Mini Mansions: Back from the brink

A guy walks into a bar and asks for 10 shots of the establishment’s finest single malt scotch. The bartender sets him up, and the guy takes the first shot in the row and pours it on the floor. He then takes the last shot in the row and does the same. The bartender asks, “Why did you do that?” And the guy replies, “Well the first shot always tastes like crap, and the last one always makes me sick!” 

Need we go on? An age-old joke with an infinite number of formats and punchlines, where the barman or an unlucky customer is often the victim of a hideously cringeworthy punchline. But what if the joke was actually on the guy? The guy that walks into the bar in search for love, the guy that finds love in said bar, the guy that then has to work through the relationship and the resulting trials and tribulations. In this case, the result is less so a joke that gets the odd chuckle from a proud grandparent or unknowing grandchild, but instead a pop album verging on disco-rock that maps out the relationship of Mini Mansions’ frontman Mikey Shoes exactly as it is played out, as he explains us to us from his L.A. home as it verges on 1am.

“The title is basically the opening line to the record. Not literally but conceptually. It’s about a relationship I had that started off fantastic as they do but ended poorly. We wrote it and recorded it in real time. It spans the beginning till the end of the relationship. It was a very interesting process to have to change songs or lyrics kind of like in the middle of it as the relationship was changing. “Guy Walks Into A Bar…” is just the beginning of what most young men and women do. Go to a bar and try to meet somebody.”

And on their latest single, ‘Hey Lover’, featuring The Kills’ Alisson Mosshart, this theme, concept, idea, whatever you want to call it, is clear for all to see. A conversation between a man and a woman as their relationship comes to a close. For Mikey, Alisson Mosshart was the perfect candidate to duet with. 

“I’ve been friends with her for a long time now. The Kills took Mini Mansions out 7 years ago. We supported their tour and I’ve done a lot of shows with Queens with The Kills as well. They’re just good friends, we’re all part of the same family.”

When Mini Mansions collaborate with another artist, they tend to produce their best stuff. Before the latest experiment with Mosshart, the trio spent time working with Brian Wilson and Alex Turner in the past, but without trust, these partnerships may not have worked, they may never have even happened. Mikey Shoes prefers to know someone before working with them.

“I like to bring someone in that I can trust, have a dialogue with and feel comfortable about the words and my feelings and my hates and all that shit.” And that was most certainly the case with Mosshart, “I trust her, because we’re friends, I trust her and I know her sensibilities, the way she works and so I knew she’d be a perfect fit and we’re lucky to have her on this track.”

It takes a lot of faith to simply bring someone else into the circle, but it takes, even more, to give fellow artists the freedom and faith to put their own lyrics into one of your songs too. However, when that fellow artist is a friend you’ve known for over a decade it becomes slightly easier. And when that friend is a certain Alex Turner, you can relax that little bit more, as Mikey recalls from 2015 when Mini Mansions collaborated with Turner for ‘Vertigo’.

“We wanted some kind of rapping element I guess, whatever you want to call it, something that’s fluid is a better term for it and there’s no person more fluid in their words and lyrical delivery in rock’n’roll. That was the same thing we sat down and gave him full trust, he wrote all those words that’s his verse, we gave him the melody and he went at it. I think that mutual trust fully worked out.”

And since then, the relationship between the L.A. trio and the Sheffield quartet has blossomed into a brotherhood. 

“They’ve taken us on a bunch of tours a couple years back, we did three tours this year and last year and it’s gotten a lot better, their fans are really open to us and give us a lot of love, then off stage it’s just like hanging out with your friends. It’s fun, like Helders came out to play a tune with us and it’s just fun to be able to do that and have that camaraderie.”

AM even pinched Tyler Parkford on their Tranquility Base tour, whilst Zach Dawes was called upon by Turner and Miles Kane to play bass in The Last Shadow Puppets. These touring commitments with other bands, and Mikey’s own commitments to Queens of the Stone Age, mean Mini Mansions fans have to be patient for new material. But the long breaks in between writing, recording and playing as Mini Mansions does have its benefits.

