During this down-time from live performances, I’ve made some wonderful discoveries — old favorites with new releases and new artists with surprising takes on what’s come before. One band in that latter category is a duo made up of Randy McStine and Marco Minnemann, two talented multi-instrumentalists who recently joined musical forces. What I heard on a link their publicist sent me was exciting and very reminiscent of the progressive rock bands I heard and loved in the early days of my career — groups like Klaatu, Gentle Giant, Fish-era Marillion and others of that same ilk. A phone interview was arranged where I called Randy McStine, who has an impressive solo career as well, at his home in the Hudson Valley area of New York, and what came out of that chat was enlightening as well as entertaining.

Q: How many albums do the two of you have out now?
McStine:
It’s our second, hence the title, “II” (chuckle). But we did two in a year, so there were people who were there for the first one immediately and those people came back for more with this one. And then, of course, like with any band as time goes on, there’s different jumping-off points for people. This second album will be the one that I think, over time, will be one of those sort of introductory ones. Like if somebody says, “Hey, what is McStine & Minnemann about?” — this is one of those records that you can go, “Listen to this!”

Q: Well, one of the things that has drawn me to artists ever since I began doing this half-a-century ago is their ability to surprise me by changing up their sound or style, or both, over the course of an album. You guys do that, for sure.
McStine: It is definitely one of those records, yeah. I commonly tell people that the first listen is really the experience. Other writers have referred to it as like a rollercoaster or just what you’re describing — at a certain point you really get the sense that anything is possible and could happen. That’s fun and because I, by nature, have spent so many hours listening to it in the making of it, I kind of envy a little bit the people who get to hear it for the first time. I would love to know what that experience is really like. I’ve completely normalized it, obviously, but I can imagine the way the music hits and the track listing and the flow. That very first listen is probably both exciting and maybe even a bit unnerving. It’s upon repeated listens that I think people, who are willing to put in the time with it, really start to discover what’s there. When the shock value of that first listen begins to wear off and you get to settle in and you know what’s coming, you get to sort of key in on the details. That’s really where the second layer of magic is for the listener.

Q: Yeah, I agree. I’ve gone through it three times now. And it’s neat, too, because I find myself going, “Wait a minute, I didn’t hear that before!”
McStine: Exactly, yeah … thank you so much.

Q: Does writing something like this come easy to you, or is it something you really have to labor over?
McStine: Good question. You know, the answer would be different potentially between myself and Marco. Although I think generally speaking I would say, no, it’s not that it’s hard to write, where I found myself spending the most time is just putting in the details. The songs can sort of present themselves very quickly or very easily. But where I really like to drill down is in all of those little details, because that’s what I really appreciate as a listener, too.

Q: And the bottom line?
McStine: I would say the writing part is not as laborious as the filling in of the colors.

Q: Now, because of the restrictions of touring due to the pandemic, I realize that it might be hard to respond to my next question, but is what you do something that would lend itself to a live performance?
McStine: Yes, we are in conversation about that often. I think it’s still a ways away, personally, but most certainly. We both really want to see this on a stage. When that happens, we’ll have more material in our catalogue, and I think a really good chance of having a well-rounded presentation. At least that’s what I picture.

Q: I know that COVID-19 has negatively impacted millions of people around this country and the world, but other than not being able to perform live, how has it affected you?
McStine: Well, the truth is that, and I have to choose my words carefully because we all know that this pandemic has wreaked havoc on about every facet of life, for us it was a vehicle and an opportunity. I firmly believe that this album, the second one, it exists because of this time. We started heading into the first one lightly in late 2019. We had picked the songs; we had started to work on things in our individual studios, and then we were both on our own tours. Marco was touring with his band The Aristocrats; I went out and did a solo acoustic tour opening for a British progressive rock band called The Pineapple Thief. When 2020 came around, I was diving into finishing up what would be our first record, and then the lockdown happened exactly a year ago as we’re speaking. We basically announced our partnership as a band five days before everything shut down. It was like, “OK, we’re here! Oh, now what?!” So this whole thing, from a public perspective, has entirely played out during the course of this pandemic year.

Q: What was that first album like?
McStine: I would say it’s a little more direct, more straight ahead and not as varied as this second record, but all the elements are there. It’s the blueprint, right? So, this entire second record exists from the time period of June to November of 2020, and everything on the record happened in that time period. So it’s completely fresh. There were no leftovers from the first sessions or anything like that. What’s kind of interesting about this record is that it’s essentially like an audio diary of five months in real time.

Q: My last question is this: Is there anything, Randy, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
McStine: If I can say so without coming across egotistical, I do feel like what we’re doing as McStine & Minnemann has a real understanding of the rock music that has come before us. We’re both real students of rock music, and all sorts of music, so what we are doing has a lot of links to the past. But it is not done in a calculated way; we’re not attempting to steal anything from anybody, and I feel like there’s a freshness to it that if more people check it out and give it the time, I think they’ll feel that. mcstineminnemann.com

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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