If God is in the detail, then Aaron Maine is most certainly a gift from above. Minutely turning the everyday mundane into moody electronic pop, the artist better known as Porches just released his third album, The House. On the sequel to his critically acclaimed Pool, Maine constructs a musical space that brings together various extremes: heavy and light, straightforward and poetic, pain and pleasure. Glamcult sat down with the Brooklyn-based songwriter for a thorough chat.
Hi Aaron! Your new album has just been released, and it sounds like a lot has happened. Can you tell us about the mental, musical or spiritual state that this record (re)presents?
Sure! Quite a bit has changed between when I was writing the record and where I am now. I wrote the record over the course of the last year of this relationship I’d been in for about five years. In hindsight, I kind of wrote it that last year and finished it up after moving to a new place and having broken up. It felt like the timing was very appropriate, I guess, for closing the chapter. While I was writing it, it never felt like a breakup album or anything like that. Looking back, it’s come to represent something different.
So, you’re currently in another place than when you were making The House. How are you feeling now?
I’m good. I feel like everything changed at the top of 2017. It was a year of growing into myself and catching up with myself, discovering who I am at 29. But I feel good, still writing and recording every day that I’m able to. I’ve got a nice place and have been seeing this girl for almost a year now, which is exciting.
To what extent was pain or hurt a part of making The House?
Well, I didn’t yet know the heartbreak or what was to come after the breakup then. I think there’s some sort of confusion, unsettledness or discomfort apparent when you listen to The House. While there is that, I tried to be more aware of the content and be sure to inject some sort of beauty or appreciation for those moments as well. I’ve always been drawn to the more melancholic moments in life, where you’re straddling pain and beauty. Obviously those two things together are quite exciting—that’s when I feel most alive.
People tend to assume that going through a rough time on a personal level leads to better work as an artist. How do you feel about that?
It depends… When you’re experiencing life in a more exaggerated way and everything carries more weight—when you’re extremely happy or extremely sad—there’s a chance that your message will come across with a heavier weight to it. But I wrote 95% of The House while I was still in that relationship. Since then I’ve come to think some things take time to be away from to even write about them. I don’t think when something bad happens my instinct is to immediately write a song about it. Some things have to settle before it feels appropriate, at least for me, to put it forward as a piece of art.
Listening to The House, I can also hear a sense of joy or liberation, especially in terms of instrumentation.
I think there’s a sort of excitement that surrounds the production, which is a bit more independent of my reality and my experience. Or at least I’m less aware of the way that my experiences make their way into the decisions I make when writing chords, making drum sounds or choosing synth tones. But I’m glad you feel there’s some lightness or excitement.
Yeah, for instance, I think the music and initial mood of Find Me are much more positive than its lyrics. You can even dance to it.
Right, that’s something I’ve always been interested in: unlikely pairing and juxtaposition. When the lyrics are heavier, the song will go the opposite way. Or when the song is optimistic, I’ll use darker sounds and chords. In the same vein that everything has two sides: this idea of straddling the line between both extremes.
I’ve been listening to Find Me a lot, and love the lyrics: “Touch my neck and walk me home”. Is there a specific story behind the song?
It’s one of the few songs on the record that I wrote about something specifically: the moment I first started experiencing anxiety attacks, when I was about 26. Your heart races, your chest muscles clench up, you get dizzy and feel like you’re going to pass out. I never had those before and obviously the first two feel like you’re having a fucking heart attack. You have no idea what’s going on. So I was grappling with those, understanding how they work and trying to identify when one would come on—and how to avoid it. Find Me is about the process of seeing or feeling it on the horizon and using whatever tools you’ve got to fend it off. It’s probably the most straightforward song, content-wise.
A very simple question: why did you name this album The House?
I named it The House to refer to the apartment I was living in up until recently, because it felt like the reference point for everything that I’d experienced since I moved into the city [New York] and into my apartment. I always felt very aware of how close I was to it physically. When I was travelling or on tour, that took up a lot of my year, and then my relationship to the outside world would shift when I was in the apartment, where sometimes I felt like there was no other place I wanted to be: home, safe and secure, and in this relationship.
At other times I felt like I was jumping out of my skin and would have rather been anywhere else. So it seemed like the basis, The House was a constant thing to come back and relate to. Originally the album was called Leave the House, but then I spoke to a friend and she was like, “Maybe you should leave it up to the listener or even yourself to decide how you’re feeling about what you consider your home.”
It’s interesting how specific feelings are so strongly connected to a physical space.
Yes, it helps to ground things when you’re trying to think about them. I think it’s like the control and the variable in an experiment. There’s the thing that changes and the thing that stays the same, so you have something to compare.
What I enjoy about your music is that you describe larger feelings through smaller things. Have you always been an observer?
