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Porches' Aaron Maine Discusses Dark Muscle, Escapism, and the Obsolescence of the Encore

Music InterviewWeston PaganoComment
Cover photo by Jessica Lehrman / Live shots by Andrea Calvetti

Cover photo by Jessica Lehrman / Live shots by Andrea Calvetti

"Do you believe in us? I'm scared about everything," Aaron Maine asked a tightly packed crowd in the narrow floor of Chicago's Subterranean dive. As he crooned he brandished cut flowers from a bouquet the openers left onstage like a child picking up an aspergillum, while others adorned his mic stand. A dedicated audience sang and danced along to songs about the protagonist's "loner hour," as if to answer they believed in Porches quite a bit despite - or because of - the aloofness they often exude.

Maine's New York-based project ushered in an era of change on their latest full-length, Pool. The group dropped the period from their name and signed to Domino Records. The subsequent new material unveiled a sharper production and more deliberate, danceable sound. Maine's girlfriend, Greta Kline - better known as Frankie Cosmos - left the band to pursue her own work. Maine went blond.

Transverso called Maine a few days after the show to talk about the tour and ask a few questions about the music and dark muscle he's brought along.

TRANSVERSO: How are you?

AARON MAINE: I’m good. We’re in Burlington now. Finally got more than five hours of sleep last night, so I’m feeling pretty fresh, and it’s beautiful here, so I’m feeling good.

Sometimes on Twitter before a show I see you asking for someone to host you. Is that what you did last night?

Yeah. It’s kind of funny; usually we’ll just stay with a friend if we have one in the city or get a hotel, but for whatever reason we just kind of reached out a few times on Twitter. It was sweet, [last night] they set up their living room with all these beds and we got in at 3 AM - we drove after the show in Montreal – and it was just nice to kinda chill there and wake up here where we’re playing and not have to drive today.

Have you ever gotten into any crazy situations doing that?

No. It’s funny, this is the first tour we’ve really done this, and last night was the second time. Some guy who we had never met offered his apartment in Boulder and that was kinda funny, being like, “Hello, thank you for having us.” We didn’t even play a show that night, we were just driving that day, but both people have been super hospitable and accommodating so it’s been fine. We got lucky. You can kind of tell, I guess, by looking at someone’s Twitter a little bit what to expect.

So you work under the names of several different characters. Am I speaking with Aaron Maine, Ronald Paris, Ricky Pepsi, or Ronnie Mystery?

Um, I guess I would say Aaron. Yeah. [Laughs] Or all of them.

A lot of your lyrics seem to grapple with a struggle between escapism and connection. You either “don’t want to be here” or you want to “be a part of it all.” You either want to be up in “The Cosmos” or “Underwater.” What can you tell us about that?

Wow, yeah, you just kinda nailed it, I guess. I don’t know, it’s just sort of… I feel like that’s kind of a big part of life; reacting to your surroundings and how they kind of inform how you’re feeling. I guess I just write about whatever I’m feeling that day. Or if some line pops into my head. I kinda like the theme of escapism. It’s like a constant thing, there’s always some kind of interaction happening between where you are and what’s going on around you and if you’re happy where you are or if you’re not and its seems like kind of an endless well of content. I guess it’s easier than writing about more specific situations. I guess I kind of feel like it allows me to inject some more abstract poetry, or like paint like a more abstract mood. So, yeah it’s just kind how I’m feeling most of the time. [Laughs]

Despite identifying with these alternative settings either in “The Cosmos” or “Underwater,” porches are pretty normal, down to Earth places to rest contently. Until you quietly removed it this year you even had a period at the end of your name which seemed to ground things even more. What’s the symbolism of that?

I don’t know. I’m not in love with the band name, Porches, to be honest, and I can’t really even remember what the thought process was of naming the project that. We probably just liked how it sounds. I grew up in the suburbs and I guess it probably came from just enjoying hanging out on the porch, which seems really conflicting with the way stuff is sounding now. I guess the way I see it it’s just a name.

And the period just seemed unnecessary, I guess, so we just started to not include it. It wasn’t that big of a decision. But yeah, it just seems to make sense to stick with [Porches]. Also, sort of why I’ve come up with all these other names like Ricky Pepsi and Ronald Paris within Porches is to kind of differentiate, even if it’s just for my own sake, the different chapters of the band and the sound and stuff. So while keeping the name I can kind of create what kind of feels like a clean slate by mentioning some other names for myself.

