Aaron Maine and Remi Wolf Are Ready to Be Let Out of the Cage
Aaron Maine and Remi Wolf have a lot in common. As solo acts who’ve carved out a niche in the ever-so-saturated alt-pop realm—Maine with the synthy stylings of Porches, Wolf with her particular blend of playful psychedelic soul—both have managed to achieve a degree of mainstream acclaim that often eludes their peers.
What’s more, the pair are friends. Last year, Maine remixed “Woo!” off Wolf’s 2020 album I’m Allergic to Dogs!, and this year, both artists kept tabs on one another as they polished off their latest albums. But while Wolf, whose exuberant sound and technicolor persona offered a much-needed antidote to pandemic malaise, has emerged as the rising star of indie pop, Maine occupies a different place in listeners’ minds. Stripped back by comparison, Maine has made minimalist, techno-adjacent records for nearly a decade. But his latest offering, All Day Gentle Hold !, shows long-time fans a new side of the artist. Over 11 tracks, Maine sets aside sparse experimentalism for an impossibly catchy early-aughts feel. The pivot, Maine explains, is a result of feeling “more excited to live and survive than I ever have.” Today, the artist doubled down on the nostalgia with a cover of Harry Styles’ “Adore You,” transforming a sugary radio staple into a longing homage. To mark the track’s release, Maine sat down with Wolf for a conversation about sobriety, crafting the perfect song, and getting back on stage.
REMI WOLF: Do we just go off?
AARON MAINE: Yeah! What’s up, Remi? Congrats on your record just coming out.
WOLF: Thank you, dude. You too. It’s so good, man. I love your album so much. It’s just pure fire.
MAINE: Really? I appreciate that. [Lights a cigarette]
WOLF: Man, I wish I had my fucking cigarettes right now. I had to leave my house ‘cause my WiFi’s broken, so now I’m in my friend’s hotel room, which is really strange.
MAINE: Are you in Los Angeles right now?
WOLF: Yep. I’m at the Silver Lake Pool & Inn, so I’m in Silver Lake but I live in Echo Park. I Ubered over here because my car is also broken. Somebody stole my catalytic converter, so I’m just a fucking disaster.
MAINE: Yeah, it’s like all things that you would be able to pay attention to if you weren’t running around like a psycho, I imagine.
WOLF: I know. It wouldn’t even take that long. You just moved, right?
MAINE: No. I respectfully kicked my roommate out of our two-bedroom apartment because I decided it was time to try and live like the adult that I am. I didn’t want to end up that guy with a roommate at 50 years old.
WOLF: I am that guy, I feel that. How old are you?
MAINE: Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I turned 33 last week, the day before my record came out.
WOLF: Oh my gosh, happy birthday! What a nice week that was. I celebrated pretty hard this weekend, too.
MAINE: Your record came out on Friday?
WOLF: Yes, I feel so free. I haven’t felt like this in two years. I was sitting on my record for so long, just making all these videos and grinding, grinding, grinding. I feel like I can do anything I want now, but also I’m probably going to crash down from that in a couple days. For now, I’m just enjoying that feeling of freedom. How about you?
MAINE: This feels like the healthiest release mindset that I’ve experienced in a really long time. I was holding my breath a little bit this time. But I feel a similar freeness, I guess, now that the thing is out, and people can hear it, and there’s not much press left. Also, my last record was swallowed by the abyss of COVID-19. Literally the day New York shut down is the day that my record came out. It was all the stuff leading up to that, and then just blackout. So I feel almost like this is the first record I’ve put out in four years. I’m trying to figure out what to do with myself. I can’t seem to figure out how to be idle for more than a couple days.
WOLF: It’s really hard to sit still, man, and have nothing to do. I feel like such a fake person. Not fake, but just like, “Oh my God, is this really my job?”
MAINE: That sort of comes swooping back in when I see my family, too. They’re like, “What are you up to?” I really just stay home and make music around the clock. They’re like, “Oh, cool.” [Both laugh] The touring resonates with them a little bit more, there’s more to talk about, there’s details about physically traveling and the glimpses of cities you get to see. Are you touring soon?
