Porches' Aaron Maine on Creating in the Pandemic, Collecting Unemployment, and His Label Deal

Porches' Aaron Maine on Creating in the Pandemic, Collecting Unemployment, and His Label Deal
Photo by Phoenix Johnson
Photo by Phoenix Johnson

‎I loved Porches' new album All Day Gentle Hold!, it was one of my faves of last year and I have enjoyed his music at large even when others haven't—but the record felt like a creative breakthrough for Aaron Maine, a sense of new life breathed in mabe. We hopped on the phone earlier this month to talk about that, as well as some other things too.

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What's your pandemic experience been like in Chinatown?

I was here the whole time—I didn't leave New York, I left the country for the first time two weeks ago. It was really comforting to be in my apartment and have a whole new relationship with it and this neighborhood. I feel very present and proud, in a way, to have stuck it out here. Stuff seems...weird. It's a surreal moment with this Omicron thing, very different levels of fear and carelessness. No one really knows how to act currently.

People are adjusting their relationship to this virus in real time. At first, at least in New York, the community was like, "Stay inside," and everyone battened down the hatches in a beautiful way, went on their little walks for socially distant hangs. It felt cool to be a part of that, and to have everyone on a similar insane page of trying to get through this thing. Now, it's weird.I feel an eagerness in the air for stuff to sink into place and become clearer—and in the new year, clarity is what a lot of people seek, myself included. It's hard to have any clarity in these very confusing, uncertain times.

Earlier in the pandemic, I really enjoyed being inside. I was extremely productive, somehow. I was lucky enough to have my recording stuff in my room, where it's always been, so I know how to entertain myself and stay busy. A lot of the stuff that's coming out, I think people are making it from a pretty crazy place. A lot of the distractions and hangups are not in the way, and if you've been making art, chances are that it's from a fresher place than it was in the past. I had the time and space to ask myself questions about why I was making music, how it was serving me, and how it serves the people listening to it. I need to be getting joy out of it, and the whole point of it is me spreading that joy.

I hear a greater sense of clarity in All Day Gentle Hold that's pretty different from what you've done in the past.

A lot of the decisions I made were comfort-based. In the past, I set these challenges for myself to crack some code of how to make something. The last couple of records felt almost like experiments, where I released these ideas out of hundreds of songs a year.

This was a bit of a return to form—the guitar was how I started writing music with a band, so I was drawn to that in the pandemic because it felt really fresh. I'd been allergic to guitars, trying to figure out solutions of how to make music that weren't so familiar to me. But after picking up the guitar after such a long time, I found a lot of joy in that. The album feels like the culmination of a lot of experiments regarding my production style, and that's not something you can really plan. I just found this headspace where I was at peace while making it.

I wanted these songs to be pumped full of blood and oxygen, and that was the bar. I wanted it to be more giving and less demanding. When you go out to dinner or a party, you want to bring your best attitude, and I don't always make those decisions with my music—but it does feel like a social interaction. I can put whatever foot forward that I want, musically. Why not put the most charged-up version of myself out there and see how that feels?

You started making music while attending school at SUNY Purchase, surrounded by similar artists in your generation.

I had a good college experience. I studied there for three years. I was making music that whole time. I intentionally didn't go to music school, because I was scared that it would suck some of the magic out of it. But they had a very good music engineering program there, so I met a lot of people who were learning to record and had opportunities to record with them in their rooms and play shows they would put on. That's when I noticed a response to my music—people would show up to shows and sing along. It was something I could've never imagined would happen, but it was really encouraging.

My first tour was when I was 20. My friend booked the dates, and we went around the country in this green prison bus we borrowed from a friend. Coming back from that sealed the deal. We didn't make a dime—we probably lost money—but it was so exciting. I had a year left to finish my painting degree, but I knew I wasn't going to be a painter, and if I was, I didn't need to be in school for it at that moment. I saw the people in my program being in the studio all night and going to galleries, and that's how I felt about making music.

