“Happy” Forever Halloween: An Exclusive Interview with John O’Callaghan

First of all, happy album release day to The Maine! (I am so ecstatic to go and get my copy of the album today after work.)

Photo: Dirk Mai

Photo: Dirk Mai

In order to celebrate the release of the band’s latest album, I have decided to post an interview I did with lead singer, John O’Callaghan, in anticipation of the release of Forever Halloween. John was kind enough to talk after a long day of traveling a few weeks ago. Here’s what he had to say about the recording process and the 8123 North America Tour:

Salak: The last time that we talked, you had mentioned that the band was trying to get signed by a label, can you tell me how you went about that process and why you guys decided to put out Forever Halloween on your own?

O’Callaghan: I think we were initially open to the idea of talking with somebody but I think it was after the fact that the record was done, like at this point in time, that we just wanted to find a producer that we felt comfortable with. We really wanted someone who supported our songs and to become almost like the sixth member of the band. So the mentality was to just find someone to produce the album and worry about the label situation after the fact and we did just that.

Whittling down the songs and erasing the ones we didn’t feel strong about off the bat. It was work, work work from the get-go. Now we have worked out a distribution deal that will allow us to be in more stores this time around. Our distribution on the last album was kind of a hindrance in relation to the physical copies of our music. The digital aspect is a little easier to control on your own but we’re pumped up about the tour coming out and coinciding with the record release.

Salak: Did you know Brandon Benson already? How did the opportunity to work with him

O’Callaghan: No. Working with him was kind of something Pat (Kirch, drummer) had thought up. We knew he produced a few records and co-produced The Raconteurs album. And right away we moved ourself into the apartment and began recording right away – there was no pre-recording for this album. So that was good enough for us right off the bat. There was some other stuff that we had heard of and were fans of –  and all of that on top of the stuff he puts out as a solo artist as well.

It made the most sense because he knows what it’s like to be in a band and how intimate the song writing process is. He knows what it means to be an actual artist and put himself out there. It was an incredible experience to work with him for me especially. Now that [the album] is done, it’s reassuring to know what we did.

Salak: Did you feel like Brandon challenged you all as musicians to push yourself?

O’Callaghan: Yea definitely. This time was a lot different because we tracked everything live. And the vocals were cut live at the same time with the rest of the instruments so from day one it was a challenge. We have been working towards our entire existence to be in a position now where we can achieve a recording in that manner. It was a very empowering and cool feeling because we’ve never done it. It was intimidating walking into it but the end result was very rewarding to see and hear the final product. It’s definitely something we can all stand behind.

Salak: Was it Brandon’s idea to record live or was this something the band had been interested in doing?

O’Callaghan: We had toyed with the notion kind of early on when we were deciding who we wanted to work on the album with and who we hoped to be in the studio with. We knew once his name got brought up that he was an old-school dude and very analogue driven – very rock and roll in that sense – so we didn’t have time to question it. He (Benson) said that’s how we’re doing it and we just went with it. I think it made us better as a band and more confident as a unit.

Salak: As far as the writing process for the CD, you said you had tucked yourself away, and were exhausting all of your efforts on writing for Forever Halloween. Were you feeling inspired? Did you face any obstacles during the song writing process? What sort of influences took presence in the writing process?

O’Callaghan: I don’t feel like there was pressure. It should all be fun and at this point it should all be heart-felt. I find that if I am not having experiences outside of the music world that’s when I can start to feel pressure. Fortunately, I do have a life. Touring really helps in terms of song writing. I do get into that mentality where I’m thinking about all that I am ingesting. I think the new songs are pretty introspective and self-reflective of being the observer or having an outside opinion. I think when we talked last it was all about writing but now it’s just about fun and not having to force anything or overthink things at this point, which is a nice feeling.

Salak: After you had finished recording, what sort of sound editing did you apply to tweek the music but keep the sound as raw as possible?

O’Callaghan: We didn’t do any tuning on the vocals, which is new for me. It might be a little different sounding on the vocals compared to other albums we’ve made because we didn’t try to pry or filter the performance. We tried to take the most unique syllable and turn it into a unique sound or sentence but overall worked to maintain the integrity of the original sound. We recorded drums and base, and from there you do overdubs like guitar leads, keys and percussion. You layer that on top of one another, but I think what mellowed it all together was that we had Colby mix all the tunes. (Colby also worked on sound editing for “Pioneer”). It’s that technique that makes it have a 2013 kind of feeling to it all. It’s the perfect balance of the new vibe of recording live and old school analogue feel with the mixing of somebody who did our last album and knows the different nuances we have about mixing songs.

I am excited to play the new songs because we did it this way. I think the transition from studio to stage will be very easy.

Salak: Was it a difficult decision to go ahead and produce the album on your own and front the expense of putting it out?

