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By Lee Zimmerman
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Mike Mineo is a gifted if inscrutable musician who has taken many epic leaps in his artistic life. Last year, the charismatic multi-instrumentalist released his debut, Eccentricity. The 18-track cornucopia of pop, soul, funk, jazz, blues, calypso, and zydeco ultimately found a place within South Florida's fickle music scene and sold more than 2,000 copies.
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Accompanied by tuba, accordion, or saxophone, the 25-year-old Boca Raton native's luxurious pipes resonate as much as anything on that record, released by local label Nevernothing Records. His goosebump-inducing timbre can be as soothing as Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry one minute but morph into Louis Armstrong-style jazz inflections the next, prompting New Times Broward-Palm Beach to name Mineo Best Male Rock Vocalist last year.
With coinage from Eccentricity's sales, he decided to embark on a three-month journey across the United States in his 2000 "patriotic blue" Plymouth Voyager. Mineo booked that entire tour himself and subsequently played to many an empty room during this underpromoted nationwide tour.
"We sucked it up and rocked out as hard as we could and then went to sleep on the mattress in my van afterwards," he recalls during a chat with New Times outside breezy Deerfield Beach hangout Kahuna Bar and Grill. Mineo's older brother and bandmate, Johnny Mineo, 17 months his senior, sits beside him.
One decidedly good thing that came out of the cross-country trek was the inspiration for Mineo's sophomore album, Beach Season. "Last year was just a shot in the dark for me," he says. "This time around, it's a knowing shot in the dark."
The summery collection, which will be released Friday at his performance at Boca Raton's craft-beer watering hole, the Funky Buddha, started coming together in his mind when he was "freezing [his] ass off" in Iowa City and Omaha. "I longed for the sunshine on the beach in South Florida like never before," he says.
As vodka and orange juice flows, the younger Mineo opens up as a confessed gadabout with a streak of luck thrown in. As a 16-year-old, he accepted a dare to jump off Boca Raton's Palmetto Park Bridge onto a boat floating by in the Intracoastal Waterway. "My friend bet me that I couldn't jump onto the boat below, so I just did it," he says. Mike grazed the side of his targeted cruiser and broke his femur bone. In the flukiest of scenarios, the vessel that Mike's side slammed into just happened to be a stolen one. As luck would have it, Mineo says he ended up with a $10,000 settlement for himself.
That money turned out to be a fundamental building block in forming his vivid songwriting career three years later, when the then-19 Mineo emptied out the CD account and embarked on an aimless, soul-searching journey across the country.
Overall, the experience was too scattered for Mineo to summarize in a neat little story, but he remembers staying in an abandoned house in Silver City, New Mexico, with a bunch of homeless kids and dropping off a travel mate in San Francisco because he was worn out. "It was an alliance with chaos that I purposefully threw myself into," he admits, adding that it eventually laid the building blocks for Eccentricity.
A mere 15 months after officially unveiling his debut, Mineo is set to follow it up with the glossy Beach Season, a radical departure from his self-described "avant-garde pop" heard on his last offering.
"Lots of friends and fans told me that Eccentricity was a lot to digest," he says. "My solo sound was all over the place, and we decided to hone in on a particular sound and aesthetic on this record."
The "we" Mineo is referring to is the other big change from last year. Instead of being regarded as an offering from Mike Mineo the solo artist, the Beach Season project, Mineo says, is to be embraced as a full-on band venture.
Only three months ago, Johnny Mineo, who possesses a similar maniacal energy but expresses himself a little less abstractly, left a comedy rap act named the Continental Duo in Chicago to move back to Florida. He replaced his brother's exiting bassist, Bill Muter. "I've been involved in many artistic endeavors before with many different friends, but it's second-to-none to be in a project with my own brother," Johnny says.
"I'm sure we will have straight-up Kings of Leon lashouts eventually," Mike adds jokingly.
Called simply Mineo, the lineup features the Mineo brothers and Darren Scott on drums. "We are calling it 'subtropic pop,' " Mike explains. "It is a more straightforward sound with a distinct island vibe."
The seagulls chirping and waves gently crashing on Beach Season's opener, "Subtropic Sunrise," and "Vacation" — a jittery, Afro-pop, Vampire Weekendesque romp — certainly keep in line with Mineo's Florida shoreline vision. But then you have a track like "Little Girl," which possesses a certain Polynesian flair but comes with an undercurrent of lovelorn lament. Mineo concurs: "That song in particular dealt with a bitter parting I had with a girlfriend last year."
During his birthday last March, Mineo decided to take a solo excursion up to Jonathan Dickinson Park in Hobe Sound to get away from the subject matter of "Little Girl." Armed with a cooler full of beer and an acoustic guitar, Mineo set out to have his "own experience."
Sleeping in a tent by himself, Mike experienced nothing less than bitter, bone-chilling, biting coldness when the temperature dipped into the 30s that night. The next day, while still under a psychotropic haze, Mike panicked about finding enough timber to build a fire. "No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't gather enough wood," he recalls. "Then it came to me: Life is all about building your fire. If there is going to be cold in the world, you have to prepare and build your own damned fire."
The next morning, he awoke almost frostbitten, but the warmth of the sun saved his spirit. "That morning, the sun spoke to me and said, 'I rise every fucking morning, bro! Here I am.' " Shortly thereafter, Mike began piecing together the soothing melody heard on the skittering, positive jam "Feel the Sun."
After the interview, the Mineo brothers insist on performing "Feel the Sun" and extend an invitation to the Deerfield Beach pier for a jam session. With an acoustic guitar and conga in hand, these siblings of Portuguese and Italian descent harmonize nearly perfectly, despite the generous amount of Stoli vodka imbibed earlier.
At the end, it's in the neighborhood of 3 a.m. Mike looks out over the pier and is visibly tempted to take a high dive. He strips down to his boxer shorts. Nobody is there to stop him, and the lure of the almost full moon shining on the glistening water underneath him is too great. He climbs over the railing, and Johnny drunkenly chides him about it. With a quick "see you later," the younger Mineo steps off the edge, and a giant splash follows. With that, the night concludes with yet another plunge into the darkness.
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