On The Fence with Jared Monaco

A preview from The Maine’s new book

Jared Monaco (Photo by Lupe Bustos)

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the day I walked into our studio knowing I was about to quit The Maine. Thinking back on it now, it was like a tense scene in a movie: We were early on in the writing for You Are OK. I was sitting in a chair in the control room, guitar in hand. John’s demos were playing through the speakers, and I was trying to think of what I could do to add to the song — but the only thing going through my head was static.

Writing a song was the least of my concerns that day, not after I’d made up my mind that I was going to leave the thing that had brought me so much joy and fulfillment over the past decade. It was a long-overdue decision, a once-and-for-all end to a decade of indecision and running from confrontation. It was a numbing feeling. The songs John played us were fucking great. They were so different for us, so exciting. Had I been in that room without all those other things in my mind, I probably would have jumped up and had ideas left and right. But instead it was just me, in a chair, holding a guitar. That’s all I was in that room: a passenger, an observer. There was this thing that could have come out of my mouth at any point that day that would have changed the course of my entire life, and I refused to do it. I just locked up.

Photo by Lupe Bustos

In 2007, I’d just finished my first year of college at Arizona State. It was right around the time that I started to hear that these guys were starting to play music. There was a little bit of jealousy at the beginning because I had heard the first demos they’d put out — and I wasn’t a part of it. I’d known the guys for a while. John used to come to my band’s shows back in the day. I was bummed because I felt like I’d missed the boat on an opportunity that could turn into something special. A couple months later, they had a guitar player who didn’t want to go on the road, so John asked me if I wanted to come play with them on their first East Coast tour. School wasn’t going well for me at the time, so I jumped in with both feet.

I had it easy in the beginning because I didn’t have to do the initial laying of the foundation. The rest of the band had put in the hours growing a fanbase, and they’d already recorded some stuff that had attracted attention. We had a lot of buzz at the time, and I just got sucked right into it. Meanwhile, I had just started seeing this girl at home. We had started a serious relationship, my first real relationship. At the same time, we were heading off to record Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. It was like two separate worlds I was tending to, trying to keep both nurtured and healthy.

I was trying to find balance in my life, but I ultimately wasn’t truly doing it for myself. I felt like I was doing a lot of things for other people: I was trying to appease my relationship and be a good person for somebody else. Then on the other side was my ego and my dream, the thing that I had really, really always wanted in my life. Within the first couple years, especially once we started touring really heavily, I started to feel the tension happening. It’s not a bad thing for someone to want you to be home. It’s exactly the opposite. That kind of love is something I’ve wanted my entire life. But at the same time, I couldn’t really be home. The band took me all over the world. Everybody knows that’s how you have to do it when you’re in a band, and it’s a lot to ask of somebody else, too. That’s what I was doing.

photo by Lupe Bustos

Looking back on it now, I realize I asked so much of a lot of people. There was also a complete lack of communication about what I was going through. I never really showed my cards. I would go home and just disappear off the map. I’m not the kind of person who gets home from tour and then has to go see everybody the next day. I need to decompress. One of the craziest feelings is getting home from tour and getting in my car to go somewhere — and it’s the first time I’ve actually been by myself for months. I won’t listen to music. It’s just a silent drive in my car the first time I do it. I always value that.

So when I was home, I was tending to my relationship. It was almost like I had two different timelines going. It made things really complicated for a long time, because I wanted to be a part of everything — but I did a really shit job of joining the two. It was obvious early on that the things I had going for me were rubbing against each other the wrong way, but I never wanted to rock the boat. Instead, I just kept delaying the inevitable. I did it for years, saying, “Oh, the next album is going to be bigger, and life’s going to get better for us.” I was foolishly thinking the better our band did, the more shot I’d have at a real life, the more I could be home — when it’s exactly the opposite of that.

I created this false reality in my mind of everything working out in the end, seeing all the different loose ends of my life being tied up by me being successful. That’s totally not how it works. And in attempting to bring balance to both parts of my life, I ended up actually making both of them worse. I would just show up, and the enthusiasm was gone when it came to the band. I don’t know if that came across to everyone else. I’m sure it probably did, but I had just become pacified by the other side of my life and the need to be home and be a part of something else. I didn’t give the band my full attention. And I would purposely delay giving my girlfriend information about our upcoming schedule and tours. I didn’t want to deal with the conversation about leaving. I’d say things like, “Well, if the band doesn’t really hit it huge this year, then maybe it’s time to rethink everything” — which wasn’t how I felt at all. It was just my way of putting a band-aid on the situation. I was just doing it to calm the storm I knew was on its way.

