Monday, September 1, 2008

Chicago musician Q&A: Mark Minelli

There are a lot of musicians trying to make a name for themselves in Chicago, but it's safe to say that few are as passionate as singer-songwriter Mark Minelli. Just take a listen to his music - which is acoustic-yet-lively, rooted in folk-yet-unconventional - and you'll know he's one worth discovering. He recently released the 7-track "Grenade, Grenade! (Everybody Get Down)" and is currently working on his first full-length release.
Mark took the time to fill us in on his sound and style, living as a musician in Chicago and what Robin Williams thinks of him. Read on.
How do you describe your music?
When trying to describe my music to people, I try to stay away from comparisons to other artists. I always want to pick someone awesome (obviously), but then I come off sounding arrogant. I can’t very well be like “Ever heard of Bob Dylan? Yeah, I’m just like that.” So, instead I try to relay what it might feel like to hear my music. I write and play, primarily, on a nylon string guitar, and it provides the beat as well as the rhythm. I sing in manner that is smooth, yet aggressive. My music is rooted in simplicity. I find that the most beautiful songs are, often, the simplest. The content of my lyrics are not metaphors and poetry to be decrypted at a later time. They are, simply, my words giving you insight into what I feel. I think my music makes you feel good. I want to make people be moved and want to move.

Who are your biggest influences?
I put my influences into two different categories: Those who made me want to make music, and those who I want to make music like.
The reason I decided to play music, wanted to play music, was because of my father. He has been a folk guitarist and songwriter for 40 years. He introduced me to artists and albums that would throw fuel on my fire to make music. "Moondance" by Van Morrison and "Freewheelin’" by Bob Dylan changed forever how I looked at music and life. Those influences that made me want to make music then led me to find artists that I wanted to play like. I was born (and probably will die) a folk guitarist; however, there are many ways to define “folk.”
My main influences, stylistically, are globe trotting. I play the nylon string guitar because of my love for Studio Sessions with Seu Jorge. Seu Jorge is a Brazilian artist that covers David Bowie Songs in Portuguese on the classical guitar for a Wes Anderson film. I fell in love with that album, and it’s probably my most listened to of all time. A close second, though, is "Riot on an Empty Street" by Kings of Convenience. They are a Norwegian duo with the most amazing talent for harmony and melody.

When and how did you start making music?
My father convinced me in eighth grade to pick up the bass guitar. He and my older brother Bobby (The Gentlemen’s Club) already played guitar. So I did, and was immediately playing in the coveted high school garage band. Playing bass didn’t fulfill what I need creatively; however, it did instill in me a great ear and finger style skill. I didn’t use a pick on bass then, and I don’t use one on guitar now either.
I moved to Chicago in 2002 to chase scholarly pursuits (that went nowhere), and here my life as a guitarist/songwriter began. I didn’t feel I had the capability to start up a full band living on campus in a new city, so my brother, already a resident, and I started playing out as an acoustic duo. My brother eventually moved on to the full rock band, but I found my passion in solo performance. Since then I have been playing out relentlessly and writing constantly. It’s a “do it yourself” time in the music industry and that’s how I’ve been spending the last five or so years.

What has been your most memorable experience as a musician to date?
I was musical act playing as a part of the comedy Sunday night Entertaining Julia at Town hall Pub in May 2008. Jena Friedman (Check her out!), who ran the show, had been doing some shows at the Lakeshore Theatre, and Robin Williams came in one night. He was in town filming the Ellen Degeneres show, and they got to chatting about Town Hall. So, he stopped by the following Sunday. The Julia show is always great; it was packed, and I did a couple songs for everyone. After my set Robin came up and did some stand up for us. He spotted me from the stage and said, “You’re fu**ing awesome,
brother! Wasn’t he fu**ing awesome?” He proceeded to do a bit on how I use Latin influences in my tunes to get laid. We got to chat a bit after and he got a CD of mine. It was pretty wild. The people I meet while playing out are what I remember; regardless if they’ve won an Oscar or not.

How does your songwriting process work?

I love writing lyrics. Usually, I’ll have a line I heard somewhere or thought of and I’ll make it the cornerstone of a track. For example, on “Some Sort of Fool,” off of my most recent album, my girlfriend and I were at a bar and she said that line. I told her then that I was going to use it, and we made a napkin contract. It was never honored.
I try to write most of my lyrics in the shower. If I am sitting with a guitar I tend to get stuck on a lick or progression, and I can’t focus. If I write my words with melody without guitar, I can then sit down and piece something together. My music is a “when it rains it pours” kind of thing. When I hit on something I bust it out in 20 minutes or so. I can’t have time to dwell on it or I’ll sink it all.

How has living and playing in Chicago influenced or shaped your sound?

There are so many honest people here. They work their asses off for their passions; and hell, they even work their asses off for my passions! I wouldn’t be the artist I am if it weren’t for the kind of person that this city breeds.
I have lived on couches for months at a time, with no animosity. I have gone long periods of time with nothing to speak of financially and people have reached out to me. I have opened shows for major acts because a friend has faith in me. I have recorded full albums because a friend thinks I am capable. The reason I am able to make sound here at all is because of the people that surround me.
That being said, the city itself feeds artists like myself. Chicago is like a candle that never burns down. There is always something going on, always somewhere to go, always people to see and hear, and that is what enables my creativity. Everything I write is about Chicago.

What is your favorite place to play in Chicago, or the place you most want to play?

Town Hall Pub on Halsted may not be the place the A&R reps are running to or whatever, but the people come there to listen. That’s not an easy thing to find. It’s always a packed house and the staff appreciates the fact that you are bringing people around. It’s great. Also, I haven’t had the chance to play The Hideout yet. Everybody says I would be well suited there; so, we’ll see what happens.

What are your plans for the future?
I am currently working on a full length debut. In the fall I am planning on going in to the studio with Ben Flint at Electrical Audio. And of course, I will continue to play out as often as my physical limits allow.

What’s the one thing you most want people to know about you and your music?

That I mean it. I write and play music because I have to. It is ingrained in the deepest part of me. My passion for this is something more awesome, intense, frustrating, and rewarding than I could ever describe. I know that if people just take the time to listen they will hear exactly what they were hoping for.

How can people check out your music?
I am always around the city. The third Sunday of every month, starting in October, I will be at Town Hall Pub on Halsted (in the month of September I’ll be there the 14th). You can also find me online at and In April I released the album "Grenade, Grenade! (Everybody Get Down)," which is available online and at shows. I pride myself on my live performance, and I promise if you see me, you’ll know why.

1 comment:

  1. Great articale on Mark Minelli - I agree... he is awesome! -Jennifer Irwin