Taken from the autumn/winter issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here.
Porches’ founder and frontman Aaron Maine – tall, newly bottle-blonde, and clad in an airy black tee and slacks – saunters into Manhattan’s Bowery Hotel on a summer evening, as if gently parachuted there from the sky. He orders herbal tea, speaking in hushed, reflective tones that border on ASMR triggers. It’s what you might expect from a singer whose dreamy alt-pop albums to date – Slow Dance in the Cosmos and Pool – conjure an abstract vocabulary textured in sleepy, amniotic suspension.
Sometimes, in conversation, Maine drifts into the beginnings of a new or parallel thought – a tendril of an idea blossoms, and you get a glimpse of the lyricist behind lines as weightless as “Sometimes I see the vision / Sometimes you know I don’t / Oh, how I wish it would show me / Only the things I want” (from Pool track “Underwater”). But it quickly transpires that Maine is too busy keeping it real to be as surreal as his songs would lead you to believe. “If you’re not as honest as possible when you’re expressing yourself, what’s the point?” he says with crisp lucidity.
For his third album as Porches, set for release early next year, Maine is on that quest. He’s finding beauty in the mundane, focusing on concrete experiences, colours, moods and slices of his own life, from Westchester native to New York City buzz act. And he has plenty of slices to glean from: after Pool was named Best New Music by Pitchfork in 2016, Maine and his band embarked on a successful tour before settling into his new neighbourhood of Chinatown. It’s a place he says he could call home for a while – though you sense that Maine enjoys living his life at a slight remove, with the poignant distance of an eternal observer.
“I focus on the simple shit that everyone goes through – meditations on these emotions. You can only have so many bombastic experiences to write intense songs about” — Porches
Maine has always been on the outside looking in. Growing up in Pleasantville, NY, he enjoyed a bucolic youth in the shadows of the big city, jamming with friends and going to Pizza Hut. Despite occasionally dropping in to enjoy shows and shop on the iconic punk strip St Marks Place, he felt no strong pull to move to the city, and almost ended up in Philadelphia instead. The move, he says simply, was “to be with a girl” (Maine’s former girlfriend and collaborator Greta Kline, AKA indie-pop singer Frankie Cosmos), but the city soon became a breeding ground for his sound. “I love hearing people’s stories about how they ended up in New York,” he says. “Someone from Iowa or anywhere in the world, people break their backs to get here. And I just somersaulted into it. I think New York saved my path as an artist.”
On last year’s moody, synth-laden Pool – unequivocally the band’s breakout moment – Maine played off a watery trope and dove into metaphorical lyrical territory. “Black water by my side, I will go out tonight,” he intoned on introverted party jam “Be Apart”, a song that skitters between joining in and dropping out from its title on down. In the video, Maine and his band appear eerily still and almost frozen in time – a mannequin group magicked in from another dimension, and not particularly enjoying it. As with much of Porches’ work, a delicately stoned, dry sense of humour helps in appreciating the nuances.
The upcoming record sees Maine returning to a more personal, meditative approach with his lyrics, after feeling that he “masked” something through abstraction on Pool. “I’ve been writing every day in the morning,” he says. “Basically journal entries, with different words that aren’t as attractive as they come out, but which I feel make for a more interesting, truer narrative. I also think real, physical events are appearing a lot more than in the past.” Musically, it will continue Porches’ move away from “bummer pop”, the mopey moniker Maine bestowed on the band around the time of their debut. “We’ve been trying to pare it down to really metallic, bare, stainless-steel vibes. I’ve also kept all the imperfections, when my voice cracks or goes out of tune and the shit’s a little off.”
As the new album takes shape, work has taken on the significance of a physical mantra for Maine. “I’ve been trying to wake up and write alone, eat lunch, go back, write. I eat dinner at, like, seven – strictly seven – and I eat alone,” he says. “At ten, I’ll be like, ‘Hi! I wanna interact with someone.’” So, by night, he’ll hop on the subway to check out shows in Brooklyn with friends before heading back to his Manhattan abode, where he’ll recharge for another day of creative solitude. “I like all these little ecosystems,” he muses.
One of those friends is Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, who famously reset Brooklyn’s indie-music scene after chillwave peaked to prove that bedroom pop producers were a force beyond a fad. Maine credits Hynes’ 2016 record Freetown Sound as a life-defining moment for him, and admires the British-born songwriter’s dedication to staying true to himself – a respect that, one hopes, hints at a collaboration to come further down the line. “He somehow doesn’t tour – he just makes beautiful records,” says Maine, a touch enviously.
Within this scene, non-stop touring is a given, a necessary evil to maximise visibility in the post-blog era. Maine is not especially a fan of this structure and seems eager to outsmart it. “I get nauseous when I look at other artists’ tour dates,” he admits. “I love to perform – I just don’t like how much time touring takes up. You do it for two months and it’s the same shit every day. The cool part is the one hour where you perform and the rest of it is some weird black hole. I don’t think it should go unquestioned about how it affects your health, or your happiness. Sometimes it’s just really beautiful to have a cup of coffee with someone – that is inspiring enough. That’s the stuff I miss, being away.”
Watching people and things – and their distance from himself – underscores Maine’s MO. He even studies his own internal creative processes with clinical interest. He knows when his lyrics are glib and when they are genuine, and sometimes the seemingly surface ones are actually the most poignant. “I focus on the simple shit that everyone goes through – meditations on these emotions, I guess,” he says. “I’ll try to find something profound in the colour of a t-shirt. I feel like you can only have so many bombastic experiences to write intense songs about.”
Despite zoning in on the ‘simple shit’ lyrically, Maine’s solitary pursuits lead him to seek connection in unusual places. Sometimes that ends up as fantasy. Through a string of alter- egos, he’s conjured powerful musical mythologies through self-assigned characters like Ronald Paris, Ronnie Mystery and Sex God. (“A way of separating myself into little bookmarks or chapters,” he reflects.) His newest creation, Ricky Pepsi, comes with a corn-fed idealist streak and will cameo on the new material, seemingly inspired by rural romances and quick getaways in the night. “Maybe it represents a fantasy escape, finding yourself as someone new. It acts as another version of myself,” he explains. In case you wondered, yes, he’s a fan of Bowie.
“I love hearing people’s stories about how they ended up in New York. I think the city saved my path as an artist” — Porches
Like the late glam-rock icon, Maine is fascinated by the power of aesthetics. With a background in painting, Maine still occasionally hits the canvas when he’s not recording or touring, but is most keen on exploring new media. “I want to have a show, I want to make a book or a PDF of poems,” he says. “Just branching out, (as we have) the opportunity with all this technology.”
He even wants to learn to dance – the ultimate psssh in the face of those who’ve labelled his music low-energy. “I’ve always been really self-conscious about movement for some reason – but I’m so drawn to it, I feel like there are things I could unlock. I just wanna stand in a mirror and work some shit out.” Style choices, too, are being worked out. Maine even jokes that he agonised over what to wear to our meet-up, eventually settling on an oversized black t-shirt that nods to a normcore Yohji vibe. Dark but airy. Deceptively normal. Easy to move in. Perfectly Porches. Or, as Maine smiles and shrugs in conclusion: “I want it to be chic and sharp and not bum people out.”
Grooming Nero at MAM-NYC, photographic assistants Eduardo Silva, Lacie Garnes, styling assistant Stella Evans, production Dora Production.