IN CONVERSATION: Minas "I was faced with confusion trying to find a fix in my head for it all.”

IN CONVERSATION: Minas “I was faced with confusion trying to find a fix in my head for it all.”

“It’s the story of two years of my life. A dark two years of adolescence. But it talks about a lot of things that people at that age face growing up, like addiction, and disillusionment with politics is quite a big part of it.”

Greek/Welsh producer & musician James Minas is in full flow about the Minas debut album All My Love Has Failed Me.  Triskel Award 2022 winner Minas is the project of James. alongside rhythm section the Davies Brothers.

The twelve songs that make up the record include his stonking run of previous singles from the last eighteen months, ‘Payday’ ,’Fight One’ ,’B&R’, and most recently ‘Protests’. It vividly showcases Cardiff-based Minas’s artistry: raw, brooding and intense these are tales of addiction; growing up on the outside in the Valleys looking in and the utter injustice of life, underpinned by an unstoppable soundtrack blurring the lines between electronica, post-punk and hip hop. Witty and brutal he rattles with the personal trauma, mental health issues and the utter frustration at the world that surrounds him and expels it in raw catharsis at every turn. In the process, his work sums up the confusion and brutal inequality festering at the heart of Brexit Britain in 2022 and holds up a mirror. He’s one of the most original voices to emerge from South Wales in quite some time. Reality hits hard; Minas hits harder.

On ‘Fight One’  he is a man on a mission on this track, like waiting up with brutal realisation staring square in the face: despair, frustration and relapsing addiction. Shifting from atmospheric to visceral beats and bars(“My heart was giving my ribs a kicking”) bouncing off the walls. “Even though I was on the right path, I had relapses,” he recalls. “This was a conversation I was having with myself, not to fix it, but just to start noticing what was happening more. I guess this track serves as the first real moment of fear I had, fear of where the hell I was going, where I would end up if I carried on.”

“I didn’t like myself at all, I felt my life was a bit of a joke and I wasn’t of much use to anyone. It’s the first song on the album where I’m being completely straight up with myself. I used to walk around my area where I was then living in Cardiff like I was on a mission of self-destruction, including walking down Clifton Street on whatever concoction of substances I was on as if looking for a problem. I started realising this wasn’t cool and really wasn’t who I wanted to be.”

Opener ‘B&R’ simmers and turns up the temperature from the off on a fractured bed of beats, serrating sawing guitars and an 1980s rock sample. He delivers the absurdity of lines like “I wish I was born and raised for free” with the force of his chest this is a tearing down of privileged populist clowns we call our leaders. Minas calls the track ‘ramblepunk’, summing up how he spits out rants about various things he’s infuriated by, “ It’s basically a crappy description of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump and how their messed-up ego sounds. The song is essentially an introduction to my writing style on a lot of this album.”

“It’s not like, a big left wing, political anarchist album,” he explains of the politically charged elements of the record. “I was literally never political growing up, like I had no idea about any of it. I kind of barely knew who Tony Blair was! Plus you don’t really learn much about it in school, either. How the country actually works. And that was a mad thing. For me. Itcame out of school, I didn’t even know what taxes are, you know? I just didn’t really feel like it prepared me for life at all,” he remembers.

“So when I did find out about politics, and what was actually going on, you’re just faced with this, like, what? So, yes, a lot of it is about that, and just kind of growing up and realizing the world’s a bit shitter than you thought. Especially where I was from in valleys like, I don’t know, you get these impressions of big cities like Cardiff, London and all these places, thinking it’s all going to be different, but actually, yeah there’s bullshit everywhere in a way. “

After a while of repeating the same bad behaviour I was forced to sober up and face my demons., he says of rage filled recent single ‘Protests’ which came about after going to the protest against South Wales Police who had been accused of the murder of Mohammed Hassan, the 24-year old Black British-Somali man who died in January at his Cardiff home after being released from police custody earlier the same day. “The feeling of betrayal and anger that was in the air at the protest, as the police smirked and slyly joked amongst themselves while standing out the front of the police station, infuriated myself and many others present there. I failed to see how any of this was a laughing matter. I then attended the protest for Shukri Abdi which held similar emotions and I was faced with confusion trying to find a fix in my head for it all.”

Payday’ is a visceral collision of punk, hip hop and electronica that bounces off the walls: with angst and frustration. “I get paid Friday, trust me I’m good for it!” he gobs in an anti-sing-along, above urgent beats and crushing sounds, like the Streets colliding with Slowthai if you want approximate comparisons but it’s so much more, powerful and dunked in the feeling of being Welsh and very fucked off with your lot, which consists of scraping through from one payday to the next. While ‘Foreign’ has more of a hip-hop sway, nagging keyboards and singalong vocalise the struggle with poverty, zero-hours contracts and pondering how to fit into a not always welcoming Britain.

