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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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The Mint Chicks

The Mint Chicks After cleaning up at the New Zealand Music Awards last year, The Mint Chicks have eloped to Portland, Oregon. Salient Music Co-Editor, Sophie Barclay, gets the low down from front-man Ruban Nielson on their humble beginnings in Orewa, their epic stage antics, and their recent relocation to the city with more strip clubs per capita than Las Vegas.

SB: The Mint Chicks hail from Orewa; home of the newly built, somewhat unsightly apartment block shaped like a fish, and that infamous café with unlimited icecream flavours… How was it growing up there?

Ruban Nielson: It might be a bit misleading to say I grew up there. Mike and Paul grew up on the Hibiscus Coast but Kody and I only spent the end of high school there. Although my Dad and sister still live there, I only lived in the area for a year, and yet the friends I made there are the ones I still hang out with the most. For some reason that area and those years had a massive impact on me. I started playing the guitar and making music for the first time there. There was a lot of time spent walking around Orewa loitering and laughing our heads off at stuff. Like a lot of small towns, it creates a situation where although there aren’t many interesting people, the ones who do happen to be interesting are completely off the hook. It was a crazy time for messing around with music.

SB: When did you guys start playing music together?

RN: It was around this time we first started making music with the guys in the band and other people in our circle of friends. We had a few bits and pieces. We were messing around with tape loops, a Roland W30, envelope filters, delay pedals, feedback, punk rock, whatever. Like I said, there was this small population of weirdoes at Orewa College and we started to flock together. The kind of music we were making reminds me a lot of some of the young bands you see around now, like Bang! Bang! Eche! or the DHDFD’s. That’s why those bands appeal to me so much, because I can see that they’re probably that same group at their school.

SB: You’ve had a pretty impressive musical career to date: being signed to Flying Nun, playing support for bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the White Stripes and winning the category of Best Band last year at the New Zealand Music Awards. What were some of your career highlights before you moved to Oregon?

RN: I’ll always remember Kody chopping the sponsor’s banner up at the Big Day Out (2005). That show was probably the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve ever had. The banner really annoyed us. It was obnoxious the way they’d have it hanging in front of the band so you could only see from the waist up, so we decided to get Kody to chop the thing up with a chainsaw. Putting on masks and playing as our own support band (Pussy Glitch) one tour was awesome. Looking at the crowd getting angry and yelling for the Mint Chicks when it was us the whole time was a crack up every night. Winning the b-net for best production for Crazy?(Yes!Dumb?No!) with my Dad and Kody. It’s funny to talk about these moments as career highlights because I feel that what I’ve been spending my life doing is trying to avoid getting a career!

SB: Last year Micheal Logie left the group. How have you been finding playing as a trio? Do you ever get bassists to come and play shows and fill in Michael’s part? Have you had to adapt the sound of the Mint Chicks?

RN: The sound has had to change a bit. I’m playing the bass now with an octave so it sounds like a guitar (sounds convoluted I know), but playing as a trio definitely has its advantages. It’s a bit like cutting any group down, you have the opportunity to become more efficient and streamlined. Mike is coming from London to play this latest tour with us, so it will be interesting to show the old band and the new band back to back. There was never any plan to replace Mike. Better for now to just leave The Mint Chicks as The Mint Chicks.

SB: …Who have recently located to Portland, Oregon, which is commonly known as Beervana, Brewtopia and Beertown, for the sheer number of its micro-breweries. How do local beers compare to the NZ brew?

RN: I haven’t had the chance to get into the beer thing here. I hear they have banana beer and all kinds of stuff. I guess I haven’t really been that focused on beer! I’m not a real big drinker actually, but for some reason I am jonesing for a Montieth’s.

SB: Things must be pretty easy for you and Kody with dual citizenship. How does Paul (Roper, drummer) manage?

RN: Paul’s on a visa. He’ll have renew it every once and a while. Having dual citizenship is a big help as it saves a lot of money in visas. If we weren’t dual citizens I’m not sure we’d bother. We can make music wherever we are. The best thing about dual citizenship right now is that I can vote. I’ll give you one guess who I’m voting for.

SB: You came to Portland as a largely unknown band (back to the days of 2001 in Auckland!)… How well have you guys been received in Portland, and the States, and how have you been getting yourselves out there in the local scene?

