The power of failing: Chris Simpson revisits Mineral two decades later
Some of the most interesting, impactful artists are the ones few people know, who either weren’t around long enough to make a dent or just weren’t meant for bigger recognition. During its brief run in the mid- to late ’90s, Austin band Mineral released a pair of albums and toured relentlessly, playing small punk clubs and sharing bills with like-minded bands such as Jimmy Eat World, the Promise Ring, Christie Front Drive, and others who’d make up emo’s second wave. By the time Mineral released EndSerenading in 1998, the follow-up to 1997’s The Power of Failing, the band was done, and its members scattered to other projects. Yet it would leave a powerful legacy that transcended its small but devoted fan base. And it has apparently grown, judging by the response to Mineral’s reunion tour tied to the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut. They kick off this weekend in New York with a three sold-out shows and continue on and off in the U.S. and Europe through early next year. Before the band played its first show, Entertainment Weekly talked to singer-guitarist Chris Simpson about appreciating/cringing at his old songs and what revisiting them could mean for the future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What precipitated these shows?
CHRIS SIMPSON: A good friend of ours has been sort of hounding me and Jeremy [Gomez, bassist] for a while like, “You guys should really do some Mineral shows,” and we finally just started actually thinking about it. I remember when I realized that it would be 20 years from this year that we started the band, it sort of made me start to open my mind to like, “If we did this, this would be the time.” So yeah, it’s been a very long process so far, and I can’t believe that we haven’t played a note for anyone yet. [Laughs.] The whole thing isn’t even real yet.
Going back to these songs, what has struck you about them?
I have been surprised with the ease with which I’ve been able to connect with them emotionally for how old they are. But things are cyclical in life, and sometimes, in middle of life anyway, people tend to start looking back at themselves 20 years ago. It’s like you’re finally old enough to reflect back at an experience at this time. So I’ve been surprised in general that they’ve been as easy to connect with. But musically, they have been a beast. It’s just been so much work to get it all back together as far as guitar parts and guitar sounds. That’s been the primary labor.
You never played these songs in your subsequent projects, right?
Yeah, these are songs written 20 years ago and left there.
Has there been anything going back that’s made you cringe?
Sure, a lot of moments musically that I think we feel that way about—and lyrically, vocally some for sure. But there’s some strong stuff in there too that I think is really well done, even 20 years on.
We’ve been really loving the song “For Ivadell” from EndSerenading, which we never played live. We only played it probably for a month total between writing it and recording it. So that’s been a real challenge to pick that one up again because there’s no muscle memory on that one. We didn’t play it live for two years [like some of the other songs], but it has been a really great addition to the set and it’s one we all really enjoy playing. It’s a rare upbeat number.
What about something that’s made you cringe?
I think we all cringe a bit maybe at “July” on the first record. Yeah, there’s definitely moments on the first record we all cringe at, but “Gloria” feels as strong as it ever did. There’s certain songs from that record that were seminal songs for us because we toured them for three years.
“Parking Lot,” “Gloria,” “Five, Eight, and Ten,” “Slower.” Those all feel very strong for us because we played them so much, and I know that they’re songs that people who like that first record, they’re probably their favorite songs from the record too.
Those are totally the hits.
Yeah, if you will, the hits.
You and I spoke for my zine way back in 1996, and back then you said that a lot of your lyrics were catalyzed by fear, that you wrote as a way of overcoming that fear. Does that feel true to you now when you look back? How has the process changed for you?
Yeah, it does make us feel that way, like a common thread in my life, a certain amount of fear and anxiety about being in the world, putting myself out there. I think the themes still resonate for sure. Even all these years later, I have a very different life now—family and kids—but there’s still the same themes run through life, I think. It’s been easy to connect with, surprisingly, like connecting with your former self.
Something common to the lyrics of a lot of bands around this time and in this scene was an “old before your time” feeling. In the song “&Serenading,” you talk about being “blind” and “deaf” at 22. It has to be weird singing that 20 years later.
