The brainchild of Boston-hailing, New York-based singer/songwriter Sean Kilfoyle, it’s hard to believe that MINKS weren’t founded in Winchester or Bexhill-on-Sea in 1983.
Synth-daubed, bass-led tracks like ‘Kusmi’ and ‘Funeral Song’ summon The Cure at their least gothic and most gallopingly new wave, ‘Our Ritual’ is like a less rigid, New Order, and elsewhere there are shades of The Smiths, The Vaselines and the jangly psych of early Creation Records, with Kilfoyle’s intricate, swooningly romantic guitar parts alluding to The Durutti Column and underrated post-punk sophists The Monochrome Set. But MINKS are very much a product of now.
Having stirred our interest with a pair of 7″s on Captured Tracks last year, they’ve just released their full-length debut, By The Hedge (surely the most suburban LP title ever?), through the same estimable Brooklyn imprint. But unlike many of their label-mates and peers, MINKS don’t knock out lo-fi tracings of their heroes’ work; they don’t hide behind tape hiss and delay. “‘Bedroom Pop’ this is not,” asserts Kilfoyle, who works out of an old-fashioned basement studio in Brooklyn, and he’s firmly entitled to: his songs are wonderfully, unfashionably vivid and fully realised things, arranged and modulated with a zest and a classicism rarely heard in the underground. If nothing else, MINKS are testament to the fact that DIY needn’t mean scuzzy and slapdash.
Danish beauty Amalie Bruun, now a core member of the band, provides a pleasing compliment and counterpoint to Kilfoyle’s own unassumingly anguished voice, harmonising lyrics that privilege the elliptical image over the elaborate narrative arc. You don’t need to be able to discern the words to know that is guitar pop at its most seductive and sepulchral; the kind of music that makes you think of first loves and last rites. “I’m nostalgic for optimism and life,” opines the sunny Mr Kilfoyle.
How have you been?
Sean Kilfoyle: “I’m doing pretty well. It’s that time of year where it’s starting to become really cold in New York, and the holiday excitement is now over. I’ve just been trying to stay healthy. I had some food poisoning about a week ago, and it’s taken me a full week to recover.”
Tell us about the origins of MINKS. How and when did the band come together? What did you want it to be?
“MINKS started exactly one year ago. It was the same time of year and I was having a period where I was sleeping really poorly and going through a change in my life. I was going down to my studio as sort of a therapy to clear my head. It was a safe place for me to be alone. When I wrote ‘Funeral Song’ and ‘Drunk Punks’ I had no intention of starting a band, but when I sent a link of the songs to Jack from Wild Nothing, Captured Tracks pretty much emailed me immediately and asked if I’d be interested in releasing that as a 7″ single. Now we’re getting ready for a tour and I’m really pleased that a lot of my childhood friends are going to be able to join the band on the road as musicians.”
Speaking of which, you grew up in Boston, right? Do you think your experience of it and feelings toward it manifest in MINKS’ music at all?
“Boston was a great place to grow up. There have been a bunch of movies lately that are set in Boston and people assume that they accurately portray what the city is really like, but the reality is that they are portraying a ten by ten block radius. It’s beautiful and clean, and has lots of history. It’s also a very romantic city. Compared to a city like New York, the people seem more intelligent and less affected by technology and other bullshit that is slowly starting to ruin culture. You can read a book in a park in Boston and never have to worry about someone sitting next to you talking on their cell phone.”
“Compared to a city like New York, in Boston people seem more intelligent and less affected by technology and other bullshit that is slowly starting to ruin culture.”
And you’re based in New York now? How and in what ways would you say being there helps or hinders your creativity?
“Yeah, I’ve been in New York for about four years now. I don’t think the city itself really helps or hinders creativity at this point in my life. Lately I’ve been able to tune out the city and kind of step out of its gravitational pull. I’m happy to exist in this urban place, but really don’t have any interest in being part of a scene or group. I have a really hard time identifying with people here and I’m quite content with my four or five friends living inside of our own little bubble.
How did you meet Amalie? What are your respective roles in terms of playing and performing the music?
“We met last year when we were playing an acoustic gig together. She was singing a Jesus and Mary Chain cover with a friend of mine. I was recording the song ‘Bruises’ at the time and thought her voice might sound good on the track, so I asked her if she’d want to come down and sing on it. She’s really great in the studio and does things very effortlessly. I slowly started to ask her to do more songs with me and by the time I was asked to play live, it was kind of obvious to me that I was going to need her to perform as well. It’s been a slow evolution to where we are now, but it seems like we are starting to become more like a band.”
How did you come to release an album on Captured Tracks?
“A friend of mine had played me Wild Nothing for the first time last February, and it was the first band I had really liked in some time. When I got back to New York I sent Jack (whom at the time I didn’t know) a random message telling him that I was really enjoying his project, and sent him a link to two songs that I had done. One hour later Captured Tracks emailed me asking if they could release it as a single, which I was definitely interested in doing. I had liked a lot of the releases on the label, and I thought it fitted with what I was doing. Shortly after that we discussed making an LP, and that’s when I started to record the songs for By The Hedge.”
“There’s just something romantic-feeling about setting up microphones and a mixing board.”
Your songs have raw, vintage and rainy character to them, but also manage to sound bright and full-bodied. How do you think you achieve this? Do you produce your music yourselves? What kind of recording set-up do you use?
“I think I achieve it by actually feeling that way. Every time I try to write a song it always sounds the same. It must just be the way my brain is wired or something. I’ve always liked the same type of bands, and I’ve probably listened to the same ten records non-stop for the past ten years. All of the songs are recorded at a studio in Brooklyn that I share with a couple of friends. It’s a great space and being underground in this secret lair can be pretty inspiring when you want it to be. We have Pro-Tools, Logic, and an analog reel-to-reel. Everything on the album is recorded with real instruments. ‘Bedroom Pop’ this is not. There’s just something romantic-feeling about setting up microphones and a mixing board.”
Comparisons have inevitably been made – not least by us – between your music and early’ 80s UK goth and C86 stuff. Is that kind of music close to your heart? Are there any particular records or artists from that era who you bow before?
“To be honest, I don’t really like goth music at all. I think people started to say that about MINKS after used a photo of that girl on the cover for ‘Funeral Song’. I had been holding onto that photo for years, and always wanted to use it for something. I do like a lot of 80s British indie: a lot of records that were released on Factory and Creation especially. Lately, I’ve been listening to the song ‘Hope’ by The House of Love a lot. It’s not really my nature to obsess over bands or music, and I think this is mostly because I usually like music to be in the background of my life. Sometimes I don’t even want to listen to the lyrics because I don’t want to know what they are. I like music to be there in the distance.”
“Everything on the album is recorded with real instruments. ‘Bedroom Pop’ this is not.”
Perhaps we’re wrong, but a strong current of longing and nostalgia seems to course through your writing, and even your delivery. What are you nostalgic for, what are you longing for?
“Lately I’ve started to think it’s a Catholic thing to always look to the past but never forward. I’ve never been comfortable with time. Maybe it’s the idea that as we get older we’re becoming closer to death, so it’s very safe to keep our minds wrapped up in memory. I’m nostalgic for optimism and life. The older I become, the more cynical I become, and it’s hard for me to shift out of this cycle. It’s hard for me to watch my friends grow up and to see my parents look older than they used to. When I was young I loved the street i grew up on and now when I go back it depresses me, and I don’t know why. Maybe I’m nostalgic for a place in time when everything was warm and safe.”
Are there any other contemporary bands/artists right now that you feel an affinity with or would simply recommend to us?
“I’m obsessed with the band Widowspeak. I believe they’re releasing a 7″ single on Captured Tracks soon.”
What’s next? Anything else we should know?