The busiest man in music: Michael Shuman of Mini Mansions

It’s early afternoon on a gloriously sunny and clear day. Melbourne has really turned it on for Queens of the Stone Age bassist and founding member of Mini Mansions, Michael Shuman. In the short wander from the hotel down to a nearby park, we witness not one but two wedding shoots. Evidently love is in the air – appropriate, considering the lyrical content of Mini Mansions newest EP: A topic our conversation definitely dives into. 


It’s not quite the first body of work since 2015, but Works Every Time has been a little while coming. In the lead up to it’s release the band dropped a collection of B-sides which bridged the gap. An unofficial-official release, it was pulled together independently and actually helped to fund the new record.

Now that the band are nestled under a new label, attention has since pointed to the upcoming EP. Mikey is stepping into press duties while in town on tour with Queens Of The Stone Age. Interviews are occurring, hype is building and he’s stoked that new music will soon reach even more ears than just those of music industry, It’s exciting to be talking to people that are listening to it, and that have heard it, because it’s not out yet. You sit with it for so long, and you think it’s pretty good, and then people tell you it’s terrible, and you go “Okay, got it.”

“But no, it’s feeling really good.”

On the note of the EP, were you always working towards a smaller release rather than an album? Or did that decision come about after production had already started?

We usually just go in and write as much material as we can. That’s why I think on The Great Pretenders we had 25 songs, and had to release B-sides. We had so much material because you want options – I don’t like to go in and be writing 10 songs, knowing you’re going to have a 10 song record and that’s it. I think it’s good to blast through a lot of shit, and then look back and see what works on a record, sequence wise. I think that’s really important.

We wrote a bunch of tunes, and then once we had them all done, we went back and thought: ‘Well there’s a few more..’. To be fair, there was a little bit of turmoil within the band, just questioning how long we’d like to exist. So, this kind of saved us from that, from splitting up. We just were never together, us all being in two or three bands. So when we finally had a chance to come back and write these tunes – that’s the reason we did this EP. We didn’t have enough material to do much more, but we had a few and knew they were good, and knew they belonged together. So in the end it was our saving grace, really. 

That’s a tough realisation, that ‘yes’, you want to stay together and put this out. It must be a lot of pressure – your time and creative energy is split across so many bands, how do you pull it all together?

I just don’t take any days off, really. Maybe on tour I’ll get a day off and sit in a hotel room. If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. It’s kind of what you have to do. You set out a year or 2 years in advance of recording, and the touring cycle, and all the stuff. So when you look at it, on a calendar, there’s literally just no time. So you’re just filling in dates here and there. Working makes me feel good, and I feel complete when I’m doing music – whatever it is. In the studio or touring. So for me it’s not a burden. Even when I’m tired or whatever, it’s not. It’s fun. It’s fun for me. It’s not like ‘oh I need a vacation’. Although I probably should. 

Are you working on Mini Mansion stuff off cycle of QOTSA?

I think we were making, writing, recording Mini Mansions tunes while I was doing Villains. You know, if we took a week off. Or, on the weekends, or going during the day and doing something else at night. I mean literally just packing it in.

But yeah, you have to be prepared too. Be prepared so that when this Queens cycle is done, I’m going to go right into another touring cycle, so you’ve got to have all of your ducks in a row. There’s no rules.

With that in mind, how did this new EP come together? Was it split up over quite a significant period of time – just working on it every couple of months or so?

Most stuff does, but not this. This was super quick. We had these new songs Tyler and I demoed separately. Usually we demo, then come together and really hash them out together, and transform the songs into a whole different beast, but this was kind of like – we did things a little separate. So it was easy to get in the studio – I think it was in about 10 days we recorded, mixed it, and put all the finishing writing touches on them. So it was really quick for us, which we usually don’t do. It usually fucking lasts forever, because we have the time. There’s no rush, we’re usually like ‘well, we’ll probably release this in two years so we can take our time with it’. This was like: ‘we’re all in the same city for this amount of time, let’s bust this out.’