Yeah I think I feel much younger now. It is interesting. They were very “old before my time” sort of thoughts and fixations, but maybe that’s what resonated with people at the time—and I definitely felt that from other bands too.
In ’96, I asked what you thought was missing most from you wrote, and you had this really funny quote, “Just from the feedback from what I’ve gotten from other people, I would say happiness?”
Yeah, I guess it was just my mindset. I took it all very seriously.
How has your perspective shifted as you’ve gotten older and continued to write? Do you feel like you’re less sensitive in that regard?
Yeah, unfortunately. I think that is how it goes. I think there’s a way to spark that sensitivity again, and that’s when I think we’re doing the best work. But it’s easy to take for granted the inherentness of that energy to youth.
It does seem like something that grows duller as you get older.
Yeah, and I don’t say that thinking it’s a good thing at all. But it’s something you have to deal with as you age.
Something I noticed a lot in the old days and listening to the records again, there’s a strong familial theme that runs through Mineral songs—like “Rubber Legs,” “MD,” “ForIvadell”—but it’s not from a place of drama, which you see when people write songs about their family. It’s a place of love that just isn’t common.
I’ve had my struggles in older age, reconciling my views and my parents’ views and our differences and similarities, but it was definitely a tender and loving environment. I was certainly free to hide in my closet and dream my dreams… I idealized my parents and my family and always felt a great love and gratitude for them.
Have you continued writing about your family as you’ve written music after this?
No, I don’t think so. Well, not much anyhow. I haven’t as directly, I would say, or I don’t feel like I’ve directly written any songs about my family since. Interesting, I’ve never really thought about that.
Why do you think that is?
I guess, I’ve been more into exploring myself since then and that identity is not the same as my family’s. In general, I don’t think I write as directly. I write more abstractly now when I write lyrics.
Even the transition from The Power of Failing to EndSerenading, there are a lot more words on the first record than there are on the second. The lyrics are much more minimal, and less direct on the second record. What was behind the shift there?
I think in the beginning, an unsureness about myself in the world, my identity in the world. Right out of the gates, away from home from the first time, kind of getting my legs… I don’t know, I definitely sense the shift at the time, but I can’t say what it was. I definitely wanted to say less, if possible. I was more interested in the idea of leaving more unsaid, but still there was a lot of songs about family members and whatnot.
It seem like there was a lot more religious language on the second record than the first one, or at least imagery.
Yeah, I think that’s true. I think that’s part of what I was trying to figure out on my own in the world: is if I believed the same things spiritually as my parents or churches I have gone to growing up.
You look at “Gjs” or “Dolorosa,” songs that seemed to be fairly direct in their imagery, but people didn’t really talk about it, even though it was sort of gauche to be a believer, especially in the punk scene.
I think I was happy it wasn’t talked about more, myself. It was an aspect of my lyrics that I was definitely a little more insecure of putting that out there, especially in that scene. It’s what I was—didn’t really have a choice. I definitely remember feeling a little self-conscious about that, so I was happy that more people didn’t want to talk about it. [Laughs.] I didn’t really know what I would say about it at the time, either.
Because then people couldn’t necessarily tell that you were an especially religious person, or if this was something on your mind.
Well it was something, like, writing these songs about my family. There was church, there was religion, there was big ideas, and I felt connected to them. There was an actual connection to them in my early teens and whatnot, but then I got older and went on to the world, and it was stunning to see things on my own for the first time.
So you weren’t an especially zealous believer or anything?
No, certainly there was probably a phase when I was young where I was obnoxiously so. But not by the time Mineral was going on.
You have another record coming out in October under the Zookeeper moniker. Has playing these Mineral songs again sparked any interest in revisiting that sound? Could you even write like this again?
I don’t know. It’s a question for sure. I will say that it has rekindled my interest in playing the electric guitar, which I’m very excited about. So whether or not that will manifest Mineral-esque material or not is another matter, but I definitely am really excited about playing the electric guitar again. Rediscovering the love of a particular instrument is something that is often a catalyst for a batch of material.