Twenty years after six kids from Minneapolis banded together to carve their names into R&B history, Mint Condition is still in top form. The band, which rose to fame in the 1990s with songs like “What Kind Of Man Would I Be” and “U Send Me Swingin’” has continued to write, perform, and sing its way into the hearts of loyal fans year after year. It just released its eighth album, “Music At The Speed Of Life,” and are coming to The Howard Theatre Friday, Oct. 6, and Tuesday, Oct. 9.
Band members Ricky Kinchen and Jeffrey Allen recently spoke with us about moving on after the departure of band member Kerry Lewis, embracing the digital music age and being friends with Prince. The edited Q&A is below.
There are not a lot of R&B groups around anymore, but you guys stayed together and have been a testament to your era. How have you been able to hold your own through a myriad of generational changes?
Allen: We’ve kind of always been a little different than the norm, so we don’t really know any different. We kind of do what we do, and we’ve always wanted to be in a band.
Kinchen: And when we first got started, we did the certain things that you would do to help keep longevity, as far as the [dance] splits and everything like that. We probably wouldn’t be together right now if I was the head dude making all the money, and they’re living in the projects, and I’m in a mansion in the hill.
And we still got the magic. I mean, two decades later, and still being nominated for Grammys, still coming in at #1 on iTunes, top 10 Billboard albums — we’ve been consistently doing it. The magic is still there. We still love working with each other. There’s some days we don’t like each other, and we get on each other’s nerves. But when we come together to do music , whether it’s in the studio or live, the magic is still there.
How have you continued to keep your work relevant in the digital age?
Kinchen: Our fans come out and support. They come support us in concerts, they still buy our records, and... radio still supports us. The music is good, because we have some of the best songwriters in one band, and you only gotta come up with two good songs each, and then bam. You have a CD.
Allen: We do what we do on one side of the game but on another side we kind of keep up with technology and how we deliver music. Now how we write it - we can stick to what we’ve always done for the most part, but the delivery, on the other hand, we have to kind of keep up with what’s going on. And we’ve done that so far and I think that’s why we’re still relevant in the game.
After Kerry Lewis left the band, you could have folded, but you chose to stay together instead. Why?
Kinchen: Because we would never do that! He was a great writer in the band. We definitely miss our brother, but then somebody else just had to kind of step up and make it happen. He was the main one that whenever a soundtrack came up he would have a song ready. He was a hustler. He made things happen. When he left, he always had a lot to say in one way or another. It actually gave me a chance [to be heard]. Brothers actually started listening to me. Brothers started listening to my songs, and I went from one song to co-writing four or five.
Allen: I don’t know if he was 100 percent in to the band things towards the end there...I think he may have seen himself more as a producer...and I think that may have helped some of his decision on making that decision to leave the group or to purse other avenues.
Now that you are all in your 40’s, does it get physically harder to be on stage every night?
Kinchen: It doesn’t get harder, but it’s definitely wear and tear. If you see the energy that some of us put out on the show end — spinning on the floor and all that stuff — it’s just like any sport. The next day you’re going to feel it. And then three days later, you’re fine. You’re ready for the next game.
Allen: Your preparation has changed through the years. You may not be hanging out all night...when you got a show the next day. But your attitude is still the same. You get out there, you perform, you do what you do and hope the people love what you do. You feel it a little more afterwards. You’re just smarter in your preparation.
Do you still keep in contact with Prince, whom you performed for during his 2010 “Welcome 2 America” tour?
Kinchen: Yeah. One of us was summoned last week to go out there and talk to him. He calls, you go out there and you get a chance to talk to him and see what he’s been up to, and he’s checking to see what you’ve been up to. He knows what’s going on. When I ran into him one day he was like, ‘Oh, so I heard you guys finished the record.’ He’s really knowledgeable of everything that’s going on. Hopefully we’ll be doing some stuff with him this year.
Allen: We’ve been fortunate to work with him quite a few times here in the last [few] years. Just hoping this year coming up to continue that. He always has something going on — something big — so it’s always good for us to get in front of his core audience, which probably are quite a few people who have either never heard of Mint Condition, or aren’t consistent fans of ours. So it’s always good to get in front of his people to broaden our thing.
What will your upcoming shows be like?
Kinchen: New songs, all the old songs that they like...a lot of the old songs that they love and that they want to hear, and a bunch of energy. We’ve always been crazy and wild, and people come to our shows thinking we’re going to show up in a bunch of suits and start singing slow songs, and they don’t know that side ‘cause they only know the radio side. Our fans know what to expect from us.
Mint Condition will perform at The Howard Theatre Oct. 6 and 9.
More from The Root DC