South By Southwest, for me, is about discovering something or someone completely new. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of all the free booze and trendiest magazine parties. Major headlining acts often get the most general audiences attention and “it” indie bands get all the online buzz. While I am aware of all that, I try to dig deeper and find a hidden gem no one really knows about yet. One of the best ways to find such a gem has always been to look through the various international bands.
This year at SXSW, I saw a ton of great international bands from Latin America, Spain, China and Japan. The one band that absolutely stood out to me was an Irish three-piece rock ‘n’ roll band called The Minutes. They made me wonder what was in the water in their hometown of Dublin.
The Minutes played 10 shows at SXSW, wowing the crowds, big and small, at each show. Their throwback, ‘60s-style of garage indie rock was quick, loud, high-energy and raw. It was rock ‘n’ roll done right. That raw live sound was captured on The Minute’s upcoming debut album, Marcata, which was named after the upstate New York recording studio where the album was made. I caught up with The Minutes during SXSW and asked them about the album, coming to the States and getting away from indie pop.
How did you guys come together as a band?
Mark: Shane is my cousin. Ever since he popped out, I’ve known him. He had a big black head of hair when he came out. Anyway, it feels like we’ve been playing together forever.
Tom: I met Mark in college. I had a four-track tape machine. I was big into experimenting with sounds and we both liked pop music. We have been playing together in various incarnations for about seven years now.
Mark: I used him for his four-track, his equipment.
When you use the term “pop music,” what does that mean to you? When I hear your music, I don’t consider it to be pop music.
Tom: For me at that time, it was poppy, punky kind of New York pop. I was always fascinated by well-crafted three-minute pop songs with real simple intros and outros. I was a really big Smiths fan as well. Mark is into more American rock music. When we played, we just kind of met halfway and started playing guitars and bass over some of his music.
That’s interesting to hear that from you and then hear what your music sounds like now, this classic garage punk rock ‘n’ roll.
Mark: When we started, there was four of us and we were very much with that pop thing. We were really obsessed with making the best pop song we could make. We were just really shite at it. It didn’t work. We were trying too hard.
Shane: We were trying to play indie pop, get on the radio.
Mark: At that time, The Strokes were really big. When we heard them, we thought it was really good while still poppy. It’s funny because after that, everybody was playing the same chords, ya know. We made some good enough records at that time, but it wasn’t original enough.
Tom: At that time, there was a big wave in Ireland, Europe and America, I’m sure, of bands that came after The Strokes because they changed things and rejuvenated modern rock music. I think we were trying to get on that wave.
Yeah, that early part of the decade was funny. All of a sudden people were into The Velvet Underground again because The Strokes always cited them as a major influence.
Let’s not forget how many kids were suddenly into Warhol.
Shane: Converse probably sold like six-million pairs of runners.
So what happened that made you guys go from a four-piece to a three-piece?
Mark: Well, your man left and got offered money to go manage this shit Irish band in England. I was really pissed off at him. I was. It worked out though because when he left, we turned into a rock band. We had to turn our amps up to kind of fill in the void he left.
Tom: It came about from that exact feeling that we had to fill out the sound now that we were a three-piece. We felt we had to not only play better but be better musicians.
So that was the catalyst for what you guys sound like today?
Tom: I went and bought big “fuck off” fill-in equipment. I own Phil Lynott’s original hi-watt head to get that old sound.
Shane: Phil Lynott is the best frontman to come out of Ireland.
Right on. Now let’s talk about this song “Ukraine” that was sent to me. My understanding is that song is kind of what set you off in terms of getting radio play and exposure. Why do you think it was that song in particular? Your new music doesn’t sound like “Ukraine” at all.
Mark: It was at the tail end of us with the pop stuff. That song just has some sort of catchy thing to it.
Tom: I think it was just a strong song. When we put it out there, this independent radio station out in Ireland called Phantom started playing it. From there we just started getting better gigs with bigger bands.
Had you guys built a buzz at that point locally in Ireland?
Shane: That song is what kick-started that buzz for us.
Tom: It seemed to kind of rise us above a little bit. The music scene is Ireland is so crowded, in a sense, that there are a shit-load of bands playing in a small area of venues. It definitely gave us the extra edge in the early days.
Mark: The other reason that song was big for us was because it was recorded really well. A lot of Irish bands sound Irish. I don’t mean that like they sound traditional. Their recordings are poor. There’s not enough thought that goes into their execution when it comes to recording. We didn’t want to sound like that. We didn’t want it to sound like it was an Irish recording. Just because you can record at home, doesn’t mean you should. If we had recorded it the way every other band records it, I don’t think it would have done that well.
