The Stolen Minks
Published Aug 27, 2008Talking to the Stolen Minks makes it apparent that they're a fun bunch on every level you can probably come up with. They're fun to chat with, fun to listen to shooting the shit and most importantly when you're talking about rocknroll an especially fun band to hear kicking out the jams. Their drenched-in-fuzz blend of garage rock meets sassy punk has won the band a slew of fans, both in Halifax and across Canada. Their last release, 2007's Family Boycott, hit number one on Earshot's Top 50. They'll hope to do the same with their newest album, High Kicks, which has just come out on the New Romance For Kids label. It's their sharpest sounding recording to date, greatly benefiting from cleaner production that gives them a beefier presence. Taking things a step further, the Minks will be making their first tour of the United States this fall as part of a ten-week cross-continent trek. Exclaim! got to sit down with Erica Butler, Rachelle Goguen, Stephanie Johns and Tiina Johns (no relation) a week before their hometown CD release show in Halifax.
What were your first experiences like with the live music scene in Halifax?
Stephanie: I was always really into it in high school, used to go to [the all-ages venue] Cafe Ole a lot.
Rachelle: Steph was a pretty big scenester back in high school. She was all about the Halifax indie scene. Murderecords volunteer and whatnot.
Stephanie: Thanked on a Super Friendz album too.
Tiina: You were? For gluing them?
Stephanie: It wasn't for gluing them, it was probably just because I was hanging-out at their offices a lot and they felt like they had to say something because I went to all their shows.
Tiina: It's funny, because all that music I listened to in Ontario. A friend of mine moved their in his last year of high school, so he would make me all sorts of mixes of music with local bands. So when I moved here in 2003, I knew all that Halifax indie rock before I even came.
So did you start out in 2003 writing your own material right away?
Stephanie: No, we started playing covers. Link Wray...
Erica: ...Roger Miller...
Rachelle: ...Wanda Jackson, which never actually made it into a show.
Stephanie: Ike and Tina Turner. Just stuff from the soundtrack to John Waters' Hairspray and Link Wray songs. We were really into those songs.
Tiiina: It was because they did that really crazy dancing in the movie! Hairspray is an awesome movie!
Erica: I seem to recall we wanted to cover Link Wray a lot because we wanted to be an all-girl instrumental band.
Stephanie: But then it changed because Rachelle could sing really well, and there was lots of good songs with vocals.
Why did you think it was cool to be an all-girl instrumental band?
Stephanie: I guess at the time vocal harmonies and girls singing lead was what you'd hear most often in music. We weren't really into that. It was just out of the ordinary and something I hadn't really seen before. It's just good, especially when you're starting out. You don't have to worry about singing, you're just playing and getting really good at that.
Rachelle: I think doing that kind of thing for our early songs was good too because when you're learning instrumental songs, the parts are more difficult to play than if you write something with words.
Where was your first show?
Tiina: There was an open mic event called Rock Church at Stage Nine in Halifax that [High Kicks producer] Dave Ewenson was hosting on Tuesday nights. It's kind of cool because Dave Ewenson has been our music friend for as long as we've been a band.
Erica: Dave's been super encouraging and awesome to us since forever. Do remember that time at Rock Chruch after we played for ten minutes and he said, "That made my week, and we were like "Yeah!!!
Tiina: It was the first bit of feedback that we'd ever gotten.
Rachelle: Other than my mother telling me to not wear a skirt while sitting on stage. She gave lots of helpful feedback. [Laughter]
What sort of goals did you have in those early days?
Tiina: We had steadily increasing goals, like play shows, make an album...
Stephanie: It seems crazy, like we recorded Family Boycott across the street and that charted really well. We toured the country then, and now we just think about what's a step up. Now we're doing Canada and the United States.
Rachelle: Next summer Japan. [Laughter]
So what's the longest tour you've done before?
Stephanie: Five weeks.
How do you feel then about going on a ten-week tour?
Stephanie: I'm stoked for it. I feel like with a five-week tour you're ready to go home after that. We'll have five more weeks with this, and I think we're going to be changed people.
Erica: By Ontario in November, I think we're going to be pretty unhappy. [Laughter]
Rachelle: Ontario's a great place to end though, because you'll be seeing lots of people you know. Doing Toronto at the end is a great idea.
Stephanie: We just don't know anyone in the States, so it's going to be really lonely.
How do you feel about the new album?
Tiina: The other records I feel like it's sort of embarrassing to play them now. I don't like them a lot. It's just nice to have something I can play for people.
Rachelle: Those songs live are still really good, I just don't think those recordings captured them best. Erica: I really like all the records, but I feel with High Kicks that we knew a bit more about what was possible and we worked a lot harder. With Family Boycott we'd record a song and be like, "Well, that's as good as it's going to get, alright next!
