Cincinnati’s The Minor Leagues Celebrate Release of North College Hill
By Kyle Melton
For about a decade, The Minor Leagues have brought their ambitious brand of indie pop to audiences in and around Cincinnati. Led by original members Ben Walpole and Patrick Helmes, their current 7-piece outfit is an eclectic group that employs dense pop arrangements to stunning effect. On their latest effort, North College Hill, the group explores the concept of reflecting on having grown up in the Cincinnati neighborhood. Walpole and vocalist Hilly Kenkel deliver whimsical, nostalgic tunes draped in a swirling blend of vintage ‘60s arrangements glossed in ‘90s Britpop sheen. We spoke recently with Walpole about the band’s decade-long trajectory, their new album, and what the future holds for The Minor Leagues.
The Minor Leagues have been around for about a decade now. How did the current lineup come into place? What major changes have taken place with the band’s sound and direction over the years?
We’ve gone through several lineup changes over the years, but Patrick and myself have been the constants. We’re really lucky right now to have the best lineup of people and musicians that the band has ever had. No question. [Ben Walpole]
Sound wise, I think we’ve probably tried to streamline some of the arrangements. For a while, we would just kind of throw any idea we had on the album, regardless of whether it sounded good or not. I kind of miss those days. Less overtly — Hilly really pushed me to try to make the lyrics on the new album more abstract than my words have been in the past. I guess that goes along with the move away from the Wall of Sound to a more streamlined approach. [BW]
Tell me about the writing/recording process for the new record. What was the songwriting/arrangement process? Where did you record the album? How long did it take to put the whole thing together and how do you feel about the results?
I sat down in January of 2010 with a self-imposed deadline to write an album about North College Hill in about three weeks. The plan was to do a quieter album about North College Hill and a louder, more raucous album about Northside [another Cincinnati neighborhood] later in 2010. For once, I actually met the deadline — but a few of the songs really needed more work to become fully realized. Patrick stepped in during the demo process and really made “Secret Codes,” “City On A Hill,” and “1985 Forever” what they wound up being. We took the demos to the band, worked them out that spring and then went to Nashville to work with our friend Sean Sullivan at The Butcher Shoppe studios. He hooked us up with eight days to track all 10 songs. The process really slowed when we got back to Cincinnati, intending to add a few extra parts and then send it back to Sean to mix. We couldn’t really get certain sounds right, so we wound up mixing and mastering ourselves, Patrick and I, over the course of about 13 months. It wasn’t very much fun, and we made quite long list of “well, we’ll never do it that way again” things. I think it probably resonates the most emotion — which is kind of a dignified, fancy, mature territory we never reached before with songs about thunderstorms and pestilential rocks. [BW]
As the title of the album, North College Hill references a neighborhood in Cincinnati, how much did living in the city inform the material on the new record? How much do you feel that as a band you are influenced by the music scene there? What additional influences inform your music?
The album is without question informed by living in North College Hill, lyrically at least. Every single lyric is just about what it was like growing up there for me, and how it feels to look back on that place and that time in my life. I miss it a lot. [BW]
What plans does TML have for the new record?
We’re going to be playing a series of out-of-town weekend excursions to help promote the North College Hill album. We hit Brooklyn and Pittsburgh in February, Chicago and Dayton in March, with potential plans for another trip east for May. From there, that long-delayed more raucous album about Northside should be in the pipeline for release early this summer, barring unforeseen difficulty. [BW]
Is there anything else people should know about TML or North College Hill?
It’s nominally about a place you may never have heard of, but the ideas on the album are pretty universal — wishing your hometown was the same way it was when you were a kid, childhood nostalgia, etc. Don’t be scared off by the specificity!
The Minor Leagues will celebrate the release of North College Hill with a show on Saturday, March 10 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. Also on the bill are The Turkish Delights and TK. Doors at 9p.m. Admission is $5 for all ages. For more information, visit minorleaguesmusic.com.
Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at MusicEditor@DaytonCityPaper.com and read his blog at thebuddhaden/net.
[Photo: Andrea Reeves]