WOLF: I just got back from a month-long tour. It wasn’t really a “tour tour,” I had five headline dates. But then I did a bunch of festivals, which is my first time ever hitting festivals as a performer. I didn’t really go to festivals or anything as a kid, so it was kind of crazy to just hang around. It’s cool to hang out in the little artist areas and being able to meet a bunch of people who are doing the same thing as me. My career happened entirely during COVID. It was wrecking my mind during COVID, the lack of community I had. I just felt like I had nowhere to go.
MAINE: It must feel pretty fucking crazy to go out there, after having a strictly computer career and virtual followers, fans that you’ve built up without ever seeing them, and then experiencing it all at once. It must feel surreal.
WOLF: It’s very surreal. And there are a lot of them.
MAINE: Yeah, I believe it.
WOLF: It’s shocking. I’m just flabbergasted by the whole thing. The kids go so hard, they know all the words, and I’m just like, “How the hell did this happen?” But I’m stoked. I’m touring again in January. When are you touring?
MAINE: March. I’m counting down the days. I’m so fucking excited to get out there. Even when I was making this record, I was sort of fantasizing about being allowed to play live again. I was like, “What would be the ultimate experience? Just turning it up as loud as you possibly could? What songs will resonate best in that kind of celebratory space?” I was hellbent on getting the record out this year. It was suggested that I wait until March, all for industry reasons. After the whole infrastructure of everything came crashing down last year, I was like, “Fuck those people.” There’s so much more. I guess I was banking on the listeners and the fans making up for the fact that the Spotify playlist person may not come to a show. I was like, “Why would I burn five more months of my life?” I made my case and was very stubborn and passionate about putting it out this year. The context that you put a record into is arguably the most important thing to think about. All the timelines, and set ups, and rollouts aside, it’s weird that no one talks much about that. With every record I’ve waited at least six months longer than I would’ve liked to. I wonder if I shot myself in the foot a couple times by not going with my gut.
WOLF: What felt wrong about waiting? Is there a context that feels right?
MAINE: Well there’s the context that I made the record in. But I think the most important thing that I’ve realized so far is that my excitement is super contagious. To do press, talk to my friends, talk to fans, be super hyped about the record feels good. I want to be like, “I’m fucking legitimately so excited for it to come out.” I think that energy gets people buzzing more than anything else. When you wait, by the time the press comes out, you’re just over it. Maybe some people are better at feigning interest or passion than I am. But this time it felt fun, this was the first time I had ever been so…
MAINE: I was gassed. I was like, “I can’t believe someone else has listened to these songs!”
WOLF: That’s so interesting about the stoke being a contagious thing. I think that’s so real.
MAINE: I’ve been a pretty good team player— as difficult or frustrated as I can be sometimes. My label and manager all responded really well with this record. I think they can tell that I’m charged up, and that’s the kind of feeling they can get behind. When thinking of the release, I was imagining the end of the summer. In the fall, stuff slows down, it’s that sweet pocket where people have more space. My brain slows down, and I can focus and absorb stuff so much better. So, then I imagined jumping over a fire, or crushing beers on the roof with your friends in October with this record playing. Waking up on a freezing morning in March and being like, “Oh, god, new Porches record…” just didn’t seem right. I was listening to your record, and it has like a similar attitude, this just-let-out-of-a-cage excitement, super eager to connect. We got this chance to put something out when it felt crazy to make music at all.
WOLF: We tapped into the same well of energy. Your record is pretty upbeat, there’s a rhythm and it’s quick.
MAINE: It’s strange. I’m a slow person, and I have historically written these unbearable, demanding, slow, head up my ass songs. For whatever reason this record felt like a lifeline. I don’t know if it felt like that for you. I was more excited to live and survive than I’ve ever been, and felt almost like I was putting my first record out and it was leading up to my first show I had ever played. We had temporary super energy. I avoided that latent burnout creeping in, which a lot of friends seemed to be experiencing during the pandemic, where they—understandably so—felt no drive, no desire, no inspiration to create. I feel really lucky for having had the incentive to do anything at all. I went into survival mode to keep my head on straight, I guess.
WOLF: It was a very similar situation for me. I got sober during the pandemic. It’s still a journey that I’m trying to figure out. When I started making this record, I was four months sober, I was going through so many changes. My career was starting to take off, and I felt all this pressure to be excited. But I wasn’t, because it was all fucking online. I was sober, all these fucking feelings were coming up, I was learning about all this fucking childhood trauma that I had. I was like, “What the fuck is going on, man?” The only thing that I was able to channel that into was the album. I’m honestly so proud of that, because that was a hard fucking time to get through. I’m so shocked that we’re still standing. Can I ask you about a song you wrote?
