Keeping track of who plays what in the Minders is comparable to following the trysts in a typical episode of Melrose Place. In other words, everyone plays everything. The music made by this Denver-based band results from instrument-swapping and idea-feeding, while the group itself is a product of local-scene inbreeding involving acts such as Ink., Grey Parade and the Apples. The current live set usually finds Martyn Leaper leading on vocals and guitar, Rebecca Cole keeping the beat, Joel Richardson alternating between bass and keyboards and Jeff Almond happily strumming rhythm guitar. But fellow Denver musicians Robert Schneider, Hillarie Sidney, Chris McDuffie and Jim McIntyre have also been known to contribute--which is pretty confusing for a band that's got only one three-song single under its belt.
Leaper, the central force behind the act, writes most of the music and lyrics for the Minders and designed the illustrations on the cover of Build, the aforementioned seven-inch. (The single was put out earlier this year on Elephant 6, a label run by the Apples' Schneider, who also produced the recording.) The tunes mainly feature the drumming of Sidney, also of the Apples; Cole, the current Minders percussionist, is credited only for "being so patient." Today she notes, "Then I was only patient. Now I play drums."
Although Cole's background is in classical piano, Leaper prompted her to step behind the drum kit. "We didn't want one of these rock-god drummers--someone who spins the sticks and has a double bass," he explains. "We just wanted someone who played simple 4/4, somebody we could grow with. Rebecca had the theory. I just showed her a few things on drums and she picked it up instantly." As for Cole, she admits that it's sometimes difficult to take her new vocation seriously. "When I see our instruments set up on stage," she says, "they look like toys to me."
It was easier to sell Richardson on the Minders; he'd previously worked with Leaper, a native of Portsmouth, England, on a variety of musical projects. Almond, for his part, was introduced to Leaper by McDuffie. "I live with Chris," Almond says. "He's actually played in the band more than I have."
What makes the main players compatible is their preference for arrangements that soothe rather than rile the savage bar patron. According to Cole, "melodies and catchy guitar riffs" are "easy on your ears--more so than chooga chooga chooga and screaming into the microphone."
Adds Almond, "When people start playing air guitar at your shows, it's time to tone it down a little bit."
The Minders' style, as Leaper aptly describes it, is "sloppy but sort of springy. It's obvious that we're not virtuosos. Each song is two or three minutes long. We don't do any epic songs or jams, drum solos or introducing band members, encores and breaks.
"We are a pop band," he continues, "and there are only certain ways that you can stretch within that space. You can be poppy like disco, or you can be poppy like a four-piece band."
On "Build," the single's title track, the Minders take the latter tack; Leaper's vocals suggest John Lennon singing into the vintage microphone on David Letterman's desk. Leaper knows that the analog equipment he prefers (some of it more than twenty years old) is considered "archaic" by supporters of the digital age. But the sound is perfectly appropriate for the subject matter of "Build," a composition that takes a swipe at rampant consumerism.
"It's about a trip to Sam's Club," Cole divulges. "Martyn couldn't believe there was a place that had Jacuzzis and milk all in the same store. And everything is big. You can't just buy a four-pack of toilet paper; you've got to buy a 48-pack."
"I thought it was absolute lunacy," the frontman agrees. "Next they'll have cars on shelves and someone with a crane who'll pull them down. It horrifies me that you have those things all over the nation. And unfortunately, when I went home to England, I saw the same thing--and I was really disturbed. The downtown precinct where everybody shopped for fifty years is gone. They're all out of business. With what you've got now, those places could stay open 24 hours a day"--he jabs the air harshly to emphasize his point--"swinging, rolling, going."
Rounding out the 45 is "Chatty Patty," an amazing hookfest written about Cole (who, in reality, seems positively monastic compared to the animated Leaper), and "Almost Arms," which Leaper says "is about a leaky Capitol Hill apartment with warped ceiling panels. When it rained it was like a pepper shaker. Everything seemed to be falling apart when I wrote that song." Despite the disastrous circumstances that spurred the cut's creation, its chorus is resolutely upbeat: Leaper warbles, "I'm hungry and I'm still smiling."
This sense of optimism also graces the material designated for the next Minders' single, which the band hopes to issue by the end of the year. Again mixed by Schneider, the platter is set to include "Free Range Girl," a Richardson composition, and "Paper Plane," which kicks off with a sample of a jet lifted from a stereophonic test record and fades into a gush of twangly guitars. Like Build, this as-yet-untitled release will appear on vinyl, a format Leaper promotes because it's inexpensive to produce and purchase (the first Minders offering sells for less than a student-priced movie ticket) and because it appeals to "people who like the process of putting the record on--people who have turntables. Plus, the artwork is much better to put on a seven-inch than a tape or even a CD."
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However, the cartoonery that Leaper used to decorate Build won't be followed by a sequel. Instead, the bandmates plan to use for cover art a jar of Marmite, which Almond describes as "like English Vegemite. It's this gross, yeasty, brown, nasty stuff. But it's in a funny bottle."
Listeners across the globe likely will have the opportunity to judge this claim for themselves: Leaper is presently negotiating distribution deals with Cargo, Parasol, 100 GM and various other industry folks. Thanks to Elephant 6's growing reputation, the Minders' reputation precedes them; they've already received fan e-mail from as far away as Japan.
Do these admirers have any idea just who the Minders are from one minute to the next? Probably not--which makes them just like the rest of us.
The Minders, with Fox Force Five. 10 p.m. Friday, September 27, Seven South, 7 South Broadway, 744-0513.