Money comes and goes, but life is worth living regardless of your bank statement. The pitfalls of having, and not having, managing one’s self-worth over net worth, and truly living regardless of one’s means, are ideals that held Mike Maimone together on Broke, Not Broken.
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“When I look at my bank statements, I find it hard to believe myself,” Maimone, who admits he was also an accounting major in college, tell American Songwriter. “Fearlessly or foolishly, I’ve been funding studio time, marketing, self-booked tours, and paying personal bills on credit cards for nearly two decades. Shuffling around debt with zero percent introductory balance transfers has become an annual ritual. This isn’t a pity party. I’m broke, but I’m not broken.”
Recorded in Nashville in December of 2019 and patched together using tracks laid down from band member’s various apartment and studio spaces, Broke, Not Broken, a follow up to isolation:001, which reflected the loneliness of quarantine, in 2020, is not a call for help but rather a self-affirmation of living life to the fullest, despite your monetary conditions—from horns ablaze on the opening “Work” and broke banter of “F.M.L.” through “Gasoline” funk rock. Broke sifts through more emotions with Maimone’s Tom Waits scratch around I’m so far from home, and my home just keeps on changing / If I was alone, I’d worry and worry for ages on “Through the Changes,” and grittier “Clear Black Night” and the steadier pomp of “Long Way Down.”
Pulling from some old and new songs, Maimone—who fronts Mutts and works with Company of Thieves, both since 2009—was tapping back into his solo work during a regular gig at the High Hat Club in Chicago and started writing five of the 10 tracks on Broke, then wrote the other half of the album throughout 2019, while playing Mutts shows and solo gigs.
For Maimone, Broke, Not Broken was intended as a piece that would get people up and dancing. “I wanted the studio tracks to sound very much like studio creations, mainly inspired by ‘Check Your Head’ (Beastie Boys), ‘Odelay’ (Beck), and ‘Lemonade’ (Beyonce). I also knew I wanted the arrangements to be fairly simple, as I anticipated having a lot of people on stage live, and wanting musicians to be able to show up and play these songs without much practice or feeling obligated to reproduce the studio tracks.”
Approaching 40 as he was writing Broke, Maimone also started realizing his growing debt, which directed the theme of the album. “Apparently [I was] stressed out about it, because it’s creeping into all of my songs,” says Maimone. “Songwriting is definitely self-therapy. I didn’t realize how much my financial situation was affecting me until I saw this group of songs side by side.”
Shifting into more self-producing since isolation:001, Maimone says Broke, Not Broken comes full circle from his 2008 solo debut Open Mic Nights. “I wrote both collections on piano and intended them to be performed live with or without a band,” say Maimon. “I wanted both sets of studio productions to stand on their own, without pressure to be replicated on stage.”
Through his work with Mutts and Company of Thieves, Maimone says his writing has only refined over the years. “I absorbed a lot from playing with Company of Thieves, Los Colognes, Bailiff, Jon Walker, and a bunch of other bands,” he says. “Watching interviews with producers, I’ve learned how songwriting and production can be intertwined from the outset, which gives every component more intention… So 10 years later, my intention for this album was to take some piano-based songs that work in a live setting, and produce the studio tracks like Mario C might approach a Dr. John album.”
A larger comparison between Broke, Not Broken and Open Mic Night, was coming out, a point that took Maimone many years to reach.
“It took me a long time to truly realize that about myself, and then even longer to come out to my Catholic family and friends,” shares Maimone. “When looking back at my life in 2008, it feels so much more free to now be openly gay. I can have a little fun singing about relationships with men.”
Maimone adds that from a songwriting standpoint, he wanted it to be more of a wink, than a “hey look at me, I’m gay,” so he subtly worked in the pronouns as little jokes, letting the audience in on this personal side.
“It took me a very long time to get that comfortable,” says Maimone. “It’s great to take a look back and realize not just how far I’ve come personally, but how far the LGBTQ movement has come overall since that 1st album came out.”