BOOKS FULL OF WORDS UNDERLINED
Feature: Play Philly: Survivors
By Chris Cameron
British roots-rockers Minibar have navigated the many perils of the music industry to arrive in Philly with a new album and an opening slot tour with Pete Yorn
If there’s one lesson that the members of Minibar have learned, it’s how to survive the music biz. The quartet’s latest album, Desert After Rain, blares with an all-on assault of rootsy melodies about heartache and rejuvenation.
The band (vocalist Simon Petty, bassist Sid Jordan, guitarist Tim Walker, and drummer Malcolm Cross) moved from London to LA in 1998 in search of listeners that would appreciate their roots sound.
“Our sound was very unfashionable in England in the late ’90s,” Petty says while en-route to a show in San Diego. “We were influenced by Wilco and Neil Young. We had pedal-steel guitars and three-part harmonies in the end of the Brit-pop era.”
They played a showcase in LA and were signed within two weeks by Universal Records. The major label signing was a dream come true for the band.
“We made the record with [producer] T. Bone Burnett and we recorded in this big, expensive studio. When our debut record [Road Movies] was finished, it wasn’t what Universal had expected and it never received the push that it needed.”
Minibar’s major-label experience was short lived, but Petty gives no hint of regret.
“It was good for us in the end,” he says. “We were freed to pursue a career making records that we liked.”
In 2003, the band released its sophomore album, Fly Below the Radar, on indie Foodchain Records. Minibar’s affiliation with Foodchain was also short lived.
With 2007’s Desert After Rain, the band has taken back complete artistic control and released the album independently.
“We’re the cockroaches of rock,” Petty jokes. “We’ve done the major labels, the indie labels, and the self-release and we’re still going strong — it’s sheer bloody mindedness.”
The disk is being sold at shows and over the internet at cdbaby.com.
“We just received our first check for digital downloads,” Petty says. “It’s nice when you actually own your songs.”
The band is also receiving placements in film and television shows (The O.C., Nip/Tuck.) The loud, aggressive, kiss-off song, "Can I Call You a Cab?" was featured in an episode of ABC’s Men In Trees.
“It was mixed so low, I couldn’t hear it the first time,” Petty says.
As Petty says all of this, he points out that he is traveling in a van with his mates. Someone in the van is asking for cereal.
“Malcolm, our drummer, likes to bring designer cereal with him,” Petty says.
“Optimum Rebound!” Malcolm shouts.
“To help him rebound in the morning,” Petty says.
The guys have a pretty good spirit for being crammed into a van, traveling around the country.
Perhaps it’s that “sheer bloody-mindedness” that Petty speaks of that landed the band an opening slot on Pete Yorn’s tour, and a gig working as both his recording band and touring band.
“We met Pete a few years back,” Petty says. “Actually, both our debut albums were released on the same day and we were playing some of the same clubs, so we got to know each other. “He likes British ’80s indie music, and we were all British ’80s indie kids, so there was that connection as well.”
In 2003, Yorn asked the band to record The Buzzcock’s "Ever Fallen in Love" on the Shrek II soundtrack. Since then, the band has been backing Yorn on his tours.
“There’re six of us on stage,” Petty says. “It’s a full-on attack — it’s loud and energetic with all guns blazing. Our roadies love it too. They have to move like one amp or something to the other side of the stage between our sets.”
This is Minibar’s second time in nine years playing in Philly. Odds are they might not be back in town anytime soon so don’t miss them.
Minibar performs with Pete Yorn on March 17 at 8:30 p.m. at The Electric Factory. Cost is $20. Call 215-627-1332.
March 14, 2007