Well, I think that came from a shift. When I first started writing songs, I’d wait for the inspiration to fully strike or something to happen that I’d immediately want to turn it into a song. That’s fine, but when you start writing more everyday, there’s obviously not a blowout moment that compels you to write. Writing a song turned into something like writing journal entries; they’re very mundane but you keep the channel open. I’d go upstairs and stare at the space to see if anything was interesting or touched on a greater emotion. I’ve been more and more aware of that. You can work with or against it; I find it exciting to try and evoke a larger feeling by talking about less compelling things. Like the weather, the temperature of your drink, stuff like that…
That almost sounds like an exercise in mindfulness.
Yeah. I remember someone recommended free association to me. You get up in the morning and, first thing, clear your head by writing all your thoughts down. It’s quite useful, even before something becomes a song; it makes everything feel less overwhelming. It’s therapeutic but also convenient to have all these pages of ideas to draw from—and make these songs.
Music critics describe your new music as more minimal than your previous work, such as Pool. Do you agree?
To a certain extent—at least production-wise—I can see it being considered more minimal. I think I’ve definitely focused on only using the parts that I thought were absolutely essential to the song carrying itself for two or three minutes. I think the sounds inherently are a bit colder and darker, which kind of implies more space between sounds. I think Pool is very warm, cosy and fuzzy sonically—but I do think The House is denser lyrically.
There’s always been something minimal to my lyrics; they’re not hyper-descriptive. To me The House is quite different than Pool, and I’m happy that peoplefeelthat there’s been some growth or at least I haven’t repeated myself. Between the last two records, from Slowdance into Pool, the only conversation I had was, “Why did you change your style?” I found that quite lazy, and the only answer was, “My taste has changed.” I’m happy that’s less of the conversation with this record. People are aware that I’m going to switch it up and keep switching it up.
An element that comes back several times on The House, and of course on Pool, are your references to water. What drives you towards the water time and again? And what does it symbolize for you?
It’s hard to say. It’s one of those themes that I never thought twice about how much I was referencing, either on Pool or this record, and I’ve only really started talking about it in recent interviews. I just have these very vivid memories of swimming while growing up. There’s a lake in the town that I grew up in and when I was younger I had a public pool pass, so I spent a lot of time there. I was drawn to the feeling of being submerged, so that’s one of the things… this strong memory and the emotions attached to that. And like we were saying before, when it comes to meditating on your immediate surroundings and hoping that it evokes a larger theme, I think water is obviously so present in everything: humidity, precipitation, cleanliness… It always seems to be the first part of my surroundings to figure out how I’m relating to it in that point in time.
So its meaning changes, really.
Yeah, that’s another thing. There’s peacefulness about it, but there’s violence to it… It can mean anything, which is exciting too.
You have a lot of great collaborators on The House, from Dev Hynes to BEA1991 and Alex G. What do you look for in someone you create or work on music with?
All of the people that contributed I had admired for a while. So that’s one thing: I have to be a fan, and that probably goes without saying. Of course it’s also who’s available. For Country I was working on that song, and then Dev was over. I showed it to him and asked if he was interested on singing on it, and that’s how it happened. As for Alex G, I had just done a tour with him for five weeks and I became a massive fan. So when he was in the city I thought it’d be cool to have him over. It felt appropriate, as he was very present in that part of my life.
All collaborations have been pretty organic. You can’t have too much in mind because that’s the excitement of involving someone else’s brain, personality and creativity. They contribute something that you can’t. It’s the act of letting go of control, which breathes so much life into the songs and the album as a whole.
Are you a control freak?
Yes, I’d say so. That’s why I figured out how to do this: how to record myself so I wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else, or pay anyone like a producer for me to be insufferable to in the studio.
In the past you’ve spoken quite a bit about having trouble with the touring aspect of life as a performing artist. Is this something you still feel strongly?
I still feel the same way, I think. That being said, I do feel very grateful to have music as my occupation and have dreamt of being a musician since I was 15. I’m realizing that in everything that you’ve worked for, there’s elements you don’t like doing. I have always loved performing; I like connecting with the audience and hearing loud music—that whole thing. It’s just the being away from your home, friends, loved ones, my girlfriend… It’s like a big, black hole. I guess I have severe FOMO, and as you can gather from my songs, it doesn’t take much to be stimulated. My favourite thing is having a cup of coffee with a friend for 40 minutes to catch up. I really miss that on tour, as those kinds of interactions are the most inspiring to me.
Then there’s also that my favourite thing is writing and recording, and I can’t do that on tour. I have to set all of it down for four months a year, and that’s obscene. But it’s the way you have to do it, because you make money on tour. Well, we’re not rolling in it by any means, but there’s a certain amount you have to do. I’m just kind of going with it and hopefully someday, even though touring is quite exciting for some years, I can be pickier with my shows and not be driving across the country in a van. But I am looking forward to travelling with The House, playing shows for people who are having an experience with it too.