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Mint Condition: Indie Fresh

Just because you don’t see their videos all over TV, doesn’t mean Mint Condition qualifies as one of those Behind the Music wash-up bands. The quintet from Minneapolis has been spending the last few years blazing the independent trail. In 2005, Mint Condition released Living the Luxury Brown on their own label CagedBird Records, which hit number one on Billboard’s Independent charts. Fans who have followed their heavy tour schedule and collaborations with stars like Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, Janet Jackson and Charlie Wilson, are eagerly awaiting the group’s next move.Far from the group that made the girls swoon with hits like “Breaking My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” and “U Send Me Swingin,’” Mint Condition is exploring how the internet can interfere or enhance, love, relationships and family, with their sixth studio release, e-Life. From collaborations with Anthony Hamilton, Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest and Phonte of Little Brother it is clear that the band is ready once again to give fans what they have been waiting for. Sitting down with the bass/lead guitar player Rick Kinchen and saxophone/keyboard player Jeffrey Allen, the two explain what has kept Mint Condition viable for 17 years, and why they are virtually R&B’s last band standing.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: What’s Minneapolis like? The only things most people know about the city is Prince, The Time, and Mint Condition.Jeffrey Allen: St. Paul is right next to Minneapolis; that’s where we are from. It’s kind of like a college town. Minneapolis is more progressive, like a little version of Chicago or New York. It’s a good area if you are trying to raise a family. AHHA: And there is obviously good music there.Allen: Definitely. Hopefully, we are paving the way for an artist or group from the next generation. Because we’re almost the only group left around here, as far as R&B is concerned. We want to influence some of the younger artists to continue in the band thing.Rick Kinchen: Or influence them to go solo. [laughs] There’s an artist by the name of Rocky Robinson who is one of the best vocalists. Then there’s Alexander O’Neil. AHHA: A lot of your fans are excited about your new album, yet some are like, “Where has Mint Condition been?” How do you respond to that?Allen: We try to do our best to keep the name out there. Sometimes in between projects we are doing other things like production or a soundtrack. Or may be we are backing up other artists, to keep the name out there. We’ve done some of that in the last year or so, so hopefully with that plus this new project coming out, we can jog the memories of some of the people who forgot about us.AHHA: You have started your own label, CagedBird Records. What are the pros and cons of being independent artists?Kinchen: You don’t have that machine behind you. Big labels also have other artists who they can cross market with each other. Allen: The pros are you make your money faster and you don’t have to sell as much to make your money back. Kinchen: You get paid right away instead of one day. You also get a large percent of the shows.AHHA: So would you encourage groups and singers today to go the independent route?Kinchen: Not really. Some people have their opinion. I don’t really have a set opinion. If you can have me in the Target Center, and I’m making $350,000 a night, I wouldn’t be worried about label politics and all that other stuff. I’m keeping it real. I look at some of the artists, and on their first record they blow up, like Maroon 5. That’s the big money. So I ain’t mad at that. They might be giving up more freedom, but they are getting a lot on the other end. So it works both ways.AHHA: Mint Condition has been together for 17 years. How do you keep the band together that long?Kinchen: One thing that you keep in mind is that this is a job. I’m going to give it to you straight. We fight sometimes, but it’s basically like a job. If you don’t do it, you don’t make any money. If you do have something else going on, sometimes you wouldn’t want to do it. [Keyboardist Keri Lewis] is not in the band anymore, but I don’t really blame him, because it’s rough being in a band. It’s like three different TV shows. You got Good Times, you got The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show. We always have to make decisions together, and there’s clashing. It can be a monster. There are a lot of positives too. We make great music together. Working with a lead singer like Stokley [Williams], and all these guys are incredible. It’s magic and it’s really not anything that hard. It gets rough sometimes though.AHHA: Who is the David Ruffin of the group?Allen: That’s a good question. [laughs]Kinchen: That can change. [laughs] I’m going to say, we probably have one.AHHA: Maybe all of you have a little bit of David Ruffin in you. Allen: It’s definitely like a family. One of us might be the crazy uncle for the day. Some might be calmer. It’s kinda like that when you put it all together.AHHA: What is the formula for a good band?Allen: Well, definitely some kind of talent. We also have like four or five core beliefs. A lot of stuff we mentioned before is smaller stuff. And being ready for opportunity is very important. One day, you are going to meet somebody or be playing in the same room for somebody, and you’re going to have your chance. And you have to be ready. AHHA: Where did you come up with the album title, e-Life?Kinchen: The record is about…like at one point I was on MySpace like crazy. I wouldn’t eat, and if I did it was in front of the computer. And my kids were like, “You want to play or something?” And that’s when I looked at it like, I just need to be a better dad and spend more time with my kids instead of the folks on the internet. I’m sure everybody has been online until four or five o’clock in the morning.The record is also about celebrating family. It’s about women who are living in the fast lane, they sex messaging. Like in the song, “Gold Digger,” I wish I could have found another title. But in the song, she’s really not a gold digger; she’s just someone who likes success. Once a woman is dating someone with a lot of money, it’s hard to go back to a regular guy, because she’s accustomed to so much more. Once you meet a pro-athlete, or a man who can take you anywhere in the world, it’s hard to go back to the guy who works at Target. But at some point, you have to find a balance between someone who will treat you right and give you love. We have a song called “Wish I Could Love You,” about a woman who is always kickin’ it, and always has stuff going on; just being a little bit of a pimp. AHHA: You have many collaborations on the album. How did those come about?Kinchen: We have always wanted to work with other people. And it wasn’t just the big stars we wanted on the album. We wanted people we respect as artists. We always loved Little Brother. With the song “Somethin’” with Phonte from Little Brother, we sent him the track, explained the story and what he wrote was an exact match. Allen: We met Anthony Hamilton at some gigs that we have played together for the last couple years. We’ve always talked about working with him. When Rick put together “Baby Boy, Baby Girl,” it was a natural fit for him. That’s definitely someone we really respect.AHHA: What is your favorite Mint Condition song?Allen: “Sad Girl” from the last album, or “So Fine.” But “Sad Girl” represents all of us at our best performance.Kinchen: I guess I have favorite songs on each of the albums. A lot of the songs I know make fans happy or people close to me happy are good to me. I’m a writer, so that is what makes me feel good.

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