That was actually really rewarding, to not have to think too much. Just let it come naturally.

Did this shift change up the song writing process then? Obviously it was in quick succession – so did that change how you approached the actual writing of the songs?

The songs were kind of demoed out before. It was more about choosing which songs were going to go together and making sure that is was still a cohesive piece, while being a 4 song EP.

EPs are weird for me, so usually I don’t love them, but there have been some great ones, and if they’re done right they can be really awesome. But I think they have to be well thought out. You can’t just have a single and 3 shit songs. But I remember that first TV On The Radio EP that came out. This is when I was younger, and I remember that Mars Volta EP – it was only 4 songs but they made such a big impact on me.

We probably put the most time in with the cover, because you’ve really got to think about that and not blow it, and do the song justice.

Why did you decide on using A Girl Like You to be the cover on the EP?

I mean besides just being a fan of that song, and it being very nostalgic for me, I wanted a song that was going to align with our lyrical content, for the other 3 songs, and have us feel like it was a Mini Mansions song at the end. I think that’s what you should do when you do a cover song, is make it your own, and even though it’s not, feel like they’re your lyrics in some way. So I felt like lyrically it was very in line with the other songs.

I remember the first time I heard the original of that song. It was on Charlie’s Angels.

Okay, well there you go, see now I remember it from Empire Records. Empire Records is where I found that song, so yeah. That’s the nostalgia for me.

 

More on the lyrical content of the EP. You guys have stated that it’s more emotional and vulnerable. Is it ever scary? To put those emotions out on a record for all the world to hear?

Yeah, it’s really scary. You’re letting your guard down. I mean the music world is very… You can go in different ways and be mysterious, which I always liked in music. My favourite bands, I really don’t know who the fuck those guys were. I thought until this generation, it was really exciting – because you could have mystery music. But since you can’t anymore really, it’s hard. You have to fucking say what sandwich you’re eating on Tuesday, because everyone wants to know…

And post a picture on Instagram too.

Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. So, since that’s the world we live in, it’s like, I’m okay to adapt, and I think just as a man, I’ve evolved, and I’m okay with being more vulnerable. But it is scary. I’m a private person. I don’t really love people knowing too much about my private life and family. It’s not for everybody. Just like how I don’t need to know about someone else’s private life. But I think, at the same time, I wanted to write songs that connect with people, they way that my favourite songs, which are mostly love songs, have connected with me. There’s only one way to do that, and that’s to open up, and be as real as possible.

I want to touch on something that we mentioned earlier: The tracklisting of the EP. You mentioned that you put a lot of time and effort in, wanting to make it right. Is there a certain intention, narrative or journey the tracklist takes you on?

Yes and no. I feel like they’re all tapping into the same sort of love story, but at the same time, it gets darker. So I think musically a little bit more, it takes you on this journey, but I think lyrically they kind of live in the same world. It’s not a concept story. It’s not a musical or anything like that. I think musically we wanted it to ramp up and… actually, the lyrics get heavier. ‘This Bullet’ is not very pleasant.

We mentioned it up the top, but I do want to come back to it. You released like a whole mini-album of B-sides, why did you want to put those out in the world?

Because when we recorded those, we recorded around 25 songs, and we weren’t like ‘these are shit, and these are great’. I think sequencing is extremely important in a record, it can be just as important as any other part of it. So when we did Great Pretenders it was just as case of, ‘these songs fit together, and we think that it works’. We were like ‘we still want to release these songs, we still think they’re great, but we don’t want feel like we’re gong backwards to make a new record.

We knew our fans wanted to hear them and at the time we didn’t have a label, so we did this thing to fund our record – released these B-sides that we made ourselves, and put it all together ourselves, and then our fans bought it, and we got to make this new record. Now we have a label. Well we didn’t, so that’s how we had to do it.

Words and images by Rochelle Flack.

Listen to the new EP Works Every Time.

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