Minsk are a band that get better with age. They are constantly pushing boundaries and rewriting the rule book, refusing to sit still. They should be huge but are held back by that pesky day job that most bands have to do. In this extensive interview with Timothy Mead from Minsk, we chatted about their recent tour of Europe with Kowloon Walled City, Minsk’s origins and relationships with Sanford Parker and Relapse Records as well as what the future holds and the city of Minsk.
Jack: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Timothy Mead (Vocals/Keyboards): Doing really well, Jack. Nice to speak with you. It’s just after the big Thanksgiving holiday here in the States, so lots of time with friends and family for all of us. That can be, of course, a good or bad thing for some people. It’s kind of a stressful time as well for a lot of people here. I’d say for us, it’s usually just a gauntlet of trying to fit so many awesome people into one long weekend. And we have a lot of good people in our lives. So it’s fun. A couple of weeks before that, we did the Midnite Commuion festival in Long Beach, California, which was great. It was nice to see each other for a whole weekend and get to do a fun event just before the holidays hit. Good stuff.
Jack: So let’s talk about your origins, how did Minsk form?
Tim: I think we’ve pinned it down to sometime in 2002 when we actually started getting together and forming a group, writing songs, etc. Chris and I were both living in Peoria, Illiois, then, and we just started looking around for others in our musical world who wanted to make something happen. It took time, obviously, to put it all together and get the lineup sorted, write songs, etc. So we didn’t actually first play our first show until 2003, the year we also did the Burning CD.
Jack: Did you have a certain sound in mind when Minsk formed?
Tim: I’ve been asked this before, and I honestly don’t remember what we had in mind before we actually started playing. I remember having LOTS of daydream conversations with Chris about conceptual things and sound concepts, but I don’t remember WHAT I thought we were actually going to sound like before we really started the work. I remember wanting to be open minded about it, letting happen whatever happened happen Given the people involved, at that time and place in Chris’ basement in Peoria, those particular specific moments of jamming ideas in the earliest days were lots of fun. I think we wanted to try to make the most beautiful ugly music we could come up with, something that was honest and came from us, something our own whatever that meant.
Jack: Sanford Parker is an occasional collaborator with the band. How did you meet him?
Sanford: We met Sanford when we were recording our first full album, which we did with At A Loss in 2005. So it was probably early that year when we were preparing to go into the studio. He had a studio in Chicago with a friend of ours from Peoria, and we met him through the studio, hitting him up to record our record. He started playing bass for us during the recording of that record, and then he played bass and toured with us on the next two albums as well.
Jack: What’s working with him like, what does he add to Minsk?
Sanford: Over the years, Sanford has became a brother, part of the tribe. We saw a lot of places together, went through a lot together in the studio and performing together those years. So, for us working with him was always the pleasure and pain of having someone in the band also recording the records. He knew our sound and what we hoped to achieve better than anyone else could possibly know it. But I’m sure for him, a lot of those hours spent trying to make something perfect, when it’s your own thing, probably shortened his life some… and ours too. As far as what he adds to Minsk, both in the past when he was more actively involved and now, I think in many ways he always represented an outside perspective. Throughout the course of his involvement, he was always a three hour drive away, in Chicago. So, whenever we were in the studio really fleshing ideas out, he would bring another perspective, something from a distance. Also with producing that way, he’s always been a step away from the intimate process of the writing, which could go a couple of different ways, but that always seemed to me like a valuable thing. Sonically, he also contributed a lot of synth and noise stuff in the studio, helping to create that psychedelic sound we were chasing. So, for four albums now, he’s been a huge part of the why Minsk sounds the way it does.
Jack: The Crash and the Draw which came out last year was your first album for five years, what was the reason for this long delay?
Tim: Basically, after we were done touring on the “With Echoes” album, we just hit a wall internally. Things just weren’t working well, trying to create together was getting difficult. So, we kind of told the world we were on an open ended hiatus, and we tried to figure it out. Ultimately, we parted ways with our former drummer, Anthony, who’d been in the band for several years. That really brought to light the question of whether we could or should continue. It was a really existential moment for me anyway. We had some conversations with Sanford, too, during that time. And in the end we decided to continue on and sort of reformulate, without Anthony, and with Sanford contributing when and what he could when we all felt it was needed. So the reason for the time between albums was really a refocusing and renewal period.
Jack: Are you happy with the response to the album?
Tim: Yes, the response has been great. Lots of kind words from the fans and press. Lots of great response on the road from friends and kindred spirits who have expressed how pleased they are that we have pushed ahead. Lots of people telling us this is record is their favorite or that it pushes the narrative forward in a meaningful way. That’s really all we hoped for was that we could do something that pushed the boundaries even further out for us, something fresh and passionate that went beyond. I am proud that we did that regardless of the response, but it’s been incredible to see people connecting with it.