But yeah, SUNY Purchase was great. I really wanted to go to Pratt or SVA, and I got into both of them, but not with enough financial aid where it would've been possible. My mom convinced me to go to a state school, and my life would be totally different if I was in the amount of debt from going to a private school. At 17, the concept of money didn't exist for me at that level, so I was disappointed—$10,000 and $80,000 were the same number to me because I'd never been close to either of them.

So I ended up in a little bit of debt, but not crippling debt, which afforded me more time and space to work on music while working a little less. I had a construction gig for a while, I did the door at some clubs. I was able to make that work until I started to make a little money with the music.

What's life been for you like financially, both pre-pandemic and where we are now?

My finances are always kind of crazy. It's rinse-and-repeat. I'll get a publishing advance to record an album and get me through the year—a chunk of money dropped in my account. I'm just kind of horrible at rationing it out. You really gotta stretch it thin. It seems like a huge sum when it lands, but after taxes, it basically just covers living expenses. I haven't stepped foot in a studio in years, so I can't even imagine how an artist who doesn't record themselves would make money.

But we'd make it back on tour, and it's kind of like that. Make a record, run out of the advance, go on tour, make a little bit of money, then do the whole thing over again. I was definitely freaked out in the beginning of the pandemic, because obviously there were no shows. [Laughs] It was kind of weird to have to figure out how to collect unemployment, or to figure out what my occupation is.

But I kind of made it work. I got my little place, I don't have to pay for studio time, I design all of it. I do as much of it myself, which saves a lot of money. I was able to collect unemployment, which was a huge help. Hopefully, we're meant to tour for a good part of this year starting in the end of March—which, I'll believe it when I see it. All I can do is hope that it happens, and plan as if it's going to. I don't see why it couldn't go off without a hitch. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

It's a bit of an exhausting headspace to be in, I try and stay positive and roll with the punches because that's the only option there is. I'm sure most people are coming back to this new year and are looking for a drop of clarity, but it's really hard to come by these days. But that's healthy sometimes too. One good thing that's come from this is that people have had to learn how to really roll with the punches. It brings out something looser and less precious. But it can be tiring.

What's been your experience with the music industry in your career thus far?

I was 25 when I'd signed to Domino. I essentially made Pool in my apartment at the time, with the intent of releasing it through Bandcamp, like my records in the past. Spotify was sort of barely a thing at that point, which is crazy to think about. I signed a pretty hefty, five-album record deal with Domino then, and I also signed my publishing to them simultaneously.

It's a pretty archaic record deal—one of the last of its kind, with regards to streaming becoming everything shortly after. But they've been very supportive the whole way. A lot of labels don't operate that way, but I think they really want me to be making the best music I can be making. Certain records have done better than others, and I've felt pretty steady support throughout. They've pushed me in a good way.

Someone described a label as your parents, where they can really frustrate you or push the wrong buttons, but when it comes down to it I do think they want me to succeed and make the best music I can make. That doesn't necessarily mean the most commercial music I can make, so I'm very appreciative of that. We've both heard of horror stories where musicians get trapped making record after record and getting sent back to the drawing board. I probably would've put out a lot more music if not for the pipes I have to go through for it to see the light of day, but they facilitate a lot of those parts too—videos, uploading to DSPs. I don't think I would've been able to do it without them.

There's certain people that are more business-minded, and nowadays if you can circumvent a record deal that's the way to do it. But I'm not a businessman in any way. [Laughs] It serves me well just to allow me to do the thing I know how to do. It's not an ideal business model, but they provide me with a service and I provide them with a product. It's been pretty chill. I have one record left with them, and I'm really curious about what happens after that. I'm excited, too. It could be an exciting chapter regardless of what happens. But I'm not really there yet. For the first time in a long time, I don't feel like I'm in a crazed rush to outdo myself with the next thing, which is good.

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Jamie Larson