Monday, August 21, 2006

EXCLUSIVE! Interview with Martyn Leaper of the Minders!

This summer, the Minders released their first album in three years, It’s a Bright Guilty World (on Future Farmer Records). The band, which essentially revolves around frontman Martyn Leaper and his wife Rebecca Cole, has been recording for ten years now, first associated with the psychedelic-inspired Elephant 6 movement before branching out as they have created some of the best modern pop albums of our generation, from 1998’s Hooray for Tuesday to 2001’s Golden Street.

I had the chance to sit down with Martyn before he and his touring band gave a tremendous performance before the crowd at the Norva (in Norfolk, Virginia) where they opened for Of Montreal. For financial reasons, Rebecca had to opt out of touring this time around, remaining in their hometown of Portland.


Martyn Leaper of the Minders . (Photo by Melissa Parris.)

CTC: So it’s been a few years since you came out with The Future Is Always Perfect [in 2003] and I know that at first the next album was supposed to come out in 2004. What have you been up to in that time?

Martyn: Well, two years ago we did go on a trip, just a very short one. It was like a two week trip and we did like thirteen or fourteen dates, kind of a mini around-the-country kind of thing and we did a tour CD, which is called Stolen Boy. That was our last sort of release before this record, and we did that so that we could generate some extra cash. It didn’t cost that much money to make, and it basically paid for itself and helped us on our tour. I thought it would be kind of an interesting thing to do for our tour and we had some extra material. It was more back to basic like 8-tracking kind of stuff anyway, which our stuff is pretty basic. All of it’s recorded on the analog tape.

CTC: I know you have that set-up in your house [featured on the enhanced CD for 2000’s Down in Fall EP]. Does that allow you a lot more freedom in terms of recording?

Martyn: It does and it doesn’t. I mean, there are a lot of cons to having your own studio, like I don’t have… I have a very good machine, I have 24-track two-inch machine, but my outboard gear is not so great. It’s kinda crappy, so that hinders me in the quality of production. Although the amount of time I get to spend on stuff kind of balances that out. But, it’s a great thing to have. I think in the future [as] we continue to make records, I would probably like to do more demo recordings and then basically take those recordings to a studio and then not necessarily duplicate them but use them as a guide, because I’d really like to speed up the process of how we make records because I found that, like on this record there was actually a few songs we did that we did on the go in another studio and it was great. It went really quickly, everything stayed fresh.

CTC: Was that when you were recording at Jackpot [Studio, run by Larry Crane in Portland]?

Martyn: That was at Jackpot, yeah. I mean, there’s not really another studio that we can afford. That was at Jackpot and what we did is we tracked most of it at our little studio.

CTC: Is it something where you’re working at another job and trying to mix this life in with it? I’m curious where you’re at in terms of whether you hope to do this for life.

Martyn: Well, I’ll do this as long as I can. The problem sorta starts to happen where, like for us, since we’ve been kind of under the radar for… you always hear that, under the radar or subterranean or whatever it is... It really depends on if we can afford to keep doing it. That’s really what I think happens to most bands, or not every band, but like a lot of bands. Yeah, everything from touring, I mean, if we don’t bring in a lot of people, then clubs don’t want to book you. If you don’t sell a lot of records, record labels don’t want to put you out. You know, your booking agent doesn’t want to do anything for you because you’re not making any money for them.

CTC: It certainly seems like after a while, is it a plateau where all your records are going to be at this level?

Martyn: I don’t know. Honestly, yeah, I keep banking on us like being able to get lucky enough to keep putting out records, you know, finding people to do that. I mean, it’s been ten years. It’s very difficult for a band of our size to maintain or garner interest from labels. I mean, the next option is to just to keep doing it but doing it ourselves, you know and that’s how we started. So that seems to make sense, and there’s a handful of people that still listen to our records so it just means that maybe touring could be kind of a problem. Although, oh my god, touring is just, like on this trip… I mean there are people that do it year-round, but then again some people who do it year-round, they’ve got this [referring to the especially plush backstage area of the Norva], whereas doing it in a van, sleeping in a van and getting like two hours of sleep or something like that and then sleeping on someone’s shitty floor, that kind of wears you out after all. You know, eating all the crappy food on the road. There are various levels. I feel like we’re on the same level we have always been on and once in a while we get lucky to get on a tour that’s big enough [that] it sort of cancels all that out, like this has turned into. I mean, the last time we were on this level was with Elliott Smith. We did a tour with him in 2000 and it was a bus tour and that kind of stuff, and that was great.

CTC: It’s interesting how you’ve been mixed in with a lot of Portland people, like I guess you met Elliott through Joanna Bolme [former Minders member, currently a member of Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, who was intimate with Elliott and helped finalize From a Basement on the Hill after his passing].

Martyn: We did, yeah.

CTC: Yeah, and I’ve noticed a lot of people involved in your records. You know, Neil Gust [of Heatmiser and No. 2] played on your last EP. You’ve worked at Jackpot, and that’s nice to see. I saw Hutch Harris has played with you, he’s doing well now.

