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MINT CONDITION 2011 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
ANALOG BAND IN A DIGITAL WORLD
Phone interview conducted March 31, 2011

During an era of music when most groups fall apart after only one album, Mint Condition drops their 7th studio project aptly-titled 7. SoulMusic.com is back again with some of the members to discuss why they continue to make great R&B music using live instrumentation in this digital age...


Akim Bryant: I'm here with the legendary live R&B band Mint Condition. It was back in 1992 when the world was formally introduced to the five-man band of musicians known as Mint Condition. Their debut single “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” catapulted them to R&B superstardom and they’ve been together ever since—and that’s with all original members some twenty years later. And 7 is the title of their seventh studio album out by the time you hear this interview. SoulMusic.com actually got a chance to catch up with the lead singer, Stokley Williams, toward the end of last year, kind of like a prequel to this interview that focuses more on the album; their new album, 7, again. A shout-out to my colleague Jeff Forman who did that great interview last year. So greetings to you all.

Mint Condition: Thank you, it’s great to be here.

AB: Can you please introduce yourselves individually, please?

Jeffrey Allen: This is Jeffrey, I play keyboards and saxophone.

Lawrence Waddell: This is Lawrence on keys.

Rick Kinchen: And this is Rick—bass and background vocals.

AB: All right—Jeff, Rick and Lawrence. So kicking it off just talking about the album, basically: what does the number seven represent for you guys, besides just being the seventh studio album?

LW: Well, celebrating pretty much twenty years from our first release, that puts an added extra emphasis. So when we talk about 7, we really wanted to celebrate and commemorate having come this far, and made it this far in the business. So it’s 7—and it’s also celebrating the release of the first single too.

AB: Oh, cool, very cool. What is the first song that you guys recorded for 7?

RK: Probably would be “Caught My Eye”.

AB: Okay. Did that help to set the tone for the album or did you guys already have a sense of what you wanted the album to sound like?

RK: Well, we all individually knew what we wanted it to sound like, and then we just had to kind of put it all together. And then what you’re hearing; that’s how it came out.

AB: Okay. So let’s get into some of the actual songs on the album. There’s one in particular that seems to have a pretty interesting theme to it: “Twenty Years Later”. What’s that one about?

RK: “Twenty Years Later” is about… we all got friends that want their lives to be different from what it is—they want it to be better. But your life ain’t gonna get any better if you keep doing the same thing that you’ve been doing twenty years ago. I got a friend that’s just always been on BS just forever, you know? Like when I needed a roommate and he was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, man! I’ll move in—I’ll move in.” This is twenty years ago—and then never showed up—just never showed up. Then I ended up getting kicked out and had to live with my brother, who drinks a lot, so we would get into fights a couple of times a week. And so pretty much… you loan them money, they always asking for money, which you want to help them because people go through hard times and stuff like that, but they never come through—never come through. And then the type of dude that’ll date your ex, you know what I mean? The kind of dude that would marry his best friend’s ex. Like, really? You just have no morals at all. Your job is basically taking from others, man, and I’ll pay you tomorrow.

AB: Yeah, yeah, big time. So is that something that comes from... was it written from personal experience?

RK: Yeah; no doubt, no doubt.

AB: Okay, so it’s basically a true story?

RK: Oh yeah, yeah.

AB: Okay. There’s also another track on this album that should interest your fans, because I think this is your first time actually doing an instrumental track?

RK: No, not our first time.

AB: No, not the first time? Okay.

LW: We have done instrumentals. Mostly we’ve presented them in the form of interludes, where they’d be short—maybe even like a minute long, or something like that—but we wanted to give a little bit more time for this one. As far as fitting with the record, we’ve always been known for being eclectic in having many different influences on the same record, so it kind of goes in with that. I believe Jeffrey wrote that one, didn’t you, Jeff? You want to speak on that a little?

JA: Yeah. So it was just an idea I put down and then Stoke put some stuff on top of it, kind of reminiscent of some of the things we’ve done in the past like Lawrence just spoke on; some of the interludes we’ve done in the past. And it was just stretched out a little longer, that’s all.

