Chicago – L.A. glam rockers Mini Mansions have been making the rounds lately, in support of their sophomore album The Great Pretenders (Capitol Records). Good friends Zach Dawes, Tyler Parkford, and Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman formed Mini Mansions back in 2009, while Queens was on a break from touring. After a hiatus of their own, Shuman (vocals, drums, guitar), Dawes (bass), and Parkford (vocals, keyboard) returned this spring. Best New Bands caught the trio before their Chicago performance, in support of Tame Impala. While relaxing backstage, we talked song writing, working with Brian Wilson, and the future of pop music. We also played a “mini” game of This Or That.
In March, you released your sophomore album, The Great Pretenders. Since then you’ve toured in support of The Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood, and now Tame Impala. I know once this tour is up you’ll be hitting the road again with Royal Blood. Are there any plans for a headlining tour of your own?
Michael Shuman: Yeah, probably in the fall, we’ll do our thing, but honestly, it’s been great touring with such amazing bands. I mean, listen! [We all take moment and listen to Tame Impala sound checking.]
Now let’s talk about The Great Pretenders. It definitely has a psychedelic feel, but “Death Is A Girl” has more of an 80s vibe. Was that intentional?
Tyler Parkford: Yeah, I guess we’ve always written with the intention of accurately representing what we listen to. We all listen to very different things. Sure, we’re into psychedelic music, but with this particular record, we didn’t have any genre boundaries. We didn’t over conceptualize, like we did with the first record. This one was sort of anything goes. For that song, yeah that was a very conscious decision.
I’m pretty partial to “Mirror Mountain.” I again hear some 80s influences in this song. Tell me about the writing of this song.
Tyler Parkford: That was based off a jam, an improvisational piece. That’s what that song sprang out of, pretty much “in the moment,” and then later on adding the pedal parts and stuff, but it was always a very stripped down, abysmal sort of thing. We’re so used to over-layering, trying to do things very manufactured, but for this song it was refreshing because it wasn’t very specific.
You recorded “Any Emotions” with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. I grew up in a Beach Boys household, so to me, working with Wilson is like working with music royalty! Did you feel that way? And how did this collaboration come to be?
Michael Shuman: Yes, definitely! “Any Emotions” came to be because our bass player Zach had worked with Brian Wilson. Zach asked him if he’d like to do a song with us. I thought, “There’s no way.” We gave him two tracks. One was “Any Emotions.” He liked it, so he said yes. Unbelievable!
Listening to some of your tracks takes me back to high school, listening to The Beatles with friends or David Bowie with my boyfriend. I know for the most part, you guys grew up together, what music would you spend hours listening to?
Tyler Parkford: Early twenties was a lot of hardcore…
Zach Dawes: Michael used to have this minivan that we would drive around in and listen to music.
Michael Shuman: I had a minivan with a six-disc CD changer. Zach and I would have a smoke and drive around listening to punk, classic rock, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, stuff like that.
I read in an old interview of yours that you love pop music but modern, commercial pop music pains you. Do you feel like more DIY bands breaking through with help from the Internet and smaller bands emerging thanks to smaller labels, there’s hope for the state of pop music and the music industry, in general?
Zach Dawes: Pop has always been, well it’s basically got the essence of each type of genre. Pop is the best at accumulating the most obvious parts of each type of song, and then formulating it so that a listener, who’s normally not going to listen to that type of song, can actually digest it. So for me, with that all said, I think pop has always been a contradictory genre, but in this case, I feel like it’s definitely being a parasite of much more notable types of songs. With the advent of home-recording being less of a kitschy thing, and more of a big thing, that you can do it yourself. I think a lot of pop now is trying to inherit that sound. Hooks are becoming a lot hookier. The bar of writing is both raised and lowered, depending on where you’re at, but I am excited for the future of pop music. I think we all think that certain types of pop music become like an algorithm for some guy, sitting god knows where, in a god knows where office, sitting on his god knows where chair, writing god knows where over and over, being like that’s the hook, “god knows where!” [everyone laughs]
Michael Shuman: It’s also very inspiring to see a band like Tame Impala. They’re a psychedelic pop band. For them to reach the success that they’re reaching, there’s so much hope for great, real, organic music to reach the masses, again.
Okay, we’re going to lighten things up and play a little game of This Or That. I’ll name two objects and you pick which you’d rather have:
Mini Snickers or Mini Milky Way?
Michael Shuman: Mini Snicks!
Tyler Parkford: Snickers!
Zach Dawes: Snickers.
Mini Cooper or Minivan?
Michael Shuman: Minivan.
Tyler Parkford: Minivan.
Well, I knew Michael would say minivan, but you? [laughs]
Tyler Parkford: I own two minivans, so yeah, minivan! [laughs]
Zach Dawes: Mini Cooper.
Mini Skirts or Mini Tees?
Michael Shuman: I like mini tees ‘cause I like the mid-drift.
Tyler Parkford: Mini skirt.
Zach Dawes: Mini skirt!
Mini Bike or Mini Golf?
All, very enthusiastically: Mini golf!
Mini Mansions are on tour now with Royal Blood. If you’re hitting up Bonnaroo, be sure to check them out on Friday. And who knows, maybe you’ll spot the guys playing mini golf around the farm!
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.