Last year marked the 20th year Mint Condition has been in business, and the band sure did mean business.
St. Paul's heirs to the Minneapolis Sound performed all around the globe in 2011, opening several of Prince's sporadic concerts and touring with soul singers Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton. They landed back on the R&B charts with their seventh album, "7." They also made TV appearances on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (with the Roots) and as the house band in BET's "Way Black When" series (also featuring the Roots).
The year was capped off by singer and part-time drummer Stokley Williams' appearance on the Grammy nominations list for his duet with New York starlet Kelly Price, "Not My Daddy," which appeared on 2011 albums by both her and Mint. It earned two nods off Price's record for best R&B performance and R&B song. If a trophy comes his way at the Feb. 12 ceremony, Williams will unofficially share it with the bandmates he has known since high school: bassist Ricky Kinchen, guitarist Homer O'Dell, keyboardist Larry Waddell and saxophonist/keyboardist Jeffrey Allen.
Amid everything else, there is one place the Mint team did not appear last year: on a hometown stage. They finally have a local gig Friday at the Fine Line, which gave us a chance to catch up with Williams.
On the Kelly Price collaboration
"Kelly was working with producer Warryn Campbell, and she said she wanted 'that Mint Condition sound' on this song," Williams recalled. "Warryn said, 'Well, why don't you just get them to do it?' So she called us up, and they sent us the piano track and her vocals, and we arranged it from there.
"I didn't know she actually wanted me to sing on it. She heard it and said, 'That's great. We just need you to sing on it, too.' I was like, 'Oh. OK!'"
On the Grammy nomination's fine print
"[Mint] co-produced the song with them, but it ended up being credited as a duet with me. Since it was billed as 'Kelly Price featuring Stokley,' that's what the nominations are for, but the credits on the album say, 'Co-produced by Mint Condition.' So it's an honor for all of the band, and it is definitely the Mint Condition sound on that song."
On making the awards show
"I have to play with [France-based jazz group] Ursus Minor beforehand, so I'll be coming from France the day of the awards. I just have to hope everything works out. I'll be coming in fast. Just being a nominee is a great honor. That's the kind of thing nobody can ever take away from you."
On the making of "7"
"It was really a continuation of what we've been doing all along. We thought about calling it 'Mint Condition,' self-titled, even though it's our seventh. We thought it had a lot of great tunes on it that we're proud of. It has elements of that classic Minneapolis Sound, and the classic Mint sound, too."
On balancing old-school flavor with new-era electronics
"Technology has really helped us out a lot. Everybody's schedule is crazy. We all have families and other projects. We like to do things as a live band when we can, but a lot of times now some of the guys can't be there. It might just be three of us working together sometimes, or I might [e-mail] a track to O'Dell or Lawrence to put some keys or something on it. The technology plays a big part now, keeps us moving along -- and it inspires us a lot, too, from a sonic standpoint."
On touring with hometown hero Prince
"It's been great, especially when he sat in with us. We did the 'Caught My Eye' song at the Forum in L.A., and he was like, 'Um, OK, I'm coming up on that one next time.' We thought he was kidding, but sure enough, when we were ready to go out again, he asked, 'So when do I come up?'
"You know, Prince basically lives in the world now. He's all over the map, and has to be in L.A. a lot. But he has more Minnesota pride than anybody I know. Even if he only gets back to his place in Chanhassen every once in a while, he's still very much in the know on what's going on here."
On 2011 being a comeback year
"It definitely seemed like the visibility level was raised. It's funny how your career can work: You keep doing the same thing and bust out every once in a while. We've been able to hang around a while and have gone through some peaks and valleys. But when you have another surge like this, it's great, because the longer you've been in it, the better you get at it. We know what to do. We know how to do it. Things run smoothly, and we have more fun."
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