AB: Okay. What is the overall writing process like for you guys? Like do you all come together to collaborate, or does it spark with an idea somebody has first?

RK: It’s definitely a lot of different ways. When we’re in soundcheck together, we come up with ideas like that. Sometimes Larry might have an idea and then go over to Stokley’s, and then finish it and then call me over, and I come over. But on this album, 7, basically the first song… what was it? “Can’t Get Away”. I had a drum track that went [imitates rhythm]. Then I had a bassline—bomp, bomp. And then Stokley just hit the keys— And then I had a verse melody: [sings] “All my friends keep telling me/saw you with some dude”. And then I had the hook: [sings] “In my mind girl/can’t get away from you”. And then that’s how that song turned out [laughs].

AB: Okay. It came together.

RK: Yeah, that’s how it came together; yep.

AB: Very cool. Do you guys have some collabos? I know you guys did a collaboration with Kelly Price on this particular album and you’ve done collaborations and stuff in the past, but not that many. But is there a collaboration that you guys would like to do that would shock your fan base?

RK: We’d love to do a track with Prince. And we also did a track with a gentleman on the seventh song on here, in the title song, “7”, with a gentleman named Kay that works with Chris... I believe he’s in Texas, if I’m not mistaken.

AB: You guys have seemed to embrace technology and its effects on the music and just the music industry in general. What is your view on digital music, and especially how it pertains to a band like yourselves when you’re used to doing live shows and that type of thing?

RK: Well, the technology as far as recording—man, it’s like the laptop killed all the big studios. When that piece came out, it killed everything: nobody needs to do a record. Before, when we was recording up in Minnesota at Flyte Tyme, we’d be spending a hundred thousand dollars on just recording an album.

Now you just have a two, three-thousand-dollar computer and a nice preamp. You’ve still got to have some nice things to go along with the computer, and stuff like that. You’ve got to have a preamp and you’ve got to have some plug-ins and you’ve got to have a good mike, so there’s some things you need, but that piece pretty much destroyed a whole industry that people were making money from.

AB: Did you guys prefer the old process, basically, compared to the new?

LW: It’s kind of bittersweet, you know? We totally embrace revolutions in technology and in music; that’s what we’re pretty much about—finding what is novel and new. And we love that, but there is something warm… you never know, maybe one day we’ll decide to use the old analogs. There’s a warmth to the old analog tape way of recording that is hard to get, but it is a nostalgia now, and if we did it it would be maybe one project, or something like that. So yeah, it’s kind of bittersweet. We definitely love what’s going on now but we reminisce about the past too, sometimes.

AB: Okay. That’s fair—that’s fair.

RK: Let me add to that— But we also love saving money too.

AB: Yeah, it is a lot cheaper to record nowadays. Your music has always struck that balance between R&B to jazz to funk to rock. Is that like a conscious thing for you guys when you approach a new album?

LW: Not conscious to include everything, but more conscious not to exclude. Our thing is more to make sure that whatever we want to say artistically, we don’t box ourselves in or inhibit that. So on this album, even as far as the title, we wanted to make sure our title even represented a broad range of artistic ideas where we didn’t box ourselves in by something that wouldn’t be conducive to that.

AB: I think it’s good to note that there are a lot of people who like different genres of music who all come together to listen to a Mint Condition album because it’s not just about the R&B experience.

LW: Thanks.

AB: Now this term gets thrown around a lot—is used loosely a lot when it comes to different groups and things like that—but what does “self-contained” mean to you guys?

JA: Self-contained to us, or to me, means like when you see something on somebody’s CD that says “All songs written, produced, arranged and created by Mint Condition.” Something along those lines where we do… in our case, Rick even takes the pictures that you see throughout the CDs when you open up the CD and see all the pictures. Those are generally taken by Rick, so in our case we take it a step further and we’re just about literally doing everything but printing up the CDs—manufacturing the product.

RK: To add to that, when we first started recording, we were pretty much plugging up everything ourselves—hooking up everything. When we record, we press the Record button. And today and back in the day, there always was somebody—either the producer was in there with an engineer and the engineer would be doing all of the editing and all of that stuff. We’ve always done that throughout our whole career. We had some help here and there on certain songs, but for the most part we plug up every instrument, we mike every drum, we run it through the preamp; so we pretty much do everything. And even focus a little bit more on mixing now, too.