WOLF: What is “Back3School” about? What are you talking about?
MAINE: The reason I like that song is because I barely know myself.
WOLF: I feel it deeply! And I have no idea what it means.
MAINE: I feel it deeply, too. It’s that sort of anxiety and tension, where you don’t know where you’re going. It’s that feeling where you’re like, “Something’s up. Something is not right, but I’m not sure what it is.” I like that about the song. Originally it was a Bruce Springsteen, “I’m On Fire” type of beat, with just brushed drums and guitar. I like that weird kind of Americana, but spooked out vibe.
WOLF: It is spooky. I love that. It fucking hit so hard. It’s crazy, because all of your songs are so bare-bones. They’re so simple, but it’s exactly what the simple should be. I really admire that about your record, because I feel like our styles are kind of opposite on that level. Correct me if I’m wrong, I feel like you’re more of a minimalist, and I’m much more of a maximalist. I just fucking throw paint at the wall, and want to go crazy and put so many harmonies, and so many percussion, drum sounds, and all the synths, and layer the fuck out of my vocals forever. I really am inspired by how you approach the production of your tunes, because they’re so straight to the point.
MAINE: Well, whatever your voice is doing doesn’t sound cluttered to me at all. The drums smack, and the vocals smack. You could take everything away, and I think the song would still go. That’s what I try to achieve with a song— can you mute everything but the drums and the vocals, and have it still be a bop? I tried to keep it tight, especially on this one. For me, a song that can push through the noise has to be simple. Just meat, I guess.
WOLF: No cream, just meat.
Porches: Maybe a little rosemary.
WOLF: Some spice. Part of me wants to do the extreme version of that, and write an album of not-song songs, whatever that would be.
MAINE: Totally. You could put out a record of not-songs, or an instrumental meditation record, or write an opera or something. I also kind of want to throw my computer out of the window. I got the final mixes back and I was like, “I don’t want to sit at this desk ever again.” I’ll get back into it eventually, but it’s been really nice. This is the longest break I’ve taken from making music in 10 years. It feels really healthy, honestly.
WOLF: It feels healthy to me too. I feel, honestly, the best I’ve felt in a while brain space-wise. We got to give ourselves permission to just fucking chill out, dude. It’s such an intense thing we do. It’s so much emotion and so much effort and exertion of ourselves, more than any other job in the world, it feels like. We got to give ourselves a little bit of a break.
MAINE: It’s just hard, because there’s rarely a mark that you hit where you’re like, “Okay, I accomplished something.” The only time that really happens is every two years when you put a record. But it’s always like, “What’s next?” It’s impossible to quantify what we do. You could work for 12 hours, seven days a week, and still feel like, “What the fuck did I just do? Does this count? Are these songs on a hard drive worth anything?” It’s hard to stop, because part of it is searching for this thing, but you never get it.
WOLF: How have you dealt with touring in the past, keeping your body nice or your voice?
MAINE: Being sober. I’m not sober, but I’ve done tours sober. Knock on wood, for all the cigarettes that I smoke and shit that I put into my body, the voice doesn’t seem to fail me. I’m excited to throw my fucking body around on this tour. I want to break myself. I’m looking forward to that, and testing what I can do. The adrenaline lets you get away with some crazy shit, even singing wise, hit notes you could never hit or play shit you never could play in a million years if you sat down and tried to do it. So, I’m banking on that fueling the tour. I’m sure being in front of these audiences will just send you into psycho mode.
WOLF: The past month I went fucking crazy. I made it through and I sang all the shows, and then I actually went a little bit crazy. I’ve had so many existential crises after performing or doing press. “Who are you? What do you mean to the world?” I don’t want to think about that all the time!
MAINE: I’ve felt out of touch in the past, and kind of have spiraled about that. “You think you know me, but you have no idea.” Then here I am, spewing personal information about my life. It’s like, “What did I expect?” There’s a crazy cloud of strangers who do have some sort of piece of you, but they not the same by any means. But I think there’s a line that can be drawn. There’s some peace in remembering that you have real friends, you have your circle, you have your family, they know who you are. I try to remind myself of that sometimes.