I caught up with Michael Shuman of LA’s Mini Mansions ahead of their show in Paris tonight to have a chat about the trios new EP ‘Works Every Time’ and decipher how these guys create their exquisite sound. After some technical difficulties, phone adjustments and comical “can you hear me now” frustrations we settled in for a chat.
You guys have released your new EP ‘Works Every Time’ it has been a few years since your fans have had new music from you, were you nervous about the release?
I’m never really nervous about releasing new music, we take the time to make sure that we are proud of it and I usually feel really comfortable with it or else I wouldn’t put it out in the world.But the only thing I think is different for us is lyrically the subject matter is a little more personal and emotional than most of the content we have put out before.That’s the only thing.. who knows if people even read too much into it but for us it means a lot more, but I’m not usually a nervous person.
So you are exposing yourself emotionally more than you are used to
Yeah we are and there is no rhyme or reason to it I think it’s just maybe because of our age, maybe we feel more comfortable in our skin where we feel like we can do that. But in doing that I also kind of realise that all my favourite songs all the classics are love songs that are pretty straightforward and honest about love and heartbreak and because the three of us have gone through that in our life we connect to those songs that we love and we feel ok to do the same.
You guys manage to take a cover track to new levels by dissecting it and making it your own with Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Sparks Sherlock Holmes, it was like your own song a fantastically dark ominous cover and now with this EP you do a thrilling cover of Edwyn Collins‘ ‘A Girl Like You’, how do you choose these covers and what is the process the track goes through to become sprinkled with Mini Mansions goodness?
Well the first one we did like you said was Blondie’s Heart of Glass the reason we did that originally was we started the band and like a month into it our friends Autolux asked us to go out on tour with them and we had a handful of songs and you know you’re going out there to a crowd that at that time for sure didn’t know who we were because we were brand new and so you have to figure out some kind of way to connect with them and covering a song is one of the best ways so there is something familiar to them but yet we totally turn it on its head so they then connect with you in this way and they didn’t even know why. A lot of people thought it was a Beatles cover but yeah that’s the reason we did it – for a new band it’s the best way and people seemed to love it so we did a couple of others and the thing with ‘A Girl Like You’ I wanted to do the same thing, re-connect with some people that never had heard us. I heard it when I was young. I thought it was such a hit and in the States it didn’t really do much but I thought it was such a hit song and I know it did do well in the UK. But when we were looking for a song for this EP that one in particular not just because of its musical implications but lyrically it kinda fits right in to what we were trying to convey lyrically and so I thought it actually could have almost been our words and that’s the best thing about doing covers. You shouldn’t just do a cover and do it exactly the same you should make it your own and you should feel like it is part of you so when you are done you’re like Oh this is our song. So that was the big reason for that song in particular for this EP and just making sure you do it justice without ripping it off
Glorious melodies are something you guys are pros at creating there isn’t one melody that isn’t catchy, sweet and honey soaked, How do you come up with these?
We are just really really smart… (Laughs) I mean I have no idea.The only thing I can think of is that it’s just years and years and records and records and being a music fan – just kind of soaking in all the music you can and all your favourite bands…as it goes inside of you it kind of all swirls up together and comes out, out of your lips and your fingers and your body and that’s the only thing I can think of.
You guys are like the dream team of bands each of you taking part in some of our favourite bands Queens Of The Stone Age, The Last Shadow Puppets, Arctic Monkeys has your experience in these bands aided Mini Mansions?
The great thing about the bands we have been in and the situation that we are in is that you have all these friends that are so talented and you get to tour the world with them, you get to record with them, write with them and just hang out, make records together and I think I make sure that I try to take something from every musician or every tour I go on. Whether that’s what microphone did you use on that ? or what do you do for sound check? you know, talk to their crew. I think it would be a shame to not open your eyes and pay attention to what’s going on or what everyone is doing around you and I think we are just fortunate enough to be around a really great creative group of people and we all share things with each other and we will all influence each other. I think it goes both ways
Not only that but Tyler is part of Mister Goodnite and both You and Tyler have written scores to movies most recently Feed and Kate Can’t Swim and Zach has worked with Brian Wilson and Alexandra Savior as well as a host more artists, all of these showing different musical styles. Is this exposure to different musical styles what makes Mini Mansions so unique?
I’m sure. You learn things along the way but also I think that it’s actually the reverse. The reason that we get to be apart of these different and totally stylistically different projects and bands is that we just have a love for all kinds of music, I love punk rock but I don’t just listen to punk rock and I think some people make a mistake by living their lives that way, it’s not very punk to just listen to punk your confining yourself so much you really ought to open your mind. I think that’s how we get put into these situations, we are very open to all kinds of music.
Your sound has progressed steadily from your debut self titled album with Majik Marker and Monk through to The Great Pretenders, Flashbacks and now Works Every Time it feels like you haven’t lost the original glorious obscurity we all love, just refined it down into manageable sweet doses, how do you feel the albums have progressed?
We just focused more on songwriting. When we first started the band we didn’t really know what we were doing. We knew we wanted to do something different and we knew stylistically where we wanted to go and what artists we wanted to influence the beginning of the band. But now it’s like lets just write really good songs. The music, the production and the style – that’s gonna come naturally to us because we would never let each other stray too far but its always gonna sound like Mini Mansions, that’s what i’m really happy about with these songs when I listen back I’m like this sounds like us for sure.But I think our song writing has just elevated and it goes back to the lyrics really. That’s everything simple chords and lyrics is really all it’s about and then you can put all the bells and whistles on it to make it yours but I think that’s the big leap I see.
