“I don’t really know, actually,” said Aaron Maine, the mastermind behind Porches, taking a long, patient pause. “I don’t even know how to describe it in a lot of words,” he finished, after I asked him to describe The House, his third official full-length album and second for Domino Recording. It wasn’t quite the answer I expected, but it reveals the personal necessity of his art. If he could have said what he needed to say with The House any other way, he would have. There is no way for him to condense his truth any further.
Maine tours with the band, but it’s no secret that he’s the project’s creative force. He wrote every song on The House aside from “Understanding,” penned and performed by his father, Peter Maine. This track and several others reflect what seems to be a fresh branching out in Maine’s creative process. Dev Hynes of Blood Orange joins him on leading single “Country,” Alex Giannascoli of (Sandy) Alex G on “Leave the House” and his girlfriend Kaya Wilkins — who performs as Okay Kaya and recently appeared in the Norwegian supernatural horror-thriller “Thelma” — on “Åkeren,” among others.
When I ask Maine how some of these collaborations came about, one story is more than I could’ve asked for. He and Alex G had been crossing paths for a time, being more or less in the same scene, before they went on a month-long tour in 2016.
“It was right when I got back from that that I invited him over to sing on the record and we ended up with (‘Leave The House’),” Maine said, and as for Wilkins: “I had been a fan, and wanted to have her voice on (the record), and we ended up with (‘Åkeren’).” Originally a poem by Maine, Wilkins translated the piece, whose title means “cornfield,” to her native Norwegian.
As for Blood Orange: “I’ve known Dev for maybe four years now,” Maine said. “We started hanging out playing ping pong at this spot called Fat Cat in the West Village.”
Speaking to Maine is much like listening to him sing. His words are measured, his speech economic. At first, I thought it was because he was annoyed or bored with my questions, but I quickly learned that it’s just who he is. Which is why his meeting Hynes over ping pong is even more humorously disarming — it’s hard to imagine him doing anything as quick as playing table tennis, where there isn’t time to be careful, to stop and think.
As we talk, it becomes only more and more evident that this intentionality lies at the core of every step Maine takes as an artist, from the first penning of lyrics to their eventual performance.
Part of this deliberateness might just be connected to Maine’s ostensible obsession with water (see: 2016 LP Pool, EP Water and The House’s “Now The Water,” “Country” and “Swimmer”).
“It’s a topic I honestly didn’t quite realize how often I was coming back to,” Maine said, following up with a theory he has devised. “When I sit down to write, one of the first things I try to do is give the setting. A lot of the time, water seems to be one of the best descriptors, whether it’s the temperature or the humidity or the precipitation or what you’re drinking.”
Here, water is a solution to a practical problem, but it’s more than just a tool to describe surroundings.
“It’s a spiritual thing, sometimes, to be submerged … you’re suspended in this thing and all the sound disappears and kind of reminds you that you’re small,” Maine added.
There’s something very fitting, too, about the ubiquity of water in Maine’s discography. “Humid” is a word to which I often return to describe his art, both musically and visually. Pool and The House are both masterclasses in balancing the nostalgic and the synthetic, perfect soundtracks for late summer nights. He’s branded his music “dark muscle,” which I think is likely a different way of saying the same thing. Hollow-sounding synths and percussion provide forward motion, while Maine’s voice soars above it all, syrupy and lackadaisical, but loaded with emotion and yearning.
“I do think that it has always been my tendency to write in a more economic way, even when I first started writing songs and, I think, I had less control over what came out … it is something that I’ve tried to embrace, or find myself inclined to keep coming back to,” Maine said. “I don’t know, just talking about things through seemingly mundane objects or subjects.”
He also notes that his writing style tends to partially mimic whatever author he happens to be reading at the time, or an artist who’s dominating his listening.
“I think for (Slow Dance in) the Cosmos I was reading a lot of Frank O’Hara poetry.” Then he laughs, “I don’t know if, you know, I’m not saying that it actually sounds like Frank O’Hara,” Maine finished, ever the humble artist.
While he was developing The House, he says he was really getting into Alex G’s catalog for the first time, and praises Giannascoli’s free-association, stream-of-consciousness style of writing.
