Michael Shuman talks about life away from Queens Of The Stone Age
Andrew Trendell

17:25 27th March 2015

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For many, it can be impossible to escape from the shadow of your past achievements when they just happen to involve being part of one of the biggest bands on the planet. But for Michael Shuman, he's found a whole new spirit away from Queens Of The Age with Mini Mansions. 

A swirling pool of psychedelia, darkness and aggression, their astounding new album The Great Pretenders is bound to defy and surpass expectations.

To find out what went into making it, we caught up with Schuman to discuss Alex Turner's 'sexy gangster vibe', the spirit of the album, touring with Royal Blood, the future of QOTSA, and the usual 'death and existentialism'. 

Gigwise: 'Vertigo' is incredible - what made you decide that Alex Turner was the right voice for the track?
Michael Schuman: We thought about a couple of different things, and we were in the studio looking for some kind of different character that hadn't yet been touched on by Tyler or my voice and we actually heard some kind of British-type thuggish kind of voice in the track, on that second verse. Then a year later when we were tracking it, Alex was just coming down to the studio and hanging out. He was hanging out nearby where we were recording and he's a good friend, he was there, it was just the right time with the right person.

How would you describe that character that Alex brings to the track?
I always thought it as some kind of character out of a guy Ritchie movie, that's how I always saw that voice coming in. It's a very West Coast hip-hop-influenced song, so we wanted to give it that sense of different dudes coming in and giving it that different verse. Alex has more of like a sexy, swagger that what we were initially going for, which turned out better than anything we could have imagined, really.

How did you come to meet and work with him?
I've known him for probably six or seven years. We first met doing a benefit show in LA for a friend of ours and he was doing a couple of songs with Miles [Kane] for Last Shadow Puppets and I was playing with Queens. Over the last year and a half, the Monkeys took us out on multiple tours in the States and we just became really close. They all moved to LA a while ago and he's just one of our drinking buddies and good friends.

In a dream scenario, who else would you love to collaborate with?
Honestly, I don't really think about it that much, just because in general we're a pretty private band - most of our stuff is all self-produced, really. We don't like to bring anyone else in, we're tight three piece. Alex and Brian (Wilson) on this record were just special things, and it's because we were looking for something else in particular. Otherwise we're not really looking to do it that much, unless the song calls for it - that song needed Alex. 

There have been some great reviews of your live shows - especially your recent Lexington one. How would you describe the experience of seeing Mini Mansions live, in comparison to other projects people might have seen you in?
I think off the bat, it's something you don't see everyday. I don't see a lot of bands with keyboards and two drums and a bass player all in a line. That's immediately something different, and I think that although the songs on our first record were more melodic-driven and maybe more mellow, our live shows are more aggressive that some might think. We're really proud of how we can replicate what we do on the record, with just the three of us, y'know - not having to have a real drummer of guitar player live. 

Mini Mansions at The Lexington. Photo: Gigwise/Thanira Rates

The last time you were over here you were headlining Reading & Leeds and playing Wembley Arena. Do you notice a greater intensity in returning to these sweaty clubs?
I mean it's exciting to go back to the small clubs and have people right up against you, and have it be so sweaty and hot and feel the energy of the crowd, it's such a different feeling to the bigger venues - which are great too. I love it all, but this keeps it refreshing and stops it getting monotonous. 

You've been touring with Royal Blood. What do you see in them that has caught the world's imagination?
When you see their live show it's pretty impressive to have those two guys making that much sound, I think that camaraderie between the two of them. Mike's bass set up and the whole sound is really amazing and it's pretty inventive. I think people see that and feel it as something new. 

How would you describe the reaction that you guys got from their fans?
Surprisingly, really good. We're not the same type of music obviously and our shows are completely different but the fans have been super receptive. I'm not sure if it's because they're younger, and maybe hungrier to find more new bands and different types of music. I was a little nervous to go into a hard-rock heavy show with our music that's weirder and off-kilter, but it was great. 

Indeed, there's quite a lot going on with your music. With 'Freakout 'and a couple of other numbers, there seems to be a certain timeless 60s pop vibe behind it all, whereas other have a bit of 80s abandon to them - would you say that's fair, and what would you say inspires and drives your sound?
I think ultimately we're just trying to write great pop songs that are hits in our eyes and kind of bringing a modern touch to the classic pop songs that we grew up on and we loved. You want to have songs that you want people to dance and sing to, but do it in a way that you haven't heard before. 

How would you describe the mood, sound and themes of the album?
There always seem to be some more ominous and darker textures to our tunes - that's just the way we write. But I think on this record, although it's fun musically, lyrically it's a lot more personally and emotionally focussed and driven, and whether there are a lot of love songs and lyrics that are vulnerable and talk about true experiences. There are little masks here and there but you can read between the lines and see what we're talking about, more than our first record. We're also talking about death a lot of the existential stuff that we and a lot of people have. It's all relatable, just on a level that isn't necessarily the brightest and the cheeriest. 

Is your core focus on this for the rest of 2015 or do you have plans to reconvene with Queens Of The Stone Age this year?
Mini Mansions is my focus right now. There will be future stuff with Queens, we're just taking a break since we had a long, long two years of touring. We'll take a break to do other stuff.

Josh Homme said that you were all eager to enter the studio as soon as possible. Is that still the case?
We were eager because we were in a good spot, having fun and the record had done really well. But we decided to take a break because we had been going so hard for so long, and we really worked on that record for a long time. It's not like we're sick of each other and don't want to do it - it's just better to step back for a second and come back once the world has had a little bit of a break from you." 

Have you learned anything from your time with Mini Mansions that you'll take back to QOTSA?
I think music and working with different people is the kind of process where you gain things along the way. Whether it's a big band, a small band, a different production or crew - you learn something from everybody, well I do. By the time you're older you've figured it out, and that's what's great about Queens - it's a very open family and everyone is free to do what they want and bring different aspects about what they do to the table.

The Great Pretenders by Mini Mansions is out now

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Photo: Press/Neil Krug