So if it did well for you and built your name up, why did you decide to get away from it?
Tom: The way it went, we released that single and then we released another one that kind of had that same level of success. We found that we were kind of beating our heads against the wall with the indie thing and there was only so far we could go with it. We just wanted to strip it down a bit more. We were always a good live band, but with the indie stuff we found we couldn’t get into it as much. What happened was Mark had suggested we do a cover of “In My Time of Dying,” which is this sort of old traditional blues song. We did our own take on it. We found that the energy and actual reception we got from an audience for that kind of stuff was what made us feel that we found our niche. It was clear that this is where we needed to go.
Mark: It was easy as well.
Tom: It felt more natural than beating your head up against the wall trying to write the next really clever indie tune.
Mark: The first time we played it, we knew. It filled the room and it was just fun to play.
Let’s talk about the ‘new’ then, specifically the new album. The album is basically why you made the trip out here, to get the record out to someone. Can you elaborate on that for me a bit?
Mark: We’re looking for basically anybody. The fact that we’re a live band, it’s about seeing our show. We were trying to hook up with some bookers or even some sort of indie label to get the record out here and get us playing shows. That’s what is going to get people to talk about us is after they see us live. The record is pretty much a live recording. It is very simply done. No tricks.
Tom: We wanted that. It was three guys playing together in a room. The process with all the indie stuff we talked about earlier was always very calculated and not all natural. We’ve come around leaps and bounds as a live band in the last year. Again, it was all about the vintage equipment we used. It was nice, warm equipment. I know it is kind of cliché to hear a band saying that.
I agree that there is definitely something to it. When you play that ‘60s garage rock ‘n’ roll, the authentic vintage sound has to be there, other wise you lose your target audience right away.
Tom: Exactly, and we know that. When we went to tape, we did two or three takes of each song. Then we listened to the song, we’d agree on the song and have Mark go in and lay the vocals down. It was very natural process.
Shane: Everything was in black and white as well. It was weird. Nothing was in color until we left the studio.
So this was your first trip to Austin for SXSW?
Shane: This is our third trip this year to the States. We made our first trip to New York. We played shows in New York and Canada. We were meant to play a show in New York, but then the place got closed down before we could play it. Then we went to Toronto and that was cool. That place is crazy.
Mark: I wasn’t looking forward to playing Toronto. I thought it was going to be shite for some reason and it turned out to be one of the best shows ever.
Tom: It was really cold. It was colder than Ireland. It didn’t stop us though. We had a ball.
So what did you have to do or sell to come to SXSW? It can’t be a cheap trip for you. Do you guys still have blood or sperm in you?
Mark: Actually, that’s a good idea.
Tom: The fact that we’re a three-piece makes it a lot easier. We get a grant from the Irish government when we get accepted into any music festival like SXSW. There’s money put aside to help bands get over to these places. It’s like 12,000 Euros. We do alright with it, but can you image a 10-piece band trying to do this on that? We were smart with it and tried to book a lot of gigs before we went in Dublin and all around Ireland, paying gigs. We put that money away for this. We’re a well-oiled machine that way. Shane is the money man, the gig man.
Shane: It’s worth it because we’re here to do something. We’re not just here on a holiday.
Mark: There’s a feeling though, as soon as we come to America, it just feels like something could happen. I know that probably sounds cliché as well.
Tom: It is just so vast and big. Every time we touch down at the airport, we have a little smile on our face.
Mark: Our feeling at SXSW was that everybody was going to know us by the end of the week.
Shane: The plan was to shout from the rooftops and let people know who we were.
Tom: We played 10 shows in five days.
How are people going to be able to get the album post-SXSW?
Mark: Besides digitally, it’s unknown right now. We are going to release it at home ourselves if we can’t get anything. In Ireland, it’s easy to put out your record.
Any plans to stamp a vinyl?
Mark: I’d love to do a vinyl because of the way the whole record was done. I can already imagine hearing it on vinyl. There’s nothing like vinyl, but it is a pain in the arse though when you have to flick it over.
That’s why bands have to make good, complete records. It is a pain in the ass to get up or change the song.
Shane: The way we are going to do the record is that it is going to be like a live show where so the songs bleed into each other. It is going to sound as if you went to see a gig. It was all recorded live, so it will be like a show.
So what happens the rest of the year?
Shane: We’re still waiting to hear about tours in Europe. We just want to play shows. That’s all we want to do.