On their latest release, Sweet, Simple Things, Portland band Minden have eschewed the jazz-influenced bend of previous work in favor of a new pop sound laden with saccharine sweet hooks, down-tempo grooves, and falsetto vocals. It’s a stark and risky choice, but the gamble largely pays off due to the band’s expert musicianship and the non-nonchalant (yet oddly charismatic) stage presence of vocalists Casey Burge and Lia Gist. Seriously. I defy you not to be impressed by Burge’s performance on the song ‘Artists Statement’ (above), as he struts through the song hitting high note after note while chewing gum.
The band recently stopped by OPB and performed songs from Sweet, Simple Things and chatted with us about the new record:
Jerad Walker: When and where did you record Sweet, Simple Things?
Casey Burge: The recording and mixing of this record was spread out over two years. Tracking was split between the Ice Cream Party studio and Spooky Electric studio, here in the [Portland]. It was a collaboration between us and our producer, Jeremy Sherrer and has certainly been our most thorough effort in the recording studio.
JW: The album has a recurring element-- sugar. It shows up in obvious places like lyrics and song titles ('Real Sugar,' 'Sweet Simple Things'). But it also pops up in the packaging and overall aesthetic of the record. Can you explain the sweet theme?
CB: When we shared the album with our label (Hit City USA), 'Real Sugar' was the opening track. As the introduction to the song cycle, it sets the vibe. The title track 'Sweet, Simple Things' was the first song written in the bunch and was always intended to share its name with the record. That's really where mention of sweets in the music ends. When we were passing the songs around, before knew exactly what we were going to do with it all, we were using a placeholder photo that featured an ice cream cone. I think everyone just kind of got attached to that so we collaborated with a local artist who explored that aesthetic, which is where the record and singles art came from.
JW: You released a single last year called 'Saint' that was very up-tempo. It had a lot of obvious jazz influence. This album has less of that and is much more of a pop record. What made you go in this new direction?
CB: The downtempo, groove-driven arrangements and production were a result of the writing process and Jeremy's influence. All of the songs on 'Sweet, Simple Things' were written to drum loops created from samples of breaks from older funk, soul and R&B songs. Because of that, the drum and bass grooves are really the foundation of each song. The demos for these songs are mostly bass, drums and vocals. Jeremy helped with making things more dynamic, filling some of the space while also simplifying things at times, which was powerful. In contrast, 'Saint' was demoed in a similar way but then approached as a group when it came time to put it all together. Rather than stay faithful to the demo, the drums ended up much busier and faster, yet still groovy. The jazz influence you're referring to is partially a result of Sam Adams' (of Sama Dams) involvement. He's a good friend and unmatched player and songwriter. We're all huge fans of what he and his group do. He's joined up with us from time to time over the years. We love playing with Sam for that reason. He takes our songs to that place, which really serves them sometimes.
JW: The vocal harmonies are really great on this record and remind me a lot of 70s American pop (or even some of the better French stuff). Do you have any favorite vocal arrangers that inspire you?
CB: Thank you! Vocal arrangement is definitely an important element to our music. We put time and effort into making it special. I’ve always been especially excited when I hear voices harmonize in such a way that it’s difficult to decide which one is singing the main melody. When more than one melody is strong enough on its own to be the lead, but they all intersect at dynamic moments. That’s fun for me personally, so that comes in right at the onset, during the writing process. The vocal arrangements are rarely an afterthought, they’re intentional. Michael Jackson’s vocal arrangements were always very particular, with little bits coming in now and then. Very thoughtful, not easy or lazy. His way of doing that is an influence. The Four Freshmen via the Beach Boys opened me up to other possible intervals and definitely made a huge impact on me. The Everly Brothers and then the Beatles inspire me to make the harmony more than a lead-support, but a potential lead itself.