Martyn Leaper flows into adulthood with Into The River, the first Minders album in a decade
Since forming in 1996, Martyn Leaper and the Minders have morphed from Elephant 6 darlings to twee-pop anarchists, throwing love bombs and denouncing nothing. Most non-fans remember the Minders’ auspicious 1998 debut, Hooray For Tuesday, and its unfairly derided follow-up, 2001’s Golden Street, but the band was active until 2006’s slight-but-lovely It’s A Bright Guilty World. That year also marked the divorce of British ex-pat/Minders’ sole constant Leaper and drummer/founding member Rebecca Cole. The Minders’ only interim release has been the second, mp3 web-only iteration of their odds-and-sods Cul-De-Sacs And Dead Ends. In the gap, Leaper wrote and demoed new songs when he could crowbar it into his 40-hour work week. In 2012, he began documenting those songs with a coterie of musicians from his Portland, Ore., home base, including Cole. Along with renowned producer Larry Crane (Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney), Leaper began finding the thread of Into The River, the first actual Minders studio work in a decade.
“I wanted to make a good record that flowed from beginning to end and makes sense,” says Leaper. “One reason it took so long is I don’t make a living from doing this, so I have to work, and I was trying to fit this in as much as possible. If the songs weren’t there, I’d just wait. I’d have an idea and go, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I need to do next to that song,’ and the record’s style started to take shape.”
Into The River doesn’t follow a narrative arc, but a central theme evolved over the writing/recording process. The title track’s arrival late in the game crystallized Leaper’s thoughts about the album as a whole.
“The words came together very quickly. When I got the title, I was like, ‘Oh, that should be the record,’” he says. “It’s about being pulled along by the strong currents of life. When I started writing these songs, it was the beginning of the recession and I’d gone through my divorce. Into The River is going into the fray of a number of problems and maladies, the travails of adult life. It’s not a sugary sweet twee-pop record; I guess it’s a grown-up record.”
Leaper’s musical accompaniment on Into The River includes the Minders’ current touring version, which coalesced during sessions two years ago. With so many working parts and so much elapsed time, Into The River’s cohesion is a testament to Leaper’s malleable vision and Crane’s estimable skills.
“It was done in one place with one producer, that’s why it sounds consistent,” says Leaper. “Larry’s steady hand in guiding sessions is how we were able to keep everything together. And he made really good suggestions. A lot of the approach was ‘less is more’ although there’s some busyness going on. That might actually be my fault, but Larry was able to steer it along.”
Into The River retains Leaper’s natural Britpop tendencies, while veering into more emotionally rich territory, which he credits to his exposure to country and Americana music. The triumphant baroque pop of “It’s Gonna Break Out” bristles like Beatles-influenced Smiths, while “Summer Song” bubbles like Robert Pollard channeling Pete Townshend.
But the title track’s two distinct versions are the album’s crown jewels, the first a bare-bones arrangement of Cole on piano and Leaper on vocals, the second a full-band work-up. The stripped-back version suggests an almost baptismal connection to the river in the title, while the fuller version accentuates Leaper’s “river as life” intention.
“I got drawn in by the strong emotional undercurrents of country music from the ’50s and ’60s,” says Leaper. “When you go through a breakup and listen to that stuff, it’s a way to cleanse and extract your dark emotions. It draws it out of you. That’s what I was thinking with that song.”