A pop rock band with a saxophone instead of a guitar? When I found out that Minus Six was playing near me, I jumped at the chance to interview them. I was lucky enough to talk to the band over dinner at the Riverhouse Bar & Grill in Moline, IL, where the sweet small-town guys told me just how the unique group came to be.
I would like to thank the band for taking the time to make this interview possible.
– For the record, can you state your name and specific part you play in the band?
Kevin: My name’s Kevin Carton and I play piano and sing for Minus Six.
Matt: I’m Matt Sivertsen and I play all the saxophones as well as the EWI, Electric Wind Instrument.
Kameron: Kameron Rummans, bass guitar and backup vocals.
Rob: Rob Baner, drums.
– How did each of you get into music?
Matt: Started playing saxophone in 5th grade, and got really interested in high school with saxophones in particular and rock bands like Dave Matthews Band, who I really admired because they had a saxophone player. Then I got quite a bit into jazz as well, and was a saxophone performance major at the University of Illinois, and then got with these guys, these spirited young musicians, and now I just aspire to be in a rock band while incorporating a saxophone.
Kevin: From the time I was an infant my mom said that I would sing inside the cradle, so I guess you could say it’s been in my blood ever since I was born, and I guess my whole life has been aimed toward becoming the best musician I can be. I started piano lessons in second grade, and I haven’t looked back since I’ve started. I love what I’m doing and it’s awesome because I’ve gotten to make three new brothers along the way.
Kameron: I started singing professionally when I was nine years old in a boys’ choir, and I started playing bass guitar my eighth grade year of school, and influenced by Kevin Carton, I struck the urge to pick up that instrument and help him and his music endeavors.
Rob: I started playing drums back in fifth grade, when I was about eleven, and I’ve been playing ever since with any kind of ensemble I can get my hands on. I’ve been playing with these guys now for about three years, and it’s been awesome.
– What is unique about Minus Six?
Matt: Definitely unique in that we don’t have a guitar for being a pop rock band, and that’s kind of the first thing we sat around and talked about, like five years ago, trying to incorporate a piano based rock group. Most rock groups don’t have that and don’t have a sax and don’t not have guitars. Hence the name Minus Six, for the six string guitar absence.
– Is it difficult playing without a guitar in the band?
Kameron: No, our rhythm instrument comes from the piano, and the drums and the bass fill in as the rhythm section. I think the three of us together solidify what we are doing as musicians under vocals and lead instruments. I don’t think the guitar is missed much.
Rob: I don’t think it’s difficult, I think it provides us with the opportunity to get our sound base a little different and get a unique sound and test some new areas that don’t necessarily get hit that often in this genre.
– You released your third album, Hidden Deep in the Green (2007), last year. What can you tell us about the first two albums and how they differ from the most recent?
Kevin: I think the most obvious change in the most recent album compared to the last two albums is that our drummer Rob appears on the album for the first time with the band, and that alone has made the band 100% better because Rob is so good at keeping the rhythm. Not only that, but he makes the music really come alive and makes a visual. I guess what I am most proud of in the third CD is it’s a lot more visual, where you can almost close your eyes and go into your own world and experience that. The new album is more written from life experiences; from childhood to love and heartache. We do try to stay away from writing a lot of love songs on the new CD, so we also have songs about the end of the world, and peace, and how the world should come together because right now there is so much shit going on.
Matt: Our third album, Deep in the Green, was an opportunity to work on a little higher level for over week in a recording studio with a higher budget, we worked with a producer named Joe Hand down in Nashville. Our other two projects were much lower budget, so Deep in the Green was definitely one we spent a lot of time on with the writing and the production of it. Now this summer we are going to progressively start working on our fourth CD as a band, but also our second bigger budget CD. It’s been a fun ride.
– Is the band your main focus right now or are you each working on separate side projects?
Kameron: I think we are all musicians just striving to play. Minus Six is a big commitment for all of us, but some of us at different parts of our lives played jazz ensembles at school, or got together with friends just to jam, but this is a big commitment for us.
Matt: Yeah, I would say musically the focus is definitely Minus Six. I mean, I have a day job and these guys are all in school, so we have the Monday through Friday stuff, but we definitely play every weekend, and Friday and Saturday we really commit to playing. Pretty much anything else that we do have come up would be secondary.
– Music-wise what do you guys hope to accomplish in the next few years?
Rob: Right now we are really focusing on playing as much as possible wherever we can to give everyone a chance to hear us. But I think in the next few years our goal is to really take this as far as we can and get as much exposure as we can and get more material going.
– What bands or albums do you usually use for inspiration and why?
Kevin: I would have to say that my favorite bands are Ben Folds 5, Dave Mathews Band, and The Beatles. I think the biggest inspirations for the most recent writings would be The Beatles’ really melodic melodies and the Dave Mathews Band’s bizarre attempt at making really diverse songs that really don’t sound the same at all. At the same time, I think we are trying to move in a direction of trying to start something new with the music, in that we are incorporating almost a broadway-esque style into the songs. With that, we can take the music and tell stories and make longer songs, so that like I was saying with our last CD being visual, our next CD can be ten times more visual because we’re adding that plot to the songs. It’s like a mini movie in your head where you can shut your eyes and see it through the music. But everything from classical music to jazz really influences Minus Six because I think that we all try to listen to as much music as we can so that we can pull from different ideas and really hit all of the areas we find entertaining.
