2011 could be a big year for the group; they have a new single called "Caught My Eye" out, their seventh studio album drops in April, and they also have a gig as the backing band on the Black History Month-themed show "Way Black When," which airs weeknights in February on the TV1 cable network.
On Feb. 10, 2011, band keyboardist/saxophonist Jeffrey Allen spoke via phone with about.com's R&B/Soul music critic, Mark Edward Nero, about the group's past, present and future. Below are some of the highlights.
Nero: The first thing I wanted to ask you is, you guys have been together for 20 years and you've only had one membership change during that time. In R&B it's pretty rare -- or actually in any music genre really, except rock -- it's really rare for a group to stay together that long. Do you guys have a secret to your success in being able to stay together?
Jeffrey Allen: No secret in particular; I think at the beginning we just kind of told ourselves that it was gonna be about the music and about our live shows and just trying to get the music out there and we've kind of kept that mantra through the years, and it's just worked to our advantage for the most part.
Nero: How did you guys come together? I don't think I've ever read anything about how you guys actually formed the band.
J.A.: Everyone with the exception of (guitarist/bassist) Rick Kinchen we attended the same high school at different times, St. Paul Central High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. And they had a big, huge recording arts studio. So we kind of learned how to record original music, that was one of the prerequisites of the (music) program, that you had to come in and record and produce your own music. So we kind of got an early start on how to record and produce our own music. And during that time, outside of school, a lot of us would play at the same church or we'd back the same singers. And I think it was (lead singer) Stokely and (guitarist Homer) O'Dell that kind of came together and said 'we wanna try to put together a group and try to make it work.'
Nero: Your debut album came out in 1991; does it feel like it's been 20 years?
J.A.: Yes and no. Man, it seems like 10 years or somethin', it does not seem like 20 years 'cause time has gone fast. But, like when you're out on the road and travelin', 20 years in, you slow down a little bit. In that respect, it feels like 20 years. But we still love what we do.
Nero: Your new album that comes out in April, does it have a title?
J.A.: Yes, it's called 7. Basically, we wanted to do somethin' like a self-titled CD, so instead of just naming it Mint Condition, we picked the title 7. It's obviously our seventh project.
Nero: You guys are on a new label now ... how did the band wind up on Shanachie?
J.A.: That's something that a consultant of ours came up with. He had some contacts over there, and they have more of a far-reaching kind of thing goin' on over there. It's not solely a domestic company, and he thought in some of our attempts to circumvent some of these markets around the world, that Shanachie may be a good fit for us at this point in our careers.
Nero: Okay. So what can Mint Condition fans expect from album seven?
J.A.: A lot of exciting songs. We will have probably one or two of those strong power ballads that people are used to hearing, but they will moreso hear songs with a lot of energy. And from a lyrical standpoint, I think everyone is at a place now where they're writing from actual experience. I think most if not all these songs will be drawn from actual experience.
Nero: The first single, "Caught My Eye" is that based on personal experience?
J.A.: Yeah ... one of the guys was in a coffee shop and a young lady kinda -- it's what the song says, real literal -- kinda caught his eye and he never hooked up with her or anything, 'cause he never saw her again. It was just that spur of the moment kind of thing where he saw someone that really kinda moved him and was inspired by. And a few weeks later it was in a song.
Nero: Okay. How many songs will be on the new album?
J.A.: That's one thing that will probably change. We usually have 14, 15, 16 songs on there. Think we're gonna stick closer to the 10 range this time and try to maybe have alternate songs -- songs above and beyond the CD on the website or in other venues so we can kinda spread it around and keep peoples' interest in the group.
Nero: And by 'spread it around,' do you mean like maybe putting a song or two on the website, or a song or two on iTunes, a single ...
J.A.: Exactly, yep. And then we have live stuff that we recorded not too long ago that we've been kinda waitin' for the right time to put out, I think that'll be some of the stuff as well.
Nero: Do you ever feel like Mint Condition is under-appreciated? I mean, you guys have been around 20 years, you had the one huge, huge song "Pretty Brown Eyes" back in the '90s, but even though you're well respected within the R&B community, it almost seems like you guys are almost invisible to the greater world.
J.A.: Yeah, I know what you're talkin' about. We probably each of us individually have times where we're sittin' there like 'What's goin' on? Why aren't we bigger or more of a household name,' but overall, I think there's a reason for that, I think we still have some upside here. Now if it was all done and you asked me, I may have a different answer. But we still have a ton of upside, I think. We're not done yet, and I think we've just begun to hit that peak. I think in the next year-and-and-half people will see, especially with the TV show and the success that's having, I think you're gonna hear a lot more from Mint Condition, a lot more than people are used to hearin', and I think eventually we will become that household name. So the jury's still out on that, I'm still optimistic.