Jack: I’m interested in the writing process, how do you go from a blank slate to the finished product?
Tim: That’s an always changing process, honestly. We always say we want to be open to new ways of writing, and at different times over the years, depending on who was involved, it would vary. In general though, songs typically start with a couple or few related guitar parts and build from there once a basic series of ideas is strung together. But sometimes a kernel for a song could be something else other than a riff, a drum or bass part, or a feeling. I think it’s safe to say we typically start with a large rough idea of a handful of movements for a song, and then we focus in on crafting the individual parts, the arrangements and transitions, vocals/lyrics, once the bigger dynamics are established. Kind of a macro to micro progression, adding variation, layers, etc., until it feels right and complete.
Jack: What was the recording process like?
Tim: The recording process for this album was a lot more involved and intentional than some of the previous albums. We demo’d all of the songs for the record ahead of time in our rehearsal space ahead of the studio. We had never really done that to this level before this time around. It was a whole other level of preparation, and it was a huge help. Actually recording the parts and working the songs through that intensely was a different process, one that was really productive. So by the time we got to the studio, the songs were familiar and just further along, basically. We recorded at Earth Analog, this beautiful studio in a really small town in central Illiois, outside of Champaign. It’s owned by Matt Talbot of Hum, and for a lot of us who group up where we did when we did, that was really awesome to be in his space working. They have a band apartment at the studio, and so you really can lock yourselves away and block out the outside world the whole time you’re there. We did as much as we could with the time we had there, and got the bulk of everything recorded in that session. Then Kevin and Aaron tracked some additional stuff in Peoria, more vocals and synth stuff mainly. I recorded some more vocals in Oakland with Scott Evans at his studio, Antisleep Audio. Once everything was tracked we got together again with Sanford and mixed it at his Hypercube space in Chicago.
Jack: In support of the album you played Desertfest, how was Desertfest?
Tim: Desertfest was a lot of fun for us. It was toward the end of our tour with Floor. To me, it just seemed like this beautiful chaos that engulfed the whole already crazy neighborhood in Camden, a real trip on so many levels. So many good bands, so many people, just an overload on the senses for sure. We had a really nice response from the crowd at the Underworld as well. Great experience.
Jack: What do you like about the Camden Underworld?
Tim: The Underworld is fantastic. For a band like us, it’s just pretty far out to be in that part of London in general, with everything that goes along with it. The whole city is “foreign” to us, and then you add that level of crowded insanity on top of it… The spot itself is so historic as well, which is great. And it’s this beautiful intimate club with great sound, very professional, and very accommodating and hospitable. In my experience, clubs in crazy intense cities like that aren’t always so much fun to play, dealing with so many people crammed into a small urban space and all the negativity that goes along with that. But they do it right. Both Desertfest and then the show we did recently for Nightshift Promotions were killer shows and a lot of fun for us.
Jack: You played the venue again on your European tour with Kowloon Walled City, why was this tour so good?
Tim: It was a great tour. Getting to know the guys in Kowloon Walled City and playing with them every night for three weeks was so awesome. We had lots of great shows, great responses all over Europe. Unfortunately, it was the only UK show we could fit in the schedule, but it was a great one. I think for us, in many places we went on that tour, people had had time to absorb the new record since the last time we were there just after it dropped, and that made the response seem a bit different. It was also Kowloon Walled City’s first trip to Europe, and I KNOW a lot of people were really excited to see them for the first time. We felt like the pairing of bands made a whole lot of sense… different approaches, different sounds, but an overlap in terms of the potential crowds and the potential for really cool sonic dynamics between the bands each night.
Jack: What do you like about Kowloon Walled City’s music?
Tim: Kowloon Walled City is just an incredible band overall. I love how sonically focused everything is, the way they play with tone and different levels of saturation as actual songwriting dynamics. They are so “heavy” in a way that defies the typical definitions of heavy. They can be crushing while playing something completely clean. To me their sound is at once passionate, honest, earnest, and brutal… both literally and emotionally. Both suffocating and cathartic at times. Seeing them night after night was just so inspiring and elevating.
Jack: I saw you at the Underworld show and that must have been a fantastic end to the tour. What did you think of Bossk and Wren if you caught them?
Tim: It was a great end to the tour, one of the best shows of the whole thing. And we almost didn’t even come to London, because of the routing and time constraints. That wasn’t because we didn’t want to play there, but it’s hard for bands like us to deal with the costs of coming across the channel, work permits, all that stuff. But we’d met Patrice at Desertfest, and she was extremely awesome and persistent in getting the tour to come to London. When we got there finally, after several hours stuck at immigration, and several hours more traffic, both bands were pretty much at the point of delirium from the long drives and very little sleep. But in that state, and to a hungry and welcoming crowd, it was incredible to go out on that note. Yes, we were really excited that both Wren and Bossk were on the bill. They were both fantastic, as anticipated. The show made for a really stacked lineup, and I think people who were there also really appreciated that, from start to finish of the night.
