Interview: Mick Cantone of Children of Minerva

Mick Cantone is a musician and visual artist from New York City. He released his debut solo album, Songs for an Activist last year and this year he’s releasing his first album with his musical project, Children of Minerva. This album was made with his friend and Oregon-based lyricist Amy Green. Now, Children of Minerva have entered a new chapter where it will be Mick working with a revolving cast of collaborating musicians. Exciting!

The new album Nec Forma Est Verum will be coming out on the 5th of November, so keep on the lookout for that. In the meantime, you can listen to the single “To Rebecca Dancing in the Moonlit Woods”:

If you want to learn more about Mick and Children of Minerva, keep on reading!

Angie Moon: How would you describe your music to a new listener?

Mick Cantone: Psychedelic baroque pop that will touch your heart and provide succour to the soul in these troubled times. 

Angie: Why did you name your music project Children of Minerva?

Mick: Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, poetry, justice, and music. I wanted to use a name for this venture that harkened back to the band names of the 1960’s and Children of Minerva fit the sound I was creating like a tight unlined black leather glove. Irony of ironies, Minerva was a virgin goddess who had no children!

Angie: How did you get into the music and fashion of the 60s and 70s?

Mick: It was thanks to my older brother, from whom I have been long estranged. He had come home with a cassette of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was nine years old. Prior to that, I was not really interested in music except as a casual watcher of MTV and listening to classical music. It had gotten the ball rolling and by the time I had reached college, I had truly gone down the rabbit hole and became obsessed with the music, fashion, films and art of the 1960s.

Angie: What makes that era so magical and special to you?

Mick:  It was a breaking down of barriers. Young people were not satisfied with the conservative and spiritually unfulfilling life of their parents. They saw that things needed to be changed and began speaking out and living alternative lifestyles. In Britain, they didn’t have the hurdles of The Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, the brutal assassinations of the Kennedy Brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King and The Red Scare of the previous decade, but there was a breakdown in class discrimination to a degree. Look at how many artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians came out of the working class of Britain, thanks predominantly to the British Art School system! in the 1960s. one wasn’t judged on their social class, but on what talents one brought to the table. Granted, the 1960s was not a total success, but changes occurred and dialogues started. It was musically a time when so much experimentation was being done musically and major labels tended to take a laissez-faire approach and give musicians a chance to show what they could do. 

Angie: What was it like growing up in New York in the 80s and 90s and what were your favourite things about your hometown?

Mick: I was raised in a suburb of NYC (but within spitting distance of the city limits) by parents who came from the outer boroughs (my Mom was from Corona, Queens, my father from The Bronx) who despite being working class, were cultured and cosmopolitan. They fostered a love of the arts in my siblings and I and encouraged it all through my life until they passed away a few years ago. Regarding my hometown, it was somewhat bland and I cherished every opportunity to gorge on the music and arts that the city had to offer. it was still a vibrant community and I was pleased as punch and bone lucky to be a part of it as not only a passive participant but as an active one.

Angie: What are some must visit places in NYC for a classic rock fan?

Mick: Sadly, so much of the old New York that my parents came from, that I fell in love with and was a part of, is long gone. The places and environment that allowed such amazing talent to germinate, flower and bloom have been gone for almost 20 years. I sincerely hope that a new crop of talent in all artistic disciplines will emerge and bring a diversity of talent and tenacity back to NYC. 

Angie: What albums and musicians were most important and influential to you as a musician?

Mick: There are a great many of them but the ones who have provided the major inspiration are The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, The Kinks, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, Kevin Ayers, John Coltrane, King Crimson, Charles Mingus, Fela Kuti, The Bonzo Dog Band, The Replacements, The Appletree Theatre, Love, The Moody Blues, Michael Chapman and the original 1960s Nirvana. The standards of songwriting and musicianship each of these acts brought to the table were all ingredients of the stew that I call my music. 

Angie: How did you get started painting and making music?

Mick: I was always artistically and musically inclined from a young age. it came from my Mom’s side of the family despite no-one having made a career out of it. The only other person who put their artistic skills to use in their work was my older sister, who studied graphic design. I had begun my love affair with playing music in school with the trombone (which I really didn’t like playing but the drums were already taken), then the violin (which I loved but due to a teacher who was intolerable, I dropped it after two years). After that, I decided that the next instrument I learned I would learn on my own. I had started playing bass when I was 14, guitar at 16, keyboards at 18 and flute at 19. I had studied music theory, composition and recording technology when I was in college but most of what I learned and use to this day was mainly from practical, every day use as a semi-professional musician in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A simple matter of trial and error. 

Regarding visual arts, I had first taken up painting seriously as a form of therapy due to being viciously bullied in junior high school. Gradually, as music consumed my life, painting was put on the back burner until 2005. I had built up a career as an exhibiting artist and freelance art instructor which I still do to the present day parallel with music.