There is a natural swagger dripping off every track ‘Midnight in Tokyo’ in particular is pretty suave talk us through how that track came to fruition?
Well, even though it’s a pretty fun, danceable track the content is maybe the most literal song I’ve ever written. Midnight In Tokyo is about a trip I had in Tokyo it was a really deep existential one for me. It was with a ex of mine and I got engaged at midnight on new year’s eve in Tokyo and the song kind of starts there. I don’t know how you can talk about a relationship within 3 and a half minutes but it kind of spans the whole thing because I finished the song after we broke up so it was a really weird thing to do, to try to get all that information into a song.
But then production wise I’m a big fan of Damon Albarn and I started as a big Blur fan and I like how he has progressed. He has gone from punk rock to pop to hip hop. Whatever he does- The Gorillaz, which I think is so unique and I think he is one of the great innovators of our time. So it was a little inspired by that. I listened to a lot of Blur so musically that was my biggest inspiration too.
So you guys really put yourselves into the songs, emotional experiences and all when you are coming up with them
Yeah and that is scary to do that. It’s scary to tell you that, I don’t know you, I mean now we know each other but I’m telling you some of my deepest shit and I’m telling the world some of my deepest stuff which I’m not used to. I’m used to being a very private person.I didn’t want to have instagram, I didn’t have instagram until recently. I don’t want anyone to know anything about me I just want to play music and make art and that’s it. But now, I don’t know why but I’m just open to it and I don’t really care anymore. I didn’t give any fucks before, but now I really don’t give any fucks
Do you have a favourite track on the EP?
I think Midnight in Tokyo is my favourite just because I’ve sat with it for so long it means a lot to me but I would never put out a song that I didn’t fully love.so it’s hard to choose – it’s like choosing your favourite child you know.
Have you played ‘This Bullet’ live yet?
We don’t (laughs)
What! I imagine that track would be epic live
To be honest it’s not going to be a hard one to play live but we just haven’t done it yet we haven’t had the time. I mean literally for London and Paris we met up with Tyler because he has been in the UK with Arctic Monkeys so we had one day to rehearse so we didn’t have enough time to dial that one in – but we definitely will
How do you choose what tracks make the live shows?
A lot of the shows we play are supporting other bands which is a blessing but you only get to play like 40 minutes so you gotta choose wisely and choose which songs – maybe specifically for which artist your supporting what their fans might connect with. It’s like a job interview. You got a really short amount of time to make a good impression so you gotta choose wisely. Then when we play our own shows you wanna give some old songs, you wanna play some new songs, you wanna play songs you think people really connect to the most and that has a natural flow.
I have seen you guys perform live 3 times now and each time the energy is kinetic you give it your all, nothing done by half measures and then you say hello to fans after, that must be pretty tiring ?
It is. Sometimes I just wanna shut my head off and sit by myself because I do put everything out there so my body is fully drained both mentally and physically. So yeah I usually don’t wanna do that. Its funny we just played London and it was quite a small show and they had the dressing room next door.The door to the dressing room was a big glass window out to the street where everyone could see us. So we finished our set and we are standing there changing out of our sweaty clothes and doing all that and there is all of our fans at the window, it’s like ah! …. You know, I love it and I love our fans and I want them to have a good time and I’m happy to do anything for them but it is tough.
I can imagine that was a little unnerving
Yeah yeah it was.
You have the addition of Dash Hutton on drums for the live shows what brought about this decision?
Honestly probably since the first year of the band we have discussed having a real drummer, I’m not much of a drummer I just learnt just because we needed one for Mini Mansions and Im a guitar player too so I always write everything on guitar and there was always guitar riffs – they are on the records, so we always talked about it and then I think finally we got to a point where with all our new songs I played a lot of guitar and I was like you know what, i think this is important, important to the song when we play it live and we needed someone that’s better than me too and honestly as soon as it happened it was like oh I can’t believe we didn’t do this years ago, because it really elevated all our songs. It allows me to be free and I’m not restricted to be behind the kit anymore. It just totally changed our world. Dash was in my first band called Wires On Fire. He was our drummer so I have a deep connection with him and so immediately it was like he’d been there forever
Your merchandise has been pretty creative from vintage wine to denim jackets do you have any plans to release some unique merchandise with this EP?
We haven’t fully got into it but we are in the process of making new jackets but only for us so far. We haven’t figured out all that stuff yet, I mean there is this EP but there is gonna be a whole bunch of other songs coming out too so we haven’t fully got into it yet, so no I guess, the answer is no.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start a band?
Don’t… I mean, the music world is so fucked right now it’s so hard. It’s hard for us so starting a new band.. I can’t imagine… I would never want to start a new band right now. The only thing I could say is if you really really really want to do it is you just can’t quit. There is a million bands and some just aren’t gonna be good enough and that’s the sad truth but if you really believe in yourself you can’t stop because it takes a long time.Some bands they have one song it’s a fucking hit and they never even tour in a van they just get a bus so good for them but that’s not how most of it works. I don’t know… that’s not how it worked for me it took me a long time you know. But look we are still a very small band and we have been a band for 9 years so it’s just hard. You have to be willing to….I don’t know- just suck it up.
What’s next for Mini Mansions?
We play Paris tonight we go home for 2 days then we do a tour supporting Arctic Monkeys, hit the States and then we get ready for next year. There is a lot coming next year.
Any Irish Shows?
Of course but they are not booked yet but of course we are coming.
Stream ‘Works Every Time’ Below