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Minto Climbs Olympus by Matt Hagarty
It's any young band's dream to record an album with such a marquee name as Steve Albini's. Recording with the famed sound engineer/pundit responsible for output from Nirvana, Superchunk, The Stooges, and Cheap Trick (to name a few) means instant exposure, good advice from a legend, and a damn good story to tell. Vancouver's Minto (formerly known as The Smokes) recently realized such a dream. The local fuzz rockers pulled the necessary strings, raised the necessary funds, and booked the necessary flights to the studio down in Chicago and, once there, vocalist and frontman Ryan Hoben couldn't sing a god damned note.
"This was big time. We were down there for eight days and [my voice] was still gone. I was freaking out. When we had to lay the tracks I was sweating it so hard...I was losing it. I started thinking, 'okay, I could fly back in three months or when I can afford it again, book another couple days at the studio and give it another shot." explains Hoben. But the rock gods must have been smiling down on Minto. "All at once it just kinda came back, I had a bottle of scotch and some Marly menthols and after that I think I sang seven or eight songs in one sitting and it turned out fantastic. Which I just couldn't believe. Thank god."
The album that Ryan and his fellow Mintonians Suzy Easton, Evret Tucker, Kalvin Olafson, and Jimi Ceull laid down with Albini at the controls, is titled "Lay It On Me" and is due out in July. Working with Albini, according to Hoben, came easily.
"He was talking about Hunter S Thompson and Courtney Love and the Pixies and all this shit: the guy has got a million stories. And here we are, just a young, small band. When he first walked in we didn't even know if we should bother him or leave him alone. The next day we started joking around like crazy. We got along famously."
The comfortable atmosphere must have paid off. The tracks that the band have pre-released on their Myspace show a group of ambitious rock n' roll believers coming into their own and embracing their talents and influences. Minto has moved effortlessly from their original alt-countryish sound to a much more powerful and heavy rock sound, evidenced in tracks such as "Tonight I Lay My Head", a sweeping, epic arena rocker with all the best kind of Neil Young influences. It's like a loud and proud, tear-in-the-eye, drunken singalong. They even embraced a more spiritual side on the new tracks, an element the group didn't notice until a fan asked if they were a Christian band (they aren't).
"I kinda bullshited him but then the next day I woke up and listened to our stuff and realized that there's a lot of religious imagery, which is pretty strange," Hoben explains through laughter, "we're like some kinda 70's fuzzed out drunken gospel band."
Drunkeness and youthful rebellion are staples in any rock circuit, and Ryan and Minto know this well. But the band try to strike a balance between that aspect of the lifestyle and the pursuit of honest rock n' roll perfection. It's reflected in the recent name change to Minto, which is in reference to a small town in New Brunswick, near where Hoben is originally from. "It's this debauched little town. It's got a lot of problems, lots of fighting and hard drinking and drugs. But the thing is: it's still a beautiful little place, so it has this interesting double aspect to it. A nice little rural community with these intense social problems as well. That duality exists in every band, I think."
The rock n' roll dream is a worthy one to this self described "arena folk" band:
"We just want to work our shitty jobs, tour a bunch, come back and work our shitty jobs, go tour some more. It's the dream, man. It's kind of a weird, shitty dream compared to what other people may be dreaming, but it works for us."