In the past, Mini Mansions have hidden their stories and experiences behind the veil of a surrealist realm. Their 2009 debut EP and self-titled first full-length LP in 2010 buried their lives in characters and fantasies. Second album ‘The Great Pretenders’ began to dismantle that enigmatic façade and make things more personal, but only now are the LA trio really ready to unmask themselves more than ever before.
“If ‘The Great Pretenders’ was personal, this is like diving deep inside – at least inside my heart,” says guitarist and singer Michael Shuman of new EP ‘Works Every Time’. “This is probably the most personal and vulnerable we’ve ever been.”
‘Works Every Time’ finds the band in their prime – open, honest, and full of real, tangible human emotion, but counterbalancing those feelings with musically fun songs. They almost didn’t make it to this point, though. After their last tour finished in 2015, each member returned to or started work on other projects. Despite ‘The Great Pretenders” success – acclaim from NME, Uncut and Mojo, tours with Tame Impala, Arctic Monkeys and Royal Blood, and slots at festivals like Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, and Bonnaroo – “Mini Mansions was sidelined a little bit,” bassist Zach Dawes explains.
Ending the band was discussed, but once Michael, Zach, and keyboardist and singer Tyler Parkford were back in the studio together, everything “made a lot more sense”. “It was just really a matter of us being together,” says Tyler.
The trio isn’t just a trio anymore, though – they’ve now added a drummer to their line-up. Jon Theodore, drummer of Queens Of The Stone Age, and Darren Weiss, who played with Michael in his first band Wires On Fire, recorded the drum tracks on the EP, and live they’ll be joined by Dash Hutton – another ex-Wires On Fire member. “We don’t know what the live set’s going to look like, but it’ll free things up and make things a lot looser,” explains Zach. “[Before], we were all filling in the gaps where we could, whether it was me doing guitar stuff on bass or Shuman playing guitar and drums. Performance-wise now, it’ll be stronger.”
Recorded over an “intense” week at Hollywood’s Barefoot Studios and co-produced with Cian Riordan (who worked with the band on ‘The Great Pretenders’ sessions), ‘Works Every Time’ is brilliant validation that Mini Mansions are still very much needed. Over three original songs and one cover, they are playful and eclectic, moving their sound from the psych flashes of ‘The Great Pretenders’ to something sleeker and more modern. Zach’s basslines form important foundations of each song, inspired by “’90s and early aughts hip-hop and rap”, Suicide, and a collaborative record by Alex Chilton, Alan Vega, and Ben Vaughn called ‘Cubist Blues’. “It’s a rock record, but there’s something really liberating, free and fearless about it,” he says.
Those three words also sum up the EP perfectly. Both musically and lyrically, it goes to places the band have never been before. The title track and its “lonesome ’80s cowboy vibe” is easily the most pop thing they’ve ever done – a forlorn ’80s synth-pop gem that nails the feeling of being hopelessly in love. “A lot of these lyrics are playing with the cliché of a love song,” Tyler explains. “Expressing that you’re heartbroken, or in love, or don’t have any love in your love in a certain context of pop [forms] a really sad cliché. But I think that’s a good thing so, for me, this is our Mini Mansions cliché.”
The Gorillaz-inspired ‘Midnight In Tokyo’ perhaps best represents the band’s new approach to songwriting. It captures the lifespan of a relationship, from falling in love to eventually breaking up, rooted in Michael’s own experiences with his ex-fiancée. Whereas his life was previously very detached in his songwriting – hence their past material’s more fantastical form – now it’s at the forefront. “I’m 32 now and I’ve gone through a lot of shit,” he says of that change in tact. “I’m totally comfortable with who I am now. I don’t feel self-conscious and that inherently creates music that reflects that.”
‘This Bullet’, meanwhile, is darker and grittier, Tyler singing, “This bullet’s gonna make me love you“, before adding the ominous but alluring command: “Take off your vest.” In the song, the bullet represents a desperation for an “instantaneous change in your life”, but also the idea of having some control over things too. The EP’s final track finds the band covering Edwyn Collins’ 1994 single ‘A Girl Like You’, but turning it into the kind of song Mini Mansions could have written. In their hands, it sounds dirty, industrial, and a little bit sleazy – a world away from the former Orange Juice frontman’s classy pop original. “It’s a pretty retro sounding song so it was like, ‘How could we not do that?'” Michael says. “I really like that challenge.”
“We wanted it to be translatable,” says Tyler of the EP as a whole. “We really wanted it to be straightforward in a way ‘The Great Pretenders’ wasn’t, to its benefit. We wanted to make people dance. This one has a lot more of a potent feel.”