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Feature: Falls Church News-Press: Press Pass: Minibar

By Mike Hume

It seemed like the perfect example of the American dream. The England-born boys of Mini Bar come across the Atlantic and found themselves signed to a Universal Music-owned label, making a record with acclaimed producer T. Bone Burnett.

But the album never caught on and the record label never offered much in the way of supporting it. Thus the deal ended after one album and Minibar returned to the indie world. Those thinking the band laments about not catching their proverbial big break would be mistaken however. And they might well be floored to hear frontman and songwriter Simon Petty say “Had we received more promotion or better support for a radio single, I think it could have been the end of the band.”

Instead, the band has survived six years after the release of the Burnett-produced Road Movies. Even if they had to haul their own equipment and forgo a tour bus for a stuffy van ride, at least they could pursue what they wanted to pursue.

“The record deal didn’t work out because we didn’t want it to,” Petty explains with a chuckle. “We signed and then that was followed by nine months of contract wrangling. As soon as we touched down, we realized the idea wasn’t for us. They wanted something like an alt-country boy band.”

What it seems Petty and his mates wanted, more than anything, was the freedom to find their own way. It’s a pattern that can be spotted in Petty’s youth at least. Growing up he traveled the world, latching on for a series of extremely varied jobs. While traveling in Australia and New Zealand, Petty worked briefly selling eco-friendly ice cream before taking a serious turn to do care work for a man with brain damage. Pleased by the latter experience, when he returned to England, Petty began working as a counselor to heroin addicts. That’s when his foray into rehabilitation work met an abrupt end.

“I was the world’s worst drug counselor,” Petty recalls. “I would tell them ‘Look, drugs aren’t so bad, but you shouldn’t use them because you’ll screw your life up.’ It was a brave attempt to be a real person, but it stopped shortly thereafter.”

What truly made Petty happy was playing music. So he picked up gigs playing covers in a pub. What didn’t make him happy was playing the same tunes like “Brown Eyed Girl” and “American Pie” every night. Those forgettable nights playing to a pub crowd were part of the reason that Petty was so happy to come to America and land that record deal. But today, long since the end of said deal, he might be even happier. Even though he is still playing a weekly gig every Sunday at Rene’s Café in Santa Monica.

“We do covers that we like, like The Kinks,” Petty says. “We don’t do ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ ... unless we’re playing a friend’s wedding. Then we’ll bring out the cheese.”

The reason for Petty’s current happiness isn’t so much tied to weddings or pub shows, as it is to the fact that he and his band now have total creative control and with it, they’ve put out a new album aptly called Desert After the Rain. What’s more, now they get to play it live while opening for, and playing with, Pete Yorn, an experience Petty ranks among his most enjoyable. Right with the time the band opened for Wilco at the Fillmore in San Francisco.

“When I walked into the building I saw Jeff Tweedy on stage singing ‘Sunken Treasures’ with all of these purple chandeliers hanging down,” Petty recalls. “I just remember thinking, ‘This is going to be a good night.’”

They’ve had some good ones with Yorn on this tour as well. In Cleveland, the band shared the stage with Aqualung and Yorn to cover the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” The tour hits D.C. this Tuesday, March 20 when it comes to 9:30 Club.

“In some ways, this is even better than the Wilco show,” Petty says. “We get to play night in and night out and get to work stuff out with [Pete].”

As Petty refers to this current tour as the band’s busiest time in a long time, he’s hoping to capitalize on all of the time playing together to record another album once it wraps. Until then, Minibar will keep doing what it has to do, with no regrets for their short-lived time with Universal.

“We made a really expensive album with T. Bone Burnett and never had to pay it back,” Petty says. “So I tend to think we got the better of the deal.”

From Falls Church News-Press
March 15, 2007

Last updated: Mar 18, 2007 - 09:35 PM PDT

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