Touring: it’s long hard work that’ll exhaust most independent artists. Driving for hours on end, sleeping on floors, and spending a lot of time with the same small group of people for a very long time – it’s not easy, but these are the rites of passage that independent artists and bands must endure. Whether you’re supporting a new release with a national tour or just hitting some regional cities over a week, touring truly is an essential element of building your fan base and growing musically.
Tempe, Arizona-based indie rockers The Maine can tell you all about touring. They’ve been releasing music since 2007, and in 2011 they split with Warner Brothers to set their sights on distributing through TuneCore (via their label, 8123). On the heels of their 5th studio album, American Candy, the five-piece outfit decided to shake things up in a way you’ve likely never seen before: The Maine announced a 13-city tour, with each show being completely FREE for fans to attend.
Did we mention that touring is expensive? These guys gave their fans the ultimate ‘Thank You’ with their Free For All Tour this year, and we got the chance to talk to them about it. Read on for our interview with The Maine’s John O’Callaghan and Pat Kirch as we discuss the Free For All Tour, fan reaction, engaging new fans, and American Candy:
What inspired the Free For All Tour? What was the initial fan reaction when you announced it?
John O’Callaghan: Our necessity to push ourselves creatively when it comes to the tour experience and the desire to deliver a unique “thank you” to the profoundly dedicated folks that have been seeing us for almost nine years now both inspired us to construct the Free For All Tour. I think bewilderment, a bit of confusion and extreme excitement overtook the 8123 family when we first announced. People have expressed their appreciation for the idea all over the world even if they couldn’t make it out to a show, and that means the message was conveyed and in our eyes it was a major success.
Having been a band for less than a decade during a time of rapid movement in the industry, how did you go about building a community of dedicated fans?
Pat Kirch: For us it has always been about personal interaction with people. At first that was just online because I was still in high school and we couldn’t go on tour, then it turned into us making sure we talked to every person that came to the shows. The relationship feels much more like a family than just a band and fans. I think the other thing we have done is kept things interesting for ourselves which comes through to the people that pay attention to what we do. We never want to make the same album over and over and we never want to do the same tour twice. We are always trying to push the limits on what is possible for our band to accomplish and create.
Similarly, as you continued to release music, how have you maintained that connection?
PK: The very special and sacred bond we’ve formed with our following goes well beyond the music and is due, in large part, to the sense of community they (the individuals) have developed themselves. We feel as though if we continue to release our expression in its most sincere state then they will continue to stay hip on what we’re doing. If we falter and begin to take their support for granted, that’s the end of the whole show. We’re simply trying to take what is pure about our approach and our relationship with those who support it and nurture both so it all doesn’t fall apart.
Explain the importance of something like a free tour and what it means to you as a band. What has it taught you about your fan base?
PK: Being a fan of music first and foremost, the Free For All Tour has brought about a sense of pride in ourselves knowing that we did something that not many bands (if any at all) have ever done before. In the age of the paid “meet” and greet, we delivered the exact opposite experience and, save for a few sleepless nights, pulled the thing off without a hitch thanks to the help of some amazing people at 8123. That alone makes us feel like we’ve done something worth while. This run has taught us that we’re lucky enough to be part of something bigger than The Maine will ever be and has solidified our union with incredible people who love music. That rules.
How did the fans in each city react to your shows on this tour?
PK: It was really great! Some of the shows felt more like a festival show where there are people in the audience that only know a few songs or have just heard of the band but they came because it was free. That was a great thing for us because even though we were doing our own headlining tour, it still felt like we needed to work every night to win over new fans and get them on board with what we do as a band. The nature of the tour was so different than anything we have done before that it didn’t even feel like we were on tour. It felt like a bunch of random shows put together; every date was different and that kept it fun for us each date.
Have there been any specifically memorable moments from the road (on this tour) so far in terms of connecting with fans?
JO: We had too many amazing interactions with people on the road to pinpoint one in particular, but the fact that after polling the audience most nights for virgin concert-goers for The Maine and seeing an overwhelming amount of hands raised was something that really resonated with me. This just reaffirms the benefit of the tour for us as a band and makes us rather hopeful for the future.
Tell us about the recording and release of American Candy. How has the reception of this album played into the Free For All Tour?
JO: Recording took place in a house in Joshua Tree, CA back in November 2014. We set out to make a cohesive and uplifting album that would hopefully take people on a sonic vacation from the chaos of everyday life. Feeling the support on the road and online really dictated the move to do the tour. We wanted a new platform to play the album for people that gave us the opportunity to record it and allowing them to do so for free felt like the most appropriate move. Couldn’t be happier with the response and turnout on all accounts, and now we can’t wait to reinvent ourselves with future tours to see if what new ideas arise!
How has your experience been using TuneCore for digital distribution?
PK: It has been such an important tool for our band for the past 5 years! We made an album called Pioneer in secret from Warner Brothers because we were sick of them giving us input on the music and telling us what type of an album we should make. We were able to release that album all around the world via TuneCore in a very short amount of time once we got out of the deal.
From that point on we have never looked back. It has allowed us to be much more free and able to release special Acoustic EP’s or B-sides to our fans very fast after recording them and get it heard all around the world. It has made it so we do not need a record label and have now released more albums independently than on traditional record labels!
What advice do you have for bands who are starting out and beginning to build a fan base?
PK: I would say first off never forget that the music comes first and that you need to make something you love and not what you think people will enjoy! Then I would say that you need to keep in mind and understand that none of what you do would be possible without the people that support the music – and never forget that. Let that idea lead every decision you make.
Any plans for after the tour or into 2016?
PK: We will be doing more international touring and one off shows and working on some new music. It is not time for an album yet but we will be releasing new music in some way or another!