David Minnick: Absolutely Crabid
“ Going into college, the only classical composers I was really fond of were Bartok and Bach. After a few years of studying, it's like, wow, there's a lot of composers with an actual sense of humor. ”
David Minnick has emerged from the densely populated Internet music marketplace as an exceptionally talented and unique composer. Based in Waterford, Michigan, Minnick once served as the guitarist for Detroit's legendary ska outfit Gangster Fun, and later co-founded the Crabid Music label with his brother and fellow Gangster Fun alum, Chris Minnick. Along with the enigmatic Oven Mitt Johnson and the free jazz trio Zermos, Crabid's label roster is dominated by David's genre-hopping band the Sursiks, whose music draws ingeniously from pre-recorded, non-musical material. Absurd humor is a defining characteristic of David Minnick's work: the music on the Sursiks' 2006 debut I Didn't Know I Was Singing (Crabid, 2006) is built around answering machine messages; on Lydia Grace (Crabid, 2007), the songs are written and sung by Minnick's then-three-year-old daughter.
Christmas in March (Crabid, 2009), is a sidesplitting combination of media satire and compositional virtuosity. News broadcasts, infomercials, spoken-word recordings, political speeches, and other sources are dissected and rebuilt as highly melodic, rhythmically engaging tunes, and each listen reveals new layers of intricacy. As a composer, Minnick occasionally crosses over into jazz territory, but fans in any genre will appreciate his fresh take on musicprovided they have a sense of humor.
All About Jazz: Where did you get the idea for Christmas in March?
David Minnick: Christmas in March used to be [a group] called Weapons of Mass Consumption. We practiced at a bar, and anybody could just walk in and hear us practice. The backing track was drums with sampled voices, and everything else was live instruments. But the guy that was putting money into it wanted to make it so huge, with dancers and video, all this stuff, and it just sort of crumbled under its own weight.
AAJ: The CD is relentlessly funny. How did you put it together?
DM: Every song on the CD was redone many times. One new sample could change the entire focus and subject matter of a track. Every time I thought a song was finished, I'd end up taking it apart and putting it back together with new instruments and an entirely different arrangement. Miraculously, it finally did reach a point where I knew each song was finished. Linking the songs together was a relatively late decision, two months prior to mastering. I just wanted to highlight the connections between the songs that were already there.
AAJ: The variety of sampled sources is pretty staggering.
DM: "That Lovin' Feelin" is sung by the guys on some old episode of Survivor. Most of the other voices on that are from a Jehovah's Witness tape. Every time they'd stop by, I'd ask them for tapes, till they started inviting me to their meetingsI figured I had enough tapes then. The "I'll Eat You For Dinner" clip is [children's TV character] Mr. Dressup doing his rendition of Three Billy Goats Gruff.
AAJ: How would you describe your early musical experiences?
DM: When I was a small kid, I used to set up an entire room full of pots of pans in a big circle around the room and bang on them. My parents finally forced me to take drum lessons when I was 11 or so. By that point I had already figured out how to make multi-track recordings with two cassette decks, and I figured out guitar and piano for that purpose.
I took drum lessons for an awfully long time, and then went into college as a percussion major. I got tired of dressing up in a tux to play three triangle notes, so I switched over to composition, and found that that's what I ought to be doing.
AAJ: Which artists have influenced your work?
DM: I was a huge Negativland fanatic all through college. I heard Helter Stupid (SST, 1989) for the first time, and figured out what it was about, and I was like, "Oh my God, that's amazing. I can't believe that they did that." And then [Negativland's EP] U2 (SST, 1991) came out...there are so many jaw-dropping things that Negativland has done. There's an idea of mixing up mass media and linking the music they do to society at large. It's not like a lot of bands you hear that just complain about their own lives.
The musical influences get pretty strange when you're a composition major. Going in, the only classical composers I was really fond of were Bartok and Bach. After a few years of studying, it's like, wow, there's a lot of composers...Messiaen, Kagel, and all these people with an actual sense of humor. A lot of the stuff I write is using the composition major method of writing something by math, without actually hearing it, and then seeing what it sounds like and working with that.
AAJ: Let's talk about Gangster Fun. How did the band form?
DM: [Gangster Fun member] Josh Silverstein set up a studio in his basement. I was monopolizing the studio a little bit. A few of my other friends wanted to get something together that had nothing to do with me, because they were tired of hearing my stuffthat's how Gangster Fun started. Then they needed a guitarist, so I ended up joining in 1987. I graduated from Indiana in 1990, and that's when the band started playing some pretty big shows. We recorded a few records, and never really thought to get signed or anything like that.