Porches’ Aaron Maine on making emotionally turbulent music in solitude
Maine has excavated personal trauma and heartbreak for his latest album, Ricky Music, which he made over the course of two years from his Manhattan apartment.
Despite his chosen line of work, making tender electronic pop music as Porches, Aaron Maine is quite the homebody. “I have a hard time getting my ass out of the house,” he tells me over the phone from his Manhattan apartment. Though he’s a big dance music fan, and his own work is full of familiarly clubby sounds, he usually can’t make the effort to go out and catch DJ sets by his friends. For a musician working in today’s dismal streaming economy, where touring is often the only way to make ends meet, it can be difficult for an artist to spend much time in the same place. But Maine has been fortunate enough to figure it out: “I haven’t toured toured for almost two years, I’ve been the fuck here, going nuts,” he laughs.
Maine has lived in the same spot for the past three and a half years: a second-floor walkup in New York’s Chinatown, across from a hectic construction lot. “They’ve been building this 15-story building right across from me for the past two years… It’s pretty fucking loud,” Maine says with a chuckle. “[Some days] there’ll just be 20 cement trucks lining the street.”
Still, Maine, 31, appreciates some of the bustle, frequently catching pedestrians’ idle chatter by his window. He keeps his second bedroom free for a “rotating cast” of couch-surfing friends. Despite the noise, Maine has made his primary studio his living room since moving in. There, he recorded most of his last two records – 2018’s The House, his third as Porches, and Ricky Music, his latest, which was released last week.
Though Ricky Music is relatively lean – its 11 songs unfold over about 25 minutes – the album presents a series of vignettes that make up, as Maine described in the album’s press release, “an account of the beauty, confusion, anger, joy and sadness I experienced during that time.” It was an intense period for the singer, the better part of which he spent in a relationship with Kaya Wilkins, the Norwegian-American singer, songwriter and model who records under the name Okay Kaya.
Ever since the Porches project reached the spotlight, with the 2013 debut album Slow Dance In the Cosmos, Maine’s love life has received an uncommon amount of attention from the hipster commentariat. In the past decade, there’s been a glut of notable artists using beat software to make lovelorn, guitar-driven pop, from Toro Y Moi and Beach Fossils to Rex Orange County and King Krule – but only Maine has happened to so publicly fall in love with musicians on the same indie rock circuit as him. From 2011 to 2016, Maine dated Greta Kline, known for making hopeful indie rock as Frankie Cosmos – the pair, both of whom grew up a few miles north of NYC in Westchester County, met in their local DIY scene and played in each other’s bands.
As their respective projects became more popular, each artist inevitably became an appendage to the other’s press coverage. In Kline’s 2014 Rising piece for Pitchfork, Maine’s singing is heard softly from behind a door in their shared apartment, as she describes her partner as “my first muse who I was allowed to admit is my muse.”
On Instagram, as much as in his songs, Maine projects a casual intimacy, a sensitive cuteness – making kissy faces with Frank Ocean on FaceTime (the pair share a mutual admiration), posing for somber, shirtless selfies, snapping a grainy portrait of Wilkins hunched over in a bathtub, her face covered in shaving cream. In a teaser clip for the Ricky Music cut PFB, Maine wears navy soccer shorts and a varsity sweater with the word “NEBRASKA”. Kicking and twirling around his studio while the song blares in the background, Maine is goofy yet lithe, a sensitive glare belying his wry wit.
None of this comes across as contrived or premeditated, as it’s perfectly in line with the rest of Maine’s output as Porches. Even as he’s sharpened his chops as a songwriter and producer over the years, his music has retained a sense of casual, stripped-down closeness, offset by a self-effacing sense of humour. PFB is a jangle-guitar freakout in the vein of The Strokes, in which Maine repeats the line “It’s looking bad, it’s looking bad, it’s looking Pretty Fucking Bad” as his guitar drifts in and out of tune.
Most of Ricky Music deals with the emotional turmoil Maine suffered in the aftermath of his breakup with Wilkins, memories of ecstatic affection surfacing alongside grief, depression and pining. Maine is hesitant to mention Wilkins’ name in our conversation – when I nudge him to identify her, he admits he’s wary of “blowing up her spot”, inviting the kind of scrutiny Kline previously received. But on Ricky Music, Maine is unsparing in his self-portrayal.
“I got the idea /If I thought hard enough /I could make you appear /Just like a mirage,” he sings to open Lipstick Song, a mournful depiction of the depth of his infatuation with Wilkins. “I wrote that song in LA, when I was in the throes of being blindly in love,” he says. “I literally rode a Razor scooter to Sephora on Sunset Boulevard to buy this person a shade of lipstick. I was just thinking about how when you’re in love, the most mundane things can have the most charged-up feelings ever… it was such a tiny gesture, but my brain was just on fire.”
The mood is heavy, but Maine chooses sprightly, gossamer sounds and propulsive rhythms that help us revel in the intensity of his feelings. Madonna is a rushing dance track – with a plucky organ bass that recalls Robin S’s immortal house hit Show Me Love – but the hook feels rueful: “Have fun out there /I know it’s so ugly /When I fill up with jealousy.”
“It’s about trust,” Maine says. “Loving someone, wanting to trust them, and knowing that you should, and being pissed at yourself, wanting to be a better person.” Maine recalls “staying on this houseboat in the Rockaways” while writing most of the lyrics, including a particularly artful illustration of his disillusionment and self-loathing: “And the moon hangs high like a big fuck you.” [I remember] walking to piss in the middle of the night, seeing the moon and just being like, ‘Goddamn it,’” he chuckles.
Maine is only now resurfacing from a long period of solitude, precipitated as much by the collapse of his relationship as by a regimented studio practice. He admits that it was difficult to make time for his friends while pulling daily nine-hour shifts recording in his apartment studio. “[It’s] honestly an unnatural, obscene amount of time that I have to spend making music to feel like I’ve accomplished something,” he says. “It’s enough to drive anyone close to me crazy at times… [but] music keeps me afloat, emotionally, so I gotta nurture it.”
Maine keeps himself upright by practicing yoga, at home daily and in classes once or twice a week, and playing ping pong at Fat Cat in the West Village. He’s been putting in time at the table with his close friend and ping-pong sparring partner, Blood Orange singer Dev Hynes.
Maine enlisted Hynes, as well as a few other peers, to contribute to the record, including Mitski, the folksy playlist-pop balladeer Zsela, and a friend named Jenny, who had never been recorded singing before. Their appearances come not in the manner of a traditional “album feature”, but in succinct supporting roles – listeners not already acquainted with these artists’ voices will have a hard time picking them out in the mix. Maine explains that he brought these collaborators together “just to have another body, another brain in the room, to keep you in check from your freak tendencies.” Singing simple background parts, these contributors could have easily been replaced by another take or two of Maine’s own vocals.
He chose to bring these friends into the fold, not to add musical fireworks or lend name recognition to the project, but because he made this music to process a time in his life, and his friends’ voices help cement the memories he hopes Ricky Music will carry. “I like the idea of including my friends, with or without musical background,” he says. “It’s very comforting. It helps me see an even clearer picture of my life at that time.”
Stylist Cece Liu, Hair Ledora Francis, Make-up Andrew Colvin using Weleda.