Martyn: Yeah, he’s doing really well now. He used to play with us. He did one tour with us and that was before the Thermals. But yeah, the scene is very… I mean, not like the scene… the community is very supportive, always has been.

CTC: I noticed on this record you covered one of Louis Schefano’s tracks. I guess you knew him through SpinArt [Records]?

Martyn: Yeah, I knew him through SpinArt. Actually I met him through my friend Robert [Schneider] from the Apples [in Stereo] and Robert, I think he mixed that record, the Regia record [Regia was Schefano’s recording name at the time]. And he went crazy about this record, and when I heard it I went like, “Oh my god, this guy is a great songwriter.” He’s an amazing songwriter.

CTC: I haven’t heard the album yet, but I was listening to that cover. I didn’t even realize it was until when I looked it up, because it does fit really seamlessly into your songwriting. I thought it was a great choice. I like way that Of Montreal has also covered the Shins and Gorky’s [Zygotic Mynci] and I’ve seen a lot of that, like Elliott had a tendency to cover you quite a bit.

Martyn: Yeah, which was very flattering. I couldn’t believe that. I think Louis is an amazing songwriter, I really do. I mean, he’s probably one of my favorite pop song writers. I just I wish… I mean, he’s probably in the same boat. Although we maintain a core, like even if it was just down to Rebecca and I. I mean, we’re married, we make music together. That in itself makes it easier to maintain a name and a band and stuff like that.

CTC: Yeah, that seems like a nice dynamic of you and Rebecca. I guess it’s harder for a lot of bands where if they lose all their band members but one, is it still, you know…

Martyn: Right, well I’ve always got that. I mean, the thing is, she can play bass and keyboard. So really, all you really need is a drummer and a guitar player and you’re set. So that’s almost like having three members in two.

CTC: Yeah. I like the way, especially in this album, how it’s become much more of an intimate band. When you started out, it was very sixties rock and there was sort of a disconnect, but now I think there’s a very sort of a personal feeling to your music.

Martyn: I’m trying… I mean, I shouldn’t say I’m trying but… I do get really self-conscious about it. I mean to be honest, maybe I’m just very old-fashioned in that sense, and I don’t know if that’s maybe a very good thing to say in an interview, but I just remember, you know… and it is getting better. I’ve noticed that alternative stations are now starting to play contemporary pop bands and you sift through a whole bunch of bullshit before you actually hear some really good stuff, but like…

CTC: It’s a lot harder to get, but the internet helps.

Martyn: Internet has helped, but I just miss when radio would play brand new music, brand new pop music. There was just a period there, I remember. Maybe I was just affected by it when I was twelve, when I first became conscious of pop music. It was the heyday of pop. You know, AM radio and all that. It was called medium wave, I think it was medium. What was it in England? It wasn’t FM still yet, or maybe it was but there was only one FM station in England at that time, Radio One. Well, there was Capital Radio. Now there are many different radio stations in England, but I knew when I was a kid I listened to Radio One and every week there was a new hit and it was just excitement. It was like an event. Every Thursday it was “Top of the Pops” and there’d be a new band and it was just like there was a continual buzz, and then it definitely died a death I think in the eighties.

CTC: Yeah, now I hear about all sorts of issues, like you hear about bands who couldn’t get on the radio, like this band the Cloud Room. Every station they could get this one song [“Hey Now Now”] on, it became a huge hit. But they couldn’t get on, you know, any of the Clear Channel stations.

Martyn: Oh, fuck Clear Channel! I mean, that company and other companies, I really feel that they are personally responsible for dumbing down the population. I mean, think about people who listen to the radio, like say like your regular workers, like some construction guys or people working in kitchens or in offices, they hear the same fucking songs every day. The same songs every day! It may be different sort of like… you know, or even some radio stations are so lazy that I’ve noticed that they’ll actually play the songs, the same like line-up of songs, the same résumé, or what do you call it, same mix of songs?

CTC: The same tracklist.

Martyn: Tracklist, every fucking day I would hear, and all mixed up and it’s like, don’t people get tired of that?

CTC: It seems like it’s just bred people to be a “play something I know” sort of culture at this point.

Martyn: Right. It’s disturbing to me. I mean, it all falls in with how we need everything to be as is. Everything needs to be cookie-cutter to the point where, you know, if you’re having anxiety, “Well don’t have anxiety!” you know, “Take a pill and then you don’t have anxiety and then listen to our radio station which plays all your favorite hits around the clock, the same fucking hits every day, day in and day out.” That’s weird, it’s weird. It’s stressful to me. I mean, it freaks me out.

CTC: Yeah, it seems like the internet hopefully is kind of an antidote to that, where you can just put an MP3 out there and get it around.