It’s really good to set goals for yourself, obviously, but I don’t think it’s good to treat things as an ultimatum: If X doesn’t happen, I’ll do Y. In communicating that to my girlfriend, it made me feel dishonest about everything, because I didn’t necessarily think, “Oh, this record isn’t a universal success. I’m out.” That was never a thought in my mind, but it was something I would say because I wanted to instill confidence and make it seem like I knew what I was doing. The truth is none of us know what we’re doing. We’re all just winging it, but I wanted to give some confidence to her that I actually had a handle on things. In doing that, I think I made the mistake of giving a false impression of what I actually wanted.

Ultimately, I knew I had to make a choice. The first big decision that came to mind was to stop being on the road and to try starting a life at home. I had really settled into that mindset for the first half of 2018 — even though I knew in the back of my mind that’s not what I wanted to do. I wasn’t being pressured to leave the band. But when someone has stuck it out for a decade, that’s a lot to ask of somebody to be so unbelievably patient all that time. It took me to a massive crossroads — which is, honestly, the first point of growth I had in 10 years — when I decided I was going to leave the band.

We’d wrapped our last headlining tour for Lovely Little Lonely and were about to start writing what would become You Are OK before heading out on Warped Tour. I told her, “I’m going to do it this month,” and her mindset was, “Well, you should do it before you start writing this record. You should do it before you get too into it, because I know how you are. You’ll get sucked in.”

I just kept putting it off. It was the worst feeling being in the studio with the guys writing music, sitting there thinking, “Oh my god. I’m not going to make this record.” That thought process was excruciating, because I was literally sitting in the middle of one of my favorite things to do in the world and thinking about what it was going to be like to not be able to do it anymore. That’s when I started digging my heels in, and I started really thinking, “I don’t know if I can stop.”

This was everything I’d worked for. If I walked away from that now, I’d be in the same position I was when The Maine started: eternally wondering what if. I remember talking with my mom back in 2007 about whether I should leave college to join the band. She told me, “If you don’t go, what are the chances you’re going to kick yourself later?” Now, faced with a similar decision, that conversation popped back in my head again. I flashed back to the moment of my mom telling me that when the band was starting, and it just cut through everything.

I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the band I was leaving. I came so close so many times, sitting right next to everybody. Then I would go home, and my girlfriend would ask, “Well, what happened? Did you say it?” This went on for probably three or four days, and it’s wild to me that she put up with that. That just goes to show the amount of patience she had with me.

It was a weeklong ordeal of going back and forth after I’d told her I was going to do it. One night, it all came to a head, and I finally said, “I can’t do it.” I was trying so hard to gain empathy. I don’t know what I was looking for, but I was just trying so hard to get her to see my position. I had to come to terms with what I really wanted, and admit I couldn’t stop doing what I loved. I couldn’t give up on my dream. I just couldn’t.

Without that final push, I don’t think I would have ever come to a decision. I would have torn myself in half for the rest of my life trying to appease two different groups of people — and ultimately leaving myself totally unhappy in the process. I didn’t want it to happen, but I feel like for growth to occur, you have to feel uncomfortable in life. We broke up. For the next 30 minutes after that discussion, I felt the most uncomfortable I ever have.

I got my stuff and went to my parents’ house about an hour away. I just went into a hole, into recovery mode. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a moment of growth. I had finally made a decision. I felt like I hadn’t made a decision in my entire life until that point. It was such a big moment, both good and bad. To just feel the weight of a decision and be in the aftermath of it, to understand the importance of actually taking control and navigating your own life — it was like I had woken up almost immediately to action and consequence.

My whole life, things have been taken care of for me. Being in a band is basically a two-year routine over and over again. Every record cycle is essentially the same thing: Write, record, promote, tour, repeat. We have a tour manager on the road. Pat, along with our manager Tim, are the brains behind the business side of the band, meaning I have the luxury of getting to just focus on the music and be creative. All my bills are on autopay. It seems like most of my responsibilities are on autopilot, to such an extent that when I put the human element into it and changed the course of where I was headed, I really felt the weight of that moment.

I remember I texted John and said, “Hey, man. I’m not going to be writing for the next couple days. I’m dealing with some shit.” That’s all I said — that’s how much I was trying to hide all this stuff. I came back a couple days later, and I told the guys what had been going on. I don’t think it came as a huge surprise. There were definitely moments over the past few years where it was probably pretty obvious I was a bit clocked out. It gave them more clarity on where my head was at. It was one of the first big steps in communicating, and I told them, “We have to make sure we’re open and talking about things. Because as much as this is our job, it’s also so important to have our mental health in check.” You don’t even realize it sometimes unless someone’s talking about it.

