When we meet in a bar in Hackney, Maine explains that when a song piques his interest he finds it all-encompassing, regardless of its genre. “Every now and then there’ll be a song or an artist that I’ll find and just listen to them on repeat. I don’t know if it necessarily makes itself into my music, but those are the moments I was thinking about, when I was completely obsessed with an artist or a song.”

With Maine’s musical approach based on editing out the unnecessary to leave only what he needs, it‘s easy to compare his discussion of the songs that have made the cut to his own output. Particularly on his third record The House, which is filled with pop-sensibilities that ebb and flow; a wave of electro-pop that lends itself to the importance of delving between both expected and unexpected melodies.

“I think there are all sorts of ways to arrange a song,” Maine explains. “There are more natural ways that can compare to the way we can have a conversation - where there‘s a climax, or you finally get on to something and slow back down. I love a big verse-chorus too, but there’s that part that repeats itself, it’s all pretty different throughout.”

Reflecting on the songs that matter to him, Maine identifies a recurring theme between the artists that created them - a refusal to pander to expectations. “They‘ve all often upset their fans by switching it up really fast, especially Neil Young, that’s the name of his game. Maybe that‘s why I’m drawn to them; because I hope to have a long career, keeping it fresh for myself and hopefully that stays exciting to some people, or new people each time. Looking at it as a whole is an interesting journey.”


1. “Eyes Eyes” by Michael Hurley

"My ex introduced me to Michael Hurley, maybe like five years ago. He’s this old folk singer that I think lives in Portland, or somewhere in the northwest of the U.S. And then there’s this record Wolfways.

“I‘ve always been interested in folk music but there’s something so raw about this guy, his melodies are so evocative of the emotional sentiment that I feel really attached to, I just find it really infectious. I‘ve even studied his melodies, which I don’t normally do with other artists. I was just so curious, because there are a few moments that he does in almost every song, which is interesting too, but he can still somehow get away with it and it gets you each time. I‘ve tried that out in some of my songs.

“I think he’s great. He’s got a weird catalogue and he makes these amazing comics. He’s done it on his own terms for what seems like forever and he’s still touring. I guess you could say it’s unique from being so derivative of folk music.”

2. “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground

“This was the first Velvet Underground song that I got really obsessed with and I think, at least at the time, I saw it as a pretty soft introduction to them. It’s a very sweet song and it’s not very aggressive, but there’s still something so dark and unsettling about Lou Reed’s delivery.

“It’s just the recording, ‘sometimes it feels so happy and sometimes it feels so sad’. I’m all about the economy with my lyrics and using as little words as I can to get the dumbest idea or simplest idea across. There’s the line ‘linger on your pale blue eyes’, it’s one of those hooks that’s just out of that universe of perfect words to put together.

“I definitely revisit this song when I’m feeling a certain way. If you want to dig into your melancholy or sadness, but not be too hardcore, you put this on.”

3. “Is This It?” by The Strokes

“This was such a massive record for me - the whole thing really. It’s kind of my first introduction to love. I didn’t know music, but I could see myself making it with an attitude that was inspiring and they were doing it, and they were young as well. I was maybe 14 or 15 when I heard that stuff for the first time and everything about it was so exciting, like the way they dressed and so on."

“Those melodies are forever informing my songs, that stuff is just drilled into my head. It’s almost kind of exciting when someone pops up and says ‘oh that sounds like something Julian Casablancas would write.’

“It was the next version of that freethinking wave. It was cool and was why I got a bass, I idolised Nikolai Fraiture the bass player. I’m just a massive Strokes fan. It’s nice that they kind of grew in what I think was an unpopular way to their fans, it didn’t stop them from trying shit out.”

4. “James Joint” by Rihanna

“I was thinking about this song and how my relationship with pop music has shifted over the years. When I was younger I was into rebelling and being like ‘this is garbage’ and ‘this is real music’ and I think that this song is such a fucking weird song. The chords are so out there and the lyrics are so good and it’s almost like a dot on the album, I think it’s only a minute long.

“So I liked that, it seemed outside of what pop artists would do. I think it showcases her tastes in a cool way. I felt it was exciting to hear her sing a song like that, with those chords, and I really felt that through the whole record.

“I feel like on my album there are a few of these interlude things that I like to think hold the same, and have the same function as that song does. I would love to make a song with her someday for sure, I feel like we could have that if I just keep putting that energy out there.”

5. “Solo” by Frank Ocean

“I guess this is almost exactly the same moment happening, where it’s a really short song. It’s just organ, while ‘James Joint’ is just... I don’t know what that instrument is, maybe a synth or something. When I first listened through Blonde I flipped out at this song. I listened to it like five-hundred times in a row because it’s so short, and there’s that run in it… [Maine sings a section]. It’s one of the most beautiful ear-worms I‘ve ever heard.

