Interview with Porches: Growing Up in New York and Sonic Evolution
Aaron Maine, better known as Porches, usually spends his time writing songs in his New York apartment or on the road touring his latest album, The House. After starting the project in 2010 as an indie rock band, Maine has slowly stepped out of that comfort zone and moved into the next with his synth-pop sound. We sat down with Maine during our visit to SXSW in Austin to chat about growing up in New York, and the conscious efforts made to evolve his sound into a more minimalistic, yet satisfying sound.
What was the atmosphere like where you grew up? Did it have an impact or influence on your music?
Yeah, I grew up in a town called Pleasantville in Westchester County, New York. It’s forty-five minutes north of Grand Central on the train. My dad is a musician but by trade a house painter. I grew up with him writing songs. I think that was really crucial in demystifying the idea of being a musician and writing songs. I don’t think it necessarily meant that I could do it, but I saw someone doing it, so it wasn’t this untouchable thing to achieve.
What age did you start music?
I was in fourth grade when the school band started. I got a bass when I was in eighth grade because I was obsessed with The Strokes their bass player, Nikolai Laiture. Then I slowly picked up guitar stuff from my friends and started to write songs by the end of high school. After that, I began to perform those songs and was really surprised that people were responding to them. Even though it was just a few, it felt really good.
You talked about starting music in high school, did you have a following in your local music scene?
There was a really great local scene growing up. They would put on a lot of shows either at veteran halls or church basements or if someone's parents were gone we would throw a house show. I naively thought that everyone interested in music growing up had some sort of support group, then I went to school and one of my friends was like, ‘I was the only person that knew who Radiohead was.’ It was a nurturing environment.
Did you ever feel creatively suffocated being from a small town?
That’s the thing, I had a really good group of friends I would skate with for like six hours a day and have band practice with, so it wasn’t isolated. I would just get on the train and be in the city in no time, but I didn’t grow up doing that because I felt pretty busy and occupied in my town. I stayed there until I was 22 and by that point was desperately trying to not have to have a full-time job, because I was living with my mom. It literally took her selling the house for me to do that. I moved into the city with my girlfriend at the time and my life would be so different if that wouldn’t have happened.
Would you say moving there was a refreshing turning point for you?
Such a blessing. I was ready to move to Philly, which I’d love to, but I am so happy that I had the opportunity to get to New York. It was so easy for me compared to others. I love hearing people's stories about all the shit they went through just to end up in the city, which was basically my backyard.
Do you think New York has influenced your sound from Slow Dance in the Cosmos to The House?
Yeah, I think so. Just the people I’ve met, people I’ve seen, music I’ve been exposed to, even just walking around. I think it all affects you.
Everyone writes differently, but do you have an idea for a song before you know how it’s going to sound?
Sometimes I have a strong idea of what I want a song to be about, but recently I’ve been doing this thing where it’s as rigid of a routine as I can keep up. I write first thing every morning, for like an hour or two, and go back through it sitting at the piano to see if anything I’ve spewed out resonates enough to make a melody around. Sometimes I’ll sit down with just a guitar and it will come out. ‘Country’ was like that. I just wrote the lyrics in ten minutes and the song formed around that. Sometimes it will just flow and whatever I’m writing is the song more or less, and sometimes it’s a collage, piecing together ideas.
Do you ever cut and paste different lyrics to other songs your working on?
I can only really talk about what I’ve been working on recently, which is hard to even recall the process for The House. I think it’s really interesting to reference, or reuse lyrics in certain places, to make it feel more like a cycle, or universe.
Have you ever reused lyrics from older albums and used them in newer songs?
That’s a little trickier to me. I always find it weird.
What about referencing older songs in newer songs?
Yeah, I think so. I think about John Lennon saying, ‘I told you about Strawberry Fields,’ and I always kind of cringe when I hear that, and David Bowie talking about Major Tom being a junkie. Maybe it’s because they’re famous, so it’s weird to acknowledge that they wrote these songs like human beings.
Do you think people pick up on the references when you make them?
It’s exciting when people pick up on it. People noticed I reused the chorus in ‘W Longing’, it’s the same lyrics as the second verse of ‘Anything U Want’. I had written ‘Anything U Want’ then went back to ‘W Longing’ because I really liked those lyrics and just sang them over the chorus. You repeat yourself in conversation a lot if you have a thought you’re really thinking about.
What are some differences that ‘The House’ has versus the older albums?
Well in relation to ‘Pool’, I think it’s a lot colder and sparser and the sounds are sharper. ‘Pool’ to me is fuzzy, analog, and soft. Even the lyrics are quite abstract in comparison. ’Pool’ is easier listening, in general. Whereas ‘The House’ is a bit more aggressive, sonically, and a little more challenging. Something I tried to consciously maybe to a fault is I’ve taken out what I felt was unnecessary for the song to hold up. So, I had the vocal take in the drums, and that drives most of it. There are some stylistic synth and arpeggios that are there for the satisfaction of the listener, but for the most part, I’ve tried to keep it pretty bare.
I read that you really liked being minimalistic, was there a reason for wanting that certain sound?
I think I was drawn to that sonically. If the drums, the bass, and the melody were great, then I feel like it’s interesting to try and let those things speak for themselves and make the boldest strokes possible. The content too felt urgent and direct in a way that was in line with the arrangement or something like that.
Lastly, do you have any words of encouragement to young artists? Any advice you wish you had been given when you were starting out?
Trust yourself, but be open to criticism. Know that I think inherently making art is special, and you should be proud of yourself for doing that.
Film images by Bailey Vigliaturo