They were so supportive right away, and that felt good — but I didn’t want them to feel guilty about what I was going through, like I was overworked. I had signed up for this. We all signed up for this, and we’re in it together. It doesn’t work without all of us. We dropped all the band bullshit for a couple days and talked about things as people, as friends. At the end of the day, that’s what we are, and it’s bigger than the band.

From that point on, I just focused on myself. I remember waking up about two weeks into it and just saying, “Alright, I only have to think about me. What would only I do right now?” Everything started to change from that moment: I started to eat better. I started to exercise. I started to come up with a routine, because I felt like if I had just woken up and been sad all day, I would have been stuck. I slowly started trying to create my own routine every day that didn’t involve somebody else. I put a lot of time into figuring out who I was.

We went to Europe a few weeks later to do some shows there, like Rock am Ring in Germany. It was the first real thing I had done right after my relationship had ended. I felt so guilty getting on the plane and going, because I knew this huge thing just happened at home — and now I’m literally going to the other side of the world. I kept thinking I had unfinished business, when in reality it was a clean break. I had made a decision. I just couldn’t get it through my head that I’d finally done so. I felt like even then, after I’d made the most difficult decision of my life, my indecisiveness and unwillingness to look inward was still affecting me. I still felt like I hadn’t really come to an answer, when in reality I had. I think it was just the aftershock, and only time can fix something like that.

Then Warped Tour happened. Warped is so great for having a routine, because you’re doing the same thing every day for two months. That structure was really important for me, and it was actually one of the greatest tours I’ve ever done. I spent every day working out with John. I had so much fun. Usually I dread Warped Tour, but I was so excited to go out this time, because I felt like I needed it really badly. It turns out I totally did. I felt like I had a whole new personality that was underneath the surface that started to come out last summer. It all came down to this one decision I’d made.

The thing I’ve taken away from all of this is there was no negativity from the other side. It was no one’s fault but mine. Ultimately, it was me stalling out, and my failure to make decisions that was the overwhelming source of stress and anxiety and negativity in my life. That’s the thing that really slowed me down. There was such minimal growth from me throughout virtually my entire 20s because I was resisting it — and I was doing it on purpose.

It’s just so crazy how when you finally make a decision and head off down that path — whether or not it’s the right decision — you start making progress. Things start to happen. Everything was so static for years of my life. The thing I had to learn, and I think what I’m learning as an adult at 30 and moving forward, is that there’s almost always going be collateral damage. There’s almost always going be a downside to any decision you have to make. Unfortunately for me, it involved something extremely personal and emotional.

I still, to this day, wrestle with the fact that somebody really wanted to have me around, and I couldn’t provide that. But when you’re limiting yourself for somebody else, you’re only going to narrow yourself ever further. If I could have been real with myself five years earlier, I would have saved us a lot of heartbreak — but some of it was circumstantial, my personality and being a people pleaser inherently. There’s a way to be that kind of person and make it work, but I just didn’t have it dialed in. I was trying to put out all the fires at once and keep everybody happy. In doing that, I ended up engulfed in the flames.

My ex-girlfriend is so much smarter than me. She’d always say, “You need to listen to your intuition instead of your ego.” There’s a lot of things I learned through that whole process that I carry with me now, and one of the biggest ones is that my ego and my intuition are not always working together — in most cases it’s quite the opposite. When I ultimately made my decision, I had to come to terms with my intuition telling me this is what I love doing. This is what fulfills me, and it’s part of who I am. It’s not my identity because I’m in the band. It’s my identity because it’s something I’ve always worked for, something that’s so important to me.

Things are in a good spot now. It ended on good terms, and we still talk. It’s sobering to look back on 20-something me and think I could handle all of these things being thrown at me. It was so insanely optimistic of me. I think part of getting older involves figuring out what you really want out of life, getting down to what actually matters. And it’s about not going down a path you’re unhappy with for too long. Just figure it out, and try to make a decision. The last decade of my life was a lot of self-imposed roadblocks that eventually led me to a place where I had stalled out completely. When I finally removed myself from those overwhelming situations and recentered myself to focus only on my internal desires, it was like sitting in my car on that first day back from tour, learning to block out the noise and live with myself.

Pre-order the new book and album You Are Ok now at www.81–23.com