Not long ago, Martyn Leaper—the man behind beloved pop project the Minders—did a little experiment. He broke out an old eight-track reel-to-reel machine, similar to the one he and producer Robert Schneider used to record his band’s 1998 debut, Hooray for Tuesday, and recorded a new version of that album’s title track.
This wasn’t a feeble attempt to try to correct the supposed mistakes of the past or “make the songs better,” as Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen has been claiming about his band’s forthcoming collection of re-recorded classics. For Leaper, this was a chance to “revisit in my mind where I started with this 20 years ago.”
“We were first and foremost a little garage band,” he continues. “A DIY unit. We made a couple of records in studios, but mostly they’ve been done at home. And that’s because we’re too poor and didn’t sell many records, so we have to be self-sufficient. So to go back and look at that, it’s really exciting, to be honest. I miss those days. They were great days.”
The reason for both the re-recording and this pointed reflection was instigated by the forthcoming 20th anniversary reissue of Hooray for Tuesday that Leaper is putting together for his imprint Space Cassette Records. The new edition features the original album and a handful of bonus tracks, including a demo of the title track from 1996 and the new version of that same song recorded with the Minders’ current lineup.
Preparing to reissue the debut brought Leaper back to a formative period of his life. At the time he was living in Denver, recording music in his bedroom but not finding much connection with the local scene, until a friend urged him to go and check out the band the Apples in Stereo. The group was led by Robert Schneider, the musician who helped found the Elephant 6 Recording Company and produced both albums by Neutral Milk Hotel.
“I talked to Robert after the show about music and he invited me over to his place,” Leaper remembers. “I brought this demo that I had made at this 16-track studio, and I was pretty proud of it. Then he played me this recording he made on a Fostex 4-track in his bedroom with toy drums and I was, like, ‘I quit.’ My recording was like a stew with a thin broth and a few peas and carrots and his was just thick.”
Together, the pair cooked up a fresh batch of material that realized Leaper’s vision of a sweetly nostalgic and vibrant sound—a continuation of the lineage of artists like XTC and Orange Juice, who were mining the farthest corners of ’60s and ’70s pop for rare gems and fresh inspiration. It sounds as jangly and tattered as the best recordings from the Elephant 6 camp, but bursts forth with grinning joy and leaping energy. Capping it off is Leaper’s perfect pop vocals, which lands at this perfect midpoint between Pete Ham of Badfinger’s smoky croon and the squeaky-clean lilt of the Monkees’ Davy Jones.
Among the indie pop enthusiasts of the world, Hooray for Tuesday was an instant sensation, even if it never caught the attention of tastemakers who were busy hyping the rise of IDM and the recombinant sounds of Stereolab and Pram. The Minders did their collective part to turn the tide to their favor, touring around North America with other Elephant 6-associated bands like Elf Power and Of Montreal, as well as a memorable run opening for Elliott Smith. Around this time, too, Leaper and his then-wife Rebecca Cole, who played drums and sang in the band for many years, decided to relocate from Denver to Portland.
“There were a lot more bands here,” Leaper says. “A lot more creative minds. Denver’s this big spread-out, sprawling place where you could never get a sense of belonging. Our whole little community, the house that we were renting and Robert’s studio, they were going to scrape all that away to build condos. I didn’t want to see that happen, so I said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’”
Much has changed in the world of Leaper and his band in the two decades since that move and since Hooray was released, but just as much has stayed the same. Listening to the album today only cements that idea. It’s the formation of a sound that Leaper hasn’t moved past in the ensuing years—he’s just gotten better at it.
Still, Leaper and his art aren’t necessarily known quantities, which adds a measure of tension to his life. He continues to make great music (2016’s Into the River is another gem of the Minders’ discography that introduces a notable country influence to their pop aesthetic) and performs live as his schedule allows. But like so many artists, Leaper works two jobs, as a Lyft driver and manning the cheese counter at the Hawthorne Fred Meyer, to keep himself afloat. What extra cash he has, he pours into his band.
None of that bothers Leaper. He’s never had much interest in trying to score a big pop hit or crash into the kind of success that some of his contemporaries found, putting them at a place where they have to keep churning out records to an audience that just wants to hear the old favorites.
“We’ve never been at that level,” he says. “We’ve always been parked in the garage. Sometimes I think about that and I’m, like, ‘Well, that seems right.’”