In 1991, I was the music editor at my college newspaper. It was an exciting time because seminal groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, De La Soul, and others were changing the musical landscape.
One day, while I was sifting through the pile of CDs on my desk, I noticed a new group called Mint Condition. Their debut album, Meant to be Mint, featured a cover photo of the six band members dressed in their finest 90s-garb. I was intrigued because I rarely received CDs from R&B bands. I popped the CD into my player and listened while I worked.
I was passively listening to the album until “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” came on (The song stayed on the charts for 34 weeks, hitting #3 on the R&B and #6 on Pop). The synth intro followed by lead singer Stokley Williams’ smooth crooning, made me stop and pay attention. I gathered the other editors and reporters around my desk to listen to this song. They were equally amazed. I dropped everything I was doing and started writing a review on Meant to be Mint to make sure it was ready for the next edition of the newspaper. I wanted everyone on campus to know about this band.
Over twenty years later, Mint Condition continues to create music that makes people stop and notice. In addition to their classic songs “U Send Me Swingin,” “Forever in Your Eyes,” and “What Kind of Man Would I Be,” Mint Condition is steadily adding new hits to the R&B canon. The band is currently touring in support of their latest album, Music @ The Speed of Life.
I talked to the band about their longevity, the state of R&B bands, and life on the road.
Mocha Man Style: How did Mint Condition originally form?
Mint Condition: We began playing music together in the performing arts program in high school. From there, we played as the back-up band for several vocalists. And finally, we decided to go for it ourselves and formed the band Mint Condition.
MMS: Although you’ve had some changes, you’ve to keep the band intact for over 20 years. What do you contribute this longevity to?
Mint Condition: Singleness of purpose – we are each invested in how best to go about making live music and how to best service our fans. We may sometimes argue about the methodologies but never the goals.
MMS: There don’t seem to be many R&B bands today? Why do you think that is?
Mint Condition: Although there are lots of bands out there playing great music in various venues around the country, they continue to be ignored by recording companies. For those companies, it’s a dollars and cents and a logistical issue; it is easier and costs less to support and send a solo artist around the country than a band. It’s a myopic viewpoint that overlooks the artistic value and earning potential of many great bands.
MMS: How can we encourage young artists to learn to play instruments and form bands?
Mint Condition: Getting kids interested in music early is important. For sure, we have to encourage and support school music programs. We also need to implement new programs that address current issues i.e., providing instruments and practice places for kids with little economic resources.
MMS: Tell me about your current album, Music @ The Speed of Life.
Mint Condition: Real music in real-time (the music was written and recorded while the experience or inspiration was happening rather than later).
MMS: Describe your songwriting process. Is it a total group collaboration?
Mint Condition: Our songwriting process is varied. Sometimes a band member will bring an idea or musical framework to other band members for collaboration. At other times, an individual band member will write an entire song solo. And of course, some songs are born as group efforts in the rehearsal space.
MMS: You’re currently on tour. After two decades on the road, does it ever get tired?
Mint Condition: It’s funny – when we are away for a long while, we can’t wait to get back home, and when we are at home for a long time, we can’t wait to hit the road.
MMS: What was your most memorable performance?
Mint Condition: Our performance on BET’s former Video Soul show was a highlight for us in that we were able to first present ourselves to the world as a live band. Another big frontrunner was a performance when Prince sat in with us on guitar!
MMS: How has the industry changed since you started?
Mint Condition: ProTools in lieu multi-million dollar studios, and I-tunes and streaming sites in lieu of CDs sort of sums it up.
MMS: I’m a pretty good tambourine player. Is there an opening in the band for me?
Mint Condition: Grab your tambourine and let’s do it!!