A GUEST POSTING FROM BRIAN
I really hope you’ve all enjoyed this past week of guest postings. I’ve a couple more ICAs of my own in the pipeline which I’ll eventually get round to. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to have Brian round things off given that he got things going so fantastically a few days back.
Following up The Sugarplastic with one more L.A.-based power-pop band from the ’90s. You probably know Wondermints as the backbone of Brian Wilson‘s talented band. You may also know keyboardist Darian Sahanaja as the maestro that helped Wilson reconstruct the most famous lost album of all time, ‘SMiLE.’ He was the perfect man for the job, too. Sahanaja and fellow Wondermint Nick Walusko had been obsessed with the album since the early ’80s, but I digress. Wondermints were seemingly born to back Brian, but before all of that, they were pop purveyors in their own right, releasing four fantastic indie albums and a few self-released tapes I’ll attempt to sum up here.
“And Penny Knows”
In the early ’90s, Sahanaja and Walusko were sharing a four-track, passing it back and forth and playing their projects for each other. Like many unsigned bands at the time (Pixies come to mind), Wondermints made color-coded cassettes of their songs that made it into the hands of fans and labels alike. Many of the songs on ‘The Purple Tape,’ ‘The Green Tape’ and ‘The Blue Tape’ would appear on their first album. “And Penny Knows” didn’t make the cut and wouldn’t get a proper release until the odds ‘n’ sods album ‘Kaleidoscopin’: Exploring Prisms of the Past’ in 2009. Sahanaja certainly got the most out of a basic piece of recording equipment with this one.
From 1993, the first proper single was a clear-vinyl 7″ via Pop Psycle Records out of Studio City, Calif. Outside of their work for the first Austin Powers movie, this is arguably the band’s most heard song. Only a handful were pressed, but the song would eventually become their debut-album opener and would appear on a popular 1997 power-pop series Rhino released called ‘Poptopia!‘
The B-side to “Proto-Pretty” was written by Brian Kassan, a bassist briefly with the band in early days. He would go on to form the catchy power-pop outfit Chewy Marble. Kassan said of the song, “[I]t came to fruition in a way that I thought was a culmination of all the years of piano lessons, listening to my parents’ records – wanting to be a great songwriter, but not sure how to get there.”
Brian Wilson’s influence is never far away, but this one could have been one of the lost tracks from the ‘SMiLE!’ era. If I could only have one song by Wondermints, this one would be it. First appeared on the self-titled debut album in 1995.
“Carnival of Souls”
Just about any song from the debut could have been chosen for this slot, but the fellas throw everything at this, the album closer. The bassist at the time, Jim Mills, must have had a blast with this one.
It probably won’t surprise you Wondermints are big in Japan. The debut album got its initial release on Japanese label Toy’s Factory before Big Deal put it out in America. Toy’s Factory released a follow-up covers album in 1996 that never got a domestic release, and I paid a fortune for it back in the day. As you would expect from a band that has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop, covers have always been a huge part of their repertoire. My favorite is their take on “Xanadu” (see it on YouTube), but their version of the Goffin-King penned “Porpoise Song,” made famous by The Monkees in 1968, is a close second. Other songs on ‘Wonderful World of Wondermints’ include “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “Barbarella.” I would be remiss if I didn’t add the multi-talented Probyn Gregory joined the band at this point.
More label shifting followed before the release of 1998 album ‘Bali.’ Another one bought as an expensive Japanese import. For once it was worth it because ‘Bali’ took years before it got a domestic release. It’s more terrific power pop with a retro feel, but I find it to be the least Wilson-influenced of their three original studio albums. A couple of songs, like “Arnaldo Said,” are downright hard. This album fits in well with early Apples in Stereo and other Elephant 6 releases that wear ’60s influences on their sleeves.
“Chris-Craft No. 10”
“Cellophane” was released as a single in Japan. If I was the suit behind the desk chomping a big cigar, this would have been the single from ‘Bali.’ Beautifully crafted pop.
It would be four years between ‘Bali’ and the next album, ‘Mind If We Make Love to You.” What took so long? In 1999, Wondermints played “This Whole World” at a tribute to Brian Wilson in Hollywood. Wilson heard the song while backstage and flipped. The band has backed the Beach Boy ever since. ‘Mind If We Make Love to You’ is Wondermints grown up. The album is less power pop and more of the chamber variety. You’ll hear oboe, recorder, violin, viola and, of course, theremin.
The last song on the last album. Wilson helped arrange the vocals on this one, and he lends his voice too. It has been 15 years since we have had something new from Wondermints. My hunch is that wasn’t planned. Sahanaja has said he couldn’t have imagined back in ’99 the gig with Wilson would have lasted so long. Members of Wondermints have been in high demand from other artists, including Eric Carmen, the Zombies, the Beach Boys, the Granite Shore and on and on. I will be forever grateful for what Wondermints did for Wilson. Having said that, when Brian decides to retire for good, I hope Wondermints decide to follow up ‘Mind If We Make Love to You.’
2 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #121 : WONDERMINTS”
Brian, in the end I think the worst thing that ever happened to the ‘Mints was their connection with Wilson. It took up all their touring time and pushed them out of the spotlight. They were great on their own and released only excellent music. And, like contemporaries The Sugarplastic, they were great live and a whole lot of fun. Just the song title ‘In and around Greg Lake’ always cracked me up.
Very glad you produced these two stellar ICAs about unheralded LA power pop. One of the (many) nice things about JC’s place is that lots of people tune in, all bringing pretty high musical IQs. It’s rare to present this crowd with music they’re unfamiliar with and that’s exactly what you’ve done with two of the very best groups ever to not get listened to outside their home town.
I have only heard a couple of things by this mob so looking forward to this Brian.