In a recent Mary J. Blige interview, she name-checked the Brand New Heavies, Soul II Soul, Omar, as really having influenced her as a young girl listening to the radio in Yonkers….so in terms of the musical relationship between US and UK, which stretches back to the 60s and before, do you guys have any UK influences worthy of mentioning?
Of course, bands such as Led Zeppelin, U2, Coldplay, Radiohead, Level 42, Soul II Soul were and continue to be influences of ours and more recently, the aforementioned artists Laura Mvula, Lianne LaHavas and Omar have our ears tuned into what’s coming out of the UK scene; a vast wellspring of talented musicians, singers, songwriters and producers.
So let’s briefly go all the way back to talk about High School, what were you guys listening to and what were the key moments looking back that brought you all together?
Again, our musical taste is vast, back in the day one of us was on Zapp/Prince/Parliament, another may have been on Herbie Hancock/Kenny Kirkland and yet another was probably listening to Level 42 and Steely Dan – just about anything and everything. In short, our love for making original music brought us together. We were fortunate enough to attend St Paul Central High School which had a heavy Arts programme that included a 16 track recording studio, steel drum orchestra, television and radio production, among other things. After participating in several bands, with endless line-ups, backing many different singers and musicians around the Twin Cities Stokley, O’Dell and Lawrence decided they wanted to form their own unit. And, after the initial lineup failed to bare fruit they linked first with Rick Kinchen who was fresh from Chicago with the dream of one day being a “household name” in the music industry, Jeffrey Allen finishing up his sophomore year of College and Keri Lewis having just graduated St Paul Central High School. Within one year we were signed and on our way!
Having been to Minneapolis, and sampled a little bit of the twin cities music scene, there does seem to be a degree of pride and belonging, maybe even a sense of family – how would you describe it?
There is a definite sense of community: musicians, songwriters, singers and performers that all make up what is known as the Minneapolis Sound. However, now we’re generations into what was started by Prince and several other musicians back in the late 70’s, so it’s grown exponentially, including a very large alternative scene as well.
Prince, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have talked about the fact that their competitiveness drove them on to innovate and develop their sound – who was your competition back in the day?
Good Question. From my standpoint, I always believed we had our own sound, yes we were influenced by the likes of Prince and both Terry and Jimmy, but we always displayed our musicianship as much if not more than anyone. Besides, most of our competition back in the day were singing groups; not bands, we were on an island of sorts, so no “direct” competition.
You’ve described Prince as a mentor – and he in turn has name-checked you in some of his songs, aside from the inspiration, what are the most important things he’s taught you  musically and  about the industry?
Musically, I would say the freedom to be who you are and not to be afraid of it comes to mind, from early on we knew we were musicians first and we needed to embrace that, and I believe we did and still do to this day. Another aspect of his we respected was his ability to control his own artistry, with the internet levelling the playing field to some degree, having the ability to own your masters for instance is more important than ever now.
In terms of any frustrations you might have had with the music industry over the years, how have you had to adapt to survive?
We’ve adapted well, I truly believe in order to maintain what Mint Condition has done with all original members for 20 plus years you have to have made more good decisions than bad, and I believe with most of the decisions over the years we have all managed to consider the “band” more so than any one individual. And, one of the initial thoughts we had when we first started was to split any and all proceeds equally in order to promote some levels of accountability, fairness and longevity: had no idea we’d still be going strong this many years later.
Social media…what’s your view on that?
We embrace all social media! It is the driving force of many industries, especially the arts. Just the promotional aspect alone is huge, it puts the old adage “word of mouth” to shame with it’s ability to reach the masses with one click! On top of that, the real-time features come in handy both before and after live performances by connecting with your fan base. Reaching out to other artists is a lot easier because of social media, nowadays a collaboration or feature on someone’s project is just a “DM” away. And, some of the best pictures I’ve ever seen of the Band have come across via social media. We love it! It’s definitely one of those things you wish you had more time to devote to!
Comparisons with Frankie Beverley & Maze? Live music is clearly where it’s at for you guys…has it helped, given the changes to the music industry and in some way helped the band to survive?
In many ways it’s practically the only way we’ve survived all this time. We always thought that if everything else failed we always had a “dope-ass” live show, and that same live show definitely got us through some lean times through the years. There is nothing like live music; the unpredictability, the dynamics, the skill, the ability to move people through rhythm and words. Music is a universal language, kind of like math.
And we come full circle, to Music at the speed of life! Tell us more about your latest set?
Music @ The Speed of Life was basically something we put together in “real-time”, all songs were written, produced and arranged during a five week period in the middle of the winter in Saint Paul, MN. We decided to do a project that was more immediate and fresh so we got together and came up with the idea to write about the “now” instead of things having to do with our past and or future.
Finally, what are the best ways for UK fans to keep up to date with you?
mintconditionmusic.com is where you will find everything having to do with Mint Condition including links to both Facebook and twitter @mcondition, check us out!
Special thanks to Diane @ RM2 Music www.rm2music.co.uk for the interview
What Kinda Man Would I Be
You Don’t Have To Hurt No More
Breakin My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)