AB: Okay; which is the true definition of being self-contained, definitely. You guys have been together twenty some-odd years. How did that happen? Do you guys have certain mantras or something that you have never compromised through the years so that the music is always at the forefront?

LW: Well—not so much. Maybe there are some unwritten rules we have in there, like you said, but we don’t have anything that we’re like, “Okay, blah-blah, here it is—never go against this.” But generally we are our antidote to each other; the perfect antidote. So when one is kind of getting off the mark—heading off the road—then the others kind of nudge him back. So we do that for each other in all aspects of this self-contained unit, whether it’s in the writing of the music or the creative process or the business side. And we tolerate each other well, because we all—as with anyone—we can get on each other’s nerves from time to time. It becomes, “Are you going to be able to tolerate that?” We put up with each other and we’re willing to come back another day. Even though we may be mad today and walk off, the next day we’ll be back.

AB: Sounds like, basically, teamwork and learning how to work together and not separately.

RK: To add to that, it’s like having five comedians in the band too. When we’re together we definitely have a great time and we laugh and we joke. It’s the funniest thing in the world. And we’ve actually been getting along better than ever, except for a few things here and there where it seems like someone forgot to take their medicine and they just spazz out, and it totally kills the whole mood. But other than that, we get along for the most part.

AB: That’s dope. Congrats on that, because there are a lot of groups that cannot say the same, especially over time.

RK: We’re no different—we’re no different, because we do have our days.

AB: But it seems like you allow yourselves to have those days as opposed to pushing at each other to make it work.

RK: We kind of put it in its perspective. We know that one argument over something is really a trivial matter in the big picture, and it doesn’t mean that we need to break up the whole group because we had a spat about which way to go on a particular song, or something like that. So we don’t blow it out of proportion.

JA: But where the hard part comes in is that you’ve got these five different people from a lot of different walks of life: basically you’ve got “Good Times” and you’ve got “The Jeffersons” and “The Cosbys” all in one group, so you’re gonna have differences with that—especially some of us are great on our instruments and so we have an ego, and then you need medicine too. So it can be challenging and great.

AB: I’ve heard medicine referenced about three or four times already. Is somebody on…?

JA: [Laughs] No, no, no… but we all could use it some days, though—yeah, we all could use it some days.

AB: Understood.

LW: We also know how, when we’re home, we know how to stay away from each other too—that’s part of it too. We’re together so much on the road that we know when we get home, just kind of give it a break; go separate ways. We were just kidding earlier about… basically Rick’s like, “They may not hear from me when I’m in town,” and we were talking about being at the stoplight right next to each other in adjacent lanes and won’t even look the other way and wave or everything. But it works. We won’t even say nothing.

AB: Everybody needs their space. That’s cool. So I know you-all are compared a lot to some of the great live bands, especially in R&B of the past: the Earth, Wind & Fire’s, the Maze’s of the world, and even more contemporarily, the Tony! Toni! Toné!-type of situation. But what I would like to know is, how do you guys differ from groups like that?

LW: Well—musically we have a different voice, that’s for starters. If you hear each of our music, definitely you can distinctly hear the difference in that way. But some of it… it’s funny, because there’s actually more similarities than we realized. We talked to Maurice White when we did a tribute CD for him and Earth, Wind and he told us of a lot of things that they did that were so similar to us. And same with the Tony’s on the “Way Back When” (TV) show that we just did. The Tony’s were on and we had rehearsal with them to perform their songs with them, and it was just like we were in one of our own rehearsals, they were so much like us in some ways. So actually, it’s the similarities that are funnier. You can hear the differences right in the music, but it’s kind of remarkable how much a self-contained band has their similarities.

AB: I would imagine so, because it’s a similar type of situation where people have to support each other and it’s about the live music, and that whole situation. So you guys were picked—selected—by Prince to join him on his Welcome 2 America tour. How was that experience, even just being selected? Was that a surprise to you-all, did you-all see it coming?

