Music

Finding Shelter in Porches’ House of Chords

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Porches frontman Aaron Maine is tucked into the corner booth at the Metrograph Commissary in New York City, one of his favorite spots on the Lower East Side, sipping on chamomile-lavender tea. He gently lifts his baseball cap, embroidered with the familiar logo of the Hard Rock Café, to reveal his hair is no longer platinum, but natural brown — though still parted down the center in what has become his signature style. The 27-year-old singer has just returned from a two-week trip to Norway, where his girlfriend, Kaya Wilkins, grew up, and admits this interview is his first re-entry to talking about his new music. The third Porches album, The House, is out January 19.

Maine grew up just outside of the city in Pleasantville, a small town in Westchester, New York, in a house filled with music. His father, Peter Maine, is a folk musician, and Aaron got his first bass and began learning guitar in middle school. By the time he left home after high school to study painting at SUNY Purchase, “I just wanted to make songs and paintings and not have a shitty job,” he says. “I don’t know if there was ever a time where I wanted to be anything besides an artist.” He cut a bedroom EP, Summer of Ten, in January 2011, after experimenting with various sounds since the age of seventeen, releasing music under the names Aaron Maine, Aaron Maine and the Reilly Brothers, Space Ghost Cowboys, Sex God, Ronald Paris, and Ronnie Mystery. He planned to move to Philadelphia to pursue music. Until he met Greta Kline, also known as Frankie Cosmos. 

Maine booked Kline’s first show in a Westchester coffee shop. Soon, they were dating. And by 2012, they were living together in Greenwich Village, the It couple of New York’s indie rock underground. Kline was a darling of the DIY scene, volunteering for Showpaper, booking acts for various spaces, and sharing tracks on Bandcamp, before the release of her studio debut, Zentropy, in early 2014. The couple’s intertwined musical identity was hard to ignore: Kline played bass in Porches and Maine drummed in Frankie Cosmos, leaving fans to wonder leaving fans to wonder where one ended and the other began. 

Maine is soft-spoken and talks in a drawn-out whisper, but he’s quick to reveal that taking a break from music has been really, really nice. Perhaps it’s because he loves performing but struggles with the exhaustion of life on the road. Or that this forthcoming record is his most personal to date, written during the breakdown of his long-term, five-year relationship with Kline. The majority of the tracks were written while the pair were still together, but Maine moved out following the breakup and added a few last-minute songs while finishing up the record at his new place in early 2017.

“It felt like a strangely serendipitous time to wrap a record up and look back on it. It was a very charged time,” he says of the period following the breakup. “There’s everything that goes along with coming to terms with something — frustration and then happiness, comfort and restlessness. It’s just all going on.”

Maine kept to a strict schedule while writing, in hopes of being as efficient and productive as possible at home before going on tour. He’d wake up and write all day, often until dinner, and take breaks at night to hang out and go to gigs with friends. Maine lives in Chinatown now and makes all his music in his apartment — usually alone. He limited himself to a four-track tape machine for the purpose of making this album, so that he could sit with songs for a while before taking the time to produce them. “I decided that I wanted to record everything for keeps just to capture the general excitement of the day. It felt good that I was kind of forced to finish the songs and see them all the way through,” Maine says. “That was exciting to me — to produce as much as possible.”

As a result, The House serves as a sort of time capsule or diary, unintentionally documenting this super-specific window of time. Maine walks the listener through the melancholic “last chapter” of his disintegrating relationship, all the while hinting at themes of self-discovery and liberation, the terrifying thrill of young love, troubling endings and hints of shimmering hope attributed to his new relationship with Wilkins. “There’s some sort of attempt to bring you along a path, a similar path that I was on at the time,” he adds while pouring another cup of tea. Like in previous albums, grounding images of water run throughout: “Think I’ll go/somewhere else/where I can sink/into myself.”    

In comparison to 2016’s Pool, the album is lyrically sparse, and the sound is more crisp — cool, even. “It’s a little sharper and the sounds are a bit more abrasive, which just kind of felt like the album I wanted to be making at the time,” says Maine. “I didn’t set out to be more intimate. I think it was just kind of a natural progression as a lyricist, trying to communicate in a more exciting way or a better way with people that are listening.”

The last songs to make the record —  “Understanding,” “Åkeren,” and “Country” — point to what the next Porches album might sound like. While he debated adding them, in favor of keeping The House within the confines of his relationship with Kline, Maine says, “It felt right to hint at hope or a new time passing, so I decided to include more optimistic songs on it.”

His father, Peter, recorded “Understanding” last year and shared it with his son, who clung to the vocal take — rewriting the chords around it — to include on the album. In the final cut, the elder Maine sings, “Beyond the emptiness/the fear and loneliness/a love supreme and never ending,” followed by, “Who can teach us of/the one and perfect love/that passes all understanding.”

“It felt good to have someone else’s voice breaking up mine,” says Maine. “It almost feels like a little subconscious narrator popping in to help tell the story.” In the same way, Maine invited Wilkins over to show her the record and hopefully have her sing on a few songs. The two produced “Åkeren,” a simple poem Maine wrote about the fictional relationship of two characters, Ricky and Julie. Wilkins translated the narrative and sang it in her native Norwegian tongue. The title translates to mean “cornfield.” “It was fun. It’s the most collaborative thing I’ve ever done,” Maine says. Another collaborator is Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, who sings on the single “Country.”

“I like that it’s not nearly as cohesive as Pool,” says Maine of the overall result. “But I think in a way it’s more of an honest reflection of my interests as a musician.” 

The nature of relationships — whether romantic or familial, crumbling or blossoming — is one constant on the record. Maine introduces a third model by way of Ricky and Julie, who appear sporadically throughout The House. “I first imagined them as really close friends that have a platonic relationship, tinted with sexual attraction or something,” he says. “But I had this idea of them sitting in a room together, telling the other what they would want to hear, and the other one would re-create it so they could live out their fantasies through each other.” Maine believes they represent an idyllic sort of relationship, in that each person is fulfilled, without the complications of being physically intimate and romantically involved. They’re just friends. While he admits that Ricky is another name for himself, it’s more of a “what if” relationship than an autobiographical one. This is the closest Maine’s come to writing about something else than his personal life, but even then he says it’s a projection.

With almost a decade of making music behind him, Maine seems eager to jettison his juvenilia and lock into his current musical identity. He wants to be remembered for his more recent work. “It makes you feel more human or something, to remember you have a long past, I guess,” he says, “but sometimes I wish I could pick where people are allowed to start listening.” He’d even go as far as removing some of his early music from the internet, if he could. There are many genres within the Porches catalog alone, and Maine is almost unrecognizable from his early days.

“I started making music when I was seventeen, so I think naturally I’ll listen to some things and be like, ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ It’s just like reading an old diary entry and cringing or being embarrassed about it and instead of being able to shut the diary, it lives on the internet and people can hear it and judge you. Which is fine. I guess that’s what you sign up for when you release music.”

When it comes to his upcoming tour, Maine is looking forward to being more picky with older material and experimenting with aesthetics. He debuted his bleached locks when Pool came out, so he’s already thinking about what he’ll wear this time out. “I want to put on a show, outfit-wise,” he says. “I don’t know. Belly shirts? Really baggy clothes?”

While mixing the album, Maine saw a psychic for the first time, and he keeps coming back to some of her visions of his performances. She imagined him taking the stage as “a beautiful woman with makeup and really dramatic costumes in the live performances,” assuming a new identity. Maine is no stranger to adopting new characters, particularly when performing.

“I feel like I should try,” he says. “Maybe that’s where I need to take it.”

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