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Interview: The Mint Chicks

The Mint Chicks

First things first, what are the group's plans for 2010? Is the Portland relocation a permanent thing or are you guys going to move back to New Zealand?

We're in New Zealand at the moment. We came back for the music awards and we've got plans to tour NZ in February. We've also been working with a start-up called MusicHype to experiment with some different ways to deliver music. We've been recording a new EP. We head back to Portland in March, but we're not sure what we're doing once we're back there!

We were hoping we'd be able to record a bunch of EP's and release them in all different ways. Maybe a few in different countries. Maybe record one in Japanese and release it in Spain and one in Spanish and release it in Japan.

Cool. I have seen the MusicHype thing, not too sure on the details though. How does it all work, what's the plan?

They asked us if we'd like to help them launch. There's going to be some competitions and a social networking aspect and they're going to help us promote a record. It's all still being figured out but it'll be interesting to see if it works. More fun than figuring out a new record deal.

Ah yeah, having a look now. It seems to be good as a promotional tool at the very least.

How is the new stuff sounding? Obviously you guys have bounced around a few genres/styles over your three album history. Does it sound anything like previous work or in a whole other world altogether?

The latest stuff is a bit more hi-fi than Screens. We recorded Screens in our basement in Portland with lots of toys (vocal effects racks, weird guitar pedals etc) but no decent recording equipment, so it was a pretty self-indulgent album but we've been working on something that splits the difference between Screens and the album before. I think we want to try and summarise a bit with this EP.

Yeah, I thought there was a large gap in styles between Crazy and Screens. How much of that was intentional? Was their any influence from the new surroundings (Portland) or just where your heads were at during the time?

The main things were that we were in a new country with a totally different lifestyle, and that our bass player Mike had left the band. We didn't really have any of our equipment and had to buy all new stuff to make the record. When we were on Craigslist and shopping at music shops we were choosing whatever toys looked interesting and messing around with those made a big impact.

Also, we'd decided to continue as a three piece without Mike rather than replace him so I had to come up with a whole different guitar sound and style for Screens. I ended up using an Octave pedal to add bass and playing one note at a time rather than chords, more like a video game soundtrack. The other thing that made being in Portland important was that we were away from the weirdness of being somewhat mainstream in New Zealand. There would have been a lot of pressure to do a follow-up to [Crazy? Yes. Dumb? No] had we stayed in New Zealand. Instead we got to make a record without that pressure. There was a penalty we got for that but oh well.

A penalty?

Screens sold a tiny fraction of what the last album did and the radio won't play it. But we knew that would happen.

I think we are kinda sheltered from this in Australia. There was some splashback from the previous record's NZ success, but there is rarely any promotion via radio, street press for you guys. That said, you still seem to play to largish crowds when you play here. Obviously word of mouth - and the Smoke CDs import system - is working.

Speaking of The Mint Chicks vs Australia, are there any plans to return in the future?

We want to, but at the moment we have to start from scratch with our Australia connections. We kind of have no booking or label there right now, which makes it hard to make plans! Warner Australia weren't the best thing that ever happened to us. They bought Flying Nun and then proceeded to pretend we didn't exist. Now that we're free of them we can start doing things properly again.

Are you guys still dealing with Flying Nun or was Screens the end of your deal with them?

Roger Shepherd (original founder of FN) just bought the label back and we've been talking with him a lot. We're totally free right now and having boring meetings with all the labels!

Would there be any plans to go it alone? or is that option purely still only possible for the Radioheads of the world?

I think we could do our own label pretty easily. It's fun to work with other people though, if they have good ideas. That's why we're messing around with this website idea. I'm sick of hearing depressing stories of the decline of the music industry. It's bullshit. Music's fine.

Yeah, I personally think music has never been better. Easier for fans to connect with the musicians they like etc.

Moving back to the music side of things, we obviously love Screens. It's our favourite record of 2009 without a doubt. Not trying to blow smoke up your coat or anything, but it really doesn't sound like anything else going around.

How do you feel about the labels that it has been given - shitgaze, troublegum, etc. I know people like to label music to help classify it, but how do you describe it?

Well we called it troublegum. Shitgaze was Pitchfork's idea I think. I think making up genre names is fun. I like how british electronic music is always coughing up a new genre - grime, dubstep, wonky etc. I wish we were part of a community that had fun with the idea of genre. For some reason naming your movement is frowned upon by Indie and punk kids as being somehow not real. I call bullshit on that. Anything that's fun and moves things forward is worthwhile.

For sure. What are you guys currently listening to? What would make it onto your 2009 mixtape?

I'm actually working out a playlist for a new streaming radio station. On there at the moment I've got Death, Neon Indian, Micachu, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Three Trapped Tigers, Fever Ray, King Khan, Flying Lotus and lots of old stuff: Zombies, Wendy Carlos, Dara Puspita, Wipers, Margo Guryan.

