The Mint Chicks want to play a show in your house. Specifically, your basement. In fact, the boyish New Zealand trio laments about how in their native land they've outgrown the house-show circuit. But unlike most bands that make the rounds in the house party scene, the Mint Chicks have a mantel full of awards in their name. The band recently took home the New Zealand Music Award for Best Group, Album of the Year, Best Rock Album, and a handful of others—from artwork to videos—as well. It's true. One of the framed awards unceremoniously rests against the wall of their Southeast Portland home, proof that the band—who relocated here in January—is making music for all sorts of reasons, but acclaim isn't one of them.
This is the odd story of how one of New Zealand's biggest bands in years felt obligated to trade success, universal acclaim—plus those fancy framed awards—for longing to play (house) shows across the globe in Portland. But instead of the predictable fish-out-of-water scenarios, the Mint Chicks—brothers Ruban and Kody Nielson, and drummer Paul Roper—fit in quite nicely here in town. Their jittery evolution on post-punk song structure utilizes a fair amount of domestic garage-rock attitude and the fearlessness of punk rock's finest days of yore. Music this wildly inventive, yet still devoted to the charm of a great pop hook, knows no one true nationality. Basically, their directionless music belongs here.
"In New Zealand people ask us, 'Why Portland?'" explains Ruban. "The answer to that is, 'Why not, really?' When they think about it, they couldn't think of any reason for us not to come here. It's a nice city. People were trying to ask us from a career perspective why we would move to Portland, but maybe we didn't move here for our music career." He continues, "Maybe we just moved here because we wanted a change. It might not be a big grand plan, our whole reason for moving here was basically an intuition, just went to a bunch of different places and felt the most comfortable here."
In their former home the band anchors the current roster of Flying Nun—the highly respected indie label that launched the likes of the Clean, the Chills, and most any other New Zealand act worth noting. Recently they inked a deal with French label Milan Records—who put out a ton of varied releases, from music by the actress Asia Argento, to the soundtrack of Backdraft—which will finally release the band's Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! in the States this October. The record fuses a noisy mesh of post-punk noise, bubbly hook-heavy pop, and just about everything else under the Auckland sun. The 2006 recording still holds up, but the band is excited to move forward, eagerly debuting new songs in recent sets with the devoted fervor of a band dead set on always moving forward.
But, of course the honeymoon between the Mint Chicks and their adoptive home has to end someday. Says Ruban, "I just started freaking out about medical insurance. In New Zealand it's subsidized, if not free, and if you were to get hit by a car and an ambulance takes you to the hospital all you'd have to worry about is how hurt you got. Whereas here, you worry about money, not whether any bones were broken." Welcome to America, boys.