By Christopher Treacy & Mike Maimone
Nashville tunesmith Mike Maimone doesn’t make country music in the twangy, cowboy-hat-and-lasso tradition. But he does make roots music that’s deep-steeped in classic, piano-based blues, which is what brings him into the CQ fold. That, and his unabashed queerness, of course.
Maimone describes his new single, “I Wish I Didn’t Know You Anymore” as a ‘honkytonk punk rock barn-burner,’ and we couldn’t have said it better. It stomps and it rollicks; it’s simultaneously frustrated and fun, much like the sort of relationship it describes. It blows off steam.
Maimone’s trio, Mutts (a merry band of musical misfits, as the name implies, currently on hiatus) played some years back with L.A. based fem-punk band Bad Cop / Bad Cop, and from that time, a friendship with bassist Linh Le evolved, leading to the duet that’s our new Song of the Week in the current CQ Roundup. Le helps add to the song’s brawling sensibility, effectively mimicking the narrative trajectory. The rough’n’tumble rawness of their mutual vocal performances suits the song marvelously—it just wouldn’t have the same impact if the lyrics were articulated by a couple of showboating, precision-tuned crooners.
Take it away, Mike Maimone.
Thinking about it universally, “I Wish I Didn’t Know You Anymore” seems to lament our collective affection for scoundrels, No?
Yeah, I think that we probably all had those friends who were well-known magnets for trouble. But who’s to blame? It was our choice to go along. Did we stay home and be boring, or did we go along for an adventure? I mean, I think about how lucky I am to have survived some of those nights we stayed out until the sun came up. Not that I did anything too illegal, but it could’ve ended badly a few times. I definitely drank too much. It took me a while to grow up… I kinda got that under control in my 30’s. At the moment I don’t drink at all and I’m enjoying the clarity of performing sober. But yeah, I wonder how much of that stuff was just me being me, and how much was me being influenced by those friends. It’s pretty easy to point the finger elsewhere, but you know… I did the stuff, too.
What made the rollicking, rockabilly-ish soundtrack seem like the appropriate musical choice for this tune?
I wrote the song on guitar, thinking it would turn into a punk rock track with my trio, Mutts. But the album we were composing at the time was called Stuck Together, so this song didn’t fit the theme. I started playing it at solo gigs on piano, and it took on more of a Jerry Lee Lewis aesthetic. It was getting some of the biggest responses of my set, and when I moved to Nashville I started playing it with the full band including horns. People were going nuts for this song! I wanted the vibe of the recording to be like those shows. I didn’t want it to be this pristine thing with guitar clearly in one ear, piano clearly in the other, everything occupying it’s own space. When you’re in a room with a band, that’s not how you hear music. It’s all coming at you from the stage, or the corner of the bar, and you’re hearing the band as well as the sound of the room you’re all occupying together. So that’s the atmosphere I was trying to create when I mixed this one.
Toward the end of the song, it appears that you double down and go back for more despite knowing it’s a bad, impulsive decision. How can this be? Is art imitating life?
With my solo project, I’ve been making a conscious decision to get back to the basics of my music in high school and college. Back then, being in bands had absolutely nothing to do with making a living. It was a creative outlet, and it was a vehicle for having fun with friends, partying and meeting new people. After college, I had a job as an accountant for a bit, but quit that pretty quickly to focus on music full-time. I started making more serious music, dealing with being a gay man raised Catholic, current political issues, and the corporate bullshit I saw while auditing at a ‘Big 4’ accounting firm. I don’t regret that at all. I think my trio Mutts made some really great records. And I got to come out to myself, my family, and my community through those songs. But I think in 2016 when my drummer left that band, our tour van crapped out, the bar I had a residency at closed, and then you know, the election… everything was so heavy, I just wanted to use music to escape again. So this song in a way mirrors that. Getting back into some old tomfoolery.
What made Linh right for this role?
I wrote this song right after Mutts got off tour with 2 Cow Garage, and thanks to them we played a show with Bad Cop / Bad Cop in Orlando. This was Fall 2015. We became band buds, and ran into each other a few times on subsequent tours. After that, Linh and I would message each other from time to time about collaborating, based on our mutual love of Tom Waits. Her band is so bad ass. Seeing them really lit a fire in me. When I finally went to record this song, I realized it was a duet. I had been singing it solo, but it was clearly a conversation. Since it was inspired by punk rock, written right after that tour where we met, I hoped that this could be the song Linh and I would collaborate on. I sent it to her and was really excited that she was into it. The story comes to life thanks to her.
This is your second duet single in a row. Are you a fan of duets by other artists? Name a few of your faves.
Honestly, I would have to think really hard to come up with a list of duets that I love. But I do love collaborating. Back in Chicago I had a residency at the High Hat Club, called Collab/Corrupt. Each week I invited friends of mine to come play, and we would always close the night by trading songs. It was really spontaneous, and I loved the unique performances of our original music that would come out of it. Then when I got to Nashville, I had a residency at a gay bar called Canvas, where I did the same thing. I invited other LGBTQ singer/songwriters to play every week. I would play on one of their songs, they would play on one of mine, and we would do some covers, too. I like to feature other artists that I like whenever possible, especially if we can break down each other’s music and put it back together in a new way.
You announced this series of singles a while back and they continue to be clever and fun – are you building towards a full length release or are you content to release singles for the time being? Singles and EPs seem to have become more popular among indie artists in recent years…
I’ve always been an album fanatic. I love telling a story over the course of 10 songs, tying different styles together with a good track order. Isolation:001 is the epitome of that, where I got to turn a string of videos into a short film. But you’re right, we’re in an era where it’s all about singles. In 2019, Mutts put out what I thought was the best record we’d ever made, called Stuck Together. And it didn’t do anything on the streaming platforms. Since they use these algorithms to decide what songs to show to listeners, if you put out 10 songs at once, you’re diluting the water pressure. Whereas if you put all of that promotional effort into just one song, you can get 10x the flow. So, that said, yes, these singles are leading up to a full length. It’s going to be really disjointed because some of these songs were started before I moved to Nashville—before the pandemic, before my engagement ended, before I got pericarditis—and some of them are still being written now. But that’s also what makes me the most excited for it: it’s a real-time reaction to how insane life has been over the past 3 years. It’s essentially going to be a mixtape, and I’m leaning into that by adding more random tracks and some interludes to tie it all together.
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Waitsfield, VT.