Rachelle: We were also getting them recorded for free, that was the other problem.
Erica: And I think we're better players now too.
Stephanie: I really like working with Dave Ewenson. He likes that style of music we play, so we were on the same page.
I find that often with garage rock, the production is also very important, along with the music. Did you listen to any specific recordings to just get an idea of what you wanted this album to sound like?
Tiina: There were a few things we listened to. We put a lot of effects on the vocals to basically make them sound "crappy, like you're singing through a crappy mic and crappy PA. That comes from a lot of stuff that Steph listens to.
Stephanie: Jay Reatard, the Carbonas, Coachwhips, Black Lips. I really like those bands and the way they sound, but I don't really know how to do that. I just made Dave some mix CDs and was like, "Here, what do you think of this? and he said, "I like this too, this sounds great. So then he made all kinds of suggestions.
Tiina: He was all about making it sound "salty and crunchier like a side of cabbage. It was a weird description.
Stephanie: He'd also try and do all this weird Brian Wilson-style production and we were like, "No, this is too much, you have to take things down just like half a tone. He was really good in dealing with our vague suggestions for how to make something sound a little...
Tiina: ... Crappier?
Stephanie: We did want to sound kinda crappy.
Tiina: But a specific kind of crappy. Something that was really awesome happened when we did a couple of little sessions with [Super Friendz member and recording engineer] Charles Austin as we were trying to finish things up. I was doing some vocals, and I wanted them to have a distorted sound, and he brought out a gramophone. We thought he'd bring out some pedals, but instead he brought out this giant gold cornucopia gramophone! Then he put the microphone in there. That was cool.
Erica: The first thing Dave Ewenson said to us was, "What do you want this record to sound like? But I don't think we had any idea what he was capable of doing with our album.
Tiina: There are so many cool things you can do with recording.
Stephanie: But I think that's stuff that other bands have done for their first albums. We hadn't recorded with a real producer at all before this. We were like, "You can mix that well?
Tiina: "And if you have a mistake, you can fix it?
Rachelle: "You don't have to just live with that mistake? [Laughter]
Tiina: You can pitch correct too, which we didn't do.
Rachelle: We didn't? I'm glad to hear that.
Tiina: We probably should've, honestly. [Laughter]
Was it intentional to be an all-girl band?
Stephanie: Well, it was basically me and Tiina were both girls, and we wanted to start a band. And then keyboard, 'cmon! [Laughter]
Rachelle: That's the girliest! Well, I remember when we were practicing, just the three of us, I think we considered that it wouldn't be too bad to have a guy drummer.
Erica: Oh really? Who did you consider? [Laughter]
Tiina: I feel like in the beginning being an all-girl band was more important, but now, within Halifax anyways, it seems more normal now. There's a ton of bands with girls.
Rachelle: It was kind of a lull in general when we started. For a couple of years there just weren't many bands here period, and then all of a sudden it just went crazy again.
Tiina: Because of us. [Laughter]
Rachelle: We were like, "Let's start a music scene, and so we did! [Lots of laughter]
Erica: There are lots of bands with girls here now, but in total numbers there's still a gap.
Tiina: No, sexism doesn't exist anymore. [Laughter]
Rachelle: We fixed that! [Laughter]
Erica: I remember at the start it felt pretty easy to be in this band because I felt really comfortable playing with three girls. I didn't have to play crazy drum fills, I could just a keep a boom-chik-boom-chik beat. I'm also a lot older than these guys, so when I was 14 I didn't have a guitar in my rec-room and other girls to play guitars with...
Tiina: ...because guitars weren't invented yet. You were playing a lute. [Laughter]
Stephanie: There was like a jug band or something...
Tiina: ...and Shakespeare was in your band....
Stephanie: ...and Socrates played the drums.
Rachelle: She's 10,000 years old! [Laughter]
Erica: But I didn't get to learn music skills then like guys did. I was playing catch-up because it was many years later when I learned the drums, but it was a really fun process.
Where did the High Kicks title come from?
Erica: On our first tour high kicks was something I'd do to in a parking lot before the show so I could wake-up and be high-energy. And then we all started doing it. If you can do a scissor kick, that feels really awesome! It can be a little hard to get energetic after waiting around all day for a show, and then we'll suddenly have 30 minutes to be as high-energy as possible. You don't want get up there and be all [sighs] "doo de doo-doo.
Stephanie: It'd be like the equivalent of crushing beer cans on our heads.
Rachelle: Or doing shots of Jager.
Tiina: It's a healthier way to get your energy up. [Laughter]