Mint Condition's Rinky Kinchen talks sound

The nattily dressed Mint men
Nathan Santos

One of Minnesota's most treasured R&B acts, St. Paul's Mint Condition, have stayed timeless for over two decades. With hits like "Breaking My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)" and "What Kind of Man Would I Be" in their arsenal, they've maintained an acclaimed live show that made them Prince's favorite band. Mint Condition return with more smooth, substantial soul, including the bangin' "Believe in Us," on their new album Music @ the Speed of Life, out September 11. City Pages had the chance to speak with bassist Ricky Kinchen about the group's new album and how they've maintained their sound.

City Pages: Your new album retains a certain warmth that's lost in the post-digital age of music. How do you always manage to recapture that sound?

Ricky Kinchen: We pretty much go in and create whatever comes out of our hearts. I want to do everything that I'm feeling at that time. There was a lot that I was feeling at the time, relationship stuff, that poured out through the sessions.

CP: You're also known for your incredible showmanship in your live show. Do you find touring to be much different today than it was 20 years ago?

RK: Yeah. People used to tour, like we did with Janet Jackson and Toni Braxton, for three to six months to a year. Nowadays, it's pretty much weekends, which I personally like because I like being at home. And if I get out to work two or three times a week, I'm satisfied with that because I get to live a normal life. I get to be home Monday through Thursday. I believe that's how Metallica are doing it right now.

CP: Speaking of touring, you've recently played several shows with Prince. What's made performing with him unique, considering you're all hometown boys playing around the country?

RK: Hearing the crowd in the background, I definitely noticed that we were the loudest, or up there with Janelle Monae. That felt good, to be in front of his crowds playing on his stage. [Most folks] don't get to shake hands with that cat, you don't get to huddle with him — that doesn't happen for a lot of people every day, so we definitely appreciate it. He was like, "I want to come out to play guitar," and we were like, "Hell yeah, come up!" When he came up he was like, "When do I solo?" and we said, "Now!" It was an incredible thing. He's been nothing but cool and an inspiration, and a big part of why we're here in the state. He's a big part of what got this Minneapolis thing going; him and the Time were the reason I moved up here from Chicago.

CP: As one of R&B's most precise outfits, is it ever a challenge to work with outside producers to remix your songs?

RK: You know, we don't really do a ton of remixes anymore like we used to. If someone took something and did a great job, that would be great. But a reason why our music still sounds the way it sounds is we pretty much produce a lot of our music. I work with four of the best songwriters and producers in the industry. That's why it's been consistent, because of those guys. It's an easy job, we just have to do two to three songs each, and we have an album.

CP: A few years ago you performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brien with another Twin Cities hero, Brother Ali, who also appears on the new album. How did you first link up?

RK: Stokley [Williams] has known him for a while and they've been doing stuff here and there. We did Conan and The Late Late Show. Stoke and Jeff Allen had this incredible song about change ["649 Change"]. It was inspired by Jeff, who used to live in the house that he was raised in. He raised his son there — and now the house is a library. So, that's what sparked the idea. It's hard for him to even drive down that street. I thought Brother Ali would be a good choice to have on that song, I gave Stokley his number and he was in. He did the best verse, I don't even know how he came up with it. It was one of the most beautiful things that I had ever heard before.

CP: You've been outspoken about how Mint Condition is a democracy. When you're touring now, with both a new album and so many hits, is it ever a challenge to decide what goes into the set list?

RK: Yeah, it's always. You're working with five people from five different neighborhoods and three different walks of life. I explain it as you have Good Times and you have the Jeffersons and you have the Cosbys all in one band trying to make decisions, and it's rough. You got some guys that went to college and some street thugs all in one band. Everybody's at the same table. You got to respect everybody and hear what everybody has to say.

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