Mike Mains & the Branches urged us to Calm Down Everything Is Fine back in 2014. But that was hardly the case during the five years leading up to the group's third album, When We Were In Love, premiering exclusively below.
Mains tells Billboard that there was no shortage of crisis points leading up to the new effort — some of it related to his music career, and more coming from "a really, really painful season" in his marriage to bandmate Shannon, the product of "ghosts and wounds" the two had not taken time to address before. "All that led to a mental breakdown," Mains acknowledges. "l think we battled a lot with the idea of, 'Do we keep doing this?' That was the really heavy question mark that wouldn't stop following us around — me moreso than anyone."
Therapy, however, proved to be the saving grace for the music. "Part of my therapists' recommendation was to get back to the studio and keep writing," recalls Mains, who had considered quitting and returning to school to study psychology. "He said, 'No, man, get your butt back in the studio,' and this record was born out of all that. That's something I've always managed to do — life hands you this garden full of pain and you just have to pull the weeds out, plant some more seeds and grow something."
The buoyant pop of When We Were In Love — recorded in Harrisburg, Pa., with Nathan Horst — follows Mains' favorite credos from Tom Waits ("I love beautiful melodies telling me terrible things") and Leonard Cohen ("There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in"). "I've always loved surrounding painful subject matter — mental health or a dark time in your marriage — with really beautiful pop textures," Mains explains. "Usually people will get into the song because it's tuneful or catchy, and when they listen to it four or five times they're like, 'Wait a minute — in the second verse he's throwing himself in front of cars after a session with his counselor!' Usually that flies over people's heads the first couple of times. I like multiple layering so you can find different stuff the more you listen to it."
Mains admits that some of the album's songs even brought him to tears — which is "slightly embarrassing to admit," he adds.
The good news is that things are better on all fronts now, with the Mains planning to relocate to Cincinnati, where the two other band members live, from their current home in Luddington, Mich. And there's no question about the quartet's commitment to the music now. "I feel like I did two years ago and then was reborn — our marriage, our whole life, my confidence in myself," Mains says. "Everything feels new and fresh, and I'm more grateful for everything we're doing. We've been at this for 10 years, and by now you know whether you should hang up the skates and go sell car insurance. And I don't think we're going anywhere."