by / March 30th, 2015 /

Interview: Michael Shuman of Mini Mansions

Full time bassist with Queens of the Stone Age, Michael Shuman sure knows a thing or two about the tour circuit and how to promote an album.  However, since the start of the year he has found himself in an entirely different situation as frontman of 60’s-influenced, psychedelic pop act Mini Mansions.  Finishing off their European tour in support of Royal Blood last week, and with their brilliant second album The Great Pretenders recently released by Capitol Records, Michael was in a buoyant, if slightly weary mood after a long three months.

You played your final European date in support of Royal Blood on Wednesday? How did the Tour go as a whole?

It went really well, I’m kinda sad it’s over.  Going into the tour we were a little worried about disparity with our fans and how different the music was but I feel it went really well.

Why disparity among fans?

We were more concerned about the different styles between us and Royal Blood and that it might not go down so well with their fans, but it actually went great and in fairness they were really open minded towards our style of music.

Was it a strange situation to find yourselves in, seeing as you’re used to headlining (with QOTSA)?

I’ve been in all kinds of situations through my life, even with Queens opening up for people. You do all kinds of shows so you have to be willing to adapt to any situation you’re in. I love supporting too! It’s a tough gig trying to win over a bunch of fans every night, and trying to please people who might not want to see anyone else besides the headline act, but we like the challenge and had fun with it.

How did your March 9th Dublin gig in The Olympia go? 

It was amazing! We played two nights in the Olympia which is one of my favourite venues in the world!  The second night especially was probably the best show of the tour.  The Irish are always really great and really up for it it, so it makes us have such a better time when the crowd is having a great time, so we were thrilled!

Any highlights on tour? Funny stories etc? Or does that just stay on tour?

(Laughs) I usually like to keep things private. Ben and Mike are a few comedians so it’s always a good time.

Your new album The Great Pretenders is out on March 23rd. You must be encouraged by the positive reviews it’s getting thusfar?

Yeah. You work really hard on making a piece of art that means a lot to us, spend years writing and recording and mixing, so to have someone applaud or validate you is great. I mean, it doesn’t mean a lot if one person validates you because in the end we’re making the music for ourselves first and foremost, and for our fans.  Don’t get me wrong, if journalists want to applaud us it feels great, it really does, but we’re gonna do what we’re gonna do either way.

Style-wise, would it be fair to say this album is a bit darker, maybe a bit more philosophical than your first LP? 

Yea, I think a big change for us from the first record is lyrically. It’s a lot more emotionally focused, more personal, and touches more on our vulnerable side, real experiences and real feelings, instead of the more fantastical things we used to write about. I think that was a big shift for us and yeah, it is dark too.  As much of a fun record as I think it is, it’s also very heavy on the content side.

When it came to writing the album how did your approach differ as compared to your first record?

With the first one we were a brand new band, writing our first batch of songs as a band and just went in pretty quickly and made a record. We were just like “Let’s do this, we’re ready!”  Whereas with this record we had so much material and ended up recording and mixing like 25 songs and then choosing these 11 songs to make the right record that made sense to us.  There were a lot of songs so I guess this wasn’t as constrained and we had more time to write it.  We were basically just writing over two and a half years and then having this huge amount of material to sort through and piece together.

Why did the final 11 tracks stand out to you over the rest of the material?

I think those were just the best grouping of songs and for the most part they came from the same period of time in writing. There’s a lot of more upbeat songs that didn’t make the record, not because we didn’t feel strongly about them, but just because conceptually as a whole they might not have been the right fit.

Some big collaborations on there. It must’ve been quite something working with the legend that is Brian Wilson on ‘Any Emotions’?

Yea it was a huge, huge deal for us and is something we get to have on our record for the rest of our lives! He’s a huge influence since we were kids, as you can hear in our music and in our harmonies.  Being from California, he’s also a big icon as far as Californian pop music goes so it was a big deal.  Looking back we can’t really imagine that song without him on it.  Not only was he generous enough to do all that but I also think it’s a really great fit.

Was he a hard man to track down?

I guess it was easy enough! (laughs) It wasn’t too hard anyway. It started with a relationship with our record label, we’re both on Capitol, and our guy introduced Brian to Zach our bass player to ask if he could play some bass on his record.  So Zach played on a tune, and they got along really well, and that relationship started, so then Zach asked Brian to return the favour, probably a much bigger favour, and sing on our record.

Of course Alex Turner’s on there too, but you probably found it easier to convince him after previous collaborations (QOTSA)?

For him it’s more like he was there, he was in the studio.  It was more like, because we had decided to do something, and he was there, we said maybe we should try it. It was much more of a natural thing for sure.

In terms of single releases. The video for ‘Death is a Girl’ is out now. Is that likely to be your next single release?

Well it’s weird because that was actually the first song we put out. We decided to put out five singles and their B-sides before the record even came out so there’s no real first single, or second single, its just kind of like all the music is out there.  I know the label want certain songs going to the radio, so ‘Death is a Girl’ being the first song maybe people will go back and listen to it after ‘Vertigo’ or whatever.

Which singles came off best on your tour?

We’ve been closing our set with ‘Freakout’.  People seem to like that one, it’s a head-bomber, you can kinda see everyone bouncing to it.  It’s got that natural drum ‘n’ bass bounce to it so that’s a really fun one to play live.

No real rest period for you guys as you’ve got your US tour coming up pretty soon so I guess you’ll be looking forward to further promoting the album?

Yeah, there’s no rest for us.  It’s gonna be tours back to back, but that’s what we’re ready to do. We’ve been waiting to do it for a long time. We haven’t had the opportunity to tour this much and we want people to hear these new songs so any way we can do that, and play to as many people who want to see us, and even the people that don’t want to see us, we’ll do it!

Have you got anything coming up with QOTSA or are you sticking with Mini Mansions for the next year or two with the new album and everything?

Yeah, we have a lot of time to push on this record and the tour. There will be stuff coming up later for sure but we toured a lot last year for the last record so we decided to take a good chunk of time off. But there’ll definitely be stuff!

Mini Mansions’ The Great Pretenders is out now