It takes only one spin of Mind if We Make Love to You, the new record by L.A.s Wondermints, to realize that somethings changed since 1998, when the bands Bali album established them as pre-eminent purveyors of musical retro-futurism. Sure, Esquivel-coifed keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, perpetually be-hatted guitarist Nick Walusko and hunky drummer Mike DAmico are still in the fold, along with auxiliary multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory. The playing is still impeccable, the melodies are still indelibly catchy, and once again theres a vast buffet table of vintage tones on hand for audiophiles to savor.
Whats missing, however, is the whimsy. If Bali was an aural amusement park, the perfect soundtrack to a swingin party featuring cocktails laced with Rohypnol and LSD, Mind if We Make Love to You is an introspective affair best enjoyed in the privacy of a self-imposed afternoon exile. Aside from the gang-bangular title, Mind if We Make Love to You isnt the sort of wacky cheese fest that would make anyone yell Yeah, baby! in a bad Austin Powers accent. And, frankly, thats just fine and dandy with the Wondermints.
Thats great that you miss the whimsy, Walusko says, because thats exactly what we didnt want to have on the album. Bali might have been a bit more clever than we needed it to be, more cerebral, seconds Sahanaja. We were like mad scientists in a laboratory. The new album is more grounded. Its a little more from the heart -- less concept, more gut-level.
The emotional centerpiece of Mind if We Make Love to You is Waluskos Time Has You, an aching farewell ballad that somehow manages to conjure up Jimmy Webbs Wichita Lineman, Mike Nesmiths Dont Call on Me and Sammy Johns immortal Chevy Van all at the same time. The guys kid me about it sounding like Chevy Van, Walusko laughs. But it was just like, how many ways can you do a riff around a D-position chord, with a capo on the second fret? Im surprised more people dont get a Gordon Lightfoot thing out of it!
There are indeed echoes of Gords Gold on Mind if We Make Love to You, along with those of Bread, Nick Drake, and perennial faves like the Zombies and the Beach Boys. (Brian Wilson even contributes backing vocals to two tracks, Ride and So Nice.) But the Wondermints come by their melancholy honestly: Touring as part of Brian Wilsons backing band -- the Mints day job for the past three years -- has been something of a dream gig, but the spiritual dislocation of life on the road has also left its mark. The perpetual swirl of politics around the Brian camp has never been fun to deal with, and there have been times when it looked like Wilsons vigorous tour schedule might delay the creation of Mind if We Make Love to You indefinitely.
We always had it in our minds that wed have a big window of time where we could focus on making a record, Sahanaja says. But every time we thought wed have it, something Brian-related came up and would knock it back. The record should have been done two years ago; but when last year came around and we still saw no breaks, we finally agreed that the only way we were going to make a record was if we just started to chip away at one.
But even with a new record out, its unlikely that the Wondermints will attempt a full-fledged U.S. tour of their own. In Japan, youre gonna play Tokyo and Osaka, and maybe one other city, says Sahanaja. In Britain, you play London and Edinburgh. America is such a huge country, it takes ambitious planning, and were not the young guys we once were. But it would be nice to play New York, Chicago, the major cities.
Besides, touring solo would probably be something of a letdown, especially after performing with Wilson at the Queens Jubilee Concert in England, where the Wondermints got to hang with the cream of British rock royalty, including Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Brian May, Tom Jones and Ozzy Osbourne. I got to pee with Ozzy twice in Buckingham Palace, exults Walusko. The second time, he made a comment: Hey, weve got synchronized bladders!
If you think about why were all doing this, we are wanting to get closer to some creative nirvana, Sahanaja muses. So we play, and we write music. Theres a certain satisfaction that comes with creating your own stuff, but at the same time, weve been on the road with Brian. And when I think of who weve gotten to play with and work with, thats another way of creating nirvana, getting to rub elbows with those people. However superficial it may be, its still the stuff of dreams.
The Wondermints play at the Knitting Factory on Friday, September 20.