Mini Mansions Is In Town Prepping A New LP. Tomorrow At Three Links, They'll Play It Live.
After Queens of the Stone Age wrapped up two years of touring in support of the album Era Vulgaris at the end of 2008, the band's members took some much needed time off. Only, nobody really stopped working.
Frontman Josh Homme formed the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Keyboardist Dean Fertita did the same with the Jack White-led supergroup The Dead Weather. Drummer Joey Castillo toured with Eagles of Death Metal. Guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen started up a side project called Sweethead. And bassist Michael Shuman did the same with pop trio Mini Mansions.
The latter released its self-titled, debut LP in 2009, and performed at defunct Lower Greenville joint The Cavern during a supporting tour. Before the band could finish its followup, though, QOTSA was ready to record its …Like Clockwork album in the fall of 2012 and get back on the road full-time to support the new tracks.
But with QOTSA's schedule finally slowing back down, Shuman and his Mini Mansions bandmates have gotten close to wrapping work on their sophomore LP. In fact, they've been in Dallas the last couple weeks, putting the finishing touches on the thing with local studio ace John Congleton.
And before they bolt, the band has decided to perform a bunch of its new material during a special one-off show tomorrow night at Three Links.
Before that, though, we caught up with Shuman and his bandmate, bassist Zach Dawes, to find out about its new material and what's in store for Dallas fans at tomorrow night's show.
We hear you guys are in town working on a new record.
Michael Shuman: “Yeah, we're finishing our new record. We did most of it in L.A. and we came down here to work with Mr. John Congleton. He's just kind of helping us finish and mix it all.”
How long does that process take?
Shuman: “We're here for another two-and-a-half weeks, so it's like a three-week thing. We've got a lot of songs, so we're trying to mix them all, and there's a show in there, too. There are things about [John's] production aesthetics that we like and I think that's why we're doing it with him. But most of the work is done. He's just mixing the songs.”
What is it about Congleton's aesthetic that you guys like?
Shuman: “For me, I think it's his blend of modern sound mixed with old beliefs in recording in the gear that he uses, and his mentality working with analog gear and working to tape. Those are things that we value and want to be a part of our record.”
Are there any specific records he's worked on that you guys are drawn to?
Shuman: “I'm a big fan of that newest St. Vincent record right now. The stuff he did with Black Angels was good. All of his stuff with Explosions in the Sky was good. He did a record with Anna Calvi that was really great. He has just such a diverse catalog in what he's done. It's a big spectrum that he fills.”
What else can you tell us about the new album? It seems like you guys have been working on it for quite awhile now. What direction does it seem to be headed in?
Shuman: “It's headed forward. It's been a long process. We've been recording and writing songs for the last two years, trying to figure out exactly what we want to do and how we want to do it. It went from recording two songs to making an EP to turning that into a record to recording 25 songs and having to make a record from that. It's been moving forward, but we actually don't know what the record is going to be yet. We have a lot of songs, and they vary, so we're not exactly sure what the record is going to be. John Congleton will help us with that.”
Last year, a live video for a new song called “Fiona” appeared online. Will that one end up on the new record? Is that song a good gauge of what the newer material sounds like?
Zach Dawes: “We've never heard of that song.”
Shuman: “That was Zach. He's the sarcastic one of the bunch. That song is one of the first songs we recorded — talking about those couple songs we started with — so it's been around for awhile. It may make the record, it may not. It'll definitely come out at some point, in some capacity. It's more of a ballad, I guess, so I wouldn't say that's what the record is going to sound like. That's kind of a mix of being sonically like the first record and a mixture of what the Mini Mansions future is going to look like.”
Do you see yourselves doing a big tour to support the album when it eventually comes out? It doesn't seem like you've done much touring the past couple of years.
Shuman: “We're going to go full-out. When this record comes out, it's going to be a real band and a lot of touring, everywhere, non-stop for awhile.”
Between your schedule with Queens of the Stone Age and the other guys' work as studio musicians, how do you guys manage your limited time together? Are you guys constantly writing songs, or do you try to cram a bunch in when you all happen to have free time?
Shuman: “Whenever we're in the same city, this is pretty much the only thing we focus on. Everyone will kind of do little things on their own, but if everyone's in the same town, we're all going to be working and writing together. For the past six months, I come off tour and come home and have a few weeks off, and we're working whether it's writing or working or mixing. There hasn't been a break — for me, at least. If you want to work together, you focus and that's all you can do. And we work hard when we're working. I think there's a lot of bands that don't live in the same city anymore. Tons of people fly in for a week of rehearsals before tour, and that's how you do it. It's not too different.”
Where do you fall on fans or media referring to you guys as a Queens of the Stone Age side project? I imagine as much as it haunts you, it's probably opened a few doors as well.
Shuman: “Of course it's helped. Of course it's opened doors. It's the truth. It's also an easy way for the press to describe the band. It's an easy way for promoters to gain interest from an audience. That's fine. It is the truth and there is no harm in saying that I'm in Queens of the Stone Age. But I would love it to be a separate entity because, in the music, there's really no correlation at all. I'm the only correlation between the two bands.”
Dawes: “We don't mind being affiliated with that band because they're probably one of the four or five best bands in modern rock and pop. Josh [Homme] also helped us put out our first record, so we'll always have a soft spot for him. And we've all been fans of Queens forever.”
Depending on who is writing the review, some people describe you guys as being chipper, happy and like Fountains of Wayne. Other people will site how dark and haunting you are. How do you guys view your own sound?
Shuman: “It's funny. Touring with Queens and being old friends of the band, people will say 'Oh, this is Mike's softer side.' That's just because you're comparing it to another band. There's nothing really soft about this band. It is a pretty dark band as far as pop music goes. The Fountains of Wayne thing is funny because that came from one of the first reviews of one of our first shows and, for some reason, it just stuck. I don't even know what Fountains of Wayne sounds like. I know that 'Stacy's Mom' song, and that's it. It's funny that that's been around this long.”
I think the biggest thing people are trying to say with the Fountains of Wayne comparison is that you guys have great three-part harmonies. Another band you guys sometimes get compared to for that same reason is the Beach Boys. That said, I recently saw on Instagram a picture of Zach in the studio recording with Brian Wilson. What was that like?
Dawes: “It was amazing. I came in and played bass on a song on his new record. He was really sweet. He couldn't have been better in the studio. It was a great day. He was everything I wanted him to be. He was extremely musical.
I saw that you also worked with Kimbra recently. Who else have you worked with of late?
Dawes: “We all did a song for Kimbra's new record. We're excited about the song that's on her record, it's called, 'Carolina.' Her record comes out next month. It's going to be really good.”
Tell us about the Dallas show you've got coming up.
Shuman: “We're here for three weeks, so we thought we'll just play a show. It should be fun. Last time we were here, we opened for the Arctic Monkeys and it was a lot of fun. It was actually probably the best response from a crowd on that tour. I'm excited to see if the fans we gained from that show come out. We've only really done one other Dallas show before and I remember a bunch of underage kids not being able to get into that show at The Cavern. It's just for fun. Most of the set, I think, is going to be all new songs and a few from our first record. We want to test out a bunch of new stuff. We love Texas.”
Cover photo of Mini Mansions by Dustin Rabin. Mini Mansions performs at Three Links on Tuesday, July 1.