UK SINGER-SONGWRITER MINKE IS TAKING THE ALT-POP WORLD BY STORM
story / Catherine Santino
photos / Gaby Deimeke
When Minke takes the stage at Soho House in New York City, a hush falls over the room. She’s unassuming: petite in stature, wearing a black turtleneck and black pants with a dusty pink coat over top. But as she slings the guitar strap over her head, you can tell that something special is about to happen.
I had been listening to her new EP, The Tearoom, leading up to the performance, so I was well aware of the caliber of songs we were all about to hear. What I couldn’t have anticipated, however, was how Minke’s raw talent would pierce through the crowd, as electric as the instrument in her hands.
When she hits her first guitar riff in “Another Me”, the EP’s opening track, I swear I hear the audience take a collective gasp in reaction to Minke’s unadulterated skill – or maybe it’s just my own breath. Either way, the room is falling fast for her, savoring every minute of her performance.
The next day, the official release date of The Tearoom, I meet Minke at her hotel to speak with her about the three-year process of creating the EP and her career thus far. In her teens, UK-born Minke was signed to a label in Nashville and performing blues music under her real name, Leah Mason. Over time, though, she grew restless.
“I started to feel more and more like I was pretending,” she tells me. “There were old biker dudes, I remember, at a show of mine once. I remember being like, ‘This isn’t what I should be doing. This isn’t my full purpose.’”
She craved a new kid of sound, one that blended her singer-songwriter roots with modern pop while allowing her to write about her life as a 20-something woman. Minke began “secretly” working on this new idea, taking writing trips to New York and eventually meeting her new manager at South By Southwest.
“It was a long process,” Minke says. “I’d get the opportunity to write and play for a bit, but then go back normal life. Until ‘Gold Angel’ came out, and then it was the point where, ‘Wow, okay, I can live and do this full-time.’”
“Gold Angel”, released in 2017, marked the pivot from Leah Mason to Minke. The guitar-driven track showcases both Minke’s technical prowess and pop sensibility. It shows that singer-songwriters can also be pop stars, a movement that’s currently being thrown into the mainstream by artists like Maggie Rogers, whom Minke greatly admires.
“She’s such an example of someone who is bluntly honest and really innovative, but classic songwriting,” Minke says. “That still has a place. People crave that real music. I have to believe that, because that’s all I can do and all I can offer. I was really excited by how well [Maggie Rogers’ album] did, and it’s deserving because she’s a boss.”
Of course, Maggie Rogers’ success doesn’t overshadow Minke’s. Both women are carving out their own unique paths in the alt-pop space, and Minke’s The Tearoom is only a taste of what the LA-transplant has to offer. This spring, Minke will join Kevin Garrett and the X Ambassadors on their respective tours, where she’ll continue to share The Tearoom on stage.
“Too Late”, a Robyn-inspired track, serves as a welcome dance break between the EP’s many tearjerkers (Minke jokes that the title of the EP sounds like “The Tear-room”, which she felt was appropriate). “I walked in the room that day, and I was just pissed off,” Minke says of writing the song. “Whoever was in the room that day was going to get it, because I was just in that mood of, ‘I need to get this off my chest.’ I walked in, and Blake [Harnage] was listening to Robyn. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s just do that.’ And then we literally had it. We had the Robyn beat and then we had the lyrics, and that was it.”
The Swedish pop icon has always served as an inspiration to Minke, and remains unmatched in her mastery of, as Minke puts it, the “cry dance” genre.
“‘Dancing On My Own’ is one of the best songs ever written,” the singer says as I nod fervently in agreement. “The way that it blends the emotion with the modern production and dancing and synths and just how lush it all sounds, the arrangement of it, with the lyrics and the way she’s singing it. It is perfect to me.”
“[Robyn] hits everything for me,” Minke continues. “From lyrics, being a woman and addressing it, being honest, being emotional, not being scared to be overly emotional, which I’m always slightly scared about.” But clearly, Minke didn’t let her fears stop her from baring it all in The Tearoom. Her songs perfectly nail the difficulties in maneuvering dating in the 21st century, without ever being cliche or too timely. In “Maybe 25”, she laments the dwindling attention spans of her generation, fueled by social media and dating app culture. In “Something Better”, she examines the painful complications that emerge when a partner’s beliefs differ from yours.
“Everything is a lot more temporary,” she says of modern romance. “Call me a die-hard romantic. I just feel like we’re all just so distracted. We’re so overworked and we’re also all really broke. So then with that all together, it’s like now you want to fall in love and make that the priority of your life. It’s kind of tricky to do that, because we’re all just running around all over the place.”
“Bite the Bullet”, Minke explains during the EP release show, is one of her favorite songs she’s ever written. It was created with Rory Andrews on her first writing trip to New York, the beginning of her transition from blues to pop. “I was really scared of the choice I was making to leave behind [blues],” she admits. “I was terrified about stepping out of that comfort zone. But writing that song and meeting Rory that day completely opened the doors for me, in a confidence level, in a sense of, ‘Okay, I can do this. You’ve just met someone who’s going to be a collaborator for life.’”
It was the first breakup song Minke wrote, and she describes it as “the biggest release ever.” “I had this thing happen when I was younger, and I put it aside like we always do, and I’d never fully thought about it or written about it,” she says. “I didn’t really realize what I was writing until we’d finished and I listened back, and I was like, ‘Right. Shit. That was something you needed to write.’”
And fans need to hear her songs, too.
At one point during Minke’s Soho House performance, I looked to my left to find my friend, who had accompanied me to the show, quietly wiping away tears. “She’s just so good,” she mouthed.
In that moment, I am surer than ever that despite today’s head-spinning culture of overproduced, over-curated noise, there’ll never be anything more impactful than a musician, their instrument, and a captive crowd.
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