The Reunion of Mineral Isn't a Nostalgia Trip, It's a Band Finally Getting Their Dues 20 Years Later
As unsung bands of the 90s reunite en masse, we talk to Chris Simpson about what it’s like playing to a new generation of crowds who actually know who they are.
Along with Sunny Day Real Estate, Braid, and Toni Braxton, Mineral’s music has become synonymous with being sad and alone, peering wistfully out of a bus window in the rain. While analyzing all your romantic failures, you raise your index finger and draw a sad face in the condensation.
“I bring it on myself,” Chris Simpson’s vocals lament over guitar lines that are the aural manifestation of your soul shattering into so many parts it would turn Voldemort green with envy. Because for many, Mineral are more than just a band. They are the official soundtrack to every break-up, every inner-conflict, and those initial moments of clarity that follow. So when the announcement came last year that they would be re-grouping to play their first live shows in 17 years, it was a big deal for people like me who rely almost exclusively on music to express themselves.
Until recently, Mineral were a band crystallized in the past. They formed in Texas in 1994 and broke up three years later in the middle of recording their second album, EndSerenading. Much like their fellow and also recently-reunited godfathers of emo, American Football, their legacy has been written largely in hindsight as a result of their early break-up. A lot of present-day fans (myself included) were still in single-digits when Mineral called it quits, so the thought of ever seeing them IRL was a pipe dream. That is, until Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World got up one morning, made a phone call, and changed everything.
“I hung out with him in Austin and we had coffee, just catching up,” Chris tells me in a hotel lobby a few hours before Mineral play the Underworld in Camden - the final date of their first ever UK tour. “He called me a few months after saying he had this idea for a 20th anniversary show for Jimmy Eat World in LA with a bunch of bands they used to play with in the early days. It didn’t end up happening. I guess it was too ambitious a plan to get all these bands together who were spread around the country, some of whom hadn’t played together in years. But Mineral had already started practising. So at that point we were like, well, maybe we should try and do a tour or something.”
Given that Jimmy Eat World blew up to a point where they now share stages with Taylor Swift, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that their roots lie in Midwestern DIY, originally touring and releasing splits with bands like Emery, Christie Front Drive, Blueprint, and Jejune. Anyway, it was Adkins keeping firm ties that led to Mineral embarking on a short US tour in 2014, followed by a European tour and a series of festival appearances this year. “We were definitely surprised early on in the States at the size and energy of the crowds,” says Chris, “We’re getting to play to fairly full rooms of people who know the material and want to see it, and that energy is something unique. We never had that before.”
That energy was definitely present in Camden on February 13, in all it’s sweaty pre-Valentine’s Day passion/bitter solitude. People crammed themselves into the sold-out venue tighter than Jim Morrison packed himself into trousers, all captivated and completely silent (when they weren’t singing along) for what felt like the first time since the dawn of the smart phone.
The stigma attached to 90s Midwestern emo bands like Mineral is one of bleary-eyed despondency, which is only half-true. For every occasional “Unfinished” that makes you want to fall face-first into a pile of bin bags and sleep for a thousand years, there is a “Gloria” that makes you want to dust yourself off and try again, or a “February” that feels like the sun's coming up inside your body.
Mineral have always occupied a corner of sadness that remains forward-looking, and that is reflected in the positive energy of their live shows. At their core, they are not a fragile band. They were brought together by a mutual love of albums like Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins and Chrome by The Catherine Wheel. Their whole vibe is based on really fucking loud guitars counterbalanced by soft vocals. They are both powerful and pensive, a far cry from the stereotypes of eyeliner and misery that developed in the early 00s after their demise, or the patient post-rock infused landscapes of the next generation of bands they inspired.
Like every other 90s band that has been retrospectively tarred with the “emo” brush, they are not as easily maligned as that. For me, Mineral always had a sense of total abandon as well as comfort about them. As a band, they’re like that friend who can always relate to you when you're right down there on the floor in a hopeless puddle, and somehow convince you to get up and go for a pint. Sure enough, at the reunion shows, the crowds weren’t there to dwell on their woes. They were there to fist-bump the air, cheer and “YEAH” their way through material that had, until then, only been played in their bedrooms.
