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The Mint Chicks: Troubleshooting Unhappiness

Chris Walker



SALIENT Music Editor Hateful Chris talks to Ruban Neilson from the Mint Chicks.
Salient: So, you just played the Silver Scrolls, how was that? What’s next?
Ruban Neilson: It was cool. A good experience, I guess. We did an Anika Moa cover, ‘Stolen Hill’. We hadn’t much time to put it together, we were really busy that week. We did some really intense rehearsals for the last three days. We’ll probably talk about adding it to the set-list for a while. It went well. She was into it!
At the moment we’re planning some more stuff, Wellington and the South Island in November. We’ll do a couple of Christchurch shows, Real Groovy in-stores, that kind of thing, Dunedin, probably another show at the San Francisco Bathhouse. So we can get to the South Island before the end of the year, before heading to Australia in December when the album comes out there. That’s the current plan, it’s not set in stone, hopefully we’ll make it out to Perth this time, we’d rather go there than go over the east coast for, like, the eighth time.
S: So let’s talk about the new album, it’s a bit different from the last one.
R: It’s like the first album was a sketchbook, this one is an exhibition of paintings, a lot more work has gone into it. It’s just more polished.
S: Did you feel much pressure with this one, it seemed like there was a lot riding last time around?
R: Yeah, I think that’s why that one turned out like it did. It sucks to have to perform under pressure. We knew what was expected of us, so we kind of did the exact opposite. For this album we felt almost no pressure. In a similar way to how we put together the first EPs, not much expectation, we could just concentrate on making the best music we could make. The weirdest thing was that
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Warner bought our record company (Flying Nun) from underneath us, so for a long time during the recording it was like, “Hey, maybe this won’t even come out!” But it didn’t worry us, it was just even less pressure. I think it worked out really well, in that we could put out a really pure record.
S: Was it a lengthy process?
R: It was eight months of really hard work, definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on, and Cody (the singer) mixed it with dad (Chris Neilson, Ruban and Cody’s father), he worked really hard. [Cody] was only getting about three hours sleep by the end of it. He’s still got this computer tan. Sitting in front of the computer, he’s turned ‘translucent’, which is pretty intense for a half-Hawaiian guy! It was really hard work, but really rewarding. The reason Cody was only getting three hours sleep was that he was staying up all night working on it then he’d just get up again because he was too excited to stay sleeping. We couldn’t stop working hard until it was finished and then we sent it off to New York to get mastered, and that was probably a good idea as well because it’s good to have someone’s else’s ears to do the final touches. When you’ve been doing allnighters your ears can get warped and it was good to hand it over to someone at the end. Howie Weinberg, he mastered Nevermind you know? So if he couldn’t do the best job then who could?
S: I really like the art on the new album. You know, the first thing I thought when I saw it was: Mushrooms.
R: Mushrooms and skulls always seem to go together. (laughs) Yeah, it is kind of more mushrooms than acid. It’s got that “everything ‘s about to slightly go wrong any second” sense to it.
S: I remember being quite disappointed with the F**k the Golden Youth art when that came out. The immediate reaction was: Where did all the colour go! I wasn’t a fan of the black and white.
R: Probably my one regret with the last album is the artwork. I tried to do the whole thing on photoshop and I’m not very good with it. I should have got the pages scanned, because it kind of ended up changing it so much that it didn’t seem very ‘Mint Chicks’. But that goes with that whole period of being spiteful and trying to deliver what people weren’t expecting to happen at the time. That was the state of mind that we were in.
S: There’s a quote on your website that says punk is a way of: “troubleshooting modern forms of unhappiness”. Could you elaborate on how you relate that to your music?
R: I guess like a lot of people, in fact probably everyone, I was a bit of a troubled teenager. It’s a really weird time of life, and I see pop music and the teenage years as being really intertwined, certainly rock ‘n’ roll and the music for that generation. Looking back at the last ten years and all the things and troubles that I’ve gotten through, one of the things that was at the forefront of my mind are friends that I’ve lost through various recurring problems, particularly drug addiction and suicide. People who went through the same things as me but didn’t make it through. Those things have been a big part of my life, and the album touches on those all the way through .How to get something positive out of all the negativity. You can’t just write a negative album about negative things. We didn’t want to do that because that’s kind of what a lot of spoilt American kidbands do, that whole emo thing, “I don’t have any problems but I’ll write a really depressing album.” I feel in NZ it’s kind of the opposite of that. We’ve got huge depression, and our famously high
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youth suicide rate.
S: I guess with angry and heavier forms of music it can be easy to lapse into nihilism?
R: Yeah, and the last thing that anyone in this country needs is nihilism. So it was a way not to deny that these things exist, cause that’s bullshit, but trying to work through these truths and give people things to hold on to. So that it might actually mean something. The next part in the bio goes, Cody’s lyrics, “don’t cut your wrists you’ve got beautiful fists”, the song ‘Funeral Day’ is basically an anti-suicide song. My take on that is just “Why kill yourself, you’re going to die anyway? You’ve got plenty of time to die.” The album is dedicated to a friend of ours who died, that was the catalyst for a lot of the album. The Howard Devoto quote seemed powerful and seemed to fit the band, and will probably stay in my mind at least with us into future albums beyond these issues, troubleshooting further problems down the line later in life.