Is it strange seeing people sing and dance along to you singing about escapist things like your “loner hour”?

No, I really love that. I kind of planned on the juxtaposition of that more melancholic content adjacent to upbeat dance-ish songs. I feel like I don’t have that much control about what I’m drawn to write about lyrically, but I do feel like I can kind of choose what way to present that, and I just wanted to, especially with Pool, put some sort of thing out that people could definitely dance to and have a positive time during the live show, or, you know, even listening to it on the speakers and headphones. So it’s cool, it’s exciting. I feel like for a while the live show wasn’t like that, and it kind of demanded this other sort of attention from the audience to get on this weirder, maybe not depressing, but kind of angsty emotional level. We played a lot over the past five years and it takes a little time for the older fans to adjust to the new tempo and overall vibe of how the band sounds now, and it’s really exciting to see people kind of catching on and realizing it’s cool to dance and it’s encouraged, and slowly seeing the new direction catch on with the audiences. It’s really exciting.

Is it for that reason you usually avoid putting past material in the setlist, save for “Headsgiving” and maybe one or two more from Slow Dance in the Cosmos? Is it a conscious decision to move on, or do you just want to preserve the experience of the new material more in its entirety?

Yeah, I guess it’s a little bit of both. I think naturally I’m most excited about the most recent music that I’ve made, so it seems natural to me to kind of play most of that stuff. For a while there was a little more half-and-half - newer stuff and older stuff - and it felt like it kinda worked. There’s a way to kind of work the setlist to where we would start off with the newer kind of subtler arrangements and kind of ramp up to the older kind of like distorted rock songs. We’ve just been kind of learning the new tracks from Pool and that’s what were focusing on now, it’s what the press is focusing on now, so it feels good to play that stuff. And I like to throw in some older songs for, I guess myself and for the audience too, like stuff from Slow Dance. We actually learned "Daddies" and this is like the first tour that we’ve ever played that song live, and that’s an even older song, so it’s kind of fun to be able to pluck songs from different chapters from Porches, but I like playing the new stuff a lot.

I’ve seen a couple of your shows this cycle and “Shape” seems to be the only track off of Pool that you don’t play. Is there a reason for that? Personally, it’s one of my favorites.

Yeah, it’s one of my favorites too, we just haven’t gotten around to arranging it. It’s kind of like a trickier one to pull off live ‘cause it is so sparse and relies so much on production in the studio, but yeah, that will happen eventually. I really do like that song a lot and I think it would be cool to play it live.

I read the Pool track “Glow” was an evolution of a demo from years ago, and on Slow Dance in the Cosmos you had a track called “After Glow.” What’s the connection there? Is the latter a sort of sequel?

No, they were actually written pretty far apart. Most of the stuff on Pool, like “Glow” and “Mood,” I wrote those all around the same time, which was a while ago. Maybe like two years or something, which is kind of crazy to think about. But yeah, I was conscious of calling it “After Glow,” and they’re not really related, but I think you could kind of make them related if you wanted to think about it that way. I like the idea of some sort of weird continuity or reoccurring theme between albums or within albums, so there’s that.

I noticed you haven’t been playing encores. Is that a regular thing?

I’ve always had a really hard time with the concept of encores and the fact that as a band you might come to expect it. You even write, like you decide what songs you’re gonna play for an encore, if there is one, and it just seems like a sort of goofy showy thing; leaving the stage and waiting for the audience to call for you to come back. So last tour in the Spring I always felt like so awkward after and never wanted to do it. So it’s not like we we’re not doing encores, but I’ve just been saying “This is where we would end the set and I hope that you guys want to hear the rest of the set, but if it’s cool with you we’ll just play like three more songs - it would be great to just stay up here and finish out the set.” That’s kind of been the best situation for us so far, to just stay up there and play a 15, 16-song set and eliminate that weird encore thing. It seems like a joke.

Do you think the encore will become obsolete then and start to go away?

