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Feature: Americana UK

By Mark Phillips

Captain America first brought our attention to the talents of London then Los Angeles quartet Minibar through repeat playing of their wonderful “Holiday from Myself” track. Mark Phillips caught up with them and asked them about their album, the move from here to the US and the future.

I'm sure you've told the story a million times, but how did you guys meet and where you already in bands? Are you all Londoners?

We've all played with each other for years and years,but the only famous ex-band between the four of us is Mal's stint with Spiritualized. He subbed for them again recently on their last US tour.

There's something of a tradition of Englishmen in LA- various Beatles, Graham Nash, Tim Burgess (!)- do you feel part of a grand tradition, or did you just fancy your chances better in California?

Nice though it would be to say that we were part of a grand tradition, we just thought that there was more chance for us here to become part of the So Cal lineage of harmony based guitar music than if we stayed in New Cross Gate. Plus, we scored a deal, and it's dead sunny.

How would Minibar have fared if you had stayed in England? & How would you describe your first week in LA?

I don't know what would have happened if we had stayed; when we left, no-one knew what Tim's Pedal Steel was when he got it out at sound checks; now every bugger's got one. Plus the whole Ryan thing has blown up, but we wouldn't know him if we had stayed,so who knows...

What, in your opinion, are the differences between US and UK audiences, and for that matter, the record industry / music scene?

Again, it's hard to say know what the differences are between US and British audiences and music scene, as we have only played in England pre-deal and only in America post-deal. Very generally speaking, bands seemed to be more insular and independent of each other in London than they are in LA, where everyone plays with everyone else. By this I mean that British bands cultivate a stronger sense of their own identity earlier in their lifespan, that whole "You and me against the world, babe" mentality. This caused us huge problems when confronted by the realities of the corporate American music industry, where almost instantly we were asked to co-write with pro writers and to cover anything from Jim Croce to Steeler's Wheel. We thought we had been signed for our idiosyncrasies, but it turned out that they were exactly what needed ironing out before we would fit into a radio demographic.

For all of you, what was the first record you can remember which made you think "i'm going to do that..."?

Sid says "The Green Fields of France" by The Men They Couldn't Hang: Tim "That's Just The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby and the Range(!): Simon "How Soon Is Now?" live in Manchester in 1984 for performing, my dad's version of the "Sound of Silence" in about 1974 for writing.

What do you listen to now? Who really excites you or makes you still feel like a fan listening to a record and not someone in a band?

We got hold of some demos for "Yankee Hotel..." by Wilco, and that made me feel very small in a good way...."I'm just a fan" as the Tweedster says in "The Lonely One". "The Ashes of American Flags", "Reservations", what can you say?

What do you listen to now? Who really excites you or makes you still feel like a fan listening to a record and not someone in a band?

Most of the album was done writing wise by the time we got here, except for "Lost In The Details", which was the result of seeing Aimee Mann singing at Largo. I find it hard to sustain that kind of intensity, especially at the time in the face of all the Universal bullshit, so it was nice to get a reminder.

Was the recording an easy experience (there seem to be a lot of engineers and locations involved for one album)?

Recording Road Movies was a blast. We made one of the last great self-indulgent albums that spawny English pub singers will ever get to make. T-Bone only uses the biggest room in the best studio in LA, Studio D at The Village, so who were we to argue? We hired in the Nevermind drum kit, we filled the place with Christmas tree lights and incense, we sent out for acupuncture. T-Bone wanted us playing live, so we burnt over 60 reels of tape getting a good take. We rented some Swiss Hand Bells for "Road Movies" the song, and sent them back 'cos they weren't "chimey enough".

Now that we never have to pay any of this back, I'm so glad we made the most of it. You wait all your life to record an album, so I'm glad we got a little Brian Wilson when we got there. Bands like us never normally have the luxury of recording in a "money is no object" environment, and we probably never will again, but it was creatively liberating to do it once. Yes, there were a lot of engineers, all of whom we loved, but apart from T-Bone's daily exhortations to further madness, the one constant factor in both the recording and the mixing was Rick Will, whose laid-back zen intensity and enormous cigars were the prime movers in making our record sound like it does. Check out Ben Harper's "Strawberry Fields" (I Am Sam) to hear the sonic similarities.

Did Ryan Adams really give you "Choked Up" because you got him back to a hotel for a beer?? Has he been Chris Hillman to your Buffalo Springfield? And do you still bump into him?

Rick (Will) also recorded "Pneumonia", which no-one had heard at the time, and was playing Tim his showreel after hours one night when he came across "Choked Up". We all loved it, and were under pressure to record a cover (I think at this stage it was "Time In A Bottle", yawn), so we leapt at the chance to do something great and, for all we knew, never to be heard again. We cranked out a version with little thought for the real words or chords, and it kind of stuck. When we met Ryan a year later, he had the good grace not to be too pissed off with us. He tried to show me how to play it, but I was too drunk to remember the words the next day. Through the haze of Bushmills we did write a song together, which may or may not surface someday. He has since become quite busy, so no, we don't really see him around anymore. Reggie forgot to invite us to his Oscar bash, but there's always next year, I suppose...

Where does Phil Jupitus fit into the story?

Jupitus (that's a double l in Phill, my lad), was the first and probably still the only person to play us on the radio. He got us in for a GLR session in -oh God -1994. He was by turns garrulous and avuncular, and will receive the dubious honour of our second album ahead of the pack as a result.

What are your plans for a UK tour or even a record release?
And lastly, is there a schedule for the next record or is that some way off?

As for release plans, we just don't know. We are waiting for our visas, and so cannot leave the country until they say yes or no (our mate Nick Jago from BRMC is stuck in a similar position). We may forge ahead with a UK release of the next record, as the red tape around "Road Movies" is proving hard to get rid of. The best way to monitor our progress is to register at minibarmusic.com, or minibarsfans.com, which is spookily better informed about us than we are. We will be back, that much is for sure, but we just can't say when.

From Americana UK
Originally published April 2, 2002


Last updated: Oct 01, 2006 - 04:52 PM PDT

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