RN: We’ve been on the road a bit so we’ve only played one small show in Portland, but so far things are going at a good pace. We went out to Las Vegas to play a show with the Black Lips and we played at South by Southwest in Austin and some other bits and pieces here and there, but to be honest we’ve kind of become hermits and we’re working really hard on writing and rehearsing every day. We’ve been exploring the scene here and getting back to the basics of discovering bands we like and all that. It seems like word is getting around about this band that is big in New Zealand but unknown here, though I just think that our time might be better spent in these early days indulging in pushing the music somewhere weird.

SB: What is the music scene like there at the moment?

RN: I’m still trying to figure it out! The city has so much and we’ve only scratched the surface (to be fair to us, we’ve been in the basement making music most of the time). As far as the kind of music that I like, it’s got amazing stuff. There is a label here called Dirtnap Records which has this incredible roster of bands, most of them from here. I can’t wait to get into that stuff in a big way. I have seen some great stuff from out of town while I’ve been here too: St Vincent, The Liars, No Age, there is so much good music coming through. I feel like I’ve been slack because even though I’ve been to loads and loads of shows already I’ve still managed to miss some incredible stuff.

SB: You mentioned a prominent underground hip-hop scene in your press release and the SXSW write up states that, among other achievements, you guys have “scrapped all the haters”. Do you think the hip-hop scene has had a deep effect on the Mint Chicks? Do the Mint Chicks see themselves as ‘playerhaters’?

RN: We aren’t haters at all. I don’t know how to have enemies. It’s just not part of my personality. I think I’m too forgetful to harbour a grudge. The reference to the hip-hop scene was because we live in a black neighbourhood here in Portland, and the person who wrote the press release figured that this is probably where the underground hip-hop in Portland comes from. He’s probably right. We haven’t really scrapped all the haters; most haters are cowardly creatures.

SB: Portland is also known for its “Keep Portland Weird” festival. Have you experienced any ‘wacky’ occurrences since your arrival?

RN: Is it? Well, everything is crazy here. It’s the USA. It’s the ‘normal’ people you’ve got to look out for.

SB: SXSW must have been an amazing experience for you guys. You guys played here, alongside legends such as The Buzzcocks, The Stooges, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, as well as other NZ bands such as Dimmer and So So Modern. How was it?

RN: SXSW did feature those other bands, but it is a huge thing spanning a week, hundreds of venues and thousands of bands. If it was in Auckland, we would play at the Kings Arms and the Stooges would play the St James theatre, while Lee Scratch Perry was at Galatos, for example. Meanwhile there are venues in between with five band bills in each one, so it’s not like the BDO or a festival like that, it’s more like Mardi Gras or something.

SB: Did you guys catch any amazing up and coming bands?

RN: No Age.

SB: The Mint Chicks are getting set to head back to New Zealand and getting ready to play ‘Vodafone Homegrown’ with the cream of New Zealand musical talent. Are you looking forward to it?

RN: I’m looking forward to the whole tour. I can’t wait to buy One Square Meal and Arano juice and all that stuff you can’t get here. Also driving around with your friends laughing your head off is the best thing ever.

SB: Is this the first time you’ve played in NZ as a three-piece? How do you expect that to go down?

RN: Mike will be there so we don’t have to deal with that yet, but we’ll want to have a portion of the set where we play new stuff as a three-piece. It will be the best of both worlds for this particular tour, although I think people will dig the trio a lot.

SB: You’re headlining the Kiwi Stage, which means you’ll be playing at the same time as Shihad, Tiki and Concord Dawn. Do you have any stunts planned to ensure that you draw the crowds away from the other stages?

RN: A lot of Mint Chicks fans probably won’t skip us for the acts we’re clashing with. It should be a good show. Apart from the chainsaw shenanigans we’ve never planned the things that happen at our shows. There will be no early warning! This may be the last time to see us play as a four-piece AND the first time to see us a trio.

SB: What can people expect from your set: have you got a bunch of new material?

RN: Yes. We’ll have a bit of both trio and quartet action at all the shows I think.

SB: And what else have you guys got coming up?

RN: We’re turning ourselves into something different to a band. The days of your parents’ rock stars are over. What you should expect from us is a torrent of sound, colour and energy. When it comes, it will be entertaining, instant, cheap, and plentiful. The first thing you should see from us is a new song, then the New Zealand tour http://myspace.com/themintchicks, then the Den of the Cannibals.

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