Forming a band can be hard. Keeping a band together is even harder. Maintaining a fan base and consistency in a musical city like Richmond is its own feat. But the members of local indie band Minimum Balance have mastered the art of–well, balance, and using a pre-formed foundation to create their current sound.
After churning out two previous EPs, Minimum Balance has returned with their first full-length album, a follow-up to their 2015 release, Poorly Insulated, the band’s first full-length, self-titled LP, which they will release later this month.
Members Sean Bullock (guitar, vocals), Malcolm Thomas (bass), and Miguel Carter-Fisher (guitar) all went to the same high school, but different friend groups and paths led them away from one another. When Thomas joined forces with Bullock to create a two-person band upon Bullock’s return to Richmond in 2012, the early genesis of Minimum Balance took place.
“At one point we were playing garage shows, he was playing guitar and I was playing synth bass while trying to drum at the same time. It didn’t go very well,” said Bullock. As the band took different shapes with different members, Carter-Fisher returned from studying in New York. “They had already been a band for a while when I was living in New York. I came back and was terribly envious of Sean’s band. It made me want to start my own band,” he said. Saddling on Carter-Fisher’s talent meant one last missing piece: a drummer. After posting a late-night ad on Facebook, Anthony Stanton found the post. Thus, the lineup for Minimum Balance was formed.
The band went through dozens of different names before deciding on Minimum Balance. “People think it’s a bank account joke because ‘you’re broke, you’re musicians,’” said Bullock, laughing. Rather, it is “more like an ethos. It [is] disparate elements, barely held together, this that and the other.” Carter-Fisher added that their sound has been described as “dysfunctional harmony,” which perfectly encapsulates their sound and the name of their band, culminating in a harmonious tension that plays out in their music.
A band like Minimum Balance has reached a difficult level of expertise with their music. While it’s rather easy to randomly jam to create dissonant sounds that end up being unappealing to the ear, Minimum Balance has taken the intricate detail of tone, harmony, and rhythm to create an eclectic, roomy chaos that ends up speaking to a deeper part of the internal musical part all people possess.
Stanton, whose central role is to drive forward the band’s toe-tapping beats with steady crashing cymbals and snare, mixed with killer fills, commented on internalizing their music. “My tidbit would be, if you could listen to this album, it’s one way to hear it. Then you just close your eyes and listen to it. You close your eyes and you’re in the Minimum Balance zone. There’s something beautiful about it.”
While attending a rehearsal, the band played some selections from their upcoming album. The song “Arms Race” included roomy, moaning rhythm guitar by Bullock and picky-wailing guitar solos from Carter-Fisher while “Just a Dream” felt growing, steady, but then fell into a crashing, biting echo of guitars and booming bass.
The two guitars from Bullock and Carter-Fisher alternate between rhythmic licks and wailing picking that end up complementing each other one moment, then switch into complete dissonance that seems to work in tandem. Thomas’ bass fills the room, no matter the size, with color and fullness. Stanton’s skill on the drum kit provides complexity and necessary rhythm to the band’s often-changing tempos, showing off their talent and musical brilliance. The amount of control necessary to go from wall-warping dissonance to harmonized licks and pulls proves the raw talent coming from the four musicians. It’s almost mind-boggling how the transitions of tone and tempo from one part of a song into the other (and sometimes back again) come from just one song, one band.
It’s safe to say the lyrics sound rather existential. But Bullock makes a point to explain it’s not just for the sake of being existential or artistic. “It’s a political record without being a political record. It’s an existential record without being an existential record,” he said. In addition, a listener can’t help but hear commentary on the current political or social climate. But, as Bullock explains, it’s difficult to avoid discussing those themes in art these days. Carter Fisher explains further that, regardless of generation, there is a pervasive frustration present due to the collective “dumpster fire” in our nation and world.
“I feel like there’s a central anxiety as you move through the album in varying dispositions. Even our lighter, poppier song [has] a little bit of delicious condescension,” said Carter-Fisher. He adds that the lyrics are more about “self-expression rather than self-exposure.” “Having said all that, I think the biggest thing is that lyrics can tell a story, but lyrics can’t sermonize,” adds Bullock. “There’s no sense in trying to convey some convoluted message so it’s finding the emotional center of that anxiety and then writing something that you could sing.” Bullock’s passion is evident in his singing. Mixed with the instrumentation, it is hard not to feel an emotional reaction to Minimum Balance.
Minimum Balance is set to release their new LP on January 27 at Strange Matter. Richmond’s Colder Planets and The Trillions are also scheduled to perform. 5 PM Doors, 6 PM Music. $5 Advance, $7 Day of Show.