2015 has proven to be an incredible year for new music. One of the best releases, thus far, has been from Mini Mansions. The psychedelic-rock three-piece, consisting of Zach Dawes, Tyler Parkford and Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shulman, haven’t released new music since 2008, so they’ve really packed the punch in their newest EP ‘The Great Pretenders’.
With its horror-pop vibes and cheeky lyrics, it’s an album that’s full of ferocity. Songs like ‘Freakout’ and ‘Creeps’ will leave you singing and swaying. Not to mention, they’ve received some superstar help from the likes of Alex Turner and Brian Wilson. On stage, the energy between the three of them is infectious, making Mini Mansions a seemingly perfect equation for festival season.
I got to sit down with Tyler and Michael at Rough Trade in Brooklyn to pick their brains about their history together, some of the controversial reception of the 'Vertigo' music video, and the future of Mini Mansions.
AM: From what I know, you’ve all known each other for some time now. What are some of your earliest memories of each other, and subsequentially, how did Mini Mansions come to be?
MS: Some of my earliest memories, for me, is this rehearsal spot that we took over in the San Fernando Valley. I remember this organ that I brought in. It was all beat up and sh*tty. We were rehearsing in there, and we ended up recording a beat off the organ, just to kind of fu*k around. It actually wound up being the recording for our song Wunderbars.
TP: I’m just thinking really hard right now, because I actually have an earlier memory of you.
MS: What? In my bedroom?
TP: No, no. Way earlier. The first time I met you, is when you were in Wires on Fire. I was going to college with Zach – him and I were roommates – and Michael played in Santa Cruz. Everyone came to our apartment after the show, and I remember going up to Michael and being like, “Hey man, great show!” Now, I never grew up in LA, so approaching you guys was super intimidating. Cause you guys like, grew up in LA, walked around in leather – just were so cool. I remember just being so intimidated, wishing you guys well, and then just being like, “Alright, dudes! Party on!”, and going back to my room. I remember when I got back in the room; I was still listening to what you guys were saying and talking about.
MS: Wow. That is so cute.
AM: So how long have you all known each other then?
MS: Close to 11 years, if not longer. I think.
AM: I find your music to really be in a genre of its own. There’s nothing that sounds quite like it out there at the moment. I have a hard time describing to people what your sound exactly is, which I think is incredible. You can usually compare a band to another, sound wise, but yours is quite incomparable. What would you find to be your biggest influences in creating the unique sound that you have?
TP: I don’t know. I think where we’re at now is really different to where we started. So, it all ties into each other. Where we started, musically, was very heavily influenced by Elliot Smith. We wanted to write incredibly moody music.
AM: I would consider your music to still be quite moody now. I find myself really relating to some of the songs, hearing the more moody lyrics and really connecting with them, all while maintaining a skip in my step from the infectious beats.
MS: I think the biggest influences to create our own unique sound, is specifically our set up. I think that we constantly talk about introducing a real drummer, and I don’t know that we’d ever want to do it, because it would change our sound dramatically. I think that would have a big effect on us, and our writing as well.
AM: A lot of fans reached out on Twitter, and wanted to know if the music comes first or the lyrics?
MS: The music. 90% of the time.
AM: ‘The Great Pretenders’ is one of my favourite albums of the year. I can’t hype you guys up enough. With a group of musicians like yourselves, and with some of the artists you have featured, how do you accommodate everyone’s busy schedules and still put out a killer record?
TP: Well, one of the things that make us get pretty wild with our music, and give us our strange ‘Je Ne Sais Q’uoi’, is that a lot of the time we each write music when we’re alone. Michael will write a song alone, and then bring it to the table. Something that maybe he wrote on the guitar, that I will have to learn on piano. When we’re not with each other, that’s when a lot of that material starts. I like it because you get this personal space to create, and then you come together as a band and see it’s like a co-opted dream between three people. It’s great.
MS: We strive to make the time we have together count, and really focused. We put some serious importance on it, cause sometimes sh*t comes up. So, that stuff really affects me when we lose a day together, cause I really look forward to bringing things to the table with them and creating with them.
AM: To me, your sound, your lyrics – everything about Mini Mansions seems to have a cinematic feel to it. When I first heard ‘Vertigo’ I felt like I could create a film to the music in my head. Do you find that films inspire your sounds also?
