Interview By: LeLe Symone
If success is simply a numbers game, then Mint Condition definitely qualifies. After cultivating hundreds of thousands of fans, dozens of hit singles and seven studio albums over a two decade period, the five-man band is experiencing one of their hottest years yet, and it isn’t just about the summer’s record-breaking heat. In addition to being featured with soul crooner Anthony Hamilton and headliner Jill Scott during her “Block Party Tour,” the quintet is enjoying higher visibility and a third hit single from their months-old 7… CD WALK ON. Having a dramatically-rendered video certainly helped in broadening its appeal, but in an exclusive chat with Knowshi, keyboardist and songwriter Lawrence El reveals that the song was already a universal favorite.
“Whenever we’ve heard from the fans on the Facebook page, the website or even in the street, they always mentioned that cut among the songs they say they liked, so (picking it as a single) was really kind of a groundswell from that.”
Co-written with lead vocalist Stokley Williams over a track conceptualized by saxophonist and fellow keyboard player, Jeff Allen, Mr. El says that the tune’s message—the agony of lingering in a toxic relationship—is easy to relate to. ‘You know how it is; you’re not ending it because someone’s cheating or doing something really, really wrong, but you’re just not vibing…..it’s about how hard it is to let go of someone even when you’re really not quite right for each other.”
“It’s got that ‘x-factor,’ sometimes you can’t pinpoint the exact moment, tone or mood (that will make it a hit) so we’re just having fun with it,” Mr. Williams added. “And as far as the video goes, what you see is what we were thinking (of conveying), we communicated that vision to the director and producer and I think it all came off exceptionally well. We’re very proud.”
Not that being in a band is all roses: in fact, Mint Condition is just three albums out of a six-year hiatus, one that had them contemplating whether or not to return to music again after leaving their last major label deal with the now-defunct Elektra. Now considered the lone self-contained band of their generation, Mint Condition feels pressure from within and without about staying together and is careful to deflect conflicts to concentrate on what truly matters….the music.
“Sometimes, I say we’re like a gang….blood in, blood out.” Mr. El admits. “Folks almost will hate you if you try to attempt to do something different (outside the group). In our case, we’re hearing ‘y’all are the only band in R&B music, you’re the only one we’ve got, so please don’t break up.’ I personally don’t feel burdened by that, it’s a big privilege to stand alongside Earth, Wind &Fire and be able to maintain. It’s a blessing, but I could understand how people can feel differently. We’re proof that it can still be done, and to keep it that way is about boundaries and respecting each other. Remember what’s first, it’s not so much about the personal relationships within, it’s about the music itself and what you’re presenting as a group. Words can crash it all if you say the wrong thing, but you’ll think twice if you remember that you’re trying to keep a group together and make great music.”
Mr. Williams has no complaints. “To still be here in the mix is just incredible. That’s the way I’m looking at it, you know? It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing and it’s all due to our fans. Thank you for being there, for supporting us, it’s helped us to grow.”
And as for some of today’s other high-profile hit makers? Rick finds the comparisons laughable and knows that time is the great equalizer in the end. “Some of the artists that my kids like, they actually try to compare them to the Beatles, us or Prince, and I tell them, ‘You can’t do that, they’ve only had two albums out,’” he chuckles. ’So what if they’re hot now? Come and talk to me about them after another ten years.’”