"Is this okay" Aaron Maine asks in his slow, thoughtful drawl as he pulls on a white shirt emblazoned with "I Heart New York" and resumes his perch on his radiator as he smokes his way through a hand-rolled cigarette. We've assembled in the small Chinatown apartment he's called home for "a little over a year" that has seen the artist who goes by
, his most hauntingly personal album yet.
Atop his radiator, Maine resumes his reflection on the environment he's chosen to call home. Far removed from his hometown of Pleasantville in upstate New York, the artful chaos of Chinatown has become his world. We've come to the topic of the very real, sensory overload that the brave souls who choose to live in an environment as overwhelming as Manhattan experience. "It's quite shocking," he says, slowly. "It definitely doesn't feel natural for anyone to do that and be that stimulated immediately. I do miss that but also, it's amazing to have that when you are prepared and want that immediate interaction."
For the artist's newest album, themes isolation, home, and the outside world stream through the tracks. "I just wanna leave the house. Find something to think about. Maybe take a walk around," he sings on the opener, "Leave the House," before crooning "I think that I'll stay inside" on the very next track, "Find Me."
It is within these themes of self-isolation that some of his
fans have embraced the record and, though he is thankful for this fanbase, Maine is quick to note that he is a straight, white male and is careful to "try to stay in [his] lane." As the subject of identity and his queer fanbase is brought up, he takes a moment to gather his thoughts, and finally offers that, ultimately, he just hopes that his identity "doesn't make anyone feel uncomfortable" before adding, "I hope I make people feel welcome to listen and take part in my music."
Now, with the album out of the way and a tour starting this month, Maine has taken some time to breath and reflect on what's next. As light filtered in and the muffled throb of the city rumbled in the background, we sat with Maine to talk about the genius of Frank Ocean,
Call Me by Your Name
, and embracing his suburban sensuality.
With your new album, it's gotten a lot of attention from your queer fans. How does it feel to have that community resonate with your music?
It's an honor to be accepted and to put my music forward in a way that resonates across any sort of sexuality. I find it quite embarrassing to be a straight, white male. My position is really accepted and ingrained into society, but the idea of having a hard time facing certain things is something that everyone experiences at some point.
All I can hope for is that my presence as an artist doesn't make anyone feel uncomfortable. I hope I make people feel welcome to listen and take part in my music. It means a lot to me.
With your music, I feel that you've evolved in the way you access and interrogate your feelings.
It's a fine line for me, at least. My old music was really... Not out of line but unchecked by myself. I was attempting to talk about my emotions but in an angstier and whinier way. Listening back, I find it quite embarrassing and horrendous that I even had these thoughts. It's like opening an old diary but instead of being able to shut it, it's out on the internet for...however long the internet lasts. I try to stay in my lane, but I do think that the struggles everyone faces are valid. There's a Neil Young lyric that goes, 'Though my problems are meaningless, that don't make them go away.'
Do you ever want to move out of New York? It seems like a lot of people are leaving lately, or at least planning to.
I think eventually for sure. I'm definitely not tired of New York yet and I don't imagine I will be for a while. I feel like I need to live in another country for a few years at some point in my life to take advantage of my passport.
Where do you think you'd want to live?
My girlfriend Kaya is obsessed with Copenhagen. I've never been but, taking her word for it and everyone else who has spoken about it, it sounds like a pretty special place. I like the idea of not being in the center of everything.
Do you miss the small town vibe you grew up with in Pleasantville?
Yeah, I definitely do. I would never swap it for the city right now, or at least where I grew up, but I really like stepping outside and slowly starting your day instead of the immediate sensory overload that is stepping foot on the street in New York. It's quite shocking. It definitely doesn't feel natural for anyone to do that and be that stimulated immediately. I do miss that but also, it's amazing to have that when you are prepared and want that immediate interaction.
Do you feel that the album's themes of staying inside were a reaction to that sensory overload you feel in New York?
That was part of it. I feel that your personal space in New York is even more precious than in quieter places because it is your one true escape from everything. You make it yours.
Do you have any essentials for creating a sort of "nest" in your home?
My desk with my recording stuff and a bed and that's basically all I had here for the first four or five months. Then I was like, I should probably get a table and a bed frame. I really miss when it was just my mattress on the floor and this little desk. It felt perfect.