“It’s like I can imagine him writing the whole thing in one swoop … the way he keeps the channel open is so effective and eerie and telling of what goes on in his head,” Maine told me. Listening to Giannascoli’s 2015 breakout Beach Music partially inspired Maine to start keeping a more regular journal.
“Since then I’ve just been writing every day, kind of diary-ish stuff, and then some of that will turn into poems or stories or songs.”
Later in our conversation, though, we touched on the difference, or lack thereof, between poetry and music.
“In terms of writing and the distinction between poetry and songs, I don’t … there’s not a line that I draw necessarily though I release music so that’s kind of where the poems go.”
But not all of his poems evolve into songs, and even the ones that do are edited, cut down to fit the track’s melodic structure. So what happens to the lyrics we never hear?
“I have been collecting the stuff that doesn’t make it into the songs… and I am really interested in putting out some sort of thing that resembles poetry at some point,” Maine answered. “I have a hard time even calling it that, because I know it’s such a thing of its own. I would hesitate to call myself a poet but I would like to put these things out to be read by whoever’s interested.”
Earlier, Maine said that one of the first things he does when writing is try to give the setting. Another go-to writing strategy lies in creating characters, alter egos, for himself. On The House, you’ll hear more than one mention of his latest, Ricky (Pepsi) and his partner, Julie. Maine has also previously donned the name Ronnie or Ronald Paris and, though the names in and of themselves don’t seem to bear significance, they do help him to click into the right mindset.
“I think that each ego or character, for me, represents the current version of myself that feels like it needs a distinction from the rest,” he said.
He also noted his appreciation for the artistic space afforded by having “a clean slate as (each) new character,” and though he doesn’t necessarily attempt to assume those characters onstage, “if it’s feeling good, I do feel very transported.”
“It doesn’t happen with all the songs, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but there are certain moments where I really am brought back to a certain memory surrounding the song. And that feels good,” he said.
These moments are when he believes he performs best, though this doesn’t mean that his best performances all look alike. One night he might feel like “crawling around on the floor or going into the audience or laying down,” while another he feels “very serious and very still, or severe, and will just sort of stand still and perform the songs.”
He reassured me that he doesn’t need to move onstage to be moved internally. For him, it’s all about embracing whatever he may be feeling that particular evening.
“Maybe they’d prefer it if I put on a wacky show every night, but I don’t think it would feel sincere if I did that, if I wasn’t feeling it,” he said, after tipping his hand as some kind of idealist: “I think that’s what people ultimately want is” — he pauses here to laugh at himself — “the truth, from you, I guess … maybe not all the time.”
Looking forward, Maine expressed excitement for the next Blood Orange record, apparently in the works, as well as the upcoming Empress Of. He was also anticipating his own tour, which began on Feb. 15th, two weeks after our conversation.
“We’ve been rehearsing a lot the past two weeks, and it’s finally gelling in a really special way, so that feels good and exciting,” Maine said, though he won’t romanticize life on tour: “I am not looking forward to being away from the people that I love for like four, five months out of the year … just trying to stay centered about it and put on as good a show as we possibly can, and have it feel good for everyone involved, on our side and on the audience side.”
We can be sure to hear much of The House, likely several cuts off of Pool and, if we’re lucky, one or two from Slow Dance. If the stars align, we may even get to hear a cover or two, as Porches performed The Beatles’s “If I Fell” for SiriusXMU in mid-Jan.
“I picked that song because it’s so fucking savage, the line about like ‘and she will cry when she learns we are two,’” Maine said, betraying his more humorous side. When I ask if he might play the song on tour, he replies with a pensive “maybe,” but also offhandedly mentions Alicia Keys, The Strokes and, most interestingly, that his manager has been recommending Drake’s “Passionfruit.” Covers or not, though, Maine is a performer worth lending an ear to — his unpredictability and true commitment to his art makes him one of the most exciting acts in the scene today, both onstage and off.
You can see Porches perform with Girl Ray and Kevin Krauter at El Club in Detroit on Tuesday, Feb. 22.