The Minders are no longer one of the best bands in Denver. Just a week or so prior to the appearance of Hooray for Tuesday, the act's charming debut for the spinART label, key members/life partners Martyn Leaper and Rebecca Cole decamped for Portland, Oregon. That they fled at such a key moment in the development of their joint career is not exactly unprecedented: Longtime observers of the local music community have seen plenty of performers leave our town in favor of burgs they believed would more effectively speed them toward fame, fortune, etc. In this case, though, dissatisfaction with the Denver scene had nothing to do with the move. Rather, Leaper says, he and Cole departed because of changes in the city itself.
"The Denver of today is a lot different from the Denver I used to know," argues Leaper, an Englishman who lived in Colorado for fourteen years (the last nine in Denver). "It used to have this kind of cool quirkiness in the middle of nowhere. You still had the feel of an old Western town, and I loved that. But now you've got all these Californians moving in, and downtown is starting to feel like Cherry Creek. There's nothing but sports bars down there, and the traffic is awful; you can't get anywhere without spending at least twenty minutes in the car. It started to remind me of Los Angeles.
"For a while, we were able to ignore a lot of that. We had been living in a dream world, because we were renting this old duplex in the Golden Triangle area that was pretty cheap. But then we got a call that the company that owned the property had sold it to some other company that was going to scrape the building off the old lot. So we started looking for another place to live, and we couldn't believe how expensive it all was. Everything had gone up a couple hundred dollars a month--even in Capitol Hill. I mean, they're building condos there--can you believe it? The whole thing really just bummed us out, so we started thinking about moving to Portland. We'd been here a couple of times, and it's a really beautiful place. So we just decided, let's move."
The other two members of the Minders--bassist/vocalist Mark Wilhite and guitarist/vocalist Jeff Almond--are featured prominently in press materials and photographs generated by spinART in conjunction with Tuesday's bow, but Leaper reveals that they're no longer in the band. (He declines to detail the reasons for the split beyond noting that "things had gotten a little stale.") As a result, Portland-based guitarist Andrew Kaffer and bassist Aaron Weinzapfel, who plays in the Denver group Terminal Hinge, will be assisting Leaper and Cole during a junket that kicks off in San Francisco on October 20 and includes a showcase at the CMJ convention in New York City on November 4. But because Weinzapfel isn't yet sure if he wants to move to Portland, Leaper says, "he's not really a full-fledged part of the band. He's going to play with us for this tour, but after that, we don't know what will happen. Maybe he'll move here, or maybe we'll add somewhere from here, or maybe we'll just have revolving members. A lot of our friends have bands that work that way."
That's an understatement. The Minders are part of the Elephant 6 collective, which includes the Apples, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and numerous other pop acts whose members float from one ensemble to another. As a result, some Elephant 6 efforts include contributions from so many people that it's often difficult to tell who's actually in the band. That's not the case with Hooray for Tuesday, though. Trombonist Rick Benjamin and flutist/alto saxophonist Merisa Bissinger from the Perry Weissman 3 make contributions, and producer Robert Schneider, the core of the Apples, also plays on virtually every track. Nonetheless, the CD remains very much a Minders effort. "Robert and I worked on it for five or six months," Leaper says, "but the basics were all put down by me on a four-track. Then we transferred it to eight tracks and piled more things on."
Leaper displays an almost pathological reluctance to praise his own work. When asked to describe the album, he says, "It's short." He's right about that: Its twelve songs clock in at just under 28 minutes. But in this span, the Minders manufacture enough hooks to stock the Pocket Fisherman factory for the next decade. The music is frankly Beatle-esque, and so is Leaper's singing; he's Paul and John all rolled into one. But Schneider's lo-fi production is consistently clever and engaging, and the arrangements are full of wonderful touches--like, for instance, the title cut's brass arrangement, the background vocals on "Pauline" and "I've Been Wondering," and the gleeful psychedelia at the heart of "Frida." Just as important, the songs are catchy as all get-out, even though they're not as simple as they seem. "More and More" is an odd combination of melodic fragments, but these segments are knitted together into a brief sugar rush that will leave most listeners buzzing.
Tuesday is hardly the only new Minders material in the offing. Black Balloon, a seven-inch EP sporting three Minders cuts, was issued on Atlanta's Little Army Records two weeks ago, and three other seven-inches are in the can and awaiting the opportunity to join previous vinyl EPs Build, Rocket 58 and Paper Plane. (The former remains the fastest-selling single in Elephant 6 history.) In addition, Leaper is already hard at work on new demos. "We were able to afford a place in Portland big enough to have a studio in it," he says. "That wouldn't have been possible if we'd stayed in Denver."
Colorado remains close to Leaper's heart, and he expects that the Minders will play here regularly. Moreover, he's already found some aspects of Portland life that aren't necessarily to his liking. "They seem to have a dress code here," he says. "Everyone's wearing these kiddie clothes; it's the twee look. There are some people who just look normal, but there are a lot of others who are dressed like they're five years old." For the most part, however, he's happy with his new hometown. "When I'm writing, I draw a lot from my surroundings. And here I can jump on the train, and if I look to the east seven minutes later, there's Mount Hood. It's beautiful--and since Denver is turning into something I don't really agree with right now, that's just the kind of sights I need to see."
Soundcheck's Jazz Cafe, a program on KRRF-AM/1280 (Ralph), begins at 8 p.m. on Sunday nights--not 10 p.m., as claimed in the previous edition of this column. The error occurred because I spent all last week in the bathroom obsessively rereading the Starr Report. Typing is painful this week.
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The New Frontier: A Collection of Colorado Punk Bands, a compilation disc on Boulder's Soda Jerk Records, is celebrated by two CD-release parties this week: Friday, October 9, at Club 156, with Pinhead Circus, the Nobodies, Electric Summer, Facet and Qualm, and Saturday, October 10, at the 15th Street Tavern, with Hell's Half Acre, Fast Action Revolver, Los Terribles and Tanger. The disc itself is a monster blast of guitars, angst and testosterone from thirty of the state's finest punk acts, including all of the aforementioned groups. Among the highlights are "One Man Utopia," by Wretch Like Me, "Dreamgirl Obsolete," by Acrobat Down, "Sex Is Good," by the Family Men and (my favorite) "Who's Who of Love," by the LaDonnas. The platter proves that old formulas can be good formulas. You heard it here last.
And now, believe it or not, I have room for the who-plays-where section. On Thursday, October 8, Vinyl spins at 'Round Midnight. On Friday, October 9, Bob Mould performs his last dog-and-pony show at the Ogden Theatre. On Saturday, October 10, Chief Broom drops by for the first of two nights at the Fox Theatre; Fat Mama jazzes up the Glenn Miller Ballroom; and Ian Tyson warbles at the Swallow Hill Music Hall. On Monday, October 12, Tugboat Annie pulls into the 15th Street Tavern. And on Wednesday, October 14, the Makers produce at the Bluebird Theater; Mary Black brightens the Boulder Theater, with Celeste Krenz; and Watsonville Patio is installed at Herman's Hideaway. The last group also appears at Cricket on the Hill the following night, but mentioning that would take us into next week, wouldn't it?
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.