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Interview: Mini Mansions

Photo by Clay Lerner

On Wednesday, I braved freezing temperatures and unnecessary traffic from Detroit to Columbus to witness my first Mini Mansions performance. Lured in by Queens of the Stone Age bassist, Mikey Shoes aka Michael Shuman, I fell hard upon my first listen of their cover of "Heart of Glass" by Blondie. Consisting of three sharply dressed men, the ballsy harmonies in their perfect show were seemingly tighter than their pants. Tyler (keyboardist, guitarist, and vocalist), for some reason, took time out of his day to answer my questions about Mini Mansions, Alex Turner, and his current go-to album.

Motor City Blog: Where did the concept and sound of Mini Mansions come from? You don't sound like any other artists coming out of L.A. currently.

Tyler Parkford: Well, we had this dreamy lure that we were going for but not a specific concept.  if anything, we wanted our work to be regimented by the instrumental limitations we enforced (bass, keys, cocktail kit drums).  Michael (Shuman) and I had been writing our own lo-fi material way before all this, so we did have a basic idea of the strange terrain laid out for us, but no idea how we'd navigate it at first.

MCB: Upon first hearing about Mini Mansions, roughly a year or so ago, the very first track that came up on YouTube was the cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass", why that particular song?

TP: Michael had this sort of epiphany listening to it from his car radio, like wanting to watch a sped-up party in slow-mo. Blondie's version is like a manic disco ballad littered with hopelessness, so we simply accentuated that same melancholy from our own side of the discotheque by slowing down the mirror ball and dimming the lights a lot more.  

MCB: Let's talk about the full-length album. Doing research I did see Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys and Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys are taking part. How does a band get these two to appear on an album, even after going on a tour with Arctic Monkeys?

TP: We're all good homies with the Monkeys, so Alex was in and out of the studio bringing beers and treats and jokes and spicy conversation.  We had an open verse on this song Vertigo that we were trying to fill with a sort of hip hop English alter ego, and we thought Alex would be perfect.  He loved the tune so he went forward and wrote the words/melody and laid it down raw.  Turned out perfect.  As for Brian Wilson, that was mainly through (guitarist) Zach Dawes.  He'd been doing a lot of session work for TBone and other people and got asked to play bass on one of Brian's new songs for an upcoming record.  Zach actually had known him before through family friends, so they hit it off.  Brian ended up being really down with what we were writing and was more than happy to sing on this pseudo-dream-pop tune called "Any Emotions".  Still feels like a dream.  

MCB: After this tour with Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, you're playing a show with The New Pornagraphers and then on quite a few dates with Royal Blood, are there any plans to include Alex Turner on the road since these dates are all in the UK?

TP: Well, Alex is a scientific enigma that no one can tame, explain or plan for, he just shows up. One can only await his next manifestation and be prepared for the effects.    

MCB: Enough about Alex Turner. Is there a date in 2015 when we should expect your debut album?

TP: The specifics have yet to be 100 percent verified, but early March is planned to be our summit.  

MCB: Is there a certain theme that runs along with "The Great Pretenders"?
TP: It came from a lyric I wrote in a song called "Ordinary Man".  We all gravitated towards it immediately.  It felt both alarmingly simple and intriguingly undefined, like the title to a Steinbeck novel never finished or a historical mythology created by other beings to exemplify the (late) human race.  It’s hard not to apply a title like that to everything, but in context with the record, it has a lot to do with this impossible union between the constant refining of personal identity and the search for truth outside of that, or the costs of choosing one over the other before we die.  

MCB: What is your go-to album currently?

TP: "Ruins" by Grouper.  Its taking me everywhere. 

MCB: What are the best and worst things about touring? 

TP: These are all new songs so it’s really gratifying to perform them every night in front of a completely new mob of strangers, I love to zone out on the road, on that 80 mph meditation tip.  Don't even mind the late-night roll-away beds, feels like sleep-away camp for adults.  I really really really miss my bunny though.  He probably doesn't even remember me by now.      

Tour rolls on without a stop in Detroit, but if a road trip out of the city is on your mind, they are more than worth the gas money. Here is their dreamy latest single, "Death is a Girl".