His work may share elements with MC-ing or hip-hop bars, but he bristles when called a “rapper”. “I’m not a rapper. In the same way, as I’m not a singer. But like, yeah, if that’s what people get from it, that’s fine. I think I’ve just got a bit of a fear because there’s still that stigma of being a valleys rapper, which is now starting to change with Luke RV and people like that. I think I’m at a point now I’m like, you know, it is what it is. I just personally feel like I rant a lot.”

Minas grew up in the circus with parents, who were heavily involved in the 1980s punk scene, before moving to secondary school in the Welsh Valleys. “My mum’s mum is Greek and moved over during the war. My mum was born in Abercynon, but she spent some time in Greece, then met people and moved to London and was quite in quite big in the punk scene and met my dad. And yeah, just most of their life was around music. My dad was actually a musician too.” 

The young Minas was much taken with his parents’ collection of cassettes. “I found myself listening to loads of random music from like, Nirvana to Sex Pistols to Madonna to David Lee Roth was what I did in my spare time as a kid.”

But when did the Minas project start?
My plan was to move to Bristol. I used to be part of Dead Method. It was kind of like me, Lloyd and another person. And we got on the Forte project. It was at a point where I had to move out in the valley. So, I was like, either we’re gonna go to Bristol, or, or stay in Cardiff? I was just unsure. And then when we got on Forte, I was like, Ah, well, that’s maybe that’s a sign stay in Cardiff because I’ve lived in Cardiff for a while. So when I moved down then I started meeting other people in the scene. And I met more people and I was like Oh, I guess I’m working as a producer then.

“I was always so against doing vocals for years. I was like, I’m never gonna do that, I’m not opening myself like that. But then I think it started wanting to work more with Lloyd in the vocal area as well. So I would send him just like shit little voice recordings of me trying to sing a melody. I still don’t think I’ll ever be as good of a singer as Lloyd, so all of it just kind of happened by accident. But I’d say Minas as a project came about maybe, four or five years ago”.

His work as a producer has jumped from hip-hop to pop and guitar music and everything in between. It’s the melting pot of his tastes. “I’ve been obsessed with music since I was really young. So, I don’t really have one sort of avenue or genre that I stick to. But I know when you’re an artist, you know, there aren’t really any rules. But it’s I think it’s quite nice to create a universe that’s not jumping all over the place too much.”

In recent years Minas has already built a reputation of respect in the Welsh hip hop and grime scenes for his productions working with the likes of Mace the Great and Razkid, he’s embedded in this exciting scene. “Everyone in Wales, I feel has their own spin on it, I don’t know if it’s because I’m in it, but it does feel like you know, for example, with hip hop or grime. In some ways, there’s a slight reinvention to kind of align with Welsh identity a bit more.”

‘Needs, Wants’ is more downtempo, you can almost see the smoke rings in the air as the contemplative air bleeds into garage samples. This late-night moment of wistfulness embodies breaks up the album’s ferocity with the feelings of being burnt out, used up and over it. ‘Belly Down’ also has that downbeat confessional tone, you can sense a reflection of the self destruction of addiction comes into view with a poignancy then comes crashing back in the outro.

“I don’t really have a plan. Like this album coming together was a bit like, ‘oh, shit, actually these groups of songs kind of work together.’ Yeah in terms of topics, lke, it wasn’t like I was gonna make an album that touches on punk music and really, it was like, Oh, shit, well, they kind of work. So I guess that’s an album’ and then I kinda like notice that there was a story throughout it. So I realized at the time of writing, I guess,” he says of the albums creation.

He also talks about his next move, as he always looks to find a new approach to songwriting:“I just I think it’s fun to just change the way you work and I think yeah, fresh ideas. So you know I’ve done this one in a sort of mishap way of doing it. The next one I’m like, right, okay, I’m going to try and actually delve into what it means to make an album I guess.”

“I remember there was a debate about Kanye West just talking about when is a song ever finished. And there’s like an element of it in theory, it could never be finished. You could always change and add and stuff but yeah, it’s yeah, I was definitely a slave to all the thinking, so it’s nice when people go ‘it’s ready now.'”

With venues closing in Cardiff in recent years, Minas is pleased to host his album launch show at the newly reopened Buffalo bar on the 25th of this month. “It’s felt at least in the last few years, like every single cultural thing has been closed down in Cardiff. But yeah at least with Buffalo opening and Shift and some other things I’ve heard. I’m hoping that it’s going to start picking up again with some more venues opening!”

All My Love Has Failed Me released today via Libertino Records.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.