Matt: Yeah, we draw from every genre possible and I think Rob was a huge catalyst for that happening. He’s a drummer that can draw from anywhere and anything, versus a drummer that may just be rock genre based. So I really feel that Rob’s capabilities allow us to then have no boundaries and make the fans listen really well and incorporate the instruments and pull off a lot of different things. Like Kevin says, it makes it very visual.
– What does each of you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies?
Matt: What free time?
Kevin: I like to do a variety of activities. Writing the music for Minus Six is a big thing that I love to do with my free time. I go to school and I have a job, but when it all comes down to me having time to do whatever I want to do is walk to the piano and try to write out a new melody or new lyrics. If I’m not doing that, I like to hang out with friends and party and have a good time like any other college student.
Matt: Pretty much just run, work, and try to stay in shape. Minus Six pretty much encompasses a lot of my free time for sure, but I do have a Border Collie that keeps me busy too, playing with him.
Kameron: Hobbies? Yes. I have hobbies. My hobbies include playing music, of course, and I guess I’m a closet videogame nerd. I hang out with my fiancÃ© a lot, and played football for a long time and did sports, but I don’t do that as much anymore.
– Are there any plans for music videos in the near future?
Kevin: I think right now we are focused on spreading our word, but not through professional music videos, more through videos like on YouTube, where it shows crowd participation and the high energy level on stage. I think that says more about us as a band at this stage, as opposed to trying to make a really artsy music video when we don’t have any kind of budget to do so, so it would probably come off looking not very professional. Right now if we do take any videos of the band, it’s at live shows and then putting them on YouTube to try to spread the word that way.
– For fans that are listening to Minus Six for the first time, what song would you suggest they listen to first?
Rob: I would say Anchorage would be a good song to start with, because I knew that’s what everyone else was going to say and I think it’s a neat tune. I also suggest that everybody give the CD one total listen down, because I think there is one song that will reach out to different people and I think that would be a cool way to find the song you like.
– What do you hope listeners take away from your music?
Kevin: We hope that our music makes people feel.
– Do you think the music community will accept you guys or will you need to prove yourselves a bit more because you have grown up in a small Illinois town?
Kevin: The longer I play, the more I question that because we’re trying to develop a new thing, like going with the Broadway rock style, and trying to incorporate longer songs with crazy plots. Personally, I know we all dig it, and we are excited to see people’s reactions to it, but I think we are so excited because we have no idea how people are going to react to it. So if we end up making a new CD and it doesn’t catch on because the songs are way too Broadway and out there, I think that we may then need to think about changing the way we write the music. For right now though, we are excited to see people’s reactions because it is different. In general, at live shows it seems to be catching on fairly quickly, and people like to dance. I don’t know if that’s because of the energy or our songs, but I’d like to think it’s a mixture of both.
Kameron: I think what every kind of music one would listen to, in like a big city or for someone else to accept us, is one thing, but I think people could definitely accept us as musicians individually and as a group together. Whether they like us as a group, they definitely acknowledge the fact that we do take a lot of pride in the way we play all our instruments.
– So have you guys already started working on your fourth CD? Have you done anything differently than before?
Rob: We have some new material that we are working on, and we have a lot more ideas that we’re still tossing around, not sure what’s going to happen yet. I’d say the one big characteristic of what we’re trying to do now is we’re trying to be adventurous and we’re trying to lead the listener on a journey, and take them somewhere. Where that is though, we’re not sure yet, but we want it to be somewhere.
– Currently the band is with M6 Records, but do you hope to someday sign with a major record label?
Matt: I don’t know, I think it depends because things are changing so fast. Right now record labels just aren’t what they used to be. Certainly, having advertising and exposure power would be nice, but we also know that a lot of times those things can be so short focused that they may be able to get one song out, and that’s where we’ve seen a lot of bands come and go, with just one tune. I think we’d rather do the leg work of getting true fans who go through our whole sets of music, and not just try and channel one hit tune. We would rather build it up from the bottom to get that core exposure. It was kind of cool because we started with high schools, but then what happened was all of the kids went away to college, and they go to all of these regional colleges, so that helped us jump to the next level. We are trying to branch out and play that college circuit, and we just hope it goes off to the next level. There are plenty of bands that have done it without record labels, and it might be a good thing eventually, but it’s not a hindrance now.
– What has been a difficulty that you have worked to overcome throughout the making of the band?
Kameron: I think the hardest thing is that all of us take a lot of pride in our talent, and with all of us in day jobs and college it’s hard for us to practice together. So we have to rely a lot on individual practice time and have confidence in the other people and their abilities to stay tight, because it kind of sucks not being able to practice on a regular basis together.
Matt: The toughest is anytime we’re in a new marketplace, because you can’t expect to go to a totally new venue, in a totally new town, and just have all of these people come out. You have to find the right spots where there are going to people out there already or maybe have another band that has a draw. It’s kind of frustrating because you get into the areas where you have a really good following, but at new places you have to start all over and it can take three to four shows to get back. Usually we get a good enough response so that it fills up pretty quick, but it does suck starting over at a new place where you have to branch out.
– Is there anything else you would like to add?
And our songs are on iTunes as well as all other download sites.