“I remember just belting it and trying to figure out every single thing, and it was so satisfying when I could sing along to it. He’s another one that I’m such a huge fan of. It wasn’t actually until Blonde came out and everyone had been talking so much about him, so I put it on. I hadn’t heard the singles from Channel Orange, but I was so blown away by it. It’s hard to pick something from that record, but I think that was the first song I remember from it.

“I feel like in a lot of the songs, especially the ones he’s been releasing recently, they don’t repeat very often, each part is so strong and one of those ear-worms where you just want to sing along, and it feels so good to just feel that energy. This basically just repeats the whole time, but I do like the idea of kind of fucking with the traditional song structure. There’s a little bit of that on The House, but I‘ve definitely been paying more attention on how a song can unfold in a different way, where it’s non-linear and not just verse-chorus-verse-chorus.

“It’s subtle stuff and just learning it, it’s all similar; the chords, it’s the same key, but the little length of the notes will be different, or a chorus will be different. Which is why you always want to keep going back to something - because the sounds are like it could be a verse or chorus, but it sounds fresher each time.“

6. “Suicidal Thoughts” by The Notorious B.I.G.

“I’d heard about him obviously, as an artist, I think I was 12 or 13, and it was on Ready To Die. I think I downloaded it off Napster. This song is one of the most intense, beautiful and sad-raw songs that I‘ve still heard to this day. It kind of speaks for itself.

“I just remember listening to it on repeat and learning all the lyrics. I even showed it to my dad randomly, because I felt like I could, he’s an artist who listens to music and makes music too. It’s so much information that you're allowed to hear someone speak about themselves, especially when you’re young, it’s kind of taboo I guess, but that’s not why it was exciting to me. It just felt so serious, the way the song unfolds, the phone call at the beginning, the gunshot and heartbeat at the end, and the beat is so dark and so menacing, his flow is still the craziest thing ever.

“So that was when I was young, and my first rap that I really got into and had on repeat. This song felt important. I felt that somehow even the music, and the production, was somewhere in there forming.

“I think it’s so exciting to hear someone who’s so in tune and in touch with themselves and I think that’s when artists are most successful; when someone taps into what is them, and that channel is opening and they eventually become comfortable in their skin. Everything he was saying is just so straight, it’s so raw. It’s only something he could do and it seemed so effortless, to hear it pour out of someone like that.”

7. “S’cooled” by Blood Orange

“This was the first Blood Orange song I heard, a friend showed it to me maybe three years ago or something and I just thought it was the coolest thing I’d heard. ‘S’Cooled’ started my whole obsession with the Blood Orange project, I didn’t know about Lightspeed Champion or any of Dev Hynes’s music before that until later.

“I just love that beat and the bass line, it’s so smooth at first, and sexy, and then it does this weird classical turnaround thing. I’d never really heard anything like that before - the guitars, the little harmonics and the stuff that is so Dev, the vocal performance.

“I still don’t know what the lyrics are, I don’t think I’ve ever looked them up, but they just sound so good. There‘s a cool demo version of it on YouTube, it’s always interesting to hear those sort of sounds, there’s a different energy to it. It’s the whole vibe that was exciting to me, it was the way it made me feel when I was listening to it, and not because I was thinking about the meaning of it or other stuff.”

8. “Tell Me Why” by Neil Young

“My Dad introduced me to Neil Young, and I think naturally this is such a massive hit, and such a crazy song, with such crazy energy. This was the first one where I was like ‘This is wild’. It was the first Neil Young song I heard and I still go back to it.

“The guitar parts are just so special, so sugary. I think there’s two of them and they’re panned or something, just a little bit off, but it’s such a satisfying recording to listen to and the song is obviously such a beautiful song.

“Again, with the lyrics for the amount of times I‘ve listened to this song I probably couldn’t recite a third of them to you, with his squirrely voice and the whole thing, it’s like the perfect little package of a folk-pop song. He‘s someone I always go back to and appreciate what he’s done.”

9. “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” by Arthur Russell

“He’s someone whose tragically short career managed to expand and explore all sorts of genres and sounds. This is the first Arthur Russell song I heard and it's still one of my all-time favourite songs.

“I think heard it in high school when a friend showed it to me, and it was a bunch of weird disco stuff. I was like, ‘How can a guy who made the most beautiful, sad folk songs, also be making experimental cello noise, and dance music?’ And since then I’ve just been so interested in his journey as an artist, how he communicated with people and how he challenged himself - constantly pushing the boundaries and innovating.

“It’s inspired so many people and it was never met with any success while he was alive, but this song is so crazy to me. You can just tell he has that sensibility, he understands how a pop song works, I still think it’s deceptively very simple. It‘s easy to listen to for how there are all these little things about it that are kind of pushing a boundary, but they just make it more compelling without making it challenging. I really love his folk stuff that’s on that compilation Love Is Overtaking Me. Obviously, I’m a fan of it all, but that‘s a special one, that was a big discovery when I heard him.”

The House is released January 19 via Domino