I like having my things around and room for my clothes, but it gets so cluttered so fast and that fucks with trying to have a clear head. I prefer a clean, sharp space. Nothing informing your thoughts.
Do you use social media a lot? I feel that that tends to clutter my head space.
I definitely partake in most of it. I'm into Instagram and Twitter and it's nice because they feel like very different things for me. I treat it accordingly and it's nice to have that immediate response. You make a photo and put it out there and you get an immediate response. That's definitely shifting the way people absorb content and making people thirstier--it makes everyone want things to hit faster and harder. I do think about that with my music. It's nice to be patient with a record, but I think people release music in a different way now because of social media.
I feel that the way Frank Ocean has been doing it post-
is cool. He's just releasing these singles on Spotify and that feels new and it works. You have this song to be obsessed with for a couple of months and then maybe there's another one coming. But then again,
was one of the most anticipated albums ever. I wasn't not a fan, but I hadn't paid much attention. I thought the false alarms were kind of funny and when I listened to it, I totally became a stan immediately.
When you're not making music, what do you do for fun?
I've been seeing more films than I've ever seen this year with my girlfriend, which is really fun. That's been great because for whatever reason, I was never inclined to go to the theater. Now I even go by myself sometimes. I've been reading a lot more this year, which feels good for my writing and my vocabulary even. I love to shop way too much. I love enabling people to buy stuff and make bad decisions. I just like being around money being spent for some sick reason.
What's your favorite film you've seen this year?
I don't know if I have a favorite, but I just saw
Call Me by Your Name
. I saw that the other night and loved it. I'm still absorbing it. I've got a handful of thoughts about it but all in all, it's a pretty beautiful, fairy tale story.
Did it make you cry?
No, because I'd been crying all day. I cry during every movie no matter how shitty it is but I think I was so hollowed out that I didn't even need to let that happen during it. It was a rough day, for sure. It was a nice movie but there has to be some fucking pain. You don't even feel that bad for Elio at the end because you're like, that's how it goes. The other parts of it were pretty smooth and accepting and exactly how you would hope it would go. Love hurts.
Love definitely hurts. (Laughs) Tell me about these music videos. I know you collaborated with Nick Harwood on them, whose worked with Sophie and Kim Petras in the past. I think, by teaming with him, he helped bring his own queer sensibility to your music.
Yeah, I imagine he did. He's a genius observer and absorber of culture. It was cool because I had a string of crises about what fucking images would feel remotely appropriate to attach to these songs, so I would send him lists of words and he would form it into something.
I'd also been interested in playing up my sensuality in my reality and my public image and he was on board with the whole thing and understood what steps I wanted to take visually. Towards the end of writing the record, I had this idea of embracing my suburban upbringing after this hazy, massive love affair with the city. I was able to step back from it and remember that 80 percent of my life has been lived outside of the city. I wanted to touch on that. The whole idea was to shoot in these places that were close to home and transplant my identity in the city and attach it to where I grew up. That juxtaposition felt exciting.
After this cycle, do you want to do another album or do the Frank Ocean strategy of releasing a series of singles?
I really don't know. I go back and forth. There are five B side songs that I'd like to release sometime this year. It's funny, a lot of people have been saying they're not into the short songs, which I thought were the most exciting part of the record. I want to scream, 'I fucking cut five full-length songs off of it! I wasn't being lazy!'
I have about 40 new songs and I'd like to get them out as soon as possible, while not rushing them. That's the main thing--figuring out when it feels like the right time for them to come out. If I wasn't going on tour for the next three months, I'd love to be home polishing those off.
I could probably have another record out before the end of 2018 but, realistically, I would have to be working on it in the van or doing mixes over email. I need to be present at least sometimes. You go crazy if you're always thinking about the next few months in advance.
If you had to choose, what would you do besides music?
I really enjoy painting and I studied painting for three years in college. I don't do it so much now or as much as I would like, but I'll occasionally take out the paints and do it. I really like it because it's a way to express myself that's all for me. I don't have to think about what anyone would think unless it's a still life for my mom. I'd love to wake up and paint every day at 6AM. That sounds really nice. In a few years when I get that cabin in Scandinavia I'll get a painting studio and never show anyone. I'll just paint for nine hours a day. That's the move. That's the look.