It’s an absolute pleasure to bring Chris Simpson into the America Is Just A World fold.
Part of my inclination for adding more interviews and material to what I’ve already written for the book is to really uncover the narratives that have been overlooked, and no band’s lifetime has the same mixture of mild coverage and crass disregard for the group’s actual story like Mineral. For many, Mineral was a pre-eminent mid-90s emo act, if not the pre-eminent act of the time. And yet, a large portion of their story is generally unknown, despite the band’s importance on future generations of C chord pluckers.
Andy Greenwald dedicates three pages or so to the band in Nothing Feels Good – a whole three pages! On Greenwald’s terms, that’s an infinite space for a band to take up if the name of their project doesn’t start with a “Dashboard”. Without speaking to Simpson, Jeremy Gomez (bass), Scott McCarver (guitar), or Gabriel Wiley (drums), Greenwald conveniently tried to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Fortunately, Simpson has been kind enough to lend some time to this ongoing project of mine, and was able to jot down some answers to my endless stream of email questions. As you can see from just a sampling of this material, his perspective will be genuinely helpful for the final version of America Is Just A Word.
Tell me about your personal experience growing up. When did musicÂ first hit you, or was it something that was always a part of yourÂ life? When did you start playing music?
Chris Simpson: “I lived in Denver, CO from the age of 4-17, so it feels like where IÂ grew up for the most part. I was really into sports as a kid and gotÂ into skateboarding in my early teens. My mom was very passionate aboutÂ music and we always had to listen to whatever she was hot for at theÂ time. My first musical loves were Lionel Richie and Barry Manilow. TheÂ first record I bought with my own money was Michael Jacksonâ€™sÂ Thriller. At about 14 I think I ditched the sports and skating andÂ decided to go full-on into the music.”
How did Mineral form?
CS: “I finished my last year and a half of high school in Houston, TX. IÂ had met a few friends during school there from going to a lot of shows
and playing solo sets at clubs and coffee shops. I knew I wanted aÂ band and not to perform on my own ultimately. I moved to Austin withÂ my then girlfriend and some other people who were involved in music.Â Soon after doing so I met Scott and we started trying to writeÂ together. We had a very difficult time finding common ground at first.Â I remember that summer that two records came out that sort of
crystallized our direction, The Catherine Wheelâ€™s Chrome andÂ Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream. We were huge into U2 and Sugar and
Buffalo Tom and Superchunk, etc. We started out playing with aÂ different bassist and drummer calling the band â€˜I The Wormâ€™ which was
an awful thing to call a band. Soon after this we started playing withÂ Jeremy and our friend Matt who had also moved to Austin from Houston
that summer, and eventually Gabe took Mattâ€™s place and Mineral, as itÂ was known was begun.”
With The Power of Failing, the album artwork has such a stark,Â minimalist layout â€“ just a white cover with a little text and a photoÂ and a black inner-cover with a little liner notes here and there: isÂ there any particular reason (artistically, economically, etc) why youÂ decided to go with such a format?
CS: “I think there was a general aesthetic amongst all the bands we foundÂ ourselves peers withâ€” Texas is the Reason, The Promise Ring, ChristieÂ Front Drive, Boys Life, Knapsack, etc. Everyone seemed to beÂ interested in art work that was minimal I guess. I think we were just
more interested in letting the music speak for itself.”
Why did Mineral break up?
CS: “As we started writing the second record, I began to feel like we wereÂ growing apart as writers and personally. I just wasnâ€™t excited aboutÂ working together anymore. It didnâ€™t feel free or inspiring. Itâ€™s likeÂ any young relationship I guess. You assume at 19 that theÂ relationships you have in your life will always be there, butÂ realistically, as you get older you start to move in differentÂ directions. It was basically me and Jeremyâ€™s decision at the time toÂ quit the band. It was not something that the other guys wanted orÂ liked, so things were pretty sad at the end between all of us. I haveÂ ultimate respect for Scott and Gabe as people and bandmates and wasÂ sorry to be the driving force behind the end of the band, but you haveÂ to follow your heart and instincts.”
What are your thoughts on â€œemoâ€ in general? When did you first hearÂ it used in combination with describing the music you made (be it withÂ Mineral, the Gloria Record, or Zookeeper)?
CS: “Iâ€™m confused and uninspired by it. I remember when I first heard itÂ was when I gave a tape of Mineral to someone I respected who was alsoÂ a musician and he asked what sort of stuff it was. I guess maybe IÂ mentioned Sunny Day Real Estate as a reference and he said, â€œOh, soÂ itâ€™s kind of emo?â€ I was confused and thought he was referring to theÂ club Emoâ€™s here in Austin where we played a lot in those days. IÂ couldnâ€™t figure out what he could mean by that as a descriptionÂ because as far as the bands who played at Emoâ€™s at the time, I donâ€™tÂ think we were the norm. It was much more of a crusty, garagey, sort ofÂ punk sound for the most part. Soon after I realized what it was he wasÂ saying and that a lot of other people were saying it too. And theyÂ were referring to a lot of predecessors like Rites of Spring, etc thatÂ I was unfamiliar with. There was also a real tie to the hardcoreÂ scene, which seemed to me to be the farthest from what I identifiedÂ Mineral with. So, yeahâ€¦”
In Andy Greenwaldâ€™s book Nothing Feels Good, he pegs Mineral as â€œaÂ quartet of deathly serious young men,â€ yet, all lyrical connotations
aside, it doesnâ€™t seem to be the case â€“ the liner notes to the PowerÂ of Failing include a description that states â€œMineral = pizza boys
gone rock.â€ Do you feel that the label of â€œemoâ€ has done something ofÂ a dis-service to you (and various others) and your music?
CS: “My friend Chris Colbert said it was belittling to the content of theÂ music, and I think thatâ€™s an accurate assessment. It was fun for a bit
to feel that there was this movement that we were considered a partÂ of, but pretty soon you start to realize the danger suchÂ classifications pose to creative freedom. The fact is that it was aÂ movement, but not one we were going through so much as one the peopleÂ who listened to us and came to our shows were going through. As far asÂ Andy Greenwald, I havenâ€™t read the book but I think he wasÂ communicating something that a lot of people were also echoing. ThereÂ was a seriousness and intensity to the material which was notÂ necessarily mirrored in us personally. But most outsiders would haveÂ had no way of knowing it. We were, as the liner notes said, actuallyÂ four pizza boys gone rock.”