“We’re just a couple of fun loving Cali guys that like to have a good time and who treat touring like being on a road trip with our best friends” muses Mini Mansions drummer Michael when asked how he’d describe himself and his bandmates as he settles into a booth at Gorilla in Manchester, his band-mate Tyler sitting next to him. “As a band, musically, I like to tell people we’re a psych band,” adds Tyler. “We’re a lot of things really but that’s what and where we’ve always steered ourselves towards – we enjoy creating the more fantastical songs that make up a lot of what we do.”
There’s little doubt that MM have a rather unique sound and style with which they play and perform, and it’s something they admit to being proud of, but where does such style come from? “Our influences are all over the map,” explains Michael, “and I think that’s a huge part of why we sound how we do, and in terms of those influences, they’re not just for us as a group, but as individuals too. We bring a lot of what we like, what we grew up with to the table when we write and record stuff. Personally, The Beatles were always the band that made me want to get into music – I’d listen to those harmonies and want to copy them. I’m 29 now and they remain one of the key bands that helped me along the way to where I am now, no doubt about it. Just playing drums in the band, just with that one task, I’m influenced by a lot of hip-hop beats and just minimalist rock beats too. My set up is minimal so it’s kind of inspired by that how I perform and set things up.” Tyler eagerly interjects: “I think what drew us together is a long list of inspirations, but more recently, it’s been bands like Sparks who have sort of given us some direction in terms of our recent record. We really wanted to try and mix things up with this record and I think, as we listened to bands such as Sparks, we found our own way to do that.”
The band are such fans of Sparks that they covered ‘Sherlock Holmes’ recently, and have received hundreds, if not thousands, of positive comments off the back of it. What made them want to cover the song in the first place? “I just think it’s a brilliant song,” confesses Michael. “They’re such a crazy, aggressive band, but some of their songs are just really different. When it comes to that song, just listening to it, it really connected with us. We heard it and were just like ‘Damn’. We wanted to introduce more people not just to us, but Sparks as well.”
Taking those influences and putting their own spin on them means the writing process is something the band enjoy and take rather seriously. “We’ve always wanted to create music we can be proud of” says Michael, “but the process itself can depend on what we’re writing about. Some songs can start with just one lyrical idea one of us has, and then we’ll craft it together, or it can begin with a guitar riff and the song can be built around that. Looking at the new record, myself and Tyler worked together a lot and then Zach would come in and add his parts over the top, helping it to become something that wasn’t premeditated.”
Challenge them to name the greatest song ever written and they begin chuckling. “Damn girl,” laughs Tyler. “’Tribute’ by Tenacious D. It says it itself: ‘the best song in the world’, so yeah, I’ll go with that.” Michael is grinning so much he can only nod his approval.
The new record they’ve been referring to is called ‘The Great Pretenders’ and due out in March next year. The band have been writing for and working on it for the last two years and as Tyler explains: “It’s largely more personal than our previous record, our self-titled, but the scope is broader. We’re also delving into different genres and have really focussed on the writing – we wanted to create a dance-pop song and just jumped from one idea to another. It was an experiment of sorts, and an evolution.” Michael is immensely proud of what they’ve created adding: “Lyrically, it’s a big step for us, looking back at our first record. The lyrics are more personal, no doubt about it, and I think, when it comes to what I wrote about – I focussed more on what was going on in my life, and I changed lyrics literally the week before recording because something had changed in that respect. We went from writing more fictional, fantastical lyrics, to really digging deep and opening up in a way, and I think that’s made a huge difference to us, not just for this record, but as a band in general.”
The record features contributions from Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and Brian Wilson. How did they come about? Michael jokes that a lot of money changed hands first of all, but then, completely straight faced, goes on to say: “Alex has become a good friend of ours and was hanging out when we were making the record. It was a rally natural thing. We had a song we were developing that we felt was almost like a British pop-song of sorts, and having loved his work, we asked Alex to help us out with the track and it turned out great.” Tyler meanwhile explains that Wilson was: “a connection Zach had, as he was making a record for Capitol, which is our label too, and Zach was asked to play bass on one of his songs, which he did. The two of them met, hung out, and got on really well, so he asked Brian if he would sing on a song for us and he was happy to oblige. He brought a lot to the song he features on, definitely.”
Hailing from the United States, the band unsurprisingly have quite a strong following there, something which is slowly filtering across Europe. Have they noticed any distinct differences between shows in different countries? Michael seems to think so. “Every city is different,” he says, sitting back in the booth. “We’re from Los Angeles, which I think has some of the most jaded audiences you could ever come across. Sometimes you’ll have great shows, but sometimes, people will just stand there and watch. There’s less dancing and more just observing; people standing there with their arms crossed.” He pauses. “Having said that, that’s not always the worst thing. Sometimes, when I go to a show, I stand there and it’s because I’m appreciating what I’m seeing and hearing, but I think in Europe and the UK, everyone’s a little bit looser. I think everyone’s had a few pints and they’re looking for a good time.”
So what can UK fans expect from a MM show? Tyler pauses for a moment before responding with: “I don’t think many people are used to seeing an upright drummer. Usually, you see the drummer towards the back of the stage but we like to put the three of us almost in-line with one another. We use bass and drums, which can be rather restrictive, but we like to look at it as being charismatic as a band. We don’t necessarily have to do that much in order to put on a show we can be proud of, and that can be an interesting experience for those watching.”
The band are on social media, but not as much as people might think. “We’re really bad at social media,” admits Michael. “I personally don’t have my own accounts on sites, because I’m very much into the whole privacy thing. When we do social media for the band, I don’t want all of our business everywhere – the actual band related stuff I don’t mind; music and bands we like, artwork we’ve created – things like that – they’re all fair game and that should be enough to represent us. Our personal lives are just that, and I think a lot of people put far too much of their own lives online for the world to see.” Tyler has his own thoughts and declares: “I think being involved in social media as a band is a real give and take sort of deal. There’s always going to be repercussions to both being present online and not being so. You can run the risk of not reaching out to people who might otherwise find you if you don’t get involved, but on the other hand, you run the risk of losing what I consider to be a major deal, and that’s privacy. We all grew up with bands who didn’t have social media, who didn’t need or have the internet to help get their music and message out there. Even with just the artwork and the shows, they found a way to reach an audience, while at the same time not putting everything about their lives out there. Music shouldn’t be centralised on being social at all; I think it can often be ruined when you are too close to a bands’ day to day activities. The people who are really good at the whole social media thing have somehow found a good balance, but when everything is out in the open, shared around the world, I just think it leaves little room for conversation.”
With a new album due out next year, combined with a headline date at the Lexington in London as well as a support slot on tour with Royal Blood, the trio have a busy 2015 – not that they mind. “We are so excited to play the Lexington,” enthuses Tyler. “It’s great to be able to tour, and support some great bands like we have, but there’s something really special about playing your own headline shows – there’s nothing like it. We haven’t done a headline show in London for a couple of years so we can’t wait to get on stage and play, so I think we’ll be playing a real mix of songs at that show.” Michael smiles. “We’re going to be touring, touring and touring some more,” he says. “We’re also writing stuff ready for the next record and no doubt we’ll carry on doing that when we’re out on the road, but we’re just really excited for people to hear our new stuff and for us to get out there, do what we love, and share our music with people.”
Mini Mansions new album The Great Pretenders will be released in March.