, while it informed me at the time to not have to have a real job to work on music, it's such a small place that is so closed off from everything. I was so incredibly naive for so long. Listen to more music, be more thoughtful... You're a little brat when you're a teenager and so self-important. I guess everyone wishes they could go back with the whole outlook they have now.
Photography: Jason Nocito