It's funny, isn't it? When bands reunite, there will always be people who don’t want to hear about it. They’ll sack it off as a “time and place” thing that doesn’t make sense outside of it’s original context. Or, they’ll throw shade at the band for cashing in on dues they paid two decades ago. Both are reasonable subjective points of view, but from the perspective of a band that didn’t stay active long enough to be appreciated as much as they are today, it’s a different story. “In the past, it was kind of us against the world,” Chris says. “Not that we were trying to convert anyone, we were just trying to express ourselves. But we used to play with our backs to the crowd most of the time and it was just very insulated. Now, it’s nice to actually connect with a crowd of people who already support and sort of love your music.”
As it is with American Football, Braid, The Jazz June, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Refused and the other 90s acts now reforming, many Mineral fans are of a generation or half-generation who actually discovered the band after they threw in the towel. But for such a “time and place” sound, what is it about their music that keeps resonating with people decades after it was written? I interviewed Mike Kinsella ahead of the first American Football dates last year and he suggested that their eponymous album has stood the test of time because it captured something that will always appeal to awkward teens trying to find their place in the world, and there will never be a shortage of those. I ask Chris if he thinks it’s a similar thing with Mineral? “I think so. What I love about the whole thing is that records are immortal, you know? Even if nobody notices them when they come out, they will live forever. Like, someone can discover them down the road and it’ll change their life. I think that’s a beautiful thing. These [Mineral] records were made when we were pretty young and we sort of walked away from that part of our lives, but they continued to connect with people and people have continued to discover them. That’s really great.”
For me, the thing that set Mineral apart was that their lyrics dealt with a lot of spiritual and social anxieties—topics that would fall more in line with a band like mewithoutYou than the likes of Christie Front Drive or Jejune. It was about more than teenage awkwardness. “I had grown up and gotten into a particular kind of Christian belief set,” Chris explains, carefully. “The Mineral years were my first time away from home and out in the world, and I think I was trying to figure out what I believed as opposed to what I was raised with. I felt at the time that I was writing about an actual physical relationship with another being, which was just my sense of spirituality. Now I don’t really have that sense of some other being anymore, but I’m still very interested in spirituality. I read a lot of Eastern philosophy and psychology. Psychology is almost like my spirituality now.”
Though it may not share the same blatancy or narrative thread as albums like American Football’s self-titled or Penfold’s Amateurs and Professionals, the theme of love is still one that permeates Mineral’s back catalogue. Since the show fell on Valentine’s Eve, we get onto the subject of love, and Chris—in a gentle Southern twang that is never once raised above a moderate inside voice—offers me the following advice:
“Love doesn’t really repeat itself, so you never have it figured out. If a relationship is gonna work—not that young people should be concerned about that, necessarily—but it's like a mirror for yourself. You can find out a lot about yourself in it, if you’re willing to look. If you’re not, it’s probably not gonna work. It’s an everyday process. It’s not just like, 'Oh, I’m in love with this person so we’re good to go.' I’ve been with the same girl since around the time Mineral broke up. We’ve been together for 11 years and got married seven years ago, so I don’t have a ton of experience, but in another way I do have a large body of work in this relationship. And I think you just have to choose to make it work everyday, you know? It’s a wonderful gift to have someone, but it’s work, for sure.”
A similar logic could be applied to keeping a band together, and Mineral reached a point where they were unable to manage it. In the 17 years they spent apart, they didn’t play the material at all and very rarely re-visited it. “It was really hard to technically get back into the songs. But, emotionally, the connection was kind of immediate and it feels really good. Playing the songs and being with these guys again doesn’t feel nostalgic for me as much as it is actually being transported back there.”
New material isn’t on the cards at the moment. Chris describes the idea of writing with Mineral again as “an interesting concept," one that would have to come about “organically." So if there will ever be a new Mineral album, it definitely won’t be dropping Beyoncé-style anytime soon. As my time with him comes to an end, I ask Chris something that’s been niggling at me for over a decade. Why the fuck, on the artwork of their first album The Power of Failing, is the title written in Comic Sans?
“At the time, we thought it would be funny,” he laughs. “We wanted to give a light hearted flavour to a serious record, you know? It’s funny because when we did the re-masters and re-packaging we changed the font. We were like, are we allowed to change it? Because we just hate it. I don’t know how we ended up with it. I remember thinking it looked awesome. I mean, there weren’t nearly as many fonts to choose from, but even so. It was kind of funny to make the decision to change it for the re-issues. Like, we seriously don’t have to stick with that maybe tasteless decision we made 20 years ago... right?”
The Power of Failing and EndSerenading have been re-mastered and re-released through Xtra Mile.
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