All three members of Mini Dresses are natural-born jugglers. The lo-fi indie rock trio overlaps side projects not only with ease but with a certain type of discreteness. Most fans in the Boston area don’t know that they can see members of Mini Dresses onstage with other acts. That discreteness suggests the band isn’t trying to flaunt its musical itches or ability to churn out songs on the regular. Instead, it allows the band to sharpen its sound. Without that hustle, Mini Dresses may have never come out with its debut album—a record that’s been five years in the making, despite constant support from and packed shows within the scene.
The aptly titled Mini Dresses is a 10-song release that sees the band putting their growth on full display. In fairness, they’ve always been changing. In 2008, singer and bassist Lira Mondal and guitarist Caufield Schnug met at Hendrix College in Arkansas. They moved to Austin after graduating but changed locations to Boston shortly after that. In the early days of their friendship (and soon-to-be relationship), the two started a riot grrrl garage rock band called Silkies, but frustrations soon rose from running into a genre-ball with that band. Seeking a quick break, they created Mini Dresses. The way they saw it, it was an opportunity to draft a couple dream pop songs, get that out of their system, and then return to the garage rock sound.
But as time passed, Mini Dresses became the main focus. Drummer Luke Reed joined the band when they brought it to Boston. Other side projects popped up—like Blau Blau, who we most recently spotlighted at Fuzzstival—and continue to, as alternative projects are an ongoing part of what gives the band space to develop free of constraints. Mini Dresses has been the longest-running band of their musical outlets, but it’s only now, over five years into its existence, that the band finally has a proper full-length album to show for its work.
Mini Dresses underwent a series of sea changes. Mondal and Schnug meet me in the restaurant portion of the Middle East, a venue they’ve played numerous times over the years, to explain how. There was a crucible of deferrals like philosophical struggles, financial bouts, and technical logistics. “There were physical logistics, too,” says Mondal, “like the act of carving out time to lay down the tracks, do the vocals, and juggle school or jobs.” Schnug is a doctoral student. Mondal is a pastry sous-chef. Reed is a bartender and was, at the time, building a studio. Yet somehow between their conflicting day lives, the three musicians managed to write five EPs, over a dozen singles, and the final version of Mini Dresses. For the latter, they holed up at Love Magnet Studio in Roxbury with Ian Doerr for hours on end. That doesn’t even include the 100 songs left on the cutting room floor.
The biggest change was their shift in sound. Mini Dresses began as a pigeonholed dream pop band. The band tapped into the resurging popularity of the 4AD aesthetic, layered vocals, and the Cocteau Twins. As they grew as musicians, they aimed for general sophistication in their presentation and motivation. Mini Dresses became grounded.
“That genre was vogue in 2011. What do you do in your early 20s when you’re first starting to make music? You make music horizontally. You look over your shoulder to see what someone else is doing. It’s a genre appropriation of sorts, and I think we were a part of that, unfortunately,” says Schnug. “We try to adhere to the spirit of minimalist making, but we don’t identify as dream pop now. We just happened to make music that was dreaming.”
Over the course of our conversation, their personalities float to the front. They’re affable but talk with a driving urgency, often egged on by talk of art-house films—Schnug arrived straight from an early Harvard Film Archive screening of Stan Brakhage shorts—and overlooked bands—both stick around long after the recorder is off to talk about pre-Stereolab psych precursors and unchampioned local artists. On paper, it may sound like an eyeroll-worthy chat, but the musicians are so genuinely enthused about learning that they share these cultural facts, not boast them. It’s as if they’re unaware of how their interests and language make themselves interesting separate from the work. When combined into band form, it bursts into an understated, intelligent, creatively sharp package.
At the end of the day, the most impressive attribute of Mini Dresses is their growth. It’s not just in an objective view, too, like from their first show as openers at now-defunct venue Church to their headlining record release show at Great Scott this Sunday. It’s a type of personal growth that makes the trio speak highly of one another, like proud parents.
“I’m not the best musician—like, I struggle to play on beat,” Schnug starts to say before Mondal cuts him off: “He says that, but he used to be the drummer in the band.” He shrugs modestly in response and then points to, in his opinion, the unaddressed savior: Reed. “Luke helps us,” says Schnug. “He makes things so coherent and keeps us on track. Maybe that’s what I should have said instead.” They both laugh. It’s hard not to smile as they do, especially given that every downplayed skill couldn’t possibly come from a band of sharpened songwriting and courageous reinventing like them.
MINI DRESSES, LINA TULLGREN, BONG WISH. SUN 10.22. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 9PM/18+/$12. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM