Music in Mint conditionKaitlin Fontana has been juggling the multi-hyphenate life of a working artist for years: Improv actor-comedian-student-freelance writer (full disclosure: her work appears semi-regularly in WE). Now she adds author to the list with Fresh at Twenty: The Oral History of Mint Records. It’s an illuminating and thorough flashback examining the hard work and dumb luck of one of the most important periods in Vancouver’s music history. Mint gave the world the New Pornographers, Neko Case and established itself as a major player in the emerging, soon-to-be-thriving, indie-rock scene.
Helping Fontana tell Mint’s story are a bevy of famous names including the New Pornographer’s Carl Newman, the Evaporators’ Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the Smugglers’ Grant Lawrence and cub’s Lisa Marr. Fresh at Twenty recounts the perfect storm of talent and hubris, friendships and rivalries that made Mint what it is today, reaffirming its place in history as the little label that could. Fontana spoke with WE about the New Pornographers, missing Neko Case and how ‘90s punk band Gob became the villain of her book.
Did Mint’s roster play a role in your music education?
Definitely the New Pornographers. Mass Romantic came out just before I moved here and it was still a big deal, still something that was talked about by the indie-rock nerds I was meeting at school, and I became a big fan of theirs because of that record. It’s still probably my favourite record Mint has released, though some of the Pack a.d. stuff is up there. That record had a crazy effect on me. I wasn’t really into that kind of music at that point. I grew up listening to straight-forward, classic rock. Being a small-town kid, that’s what you get on the radio and it’s what I was raised with.
Whenever I put on a New Pornographers’ album, no matter what the weather, the sun seems to start shining. It’s magic candy.
It’s candy, but it’s also that secret candy that has vitamins in it. I feel like it’s the kind of pop music that only a band that’s lived in a climate like this could make in that it’s sunny but there’s sort of a darkness behind that disposition. You sense that to get to the sunny, some shit had to be slogged through. I feel that way about cub and a lot of the other bands that landed on Mint.
Some bloody ink is spilled in Gob’s direction. Have you had any feedback?
I’m sure I’ll hear from them. I tried to interview them. I told their management that there were some stories about them in the book. At first I just said I’d like to talk to the guys because they had a brief history with Mint and it would be nice to have their voices in there, and it was like, “Yeah, we’ll get them on the horn for you or whatever.” Then some time elapsed and I [reached out] and it had flipped: “No, no, no, never mind. We don’t want to talk to you anymore.” That happened a few times throughout this process. I do think it’s that barrier where people start to think about it too much. It’s their youth and there’s a lot of youthful energy that made Mint what it was, [Mint founders] Bill [Baker] and Randy’s [Iwata] included.
Neko Case didn’t participate, but she’s well-represented as this shining light of Mint. She sort of gets the folk hero treatment in the book.
I kind of just let details accumulate. Some of them are telling of her level of maturity at the time and some are a bit mythical because she serves as that. Bill’s direct quote is “Neko was the phoenix.” They were about to collapse as a label and she sort of swooped in and saved them, not intentionally — she just wanted to put out a record and she wanted to do it her way and she knew these guys would listen to her. I think that’s an ethos about how she lives her life as an artist: she wants to do things her way and she doesn’t want someone else to have the reins at all.
The Fresh at Twenty book launch takes place Oct. 6 at W2 (111 E. Hastings), 8-11pm with bands, special guests and DJ Cam Reed (aka Babe Rainbow). Free admission. Info: TheMintBook.ca.