RK: It was definitely a surprise that it actually happened. He’d mentioned a few times… he’d seen me out one time and said, “Yeah, I want to get Stoke’s number.” I gave him Stoke’s number and him and Stoke talked a couple times, and there was something—something was born in his head, he had an idea, and we fully didn’t know what it was until we actually got that call to come out and do some shows with him, which was incredible. You’d been watching dude on the Grammys…and now you’re out on tour with him in front of sixty thousand people. It was definitely a highlight of your career. Everything’s been going great with the TV show “Way Back When” and all these different things, and you’re still charting on the charts twenty years later. It’s been an amazing year.

AB: Definitely, definitely. Did you guys learn—I know it’s been a long time and you guys have been doing what you have been doing for a long time, but through that experience did you guys learn anything in terms of what Prince does?

RK: We’ve been learning from him forever, man: from how he rocks the crowd and how he goes into other songs and arrangements—we’ve been in school forever. And not just only him; with listening to Miles and watching George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkadelic. We grew up at a great time—I mean, look at the artists: Stevie Wonder, the Jacksons—we grew up at a great time.

JA: And even on top of musically, we’ve paid attention to some of those artists that have had that longevity. You have to pay attention to their business template too: how have they stayed above the water for all these years. It can’t just be the music. They’ve obviously made some business decisions, whether that’s to go from a large label to more of an independent situation, or things like that. We’ve paid attention to the whole packages, so to say.

RK: If you’re a new artist, you have YouTube and you have all of this stuff to pull up James Brown, say, to learn… say you’re a producer and you want to have a solo career. You have to learn from these people that’s like been doing it forever. If you gonna do live shows then do it, then bring it, you know? Don’t half it. Don’t just put on your little shiny jacket and come out and do five songs and then do an a cappella and then bounce. Learn how to put on a show and do it right, if you’re going to do this.

AB: I agree, I agree. And are we going to see any videos from this project? Is there a video coming out soon for “Caught My Eye”?

RK: There’s going to be a video coming, definitely, for the second single and there’ll be a live video coming for “Caught My Eye”.

AB: Okay, okay. What’s the official second single?

RK: I have no idea. iTunes will probably tell us what’s coming up shortly, but hopefully people will be buying the whole CD.

AB: Definitely. I’m sure your fans will definitely support. How can they keep in touch with you guys and up-to-date? Facebook, Twitter?

RK: Definitely Facebook, Twitter. Google Mint Condition and you can find us: Mint Condition music, and right then and there on our page you see Facebook. Definitely let’s become friends. It’s something that we watch and we keep an eye on and we put comments on, so it’s not like someone’s doing it every day. I was on there yesterday talking a little bit, so definitely let’s be friends.

AB: All right. And you guys have a direct connection: they will not be talking to an assistant; it’ll be someone actually from the band, so that’s dope. That is dope. Well, congrats to you-all on seven studio albums, making it this far some twenty-odd years later. Success on everything. I’m sure your fans are looking forward to this new project that comes out soon. And yeah, congrats on everything.

RK: Definitely appreciate you, man, for taking the time out; definitely appreciate all of our fans. Pick that CD up y’all the first week so we get some first-week sales like an African-American movie.

AB: [Laughs] It’s all about that first week—make it happen. All right, guys—take care.

Mint Condition: Appreciate it. Bye.

AB: Bye.

Transcription by Penelope Keith - You can e-mail Penelope here for transcription service info

Born and raised in Newark, N.J., Akim Bryant received his B.A. in Communication from William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. Akim is an entertainment/media professional with over 10 years of work experience as a music programmer (radio & video) for Music Choice and as a freelance writer. For further inquiries, he can be reached directly at akim.bryant@gmail.com

About the Writer
With nearly a decade of experience in programming content for Music Choice (24/7 music channels, cable-on-demand shows, website and cell), Akim Bryant has just begun to scratch the surface of journalism having already written for GIANT and The Source magazines as well as a number of start-up publications. This self-professed R&B junkie also has a strong knack for the art of interviewing. Be on the lookout for his semi-autobiographical debut novel coming out in 2012.
  
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