Cool. What radio station is that for?

There's a station called bFM in Auckland which is going to stream some stations soon.

I must admit some of those names on that list aren't exactly what I would expect. Do you find that your musical influences are changing at all? Is your taste broadening because of your new surroundings?

To be honest, this is more of a curated soundtrack for the listeners. I try to keep up to date with what's happening and that's why I add things like Neon Indian to the list. Just to keep current. I still listen to a lot of punk music but I also like to be aware of what other things are happening.

How has the general response been over in Portland?

Pretty great actually. We were added to the two big festivals last year: Pdx Pop and Musicfest Northwest. Also the local music papers have been really nice to us. The crowds started to get bigger towards the second half of this year. We still have a lot of work to do but it's a pretty good environment for us. It's very different to New Zealand in many ways.

Does it feel like you guys are starting from scratch a bit over there?

That's the good thing about it! We don't have to deal with the weight of what we've done in the past. People can appreciate what we're doing without comparing it to the last two albums or whatever.

The Mint Elephants

A bit off topic, but there is something I just remembered that I was going to ask you guys that has bugged me for ages. I once bought a Mint Chicks t-shirt at a show and the design was printed on the inside. To wear it with the logo visible I have to wear it inside out. Was this a mistake or intentional? I am constantly confused about which way to wear it, because neither way seems 'correct'. On the up side I do (kinda) have two t-shirts.

Yeah I remember those! They were intentionally printed inside out, because then the two options are wearing the t-shirt wrong and displaying the band, or secretly wearing a Mint Chicks t-shirt. I often wear band t-shirts underneath other clothes and even though people can't see the t-shirt I still feel the same as if I was showing everyone what band I'm into. When everyone started wearing Misfits t-shirts I started wearing my old one inside out, because I still like the band, I just don't care if anyone knows it or not. Band shirts are funny. My favourites at the moment are my Frank Zappa shirt and my pink Napalm Death shirt with bunnies and rainbows on it. That one's a rare beauty.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with band t-shirts in general. Sometimes it's just a big label saying 'here is what I like'.

In regard to the changing approach of the music 'business', it definitely seems as though musicians are changing their approach to getting their music out there and thinking of different ways to go about it, which is great. I have always found it interesting with the connection between your music and it's accompanying artwork. You also seem to have become more involved with web-based art stuff over the past year or so. There was a little computer game and this cool 'future soundboard' thing. Is there a plan to more formally merge these things and the band's artwork with the music?

We'd love to do more web based stuff but I'm always limited by how much time I have. I basically start messing around with something like JQuery or the game factory or animation software and then make something out of it but it's all a lot of work because I'm always learning as I go so it takes even longer than usual. I think there will be much more of that kind of stuff but it all depends on how I waste my time next year! Also I'm a crap coder and it's a bit embarrassing.

And how about the album artwork etc? There is obviously a direct link between that and the band's music. But, which way around does that work? Is it a hand in hand thing or does the music directly influence the artwork?

I usually do the album cover and then we make the record that goes with the cover.

Really? I would have thought at most it was a two way street, where the art and the music are created roughly the same time.

I'm way more confident as a visual artist than as a musician, so when I do the artwork if gives us some focus and direction.

I must admit I am only familiar with your art through the music. Outside of The Mint Chicks side of things, do you explore similar ideas?

I don't really do that much outside of The Mint Chicks, I just use it as a starting point before most of the music is recorded.

art

Back to the music side of things, what was your favourite show of 2009? Either one of yours or one you attended.

I really liked the Spits when they played in Portland this year. I've been a fan of the band's records for ages but had never seen them live. They were an incredible band. Just this punishing thick wall of sound. They weren't the Ramones fan fiction you'd expect. They were actually a real force to be reckoned with.

What about your favourite new band of 2009? Or maybe even an old band that was new to you? Or an old band that came re-born to you? Or a new band that became old?

I think the proto-punk band Death was the big discovery for me last year, an old band brought to light.

Do you have a favourite record of 2009? And yeah, you can say Screens if you like.

Looking at my ipod it seems the tracks I listened to the most were from Embryonic by the Flaming Lips and Carving Out the Eyes Of God by Goatwhore. I don't know if they were my favourite albums but I must have liked them a lot.

And finally, what are you guys most looking forward to in 2010? I mean besides all the futuristic wonders that only a year called 'twenty ten' could bring? Do you think we are in the future yet?

I was getting really tired and a bit depressed leading up to New Years but as soon as it was 2010 I felt somehow rejuvinated. Like in a video game when you're almost dead and you pick up a full medi kit. I don't know what this year's going to taste like but the ingredients look fresh.

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