For two decades, Mint Condition has been keeping audiences entertained with classic songs like “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),” “What Kind Of Man Would I Be,” and “If You Love Me.” As they prepare for the release of their seventh album, appropriately titled 7…, we sat down with Stokely, Lawrence, Rick, O’Dell, and Jeffrey and talked about the album, the music scene in their hometown of Minneapolis, and their latest gig as the house band for TV One’s Way Black When.
It’s been 20 years since the release of Mint Condition’s debut album. When the band first formed, did you guys think you would still be around?
Lawrence: Each of us probably has a different answer, but I definitely didn’t think we’d be here at the start. Not for reasons of the group broke up or something, but I thought we probably would’ve moved on into adulthood or something. When you’re young, you think “30 is old!” So by that time we thought we’d be old and not want to do it anymore. But here we are still doing it, feeling pretty young.
Rick: I knew we were going to be great. I knew we were going to be doing things. I felt at least if we weren’t doing that much, we’d be doing the chitlin’ circuit.
Minneapolis had this big black music scene back in the 80s and early 90s, with Prince and The Time and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis leading the way. Is it still there?
Lawrence: It’s still there, but it ebbs and flows. I was listening to the radio and they were saying that they’re running out of places for bands to play. It’s becoming so competitive because there are so many bands. It used to be where you could go see a Reggae band at this club, hip-hop group at this one… So if you wanted to see hip-hop on Friday, you could. There wasn’t that much competition. But for each genre, there might be five bands all on the same night. It’s getting hard for the clubs to figure out what to do.
You don’t see a lot of R&B bands anymore. Bands like Mint Condition are an endangered species. What’s kept you guys together, and what keeps you guys going? I know it can’t be easy or cheap to bring a five piece band out on tour and to keep everyone happy.
Lawrence: It’s the common struggle. The struggle brings us together. There aren’t many venues where I can go play and express myself the way I want to, so I have to stay in the group. But I love the group. It’s not like I’m forced to stay in the group. I think that we’re the perfect antidote to each other, musically and personally. For instance, to use Stokely and myself as an example, I’m kind of a perfectionist when we record. Stokely is the antidote to that. He’ll say “That’s cool, but we gotta move on because we gotta get it done.” Or he might say “This is cool. One take. Let’s roll!” and I’ll say “No, we gotta get it right!” It’s like that with each of the guys. I could tell you something that I admire about each of the guys and it’s different for each one. They overlap, but not definitively.
Tell us about your involvement in TV One’s Way Black When.
Lawrence: It’s a show that covers three different decades, the 70s, 80s, and 90s. There’s a different host for each decade. Sinbad does the 70s. Niecy Nash from “Reno 911” and “Clean House” does the 80s, and Christopher Reid from Kid & Play does the 90s. We’re the house band.
There’s a mixture of comedians, musicians, political figures, athletes and share their experiences and testimonies and we’re just happy to be a part of it. It’s incredible. It was real fast paced because we were coming back from Iraq. We landed and it was just like “Go!” It’s a great experience to be around that much energy and intelligence. That’s the first time we’ve had that kind of experience, and it’s turned out great.
Did you guys look to The Roots and see how they were handling the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon gig?
Lawrence: Oh yeah. I was definitely doing some homework. Listening to different late night bands and seeing how the bumpers, the music they play at commercials, how they work.
O’Dell: For me, it was something I wanted to do after I saw the Roots get behind people and play all these different songs that I loved, but never had a chance to play before. The challenge of learning them the night before was something I always wanted to do, and thought it was the perfect thing for Mint Condition. So when it came about, I thought “this ain’t really gonna happen.” Even all the way up until we got there, I thought that. We had that kind of thing happen all the time. “Oh you guys are going to do this and that” and find out the night before “oh, it’s cancelled…” So it was a good surprise for me. I think it’s something we should’ve already been doing.
?uestlove has said that since they started the Fallon gig, The Roots have become a tighter band than ever before and they’ve written more than ever before. Has that been the case for Mint?
Lawrence: Well they were doing an actual season. We’re trying to get a season, so watch the show! (laughs) It’s definitely gotten us tighter in a way that it’s raised our level a little bit.
Playing other people’s songs has brought out a different passion, because each one of those artists has their own passion. They know how the song should go, so they express that and it’s affected and infected us. Sometimes we’re like “Oh! We wouldn’t have thought to play it that way had they not said this or that.”
Also, we’ve learned how tight we are as a band. How long we’ve been playing together has been real apparent when we do this. We have to do these bumps in and out of commercials and there was no time to practice those! You just had to hit! Call a key and everybody jumps in. You can only do that if you’ve been playing together for a long time and have a certain intuition for what the other group members are gonna play.
Rick: We were spoiled before the show. It was always our way! For the show we had to follow directions for the first time. We always did things our way, but this was good. Cuba Gooding Sr was really strict, and wanted things done his way, but by the end of it you understood why he wanted it done his way, and we had the utmost respect for him. He was great.
The new single “Caught My Eye” is a great record. Classic Mint. How did that record come to be?
Stokely: I had an idea for the hook and some of the music. Like we usually do in the group, we call it the Mint Factory, because we take an idea and just pass it down the line. I passed it down to Lawrence and he put his Mint sauce on it.
Lawrence: I’m kinda more metaphorical in my writing. Rick’s more literal. But this song was more literal for me. I was in a coffee shop and saw someone that I thought was attractive. I’d seen her other places. I literally told the story of how it went down.
Rick: Hmmm…. I never heard this story!
Lawrence: Yeah, they don’t know about that. (laughs)
Rick: Continue! Continue!
O’Dell: Yeah, what happened?
Lawrence: Uhh… I walked out the coffee shop. Not much after that. (laughs)
And the new album is called “7…”
Stokely: A smash! A stone cold smash! (laughs)
Does the vibe of the album match the previous records? Can we expect more classic Mint ballads and the funky uptempo joints?
Stokely: And some surprises! We kind of added that jazz element. That’s what people like about us. They don’t always know what they’re going to get.
O’Dell: We have so many songs in the can right now, we haven’t actually put the record together yet because we have so many to pick from. There’s so many different sides. We got a rock album in the can. We got a funk album in the can. Jazz stuff laying around. A lot of ideas in there.
All from the sessions for this album?
O’Dell: From this and maybe the last album, E-Life. You can only do about 10 songs on a record to make people happy… Maybe 12. But stay tuned on the internet, because we might release a bonus something for fun. We got a lot of places we wanna go, but it’s hard to do in one album.