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Minds Idle "It’s a bit silly, it’s poppy – but that’s not a dirty word"

We speak to Sheffield's musical conundrum Minds Idle about their process, their influences, and selling out The Leadmill.

Minds Idle

Minds Idle: from left-to-right: Jasmine Snape, James Leaney, Ted Mitchell, Jack Cathan and Ben Lilley.

How do you avoid the pigeonholes that have plagued British indie-rock for the past decade and a half? Ted Mitchell’s vision for an indie-pop act exists in stark contrast to the derivative indie landscape that surrounds him. Minds Idle is cinematic, emotive concept-pop led by a perfectionist tinkerer, and for the past five years they’ve been slowly but steadily sharpening their musical tools to carve out an insignia that matters.

In 2022 it was 'Aether', a cacophonous synth-rock barrage, and 'Spaceman', a power ballad in the vein of Bowie, as well as a sold-out headline show at The Leadmill that cemented the band as preternaturally talented. “Something strange and beautiful happened last night”, Mitchell’s Instagram post the next day mused. “Thanks to all of you for sharing it with us. Sorta feel like a band now."

I met up with four of the quintet (that includes Jack Cathan on guitar, James Leaney on bass, who couldn't join us, Jasmine Snape on keys, and Ben Lilley on drums) to take their temperature at what seems to be a pivotal moment. I ask them about their process, their influences and what’s next.

How democratic is the band’s songwriting process?

Ted Mitchell: [After a prolonged pause] It’s not that democratic - but it depends on the song. I might come in with a song, and go, there, bosh, learn it. ‘Day One’ is an example of the other side of that. Ben came up with the riff. The other half is that someone has come up with an idea – whether it’s a riff, a chord-y thing ––

Jack Cathan: A dance.

TM: An interpretive dance. And we build around it.

Are you listening to music and gathering reference points or are you mainly hitting your instruments in a room until something sticks?

TM: If I find a new bit of music that I’ve just discovered and am really hyped about, and go home with a new urge to play or write, I’ll play back the song I was just listening to and it’ll sound exactly the same. Quite often I find it good to be a bit isolated from influences.

Ben Lilley: I think the best stuff always comes out when you’re not thinking about it at all – it’s always by accident, you know what I mean?

JC: ‘I’m gonna write the best song ever’!

TM: If you’re looking too hard for it, you don’t find it.

Do you have a vault full of material you don’t like?

JC: I’d say like, 15 to 20 maybe?

Is there stuff you hate?

TM: There’s stuff that’s on Spotify, even ‘Written and Directed’, to be honest––

JC: It was a bit of a rush.

BL: It’s a good live song.

One of the things that makes Minds Idle so anachronistic is that exuberance, that almost American sound. ‘Harry’ is such a fan favourite that it borders on explicit call-and-response. That was a song written directly to your best friend (ex-band member Harry McCormick) but a lot of your songs have that urgency. How intentional is this vibe?

BL: It is American, but it’s also got Britpop-y aspects as well. And with ‘Harry’, it’s almost like having a Bez for just one song – that’s how I feel about it.

JC: With the ridiculous element, we take it seriously enough to try and write good songs, but not in a sense that we want to be perceived as like––

TM: Sunglasses wearing, you know. It’s a bit silly, it’s poppy – but that’s not a dirty word. Although our new songs we’re working on are actually more... earnest?

JC: More measured?

BL: Less flamboyant?

Does the band disagree much?

TM: Yes.

BL: No.

Jasmine Snape: No.

JC: Compared to a lot of bands who disagree constantly, it’s not the same.

TM: There are certain things we butt heads over, but we’ll always come to a conclusion. They’re productive arguments.

Ted Mitchell from Minds Idle

Ted Mitchell from Minds Idle

Lewis Chetcuti.

Compared to other bands who form at school, you have a variety of ages (Mitchell, Cathan and James are 24, Lilley and Leaney are 18). Do you have markedly different influences?

BL: There are differences, but there’s a big common ground.

What’s the common ground?


JC: King Gizzard.

BL: Whoever’s in the shotgun seat on the way back from band practice.

And the differences?

TM: I’ve got probably the most pop taste. I like Charli XCX. Jack’s is eclectic – he likes dance music, seventies psychedelic stuff, then Tibetan folk or whatever. Robert Johnson.

BL: We all like songwriter-y music, I think.

JC: The advantage is that, subconsciously, all the different stuff you’re listening to is affecting what you might come up with, whether the inspiration is from a dance track or a country track. That doesn’t necessarily come across in the finished product, when it’s a Minds Idle song – but rhythms can come from anywhere.

BL: That Matt Sweeney guy, I was listening to a thing with him. He said that every time he comes up with a guitar solo it’s a hip-hop vocal melody. I was like... that’s well good.

Ted, your lyrics often focus on characters and concepts such as astronauts and dystopias, which make for some pretty ambitious music videos considering your resources. Why?

TM: That’s... fair.

JS: Maybe it can be less vulnerable?

TM: I think it’s less vulnerable, yeah. But recently I’ve written some more personal stuff. I was sad for a bit and got, like, one good song out of it.

JC: You should try it again.

Are you growing out of one particular register and into another?

TM: No, not really. There’s not much intention behind it, honestly. It’s weird – it just comes out. If you went on my notes app it’s probably about 15,000 words long. And if you read it you’d think ‘fucking hell, this guy is shit’. It’s only the absolute crème de la crème that makes the cut – like 1%.

BL: You sing about God all the time.

What are the hurdles being a small band with day jobs, rent to pay and university?

JC: Organisation is difficult. Pinning everyone down for sessions, especially this last year when these two [he nods at Lilley and Leaney] were doing their A-levels.

TM: My job takes me off to London for weeks on end, so I’ll just disappear.

BL: That works quite well though, cause when you’re in Sheff it’s––

JS: Productive time.

JC: But you learn to deal with it. It’s important to us.

What’s everyone’s proudest moment so far?

JC: Selling out The Leadmill.

TM: It’s gotta be Leadmill.

JC: We didn’t expect it.

There are bands as big as you that don’t have a ‘Harry’. Do you feel that you’re building a certain kind of fanbase that eludes a lot of artists, where everyone gets it?

TM: It’s nice. We’re all on the team. But it’s funny, the reaction I get all the time when I show people our music is, they come back and go: ‘oh, you’re actually good!’ It’s always a surprise.

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