BOOKS FULL OF WORDS UNDERLINED
Feature: Virgin Mega - Minibar: The Trials and Tribulations
By Dee McLaughlin
IN THE BEGINNING
British rootsy-pop quartet Minibar came to America because - by their own admission - they couldn't get signed in England. So they busted their collective asses gigging as a cover band in a Mexican restaurant in the depths of London to earn money. They arrived in Los Angeles for two weeks (all they could afford after swigging copious amounts of British beer at said gigs), to see if the land their distant forefathers settled would be kinder to them. It was.
Two gigs later, the band were signed to a major label deal. Blessed, you'd say? Not exactly, their beginnings may have been a walk in the park but that was two-and-a-half years ago and the band, caught in a music-industry maelstrom of mergers and their label's relentless quest for radio-friendly singles, has only now released their debut, Road Movies.
AN AMERICAN RECORD DEAL
Simon Petty, lead vocalist and main songwriter: The deal took nine months to angle because of the merger. So we signed in May '99 and we couldn't get our visas until July. Then we got here and they (Universal Records) were like 'You got to write more singles and you got to fine tune.' So we didn't start recording the album until Jan 3, 2000.
The recording took several months and then ...
Simon: Everyone's like 'Oh we got to get it remixed, we don't like the way it sounds.'
Sid Jordan, bass, piano and backing vocalist: The last remix was what, a month ago? So it's been in the remixing stage for over a year.
Simon: They're still goofing around with stuff. We got a rock radio mix by Toby Wright, who we have absolutely no connection with, but he did Metallica so he knows his rock.
Virginmega.com: He also produced, engineered and mixed Tantric's album and mixed 3 Doors Down and Primus. Were you happy with the mix?
Simon: (shrugging) We didn't even know that it had been done until afterwards. We don't even know if it's gone to radio but the original mixes are the majority of the album and they're great. So it didn't really matter in the end.
Country-inflected rock and somewhat reminiscent of Del Amitri, Minibar's T-Bone Burnett-produced album still contains elements of British pop. From the emotional introspection in "Six Foot" to the bittersweet but catchy "Holiday From Myself," the 11 tracks have bouncy, airy melodies and distinctive lyrics.
Simon: "Holiday" is a great song. I think it should be the first single.
Virginmega.com: It's changed a bit from the first time I heard it 18 months ago although the riff is basically the same.
Simon: We had a bit of a field day. It was certainly fun. About a ten second bit had twenty-one tracks on it. It had two bass parts, a piano, mandolin, miniature keyboards ...
Sid: We played everything. It took like a whole day making it. It was really cool. Then the song went off into this kind of space rock territory. It was really fun. Amazing. But that got wiped.
Simon: …there's two different music industries if you know what I mean.
Virginmega.com: Yeah, there's the music and then there's the industry ...
Simon: The thing was, we were under intense pressure to write a single for radio. Because we were unable to fulfill the correct criteria for a single ourselves, the label was looking for a cover.
Enter the Ryan Adams' (Whiskeytown singer and solo artist) penned "Choked Up." The two bands share the same engineer Rick Will, who happened to be playing the track when the Minibar lads were listening. They fell in love with it and did their own version of the song. (The track didn't make it onto Whiskeytown's new release Pneumonia, although Lost Highway Records may release it on a future EP.) Minibar's label loved it.
Simon: In an ideal world I would love "Road Movies" to be the single. I really love it and I'm really close and personal with it. It was the first song we wrote about coming here. Lines like, I've got two straight weeks/ To lay waste to Babylon. That was it. That was our few weeks that we had to come out to LA. It's about us, the band and the people and it's about hoping.
MEETING A ROCK STAR
or How Our Heroes Finally Get to Live the Rock 'n' Roll Life ... sort of ...
Simon: We went out last night and hung out with Ryan Adams ... He met us at a bar in Hollywood and said 'Right, let's go to my hotel and pick up some beer.'
Sid: We wrote songs.
Simon: Sid's got the song on the back of the directions for getting to Ryan's hotel.
Sid: Ryan's like a factory. He's coming out with stuff all the time. He's really generous and nice. He was talking about our record and he was hyper. He gets out this month's Revolver and reads this glowing review of our album and he's like, 'See that's it. That's what it's all about.' Then he says, 'I've got this song for you. It's just an idea and I want you to have it and check it out.' Then he comes out with it and I was like, 'Well it's done isn't it and that's it.' And he goes 'Oh no, we've got lots of work to do.' I love that general kind of free spirit. Some people can be so kind of protective of their little bit of talent whereas he is exceptionally gifted, incredibly gifted.
There's no doubt that the band are quite a distance from their days of doing covers in a seedy London watering hole. "Road Movies" is a song about striving to get someplace. In today's marketplace where the record-buying public are told what to listen to by the Omnipresent Marketing Department Dollar of labels and Omnipotent Advertising Dollar of radio play, Minibar may be on the road for a while. Their ultimate destination is up to you. Remember that as you're forcefed Britney One More Time...
Originally published May 15, 2001
©2000-2001 Virgin Entertainment Group, Inc.