Interview: Mint Condition marks 20 years with new music

Thanks to societal trends evolving at the speed of a hash tag and many performers counting hot hooks or well-placed arm-candy to stay relevant, it’s easy to see why  longevity is considered such an accomplishment. If a couple of hits were Mint Condition’s only goal, they would’ve been a memory long before reaching the 20-year-mark----luckily for the fans, however, the St. Paul MN-based five-man collective remains in it to win it, and their eigth studio CD, Music @ The Speed Of Life, continues to cement a long-established legacy of synergized and soulfully-rendered musicianship.

Thanks to societal trends evolving at the speed of a hash tag and many performers counting hot hooks or well-placed arm-candy to stay relevant, it’s easy to see why  longevity is considered such an accomplishment. If a couple of hits were Mint Condition’s only goal, they would’ve been a memory long before reaching the 20-year-mark----luckily for the fans, however, the St. Paul MN-based five-man collective remains in it to win it, and their eigth studio CD, Music @ The Speed Of Life, continues to cement a long-established legacy of synergized and soulfully-rendered musicianship.

With new tour dates getting finalized and new music to promote, calling them ‘busy’ is an understatement, but that didn’t keep band members Ricky Kinchen, Lawrence El and Stokley Williams from making time to discuss their latest TVOne venture, how they created ….Life and what’s kept them a unit while many of their peers have fallen apart…..

 

MELODY CHARLES- Congratulations on snagging that first-ever Grammy nomination this year gentlemen, it was so overdue. What was that like for you all?

STOKLEY WILLIAMS-  “The door is open, we’re walking through it and just continuing to do what we do. We believe in what we’re doing, but to have others who aren’t the hardcore fanbase seeing that and getting that kind of recognition from our peers….it’s great.”

MC- It was also wonderful to see you all onstage last spring at the Trumpet Awards paying tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire. How did that epic moment occur?

SW- “Actually, it came from Verdine White hating the whole Soul Train tribute, so….”

MC-I agree with him 1000%: you were on-stage what, two minutes tops? AND sharing the mic with Cee-Lo Green? It was blasphemous!

SW- “That’s why they hand-picked us for the Trumpet Awards tribute:  they loved what we did and said  it was the best one they’d ever received in their 40 –plus years that they’ve been a band. Obviously, their musical DNA is in all of us, so anytime we can collaborate with them, we gladly celebrate their legacy of musiciality.”

MC-Speaking of legacies, since you guys, EW&F and The Roots represent the only bands out there repping for us, does that create a burden of sorts?

LAWRENCE EL- “The music is our thing, so it’s not much of a labor----we’ve always done it, so it’s natural for us and it doesn’t pain us. We keep our ears open to trends, but we don’t try to force anything either; so if you hear something like jazz, alternative or hip-hop in the music, that means there’s at least one member listening to that style already, so it comes together naturally and we’re all doing what we love.”

MC- Your latest CD is still keeping the eclectic path, no doubt: what went into creating those songs?

RICK KINCHEN- “For ‘Girl of My Life,’ I thought of DJ Jazzy Jeff immediately because we all had just done the Jill Scott tour:  we had used Ali Shaheed Muhammad before and working with Jazzy was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. Then when Jeff and Stoke were working on ‘SixFortyNine/Changes,’  I told them that they should get (Twin Cities native) Brother Ali to flow on the track. Stoke called him up, he put it down and he was the best choice we could’ve had because no one else could’ve done what he did on that song.”

LE-“You have to experience it as a whole because it’s a celebration of life and all of it’s aspects. It’s supposed to be a journey:  you’re listening to one song and all of a sudden, there’s a left turn here and then the music takes you someplace else. It’s like real life, where it’s going one way and then you wham into something new and you end up in a different place.”

RK- “And I’m not gonna name names or anything, but some of the guys were actucallly going through some hard  personal situations while we were recording, so we had to watch them almost be in tears but still have to put down the track.”

MC- Are you referring to any songs in particular?

RK- “ ‘What I Gotta Do’ and ‘Completely’ are a couple of them: it was like you learning that your husband or S.O. has lied to you about something and you’re upset, but you’ve still gotta go to work that day. It was the same with us, there was a timeline we had to follow and we still had to show up and lay down our parts.”

MC- That adds a different dimension of things for sure. Do you have any favorites or….?

RK- “ ‘Inside The Moment,’ ‘Believe In Us,’ ‘What I Gotta Do,’ ‘Girl Of My Life,’ ‘….Changes….’”

LE- “The detours are what get to me, I just enjoy it as a whole.”

MC- Did you all intend on the 80s vibe by using the ‘alkbox’ on the CD?

RK- “Well, Roger Troutman’s son was one of the original Mint Condition members even before me: we’d actually used the talkbox before T-Pain and all of em’ way back on ‘Definition of a Band.’ It’s more like a a dedication to Roger’s family and wasn’t planned, it just happened like that.”

MC-It’s been awhile since ‘Way Black When’: are you doing another TV project in the near future?

RK- “We just wrapped up an episode ‘Unsung,’ so that should be coming out in a couple of months.”

MC-Wow! What was it like to get profiled on that show? DO you all actually feel ‘unsung’ at this point?

LE- “The approach wasn’t that we’re underrated or that we’ve undergone tragedy, it was more about the struggle of us being of the few R&B bands in music that are still here.They’re speaking to the historical implications and just how incredibile that is to do when everything in the industry is going up against you, so I think the program has done a really good thing. It’s an affirmation of the victories that we’ve been fortunate enough to have and that we’ve been blessed to maintain after all this time.”

 

MC- We can definitely get with that! Speaking of ‘Unsung,’ why do you believe that Mint Condition is still intact when so many other bands that were featured in the series fell apart?

RK-“ I guess since we grew up in MN and we were just more humble, a lot of those issues, like turning folks against each other and fighting over the money…. you’re gonna have problems, and we avoided that from learning from all of the other bands and their mistakes. It does go on, but it just didn’t go down in this band.”

LE –“We just decided from the very beginning to divide the money equally, because if a couple of people make a bunch of money and the rest will make just a little….it’s just not gonna work. We have had people come at us as writers, players, producers, but the group is home and it’s the best outlet for us: we can and do have side projects, so no one feels handicapped. We have that freedom to go and do it all, but for us, Mint is home.”

RK- “And even when I did (get an outside offer), it never amounted to anything (cracks up). When you look at al of those other documentaries, like the one about A Tribe Called Quest, some of their main problems were due to them not being straight up with what they wanted to do and how to do it, but since we’re all open, it’s cool.”

MC-Well, we look forward to that new episode of Unsung and to seeing you back on-stage, congrats again about the great new CD guys, we’re loving it.

RK- “You all are the backbone of all that we do. If it wasn’t for our fans putting out that demand for us to come down and do the shows, we wouldn’t do it. As for the first week sales, we sell more CDs than we do downloads because most fans want to hold that CD in their hands. We definitely need everybody to go out and support  on this one, like that black movie needing those first week receipts at the box office! (cracks up)”

 SW- Our fans have made us broaden more in the way we create music and they keep us aware of what’s happening, from kids like yours to our back-in-the-day fans. It’s about moving into the future, so we have to keep changing things up… that’s what life is.”

 

 
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