Mini Mansions have just released their second album, The Great Pretenders. PETER HODGSON reports.
You know what they say. ‘You have all your life to write your first record and six months to write the second’.
Los Angeles trio Mini Mansions – Michael Shuman, Zach Dawes and Tyler Parkford – have managed to sidestep the ‘sophomore curse’ pitfall by both choice and fate: all three band members have plenty going on outside the band, including multi-instrumentalist Shuman’s other gig, Queens Of The Stone Age.
Their 2010 self-titled debut album was an emotive, eclectic release which wandered around between various genres while tying them together with an overall psychedelic tinge. Five years later and the band has released the follow-up, The Great Pretenders. And while there’s still a sense of ‘60s-ness about the record, there’s more of the new wave pastiche hinted at by the debut. It’s more direct and more pop, yet also more complex and more nuanced.
“This is just how it evolved,” Shuman says. “It just constantly evolves. I don’t know if you heard our first EP we put out but the first record is a world different from that, and this is different from the first record. It’s just naturally becoming more comfortable in our roles in the band – especially for me. I mean, I didn’t even play drums before I started the band, and I have a better idea now about how I want my drums to sound. I think the same goes for Zach and his (guitar effects) pedal board. This is a very dark record lyrically, but musically we wanted to make it more upbeat and more fun to play live than our previous record did,” Shuman says.
One particularly noticeable evolution in the band’s sound is the prominence of the drums. “Most of the records I like to listen to are very rhythm section-centric and heavy, and that’s the way I like a lot of my mixes too. I like Beatles mixes where the rhythm section is not that loud, but I really like to listen to mixes with loud drums.”
The album was recorded at Woody Jackson’s Vox Recording Studios in Los Angeles, one of the oldest studios in LA. But it turns out that sonically, one of the most distinctive elements of the band’s sound is one of the simplest.
“One thing we did that I’ve done on the last few recordings and which is really strange and doesn’t make sense to anybody but it really works is, there was this 20” Gretsch concert tom that we stacked on top of this other floor tom, and we use my floor tom as my kick. So when you stack two drums on top of each other and just hit the one, you get this sound that’s super-deep and super-thuddy. And that’s just something weird that we tried and now I’ve been doing it the last three times I recorded.”
There are a couple of notable guests on the album; Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson and Arctic Monkeys frontman, Alex Turner. “I should first say that I didn’t actually sit in a room with Brian Wilson and work with him,” Shuman clarifies. “The process started because Zach was asked to play bass on the new Brian Wilson record. He played on a song and it went really well so he asked Brian to return the favour and sing on our record.”
So the band sent Wilson the song Any Emotions to work with. Wilson, who likes to work alone, sent back his parts.
“He gave us a lot of stuff,” Shuman says. “You don’t like cutting Brian Wilson but we had to. He gave us so much stuff and it was all amazing and brilliant. Five-part harmonies everywhere. Vintage Brian Wilson. So in the end I didn’t sit in the room with him but honestly, it’s still just as crazy to have him on your record and have it forever. It’s wild.”