I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like it. It just seems like textbook now. I imagine in the past it used to be you wouldn’t expect that, and if it did happen it would be a really special thing, and you would come back out. I just don’t like how calculated it’s become, and it seems kind of flashy to expect it. I mean, I’m down if people do it, that’s all cool, but it always made me feel a little strange. So I’m glad that we figured out a way to kind of ask if they mind if we play a few more songs. I did do one last night, for some reason they will usually put on a song right after the last song to signify that the set is in fact over, but there was no song, and people were really yelling for an encore. So I did go back out and play a solo song which was fun and that felt better ‘cause I hadn’t planned on it and I had kind of told everyone that this was the set. But they really did insist, so that felt right.

How has it been touring without Greta for the first time this record?

Probably what anyone would imagine; it’s difficult to be away from her for long periods of time. She’s been touring this year with her new album, and luckily we have the same booking agent and most off the tours have overlapped for the most part, so where it could really get tricky and we could be away for four months at a time, it’s been like, I don’t know, two-ish at the most. So yeah, it’s hard, but it’s good that she’s doing the same thing and we both understand how it works. It’s kind of difficult to communicate and I guess it makes it a little bit easier to not take it personally if it’s hard to get on the phone or something. At the same time I think it’s been nice ‘cause towards the end when we were playing in each other’s bands it just got so hectic. We’d practice together with those bands each week and then we’d tour together and live together and that was a lot. It was fun, but I think it’s also nice to be able to both feel like we’re out there doing our own thing and looking after ourselves, and learning how to look after yourself is an important part of being in a relationship too. So it’s not perfect, but it’s got its perks and it’s got its downsides.

Is there a story behind the basketball imagery on the cover of Pool and in the “Be Apart” music video?

Sadly there’s not. There’s not much of a story behind the basketball. We just did some press photos with a friend up in the town I grew up in at a friend's pool. I actually had all the artwork kind of planned out and in the template and ready to go, and then I was editing the photos and kind of stumbled across that little cropped image of my hand with the basketball, and it just kind of spoke to me. I just kind of liked the deflated ball. It’s kind of like [The Creation of Adam,] the painting on the ceiling the Sistine Chapel where the hands are kind of out pointed at each other. I thought it had that kind of, I don’t know… you don’t really know whether the ball is drifting away or drifting towards the hand. And so I guess after that I decided on that. It just kind of made sense to put that imagery in the “Be Apart” music video, and I always enjoyed the way basketballs look in strange contexts. Actually, now I’m remembering, I always loved drawing them as a kid. It was fun to draw, so that’s really it; it’s just surface aesthetically pleasing to me.

You painted the cover for Slow Dance in the Cosmos, right?

Yeah, I studied painting at college for three years and would still consider myself as somewhat of a visual artist. I don’t think you can kind of decide not to be that, but yeah, I’ve always made drawings and paintings and stuff and enjoyed doing that a lot. It’s cool to have one part of the music be the visuals and I can kind of express that side of my creativity through that vehicle.

You’ve also created almost an entire clothing line's worth of Dark Muscle merch and have a strong sense of fashion as well. Is this an extension of your visually artistic expression?

Yeah, definitely. I really like the merch aspect of stuff and I’ve been getting more interested in clothes recently, so yeah, it feels really kind of perfect to have a vessel to make stuff under and a platform to sell it on. I’ve never really liked band t-shirts or merch so much; I’ll appreciate it for the graphics but I’ll never really wear a straight up band t-shirt. So I like the idea of either trying to like erase [Porches] completely the from the merch, or either have it be very subtle, and kind make stuff that I would like to wear. I also think its kind of fun to feel like you’re maybe in on something, like you know you’re wearing a Porches shirt but other people might wonder, “What is Dark Muscle?" I guess it’s just more fun for me that way. I get to play around with the idea of what merch for band supposed to be.

People often frown upon wearing a band t-shirt to see that band perform, but you could wear a Dark Muscle shirt to a Porches show and it would be fine.

Yeah, I like that.

You’ve also named your LLC Dark Muscle and used the term to describe your genre as well. What’s the story behind the name?

Dark Muscle just came from, I can't remember if I read it somewhere or if I just thought of it, but it’s a line in “Braid,” “I’ve got a dark muscle too,” and it’s just referring to your heart. I guess I like the idea of just thinking of it as a muscle inside of you that’s obviously dark, just kind of just thought it sounded nice. [I] thought it was funny to have the LLC be called that, and it’s just kind of developed from there. I don’t know if it’s a slogan or a brand.

Pool is out now via Domino Records. You can buy it here.