May 11 2016 12:10 AM

Doug Mains returns with unexpected new album

Doug Mains & the City Folk (left to right: Josh Michels, Kelly Briski, Doug Mains, Kim Wren and Rob Germeroth) release "These Broken Members" Saturday at the Loft. The band recorded the album in 2013 but broke up shortly after and never released the album.
Courtesy Photo

Three years ago this month, Doug Mains was writing and recording music with his band, the City Folk, for its second album. But the band broke up after the recording sessions and the album never saw the light of day.

Mains, the group’s singer and songwriter, felt he needed to step away from the project.

“I had allowed a lot of mental habits to develop,” he said. “I found myself in a very anxious position. I had this fear of letting go of the project for fear that we would lose that momentum, and I think that led to unfair expectations on myself and a sense of perfectionism.”

Recording that album, “These Broken Members,” pushed Mains’ perfectionist tendencies to the breaking point. Mains pulled the plug on performing live music after that.

“It was maybe somewhat dramatic, but I really was trying to convince myself that I was completely done with music for the rest of my life,” he said.

Over the next three years, Mains was able to confront the mental health issues that had led to the band’s breakup.

“I struggle with anxiety, and I am definitely no stranger to depression,” he said. “At that time, I wasn’t aware of that.”

Mains continued to play music, but it became a private affair. He struggled with the idea of sharing his introspective songs with others.

“I kind of reverted back to that introverted kid who just wanted to play in his bedroom and not share these personal tunes with people,” he said.

Mains found solace and support in the music of ‘70s singer songwriters like Cat Stevens and James Taylor. The words of another songwriter pushed Mains to consider releasing the songs he had recorded three years ago.

“There’s a Billy Joel quote that says, ‘Musicians want to be the loud voice for so many quiet hearts,’” Mains said. “That’s been an encouragement to me.”

As he found comfort in music, he began to realize that his music could be comfort for others who are dealing with anxiety and depression. With the help of a professional counselor, he reached a point where he was ready to perform again.

“I’ve been going to counseling in this break, which has been a phenomenal thing and something that has liberated me to return to music and release this album with a newfound focus,” he said.

Doug Mains & the City Folk will release “These Broken Members” Saturday at the Loft. When he started thinking about an album release show, Mains was concerned that no one would be interested in a band that had disappeared three years ago.

“I put some feelers out there, and Nate (Dorough) at Fusion Shows and Jerome (White) at the Loft both remembered us and were excited that we were coming back,” Mains said. “So it went from ‘Yeah, maybe we’ll do it’ to ‘Oh crap, we’re doing it’ in like 24 hours. But that was super encouraging.”

The time away from music brought other life changes for Mains. He got married in 2014, and he and his wife are expecting their first child. For a while, the pressures of supporting a family helped suppress the idea of performing music.

“There was a part of my life, when I quit music, that I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to buckle down and be a normal person and get a normal job and grind through really sucky jobs just to be normal,’” Mains said.

Mains worked various day jobs, but eventually realized he could carve out space for creative pursuits as well.

“That’s one of the things that was challenged — what gives life to me and what takes it away,” he said. “I was pressuring myself to be what I thought I should be by quitting music, because I thought that was like childish dreams.”

Mains is working to strike a balance between work that pays the bills and work that brings him joy.

“Our culture says that there’s a certain path that we’re supposed to take,” Mains said. “I just don’t think that brings life into a lot of creative minds.”

While the band is focused on re-learning tunes from the three-year-old album, Mains has also started working with the band on a new batch of songs.

“With these new tunes, it’s really hard to not want to give them life,” he said. “I’m starting to be bold with my own struggles in a way that others can hopefully relate to.”

Most of “These Broken Members” was written while the band was on the road. Mains sees a direct relationship between the intimacy of touring and the honesty of the album.

“On tour, people’s imperfections come up — what everyone is struggling with,” Mains said. “For me, as person with anxiety, it’s good to step outside of myself and recognize we’re all pretty broken people. But there’s beauty in that as well.”

Doug Mains & the City Folk album release show

With Gifts or Creatures and Sarah Lou Richards
7 p.m. Saturday, May 14
$12/$10 adv.
The Loft 414 E. Michigan Ave, Lansing
(517) 931-0103,