Angie: What does the title of your debut Songs For An Activist mean to you?

Mick: The title of my debut album “Songs For An Activist” was a reference to my ex-girlfriend, who was a self-styled “Activist Artist”. The whole album was written and recorded as  a chronicling of our relationship, its end and the aftermath. It was an album I had no choice but to make but looking at it now, I would love to go back and rework it at some point in the future. It has a LOT of weak spots.

Angie: What was it like writing and recording Nec Forma Est Verum?

Mick: After I finished recording “Songs For An Activist”, I had tired of the folk-rock/Americana style that I had been playing for years. It was a genre that although I respect it, was limiting for me. Also, it is a genre that is omnipresent in the NYC/Long Island scene and I naturally avoid what is in vogue. Having always had an affinity for psychedelic and baroque pop/rock, I felt I was ready to record material that reflects the music I prefer to make. After a final single in the previous style, I bid folk-rock/Americana a fond farewell. 

This time, as opposed to releasing more material under my own name, I wanted to create a songwriting/recording collective and expand it into a full band for performing live. Children of Minerva was the result. Because I wanted to make this collaborative, I asked my friend Amy Green from Portland, Oregon to write lyrics. We have been friends for 5 years and I saw some samples of her writing. Seeing that she had true talent as a writer, I simply asked her if she wanted to try her hand at writing lyrics. Thank goodness she said yes. I would work on rough demos and send them to Amy, who would write a draft of lyrics and send that off to me. Her lyrics were so good that they really made me step up my game musically and create musical arrangements that complimented them. Two of the songs were written around musical passages composed by my friend Mike Morrone when we were in high school in the late 1990s. I had stumbled across cassettes of demos from that era that had them and thought to myself, “these are too good to let them evaporate into the mists of time”. Now, his work is getting the exposure and credit it always deserved. This album is very special and to give you a bit of perspective into the work that went into it, “Songs For An Activist” was recorded, overdubbed, mixed (in mono AND stereo), edited, sequenced and mastered in a mere 72 hours total. This upcoming album took 400 hours to do the same and the results will justify the time and effort put into it. 

Angie: What does the albumโ€™s title, which is Latin for โ€œin beauty there is truthโ€ mean to you?

Mick: The title, for me, means the beauty of art, music, nature, love and kindness is truth.

Angie: What have you been listening to lately?

Mick: I have been deeply engrossed in the music of Basil Kirchin. He was a British jazz musician, film composer and the father of ambient music. I am drawn to his work as there is no one else who created what he created and despite being largely obscure until his passing last decade, he is finally getting the recognition he always deserved. He is definitely another influence on the next Children of Minerva album.

Angie: What keeps you motivated as an artist and musician?

Mick: The act of creating something that didn’t exist prior is the major motivation. Another motivation is that the work I am engaged upon, whether as a painter, art instructor, solo musician or as part of Children of Minerva, is touching people’s hearts and bringing them comfort and positivity. In addition to my artistic life, I was a co-founder of a grassroots charity that does home repairs for families with disabilities (note: he has since resigned from the charity). As important as that is, I am finding that I don’t need to swing a hammer or work myself to mental and physical exhaustion to make a difference in the world.

After the release of the second Children of Minerva single, someone had sent a message to the Instagram page: “Does your music happen to have a particular purpose? It seems almost like prayer to me.” Though I self-identify as an agnostic and my belief system is more attuned to Ethical Humanism, we artists have a spirituality that we espouse in our work whether we do it consciously or unconsciously. Knowing that the music is touching people and making a difference is sufficient evidence that I can do more good in the world using my talents as a musician and artist than anything else.. Messages like that one mean I have hit the jackpot as an artist.

Angie: What are your future plans for Children of Minerva?

Mick: The second Children of Minerva album is about halfway completed and has more complex arrangements and orchestrations. However, Amy had decided to step down as lyricist for personal reasons. I can assure you that it was an amicable parting of ways creatively and we still remain good friends. Naturally, Amy’s input will be missed but we created a beautiful child together with Nec Forma Est Verum. In a way, it was Children of Minerva, Mark 1! 

The new modus operandi with Children of Minerva, Mark 2 will be comprised of contributions from a revolving cast of musicians, vocalists and lyricists with me as the boilerhouse and the glue holding it together. Collaborators can hop on and off as they see fit and each project could potentially be a new lineup with so many fresh ideas. Granted, this will make live performances difficult to be done feasibly but some amazing studio albums will result and this is how things will be until I decide to put the puppy to sleep.

Angie: Any words for your fans?

Mick: Thank you for the love and support you have given, currently give and hopefully continue to give. I promise you that I will continue to provide music of the highest calibre possible and provide a balm for the soul in such uncertain times. Love one another and keep an open heart and mind. Thank you! 

You can follow Children of Minerva on Instagram, Facebook, Bandcamp, and Twitter.

Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!

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