Mike Maimones recorded two albums this year, "Borrowed Tunes, Vol.1," and "Isolation: 001."
Oftentimes music is a means in which we try to make sense of an unpredictable reality, channeling our mixed emotions to arrive at some tangible truth, a personal journey to be shared and even celebrated. Like many of us, pianist, singer, songwriter Mike Maimone has had his year derailed. Not one to surrender without a fight, Mike took the months he would have been on the road playing with other musicians to concentrate his creative energies on recording two very different albums. The first arrived late September, an album of covers he titled, “Borrowed Tunes, Vol.1.”
MAXIMUM INK: You must know a lot of songs. How did you pick just nine?
MIKE MAIMONE: The guiding principle, first and foremost, was that they’re songs I personally love and mean something to me. I only wanted to include songs that I felt I could do differently - either musically or with a unique perspective. I recorded a few other songs but felt if I hadn’t done anything new, I’d scrap them.
MI: The album has a consistently intimate style, breaking down many of the song’s original blockbuster productions. Amazing how Weezer’s, “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” turned into a desperate confession.
MM: Weezer’s blue album is sentimental to my junior high years, and I’ve always felt that this song is so poignant that it could be done in a more somber way. Especially with quarantine, the thought of being stuck in one place while the world moves on, it felt right to try my hand at it now.
MI: You go from Weezer, George Harrison and Neil Young to more contemporary artists like Robyn.
MM: Robyn is a newer discovery for me. I missed, Call Your Girlfriend,” when it came out, but a friend suggested I do it and I thought it was brilliant the way the meaning changed when I sang it. I made the mistake of seeing a married, “straight,” man who was on the DL and the emotions got extremely complicated.
MI: You chose a number of songs by female artists; Angel Olsen, Whitney Houston, Fiona Apple.
MM: Fiona Apple is my goddess. I worship all her records - her new one especially. “Paper Bag,” is one of my favorites to cover at my solo shows, and so it had to go on this album.
MI: Seemed like a lot of the songs deal with dashed hopes and displaced affections.
MM: There wasn’t a conscious theme for the song selections. But you are right that they reflect where I’m at personally. I picked these songs because they moved me, so the common themes must have been resonating with me on some level. Life is not at all what I had thought it would be right now. In all honesty things are not good personally, and obviously things are not good culturally, environmentally, globally.. there is a lot of work to be done. Sometimes it feels like there’s no point in trying, but I closed the record with the song that I felt sums up the feeling that even though life is hard, and totally unfair, we can still care for each other, pick each other up, and figure out how to get by.
MI: It’s fitting to finish off a solo cover album with U2’s, “One.”
MM: I never really got into U2, but this song has always stood out to me, and it is more relevant than ever. I think that the most famous versions - the original, Johnny Cash, and Mary J. Blige - are incredible, but they all sound powerful. A need for power is part of the problem today. I wanted to focus on the vulnerability and empathy required to truly unite despite our differences.
MI: The second “quarantine” album you did is very different from “Borrowed Tunes.” Set to be released later this October, “Isolation:001,” bounces and boogies with a big rousing sound.
MM: “Isolation:001,” was a spontaneous about-face in my music-making. I had been playing with a 6-piece band back in Chicago, and already had started finding Nashville guys to fill in down here. When COVID hit I had to take a step back. I wanted to make an album that was at its core just piano, vocals and homemade percussion. Something I could perform live by myself with a sample pad, or with just a drummer, without missing too much from the record. I got a little carried away layering sounds on a few tracks, but overall, I think the spartan intention came through.
MI: Were these songs that had been around for a while or new creations?
MM: All of them are new songs written since mid-March, except, “Leave Me Alone.” That one I had demoed for Mutts during the Stick Together EP writing sessions, but it didn’t fit with the theme of that record, or the next full-length, so I kept playing it at solo gigs and grew attached to it. With the arc of this record, it finally found a home… at the bottom of the descent into full-on isolation.
MI: Recording and writing were going on at the same time, then?
MM: I actually wrote the last track the night I “finished” mixing the album. I listened all the way through to tracks 1 - 8 and thought, “this isn’t done.” I couldn’t leave off on that note. I have to believe there’s a reason to keep going, even when things are literally hopeless. Otherwise what are we all doing here? The words to “We All Gotta Die,” spilled out all at once. I guess it was all on my mind because the pandemic has us in an existential crisis. Then musically, it’s intentionally based on “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” meets “Les Champs Elysées,” Those are two of my favorite compositions, and they immediately evoke saccharine and nostalgic feelings. Two things that are the antithesis of contemplating the inevitability of us all dying alone. So, a perfect match in my book.
MI: How was your experience being a one-man band in the studio?
MM: As far as the recording, this is the first full album that I’ve recorded and mixed entirely by myself. It was just me, my piano, a computer, and whatever I could find in the house for percussion. I think that when I write for my bands, I subconsciously am thinking about a certain framework. If you’re thinking, “this is going to have other humans involved,” that will steer you down a certain road, but on this record I opened a Pro Tools session and started screwing around with 808s and samples of me banging a pot with a wooden spoon. I never intended for anyone else to get involved. It was a completely different process than any other record I’ve done. It was fun and pretty fast to record. But mixing was a challenge. I honestly look forward to getting back to working with bands. It was a relief when I sent it off to Dan Duszynski to master. It was like, “here, you deal with this now!”
So, whether you need to shake those blues or see a different point of view, Mike Maimone is your music man.
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CD: Borrowed Tunes, Vol. 1 Record Label: 8eat8 Records
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