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And so is the Mints' music. After two albums, including the band's dyslexic debut title referenced above, the Mints showed with Drowaton, their third epistle, that they have lost none of their sugary sweet flavor. Doling out equal amounts of grand orchestral pop and hummable AM Radio gold, Drowaton is full of complex arrangements and sweeping instrumental flourishes - all of which is familiar territory for the Mints. The difference is, Vest and company are getting closer to perfecting their formula and when they do, indie-pop may never be the same. Consisting of keyboardist Marian Love Nunez, bassist Javier Gonzales and drummer Andy Nunez, the Starlight Mints are studio junkies who agonize over every little detail and yet, as complicated as Drowaton is, it's almost obscene how fun a listen it is and every song flows like rivers of swirling peppermint in a Candyland of driving piano, gleaming guitar, super-ball bass, off-in-the distant church bells, subtle tambourine and triangle accents, imaginative synth and sound effects, and elegant string arrangements. Vest took time out recently to talk with LAS about the long, almost obsessive-compulsive recording process behind Drowaton. What a wonderful world Vest's mind is.
LAS: Much is made of the fact that the Mints are from Oklahoma, also home of the Flaming Lips. Is there something about Oklahoma that the rest of the world is missing, something that breeds an affinity for the kind of wild psychedelia and orchestral pop you both create?
Allan: Yeah... Oklahoma is OK.
LAS: Abbreviations aside, is it just okay?
Allan: It's home. I do love travelling and the benefits of bigger cities, but I can't complain about how much space and time I have to work.
LAS: If the Mints had been punching a clock, about how many hours in the studio did you guys log during the recording of Drowaton?
Allan: Who knows? I'll probably end up making about a dollar an hour.
LAS: Those are slave wages! You should talk to the boss about that. Is touring at least a more profitable venture?
Allan: I think there's good money in licensing songs. We've had a few here and there - movies, television. It's getting better and better. The more albums we have, I think the better the money overall.
LAS: I read where it took you two months to edit the drums for Drowaton. Was there something in particular that caused you to take so much time with them?
Allan: Yeah. We recorded the kick and snare together, and overdubbed the hi-hats, cymbols, fills etc. Just wanted that extra option in the end.
LAS: Could you tell when you were in the studio that you needed a more full drum sound or did that come about after listening to playbacks?
Allan: It was all planned beforehand. We had tried it once on "Rinky Dinky," a song from Built On Squares, but that was straight to tape, and stayed on tape. This time we took the drums from tape to a digital format so that I could edit them. Too many options equals hours of work.
LAS: To me, Drowaton comes off as a free-wheeling pop merry-go-round, and yet you also get the sense in listening to it that a great deal of work went into it. Was there a conscious effort to make Drowaton fun
and loose, maybe even more so than your previous records?
Allan: It's hard to tell at this point. There was a great deal of seperation between creativity and quality control. When you're producing a record yourself, that is a key element. I wouldn't say it was loose, though.
LAS: What's the toughest thing about producing a record on your own?
Allan: Wishing you had more tools and resources, for sure. We hardly used any delay, reverb, et cetera. We usually don't, but I'm always hearing new recordings and scratching my head and wondering if we're taking the right approach with mixing and even recording.
LAS: How is Drowaton a departure from your first two albums?
Allan: I think it's all about song selection. There are three songs on the new record we could have put on the first record. We've got a lot of good ideas, it just takes time and patience to finish them. It's gotten to a point where before we start pre-production, we go through a long process of accepting or elimination with "what would sound good with this song" or "this is just to good to leave off the album." I think we're getting better at our system, that would be the biggest difference.
LAS: "Rhino Stomp" is just about the coolest instrumental track I've ever heard. I can see a kindergarten class completely losing their shit over it. How did you come up with the arrangements for it? Did it take a new shape in the studio or did you record it as it was written out?
Allan: Very good question. That was a song I'd been tinkering with for about three years. I had arranged it all on the computer, changing little things from time to time. It was very easy to record. I just had everybody play the written parts, not changing a single thing. I went through a huge period on the road, writing instrumental ideas in the van on the laptop. Sometimes I would have the sound guy play mixes on the P.A. through my iPod while we were setting up. One night in Chicago, I had put a version of "Rhino Stomp" on one of these preshow mixes. I wanted to see if anyone reacted to it. Marian came up to me and asked, "Who is this?" I told her it was something I was working on. I don't know what she said after that, something about styles, but she reacted, so I thought it would be good one to pursue.
LAS: At first glance, your lyrics seem, shall we say, enigmatic? Nonsensical? But with repeated listens patterns begin emerge. While the picture doesn't always come in crystal clear, I think listeners get a sense of what was going on in the writer's head when they were written. I think of scrambled porn channels when I try to figure them out. Are there hidden messages and meanings we're just not hearing, or are they there just to set a certain mood or paint a certain picture for the listener?
Allan: I don't think I'm ever trying to tell a full story, just a feeling or a blend of feelings. I mean there are truths there - "The Bee" is about someone I know. It's a very metaphorical song about a very shitty set of events that happened. It's funny how some writers have been quoting that one for it's nonsensical lyrics. It wrote itself. I would say 75 percent of the Drowaton songs are about people. A few others are just messing around with phrasing and melody, doing my best to make sense for the listener. I try not to overanalyze it. And this is probably the most I've ever said about it.
LAS: What comes easier for you: coming up with melodies or piecing together the arrangements?
Allan: They go hand in hand. That's the fun of it all. One thing leads to another. I usually work on thirty seconds of music at a time. When it's coming together I move on. Sometimes it stays at thirty seconds. Sometimes two minutes takes a couple of hours.
LAS: Here's the obligatory "How did the Starlight Mints form?" question. Was it musical kismet and you all met in the same town in elementary school or something, or did you all know each other in a former life or something like that?
Allan: Andy just started showing up at my house wanting to jam. I had a bunch of 4 tracks floating around, and we took some of those ideas plus some styles Andy showed me. Then we started asking people if they wanted to join or come to our practices and see if it was something they would want to keep doing. Eventually there were seven of us, and we started playing around town and recording. That was the way the first album was conceived, over a three year period. Only three of us survived. Marian, Andy and I. We added Javier that next year, but it feels like he's been playing with us from the beginning.
LAS: Considering how much time you spend in the studio, does the recording process get tedious or is it a case where all of you look forward to coming to work every day and love every bit of it? What do you do to keep from getting bored with it?
Allan: Well, it's gotten to a point where we work alone most of the time, have meetings and then go back home and work. I recorded about seventy percent of the album at my old office space or my house. Then mixed it at Bell Labs. But yes, it's tedious. We edited and edited. You sort of have to with us. We don't practice new songs that much. Some of the songs we played on previous tours, but when we pinpointed some changes during pre-production, parts would change and then in the studio, we would have to record them on the fly.
LAS: Is there an album you grew up listening to or one that you've enjoyed in adulthood that you'd compare Drowaton to? Or is it sort of a collage of different influences?
Allan: I don't know, that's a deep question. I don't think I'm mentally qualified to answer that.
Obviously, he's putting us on. The qualification process isn't that stringent. [Photo By Jeremy Charles] SEE ALSO: www.starlightmints.com
SEE ALSO: www.barsuk.com
SEE ALSO: www.jeremycharles.com
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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