The Maine’s Jared Monaco refrains from recording with digital gear
The Maine are celebrating their Sweet 16 this year, but there’s no MTV camera crew or extravagant party happening for the milestone. Instead they’ve worked with their weirdest and most prized gear, released a vibrant new album, and headed out on the road.
Jared Monaco of The Maine. Image credit: Nick Stafford.
“I was literally about to sell everything that I had,” says Jared Monaco. The musician has served as lead guitarist for rock outfit, The Maine, since 2007. But just before he was asked to join the band, he very nearly got rid of his gear in its entirety.
“These guys had been doing it for three months before I ended up joining them. The week that John [O’Callaghan, vocalist] called me to see if I wanted to go on tour, was the week that I listed all of my gear on Craigslist because I had to pay rent and wasn’t gonna make it. I had this sparkly blue Epiphone Les Paul and that was the last thing I was holding on to,” he remembers.
The band are currently putting on a run of shows in celebration of 16 years together, for a stint aptly named The Sweet 16 Tour. Monaco forms 1/5 of the outfit, which also consists of frontman John O’Callaghan, rhythm guitarist Kennedy Brock, bassist Garrett Nickelsen, and drummer Patrick Kirch.
They put out their self-titled, ninth studio album on 1 August this year, and its release date is a special one. The numbers within the date (8.1.23) were also on the parking garage where they would hang out together in their early days as a band. 8123 is hugely significant to The Maine, so much so that they’ve even named their own fanbase the 8123 family.
Back in those early days, Monaco didn’t care so much about having a fancy rig, he just wanted people to turn up and watch their shows. His approach to guitar feels incredibly home grown, and the artists he takes influences from are from “all over the map.” When you listen to The Maine, sprinkles of funk, pop and even classic rock can be found across their soaring solos and cheeky, pulsing riffs.
“I think the more songs you know, the more songs you can write,” he says. He carries a laidback aura, and his infatuation with making music bursts out consistently. “When I first learned guitar, I was playing Metallica. That taught me the value of being able to solo a little bit. Nels Cline from Wilco is one of my favourite guitar players of all time and his style is so weird, it’s got this jazz fusion to it.”
Despite Monaco’s classic influences, The Maine are happy to experiment and keep things fresh. They collaborated with Demi Lovato this year who released Revamped, an album consisting of her most popular hits turned into rock anthems. The Maine were asked to feature on her track Neon Lights, which Lovato has even claimed as her favourite from the record.
But elsewhere, collaborations included Nita Strauss, The Used’s Bert McCracken, and even Slash. The band had no idea who else was going to be on the album when they took the project on: “Honestly, who would have thought? I was like, ‘Slash? Really? That’s so sick!’ Some of those iconic [Slash] riffs, I think as a guitar player, they’re embedded in your brain forever,” Monaco says, becoming animated with excitement and pride.
Guitars are creeping back into mainstream music more and more. Artists such as Willow and Machine Gun Kelly, along with Lovato, are introducing guitar-led music to younger crowds. Over the 16 years that Monaco has been in The Maine, he’s certainly embraced the changes that have come along with a growing guitar landscape, such as utilising digital effects. But the band does have their own boundaries surrounding their use.
“Going back to those early records, all the fun for me was plugging in an amp and praying that the tubes weren’t gonna explode, just that struggle,” he explains. “We still do that on every record. When I go back to what the magic was of being in the studio, it was those tactile things. With music nowadays – and I’m not knocking anything – I think the songwriting sphere has made output the main concern, especially with pop.”
Allowing things to get “weird and messy” in a studio space means everything to The Maine, so they refrain from bringing digital gear into a recording. “I got my unit like seven or eight years ago and I remember being like, ‘Oh my God, this thing can literally do everything.’ It’s kind of double edged, right? When we tour, it makes life a lot easier for me and my tech. I do way less guitar changes, but I think it does stunt creativity in the studio,” he states.
“I remember back in the day I had this hand wired, Vox AC30. I’d pull it out of the trailer and it was 50/50 whether or not it was gonna fire up. I don’t miss that so much. Having the Kemper makes that side of the whole equation a little bit easier.”
Love At First Fender
Though Monaco’s favourite guitar of all time is a Jazzmaster, these days you’ll most likely catch the band with Fender Stratocasters in hand. He says the brand just “nails it” for the airy and bouncy tones he desires. Right now, he plays a Player Series model: “For about three years I’ve been playing Strats, I can’t stop. I want to say we have four of them in rotation right now on this tour.”
Collectively, the band has a plethora of vintage and kooky gear which they allow themselves to experiment with in the studio. Some of their favourites include an old Gibson Melody Maker and a Fender Champ.
“We’re not picky, we’ll pick anything up and see how it sounds,” he says. His personal unique gem is a Gibson 1979 ES-335, fitted with speed frets, “I don’t know who put those on there, but it shreds. It’s so fast. When you’re playing, you’re like, ‘I shouldn’t be able to go this fast on this thing!’”
Convey The Feeling
Everything from Monaco’s tone to the way he originally learned to play, he has figured out himself. He’s never had a “single lesson” in his life, and is open to sharing that his “technique is bad.” But he makes a great point – that stuff doesn’t always matter, as long as you know how to convey what’s going on inside your head.
“Try to figure out who you are as a player first and foremost, and fumble through stuff, learn songs that you love,” he advises. “It doesn’t really matter as long as you can convey emotion. I mean, some people are virtuosos, but that’s not everybody.”
His self-taught approach has clearly worked to get him to where he wanted to be. It’s been a monumental year for The Maine, and 2024 will see them continuing to tour, including dates as support alongside Fall Out Boy (which they’re particularly ecstatic about).
“We’re really looking forward to the possibilities of next year. We wanna make sure that we’re on the road a tonne. We’re very fortunate to have the fan base that we’ve built up,” he says.
The Maine have never felt more happy to be exactly where they are right now, “Honestly, we’re having the most fun that we’ve ever had as a band,” he proclaims. “We’re super grateful that people are still showing up and throwing down with us.”
It was meant to be that Monaco didn’t sell his gear all those years ago. If you’ve ever felt like giving up on your own music journey, make this your sign to keep going.
The Maine’s self-titled album is out now.