Jack: Did any show stand out?
Tim: The show that really stands out for obvious reasons was Amplifest in Porto. The timing for that trip was driven by the fact that we were invited to be a part of that festival. And it was just unreal. Great festival, an insane amount of great bands, gorgeous city, the whole package. And any time you can play an event at which Neurosis is one of the headliners, I mean it’s like a dream every time. It was a surreal weekend in every way. The staff and organizers treated us so well and just put together something so awesome. We had met Andre several years back when he did one of our very first Portuguese shows in Porto in 2009. Just an incredibly kind and professional person who loves great music and bringing it to his city. The whole vibe at Amplifest was just perfect. I’ll personally remember that weekend for the rest of my life.
Jack: Is touring Europe different to America at all?
Tim: Yeah, it’s definitely different. At least in our experience, bands are treated better in Europe, and I think that’s a pretty common understanding. In the States, at least for a band of our stature, it’s kind of the wild west in certain ways. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a booking agent that negotiates the financial arrangements ahead of time, you still are mostly fending for yourselves in terms of getting from place to place, finding food and lodging on a daily basis. Of course there are exceptions, promotion groups or cities that tend to be more artist friendly, but on a long tour you’re not likely to get that night after night. So, when we come to Europe, the experience of having someone else drive us, and getting fed and housed regularly is really a luxury and something that we appreciate. We’ve always had really appreciative crowds everywhere we go in Europe, and that doesn’t always happen for a band like us in the States. I think it just seems like there is more of a hunger for strange art and music in Europe, as compared to the States, and that translates into being a good thing for us.
Jack: What’s it like working with Relapse Records?
Tim: Working with Relapse has been a great thing for us overall. They’ve always treated us with respect, let us do whatever we wanted to do musically, and then tried to get it out there into people’s hands for us. It’s no small thing for a band like us to be able to record something and know that it will be immediately available and accessible to anyone in the world, essentially. Coming from a DIY mentality, which we’ve always had for ourselves and our work, that level of instant distribution and attention is pretty unreal. After the long break between albums, we still had one more album on our contract with Relapse, and we weren’t really sure if they’d want to do another one or not. But we sent them a couple of demos of the new material, and they were stoked and were like “of course, let’s do it.” After being out of the conversation for several years, it was a really great thing to be able to have a new record ready to go and have them working to get it out there and known about.
Jack: Do you have day jobs outside of the band? If so is it hard finding time for Minsk?
Tim: Yeah, we all have jobs and livelihoods outside of the band. It’s never even been a thought that we’d ever not be operating within that constraint. It’s hard and it’s always been hard to find enough time. But we do it. We’ve managed to structure lifestyles and work in ways that allow us the time to do Minsk. But time is always limited and seems to be more so as we all get older, so we do our best to get the most out of the time we have. We’re probably not ever going to be the kind of band that will be going on 2-3 month long tours, but in the past year and a half since the album came out we’ve been to Europe twice, did the west coast of the US, a few shows in the midwest, and the east coast as well. I sometimes wish it was more, but I know there are lots of bands out there that would absolutely kill to be able to do that much, so I’m thankful for that. I don’t think we could ever stop trying to find ways to play our songs together as much as possible.
Jack: I know you played a festival with Cough in November but side from that what other plans do you have coming up? Any new music on the horizon?
Tim: Yeah, the Midnite Communion festival was awesome. Nice for a bunch of midwesterners like us to get a weekend at the beach in November. Great bands, good people, lots of fun. As far as other plans, we’re really just shifting into writing mode now. The KWC tour in August/September and the Long Beach trip were the last two solid things we have planned. We hope to be announcing some exciting 2017 plans soon, but otherwise it’s time to write a new record. We’re all very excited about that.
Jack: Finally, have you ever been to Minsk and played it? If so are there any plans to go there?
Tim: No, unfortunately we’ve not gotten to play Minsk yet. We’re always open to the idea, but the right situation just hasn’t yet presented itself. The political landscape there is not entirely favorable, and it seems like there are some pretty big hurdles involved. But we’d love to some day if we could figure out how to make it work. If anyone reading this knows how to make that happen, let us know! [Laughs]
Jack: Thank so you much for your time and please come back to the UK soon!
Tim: You’re very welcome. Thanks again for the interest. I promise that we’ll be back as soon as we possibly can. Take care.