TP: I’m a film buff, too. Zach and I both studied film in Santa Cruz. I don’t like writing about films that really move me, I write about a feeling that I get from a film, that I’m holding inside of me, but that can really only be brought out by these insane stories that are told in strange ways. A film that really affected me, was called Posession. This polish director, Żuławski, he did the most insane films. But yeah, this film really moved me because it’s about being so in love with someone that you start to go crazy. You get signs of schizophrenia because you don’t know how to handle all the feelings that come with being that in love with someone. It’s really weird, and eerie. You need to watch it.
AM: Speaking of eerie, the video for ‘Vertigo’ was outstanding. It was a spot on visual representation of the song. What inspired it, and what role does the band play in the music video process?
MS: As far as all the videos, we’re really involved. It’s another piece of our content that is representing our music, our songs. So, I think to not give too much concern or input would be a mistake. People do that all the time. You see videos that have nothing to do with the music. We are very involved through the editing process. We’re not too anal, it’s another person’s vision, too.
TP: On that note, our objective was to make a video for every song and that’s actually all in place. We have almost everything shot and are in post.
AM: That’s brilliant. There aren’t many artists that do that.
TP: We take it very seriously, and the reason you haven’t seen more videos is because we’re really spending the time to perfect them. We care so much about every little step. That said, ‘Vertigo’ was by a close friend of mine, Jesus. He’s a jack-of-all-trades kinda guy. He’s a big fan of mondo-euro type films. ‘Vertigo’ was him dorking out on all these unsettling, slightly misogynistic, scenes. But, that’s the type of genre he was shooting for. All those mondo-euro films evolved into slasher films, which he found fit our sound.
MS: There were a few women who found the video to be very misogynistic, which I kind of took a little personally. I totally understand it, but I want fans to know that wasn’t our intentions. It was purely a replication of a genre of film. It wasn’t us brainstorming these ideas. I don’t want people getting that idea.
AM: It’s somewhat hypocritical considering that there are genres of music where their music videos can feature naked/near to naked women, and nobody bats an eyelid. ‘Vertigo’, to me, as a film buff and a woman, just looked like a stylized replication of cult genre films – which is why I love it so much.
MS: I’m really happy to hear that.
AM: Also, what’s the story behind the dolls featured in your videos. Seems to be a consistent theme.
TP: Hahaha, yeah! That’s just some doll I’ve had for a while now. She always finds her way into the videos somehow. I don’t really know why.
AM: Another thing I wanted to comment on was the marketing of the album. You had a hotline that fans could call, where a breathy seductive female answers promoting the album. You guys really know how to keep it different and interesting. What was the weirdest message you’ve received from the hotline?
TP: There was one that this guy left at 4 in the morning. He was telling us how he saw our billboard and decided to call the number. He went through the whole process of how he came to dial the hotline. He made a comment about how we looked ‘kinda cool’ and our music was ‘alright’. It was funny.
AM: You’ve worked with some brilliant musicians on this album – Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. They’re two very different artists. How did Wilson get thrown into the mix with ‘Any Emotion’, and what was it like throwing another old friend into the mix for ‘Vertigo’?
MS: Brian was brought in because our label also puts out his records and our A&R guy was looking for a bassist on a song of Brian’s, so Zach did that. That was awesome. They got along really well, and he asked Brian to sing on our record. We sent him two songs, and he really loved ‘Any Emotions’.
TP: I couldn’t believe it. I never thought it was gonna happen.
MS: Alex was in the studio with us for a few days, just hanging out and then that’s what led to his part on ‘Vertigo’. He wrote his lyrics and the melody. It was fun having him there.
AM: What can we expect for the future of Mini Mansions?
TP: A lot more music. We’ll always be working on and releasing new music. New visual content. We’re always talking about the next step. It’s what keeps us going.
Mini Mansions played an explosive set at Rough Trade Brooklyn on June 8th, with a surpise visit from Alex Turner himself to accompany the group on their song ‘Vertigo’.
Make sure to pick up Mini Mansions incredible EP ‘The Great Pretenders’.
Thank you to Michael Shulman, Tyler Parkford and Zach Dawes.