Martyn: Right. There’s problems with that too, though. More people have become sort of like… There are good things and there are bad things with it. I mean, I miss like, obviously on a smaller level, and there are still people that take the time to go to the record shop and buy the CDs, but you know, it’s getting harder and harder to sell the CD, sell records, because people just want a sample. That whole thing is so very disturbing how, just in the last ten [or] fifteen years, everything has become so dialed in. It didn’t used to be that way anyway. It was so much more spontaneous. You had no control over the chaos or the evolution of music, popular music… and again, there is a world out there that exists that is, you know… I don’t even think about FM radio. I listen to NPR.

CTC: I don’t even have a radio.

Martyn: I mean, I’m as guilty as everybody. I listen to classic rock. Once in a while I’ll dial into like whatever R&B radio or whatever else like that. But, for the most part it’s garbage. You know, I just keep waiting for some collapse of that or, you know, people get so tired of it, that this is happening.

CTC: It’s seems like, with all the lawsuits, the major companies are being mostly affected, but hopefully it does more to help the smaller companies, small labels and the smaller bands, because it seems like half the job is just getting someone to hear a Minders track, just to hear it and catch on.

Martyn: Right. I’ve more or less given up on that. That’s not even… I mean, I just expected that we wouldn’t be heard on the radio. Not to be defeatist, but it doesn’t bother me much anymore. It’d be great. Umm, yeah, the state of that world is, it’s like Brazil. You’ve seen the movie Brazil. Well it’s just like Brazil! You know, like there’s that scene in the movie where they’re all sitting, having dinner or lunch, and the fussy waiter’s coming around with this pre-packaged dinner and they just pick their number of dinner and it comes out. A bomb goes off and they’re completely oblivious to it. It’s become that way in society. It’s no longer… It seems like we are escaping. We’re getting further and further away from real life or something. I don’t really know how to explain it. But that’s definitely part of it.

CTC: Yeah. It’s good to see that you’re still working the music. It seems like this new album is sort of an evolution. I feel a lot of the input of all of your previous records on this one and still new things.

Martyn: Well, thank you. I mean, I try. I just got done with doing my history major. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years is going to school, and so has Rebecca and it gave me a lot to think about. I needed to change what I was doing in my life because I started to feel I was just becoming very narrowly focused. Just, you know, do a record and tour or whatever, or obsess about playing in a band and so I took some time off and did something else and it really helped. I think it really helped. It helped with material. It helped with my personal life. I wasn’t just dependent on one thing. When I go home, I’ll be going back to school again, but I’ll be working on… I’m gonna work on a compilation of b-sides and singles that we’ve done since. We had this compilation record Cul de Sacs and Dead Ends, and we did that in 1999. So there’s another, that’d be like Cul de Sacs and Dead Ends: Volume 2 and it’s got as much.

CTC: Oh, that’s cool. That was a great compilation. I imagine there’s a lot you were working on the last few years.

Martyn: It’s very much different because all of those, apart from a few at the very end of the record, they were all seven inches, and each seven inch, there were like I think three songs on each of them, and we deliberately, like when we recorded them, we made them obviously fit like a mini-player, you know, so when you would piece them together, they seemed to click together, which this one won’t be as easy to put together. It’s going to probably take me a while to figure out the sequence. There’s some instrumentals on there. There’s some covers on there. It’s much longer and there’s a lot of different kind of styles on there too. So I’m going to have a bit of a challenge, and plus I’m going to write a new song for it. So the idea is the same as the first one somewhat, I guess. It’s just a way of formatting or at least filing that as a compilation record, “Volume 2.” So that’s what I’ll do at the end of this year and then just start writing some new songs. I have some news songs for a new record probably like in 2008 or something like that.

CTC: I definitely look forward to that.

Martyn: Yeah, I do [too]. I’m hoping I can get it all done in time.

CTC: The thing is, the people who are fans of the Minders love the Minders. There’s only certain bands who really seem to have that connection. Just like with Elliott, there’s something where you feel like you maybe sort of know the person. I think there’s that sort of thing with your music. I guess what I get with you and Rebecca, there's something that I think feels very romantic about the notion of you two recording together.

Martyn: Yeah, it is… well, for lack of better description, it sort of a labor of love. I mean, it does a lot for our relationship. When you live with someone in a relationship and you do something like that, it really sort of bolsters, you know, there’s a major bond, it’s a bonding sort of… Yeah, I enjoy that. It’s really an intimate thing. I’m looking forward to doing that again and I think it makes our marriage special.


Martyn Leaper of the Minders. (Photo by Melissa Parris.)

To hear or read more about the Minders, check out their MySpace page or the artist page at the Future Farmer Records site.

3 Comments:

Blogger juanboy said...

Nice interview.

The Minders were really just a name to me that got lumped in with E6. Last week, I listened to "It's A Bright, Guilty World" and I've been able to listen to little else since. Astonishingly good album.

I'll be playing the hell out of it on my radio show (college station in WA).

Thanks for posting it. Cheers.

-jon

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