“It is nice once you’ve spent two years with a group of guys to then split off and have another two years with another group of guys that keeps you fresh. You learn a lot from other experiences and bring it into this band and I think that’s really helpful and helps you to progress in ways that you might not have been able to before.”

And whilst Mikey’s spent 13 years with Queens…, Mini Mansions still feels like home, after all, this is three childhood friends making music and touring the world together. How could it not? 

“I’ve known Zach since I was 11 years old so there is that sense of home and just like we know everything about each other and everything we’re gonna do and what pisses each other off and makes each other laugh so there is that sense of these guys are my best friends and have been since I was 11 years old so it’s always going to be like that.”

There’s a family dynamic to the group, as Mikey explains, laughing before he attempts to dissect the three differing personalities. 

“You could say I’m the Dad, I’m the strict Dad of the group, I’m real neurotic and cautious and also don’t give a fuck but also very cautious and I like to laugh at the other dudes, I’m the laugher. Zach is the comic relief. I don’t think he really cares about too much except joking around so that’s a good thing, that’s the best part about him, he’s definitely the comic relief. And Tyler is the wild card you never know what the fuck Tyler is going to do or is doing. You’d never guess some of the crazy shit that comes out of his mouth and also out of his brain as well. He’s a genius.”

Despite seeming like a family, like a brotherhood with an unbreakable bond or pact, Mini Mansions were on the brink last summer. “

It was a weird time we weren’t totally done with the record but we were starting to get into the mixing and also having some interpersonal band troubles and existential crises wondering if we should be a band.”

But thankfully, that time in the studio to see whether it all still worked produced an EP, an EP that was named as 2018’s best by yours truly, that sees an eclectic mix of disco-anthems and gritty punk rock collide together. 

“We chose the songs that were going to be best represented on a whole piece of art. We didn’t want to put out an EP that was like, here’s a single and three throwaways… It was the best way possible on a four song record to take you on a journey and those four songs were the best to represent that.” And EPs are something Shuman wants to see more of in the world. “I think that Eps should be welcomed and probably done more these days for this ADD world that we live in you don’t always need to come out with a full record and put all your eggs in that basket.”

Despite the organised chaos and rewarding randomness of ‘Works Every Time’, Mikey ensures us that Guy Walks Into A Bar… is much more coherent, more unified. It’s one collective piece rather than the EP, which was “a little schizophrenic”.

Following this slight hiccup, it’s back to business as usual. With a new album on the way and a return to the UK, the band are feeling fresh and are ready to put on a show, it’s time to suit up. 

“We wear the suits because it’s like, you’re going to work and put on a show. Let’s suit up and go out there and do something intentional and real. The suits, it makes you feel good on stage, it makes you feel like you’re going to work and to do something. I’m a big fan of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and when I see them go out there and they’re all in suits not only do they look very handsome but also it’s like watching men go to war, there’s something to that that I’ve always been drawn to. And it unifies us too.”

And whilst you may presume an L.A. rock band may have their own personal designer and tailor, and whilst they do to some extent, New York’s Sarah Baker having made the odd custom suit for the boys, they often pick up their stage garments from high-street shops or an old vintage store. 

“We’ve had suits that have been made for us if we want something specific, we’ll go get it but you can find some great shit, vintage shit, new shit that surprisingly fits off the rack.”

Whilst the music comes first, being a musician has always been about the full package, but this is true nowadays more so than ever. The artwork, the videos, the looks – it’s all a vital part of being a band and this is something Mini Mansions are very aware of. As Mikey speaks about the suits, you can tell how important this part of the act is to him and the band. 

“We’ve always been conscious about the artwork that’s paired with the music because I think that is and has always been a really important part of records. You used to get these vinyls, you didn’t use to get to look at pictures of people on Instagram and on social media all you knew about them was this record cover so you’d have to sell the band and the person on this imagery so we’ve always been into that in terms of imagery and artwork and videos.”

Words by Johnny Rogerson

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