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Before becoming the bassist for Queens of the Stone Age in 2007, Michael Shuman played in the bands Jubilee and Wires on Fire, the latter of which still benefits from his musical prowess. In 2009, Shuman formed Mini Mansions between obligations with Queens, and in sharp contrast to his work with his other projects, Mini Mansions is not heavy.
If you didn't know better, you might think Shuman had drawn direct inspiration from Elephant 6 bands. The fuzzy psychedelia and expansive melodic structure of every track from the group's recently released debut full-length has drawn comparisons to Elliott Smith's later output — which is fair enough, but the band's songs also wouldn't sound completely out of place on an Electric Light Orchestra or Supertramp record. We spoke with Shuman about the new band and his creative process.
Westword: You play drums in Mini Mansions. How did you end up in that role with the band instead of playing bass?
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Michael Shuman: It's kind of the same. Everything is by default. When we started, we wanted it to be this really musical, almost orchestral type of band. We didn't think we really needed drums — some percussion here and there with our feet. That's when I was playing a lot of guitar. Basically it got old, and you need something moving the song.
So I started with a floor tom. Now I play standing up with a floor tom, a snare, a cymbal and a hi-hat. So no feet are used. We talked about getting a real drummer, but this arrangement makes for different beats, because it's so minimal and you can only do so much. It makes your arms do different things your legs wouldn't on a regular drum set. I also think for the live show, it has an interesting aesthetic.
In interviews, you've said you're kind of out of the loop when it comes to new music. Would you say your songwriting is as much conceptual as it is grounded in writing concise pop songs?
Not much. It's really my own mind racing. I just can't stop sometimes. All the time my brain is constantly going, and I have ideas flying out all the time, whether they're good or terrible. I go see great art, but I'm not a huge buff. But really, I'm inspired by the other musicians I've played with. Being in a couple of bands is awesome, too, because you have three different groups of people and three different sets of ideas.
Lyrically, I'll take an idea, a two-word topic or whatever it is, and write around that. Usually for me it's fictional, and it's fun to take the idea and make a story about it.