O’Callaghan: Fortunately for us, we’re in a monetary position to fund it all on our own again. That is the luxury and freedoms you enjoy when making an investment in yourself. I think that outweighs the creative choke-hold we were feeling in all of our other label dynamics. As each day passes it’s an easier and easier decision to make as long as you put emphasis in your livelihood. Being able to maintain creative control is why we are doing what we’re doing.

The only way of honing in on whatever it might be, “your sound,” the only way that is going to happen is if you do it on your own. You might fall on your face a couple of times but I think it’s only going to make us stronger as a band and further the opportunities we get to see.

8123 North America Tour Poster

8123 North America Tour Poster

Salak: Has the tour with your agency, 8123, been in the works or was it a spontaneous decision that was put together?

O’Callaghan: We try to be more conscious about who we surround ourselves with, especially as of late.  We did that tour with Lydia, who is also a part of 8123 – and we’ve toured with This Century before, so not only are we friends with the artists we’ve worked with before but we’re fans as well. The tour wasn’t anything that we had planned months in advance, but the more we began to think about who we wanted to go on tour with it just sort of came together.

We haven’t toured with A Rocket to the Moon in about four years and even though they aren’t represented by 8123 it feels like they are part of our family. This Century and A Rocket to the Moon will also have new records coming out so I think that will make [the tour] really exciting.

Salak: When you had announced that you were going to have an album preview in NYC, a lot of the fans in Tempe, Ariz., seemed to have a strong reaction, making requests that you guys return to your home town and play a show there. Was that something you had always intended on doing or did you accommodate based on the feedback you got about the NYC event?

O’Callaghan: In Long Island we brought out the machine and played the album on the tape reel so people could comprehend what went into making the album. The Arizona thing – we’d been working on creating a free show. We’ve been working on that for a while which is why we hadn’t posted anything and we are going to round out the tour in Tuscon.

– The Maine played their acoustic show last night in Tempe, Ariz., at Zia Records. The store was so packed that the band ended up playing inside and outside for those fans who could not fit into the store. Check out their instagram feed for pictures. 

Salak: After the 8123 North America Tour are you planning on heading overseas?

O’Callaghan: It’s all up in the air now. I know we have to get on things kind of early to figure out travel and who we are going to tour with but we don’t have a time frame yet. Obviously, it will be after the summer but we are still working it out. We plan on going back to the places we’ve been recently, and many of the spots we’ve been to in the past as well as new territories. It’s exciting because we don’t know when we’ll be going or who we’ll be going with but we definitely know we’ll be over there. This time we have the album coming out world-wide, which we’ve never had before so we are very excited about that!

Salak: After listening to the release of “Happy,” I again wanted to compliment you on the overall progression of your sound and songwriting ability. Do you feel happy (no pun intended) with the way you’ve progressed as an artist and the direction the band has taken since your first started?

O’Callaghan: I absolutely feel good about our new sound and push as to how we view our band and individuals in the group. I think we’ve learned a lot about what goes into making music and we can finally say that we are in a band. We recorded this album like some of our favorite albums that were recorded back in the day, which is awesome. We’re happy with the way the record turned out and very excited to hear what people have to say about it. I think what makes us hopeful is that we were able to achieve what we had set out to accomplish and get over that hump is what makes it hopeful for the future, going out on the road and putting on the best live show possible.

Salak: After you released the song “Happy,” did you look at any of the fans reactions or commentary on social media sites?

O’Callaghan: Ugh, I try not to – you know it’s impossible to not look at that stuff, but what I am more concerned about is talking with people at shows and hearing what they have to say about it. I am happy with the way it turned out and I think that’s the only thing that matters at this point.

Salak: The song has a very upbeat rhythm and sound to it but when you look closer at the lyrics, it’s really a sad song. There was a fan who posted that made a comment about how much she would love to cheer you up, which was of course proceeded by a slue of doting female fans. The song is definitely about wearing a mask and you can tell the emotions that went into it.

O’Callaghan: Yea, I was talking with my mother the other day and she was asking me if I was happy… I was being interviewed by my mom (laughs).

Salak: Any plans to go sight seeing while you’re in Chicago? You’ll be performing here back-to-back so will you have any down time to relax and explore?

O’Callaghan: I think we’ll definitely be up to no good because we don’t have to travel that Friday to Saturday. But I think that will ring true throughout the entire tour.

Photo: © Jenna Salak

Photo: © Jenna Salak

A big thank you to John for taking the time to talk about the new album and 8123 tour! Forever Halloween is now available on iTunes world-wide and the band has officially started on the road for the 8123 North America Tour with This Century and A Rocket to the Moon. 

I’d love to hear what your favorite song is off of the new album? I can’t stop listening to “Love and Drugs,” “Run,” “White Walls” and “Forever Halloween.”


Enjoy a live, acoustic performance of “Happy,” courtesy of Rolling Stone Musica



1 Comment

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One response to ““Happy” Forever Halloween: An Exclusive Interview with John O’Callaghan

  1. Pingback: 8123 Tour Recap | black&whiteworld

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