Updated: Aug 30, 2021
As a New Yorker, I admit to the standard biases that one has against Boston (and I know it swings both ways). However, I have to put Derek Hixon, aka MINT PILLOW, in a class of artists that has reshaped my perception and respect for the area.
When I moved to the area over a decade ago, I was homesick to say the least. I couldn’t quite identify the “soul” of Boston, unlike how easy it is for an outsider to first visit a town like Philly, Chicago, New Oreleans, Atlanta, Montreal, Brooklyn and immediately sense the soul of the place. Boston, to me, seemed so segregated and disconnected to the vibrant, diverse communities in and around the area.
It would take a few years for me to make the local connections, like my O&O partner-in-crime Matt Ward aka Bad Lieutenant, to get a sense of what was here. Then there were the amazing labels, artists, venues and record stores that through these artists I began to build a community of like-minded soul-seekers: Saucy Lady, Deano Sounds (aka Cultures of Soul and Sound and Vision Tees), Jeremy Sullivan (aka Vinyl Index) , George Andrinopoulos (aka DJ 7L and Soundtracks), Rook Murao (aka SRCFLP), Erik Sarno (aka Loman & Union Sound), Sean Quinn (aka Soulelujah), John Funke, Ty Jesso, among others. Bottom-line, I am so happy to have been wrong about Beantown.
One of my fav food joints was Hungry Mother’s (R.I.P.) in Cambridge. As a regular, I had the pleasure of becoming friends with the owners and soon connected with one of them, Evan Harrison, over music. He invited me to take part in their weekly Thursday night series “People Playing Records” at State Park. From there, I began to meet a number of similar music and wax obsessed peers. One of which was Derek aka Mint Pillow. His sets were on the same wavelength as mine, as if he was digging through my own crates. I also later learned what an amazing musician, artist and all around human being he is as well.
When we started the OVER&OVER DJ series, we also wanted to feature lesser-known DJs and artists and created the Especial series. We had to showcase Derek and he blessed us with a mix earlier this year and we are stoked to have him drop another one just for us and you. I also was able to catch up with Derek to hear what he has been up to this summer and what’s coming up for the multi-faceted and talented artist…
SUMJ INTERVIEW WITH MINT PILLOW
Derek, my man! How is it going?
SUMJ! No complaints, I’m doing well man.
How have you been doing now that things are slowly opening up? I was happy you were able to join Vinyl Index’ “Open Late” series at Bow Market. I loved your set. How did it feel to play wax in front of human beings IRL?
It was great to be able to spin music I love in front of actual humans again (big ups to Vinyl Index!).
In the beginning of the pandemic I was spinning weekly sets via Twitch to give peeps something positive to look forward to - but there’s nothing like taking my records out and setting a vibe for people in the wild. More people playing records and less algorithms please!
I know you’ve been busy in your lab creating new music and art. Can you share what that has been like during this pandemic and recently? What projects have you been working on?
I tried to make lemonade as best I could in 2020. If I was going to be “stuck” inside I didn’t want to waste any time - I felt really mortal with COVID turning everything upside down, so I tried to look at being inside as an opportunity.
Music’s always been my therapy so it makes sense I gravitated towards it as the world fell apart around me. I would have been the guy playing the piano on the Titanic.
Nas famously wrote, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death” and I relate to that. I put a lot of time, energy, and effort into building out my home studio - learning how to be a better producer - and experimented a ton while making music. I’ve chatted with a few different people about releasing some of it - we’ll see - or I may just drop another independent cassette and just put it out in the wild.
All I care about right now is ears. I want true music lovers to dig on my shit, I play & make stuff for the heads, if others dig on it that’s gravy. I still feel like I have so much in me I want to get out and have a lot more to learn, so I’m still just burning the midnight oil getting weird in my basement and who knows, maybe if I do good enough those ears will come. You’ll get a taste of a demo track I’ve created on the last track of this mix too.
Tell us more about “Mirror Loop." This project was made for the Sound On Mystic audio installation where you used field recorded sounds you took along the Mystic River, right? How can readers check it out?
Oh man, I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of the installation. Twelve artists were selected by the Medford Arts Council and we each were given a section along the Mystic River to be inspired. If readers start at Amsell Colebrooke Playground they’ll be able to hear the piece I produced after downloading the ECHOES app on their phone.
I field-recorded a plethora of sounds with my son Dylan - cleaned them up, edited them down, and created the instruments - no "real" instruments were used whatsoever. The percussive portion of the track represents the path that runs through my section of the river and serves as an anchor point for the park and song - I then used natural and unnatural sounds that are audible in the park such as water, birds, & cars and fed those through some randomness and chance algorithms to mimic the natural beauty and chaos that's always around us. It was a blast to put together and it’s a really dope and well curated project (Big ups to Ian Cross!). If you do the walk it really is beautiful, there’s pieces by an MIT professor, a poet laureate, a classical music composer, and of course your friendly neighborhood Mint Pillow.
What’s your take on the current scene in the Boston area? Any artists you are into these days?
Boston artists are producing some of my favorite music right now. I absolutely adore LDER’s last release, Channel 3 and think Cliff Notez & Dephrase did something really special with Social Absence . And I really appreciate what Lightfoot has done with Terra Incognita. There’s a lot of eclectic talent out there - hopefully everyone can build off of each other and keep the momentum going.
What music have you recently discovered that you are into or are playing on repeat these days?
On the hip-hop/dj tip the Jazz Spastiks record that came out this year, Camera of Sound, is absolutely phenomenal. Dude is undefeated. It’s hard to take that off the platters. The Floating Points record done with Phaoah Sanders and London Philharmonic makes me want to never produce music again, I’m literally not worthy. Such an amazing melding of electronic, jazz, and classical. Fine art for aliens.
Can you tell us about two of your favorite records right now? Maybe one from the past and one modern?
A record from the past that’s been a favorite since it came out is Beck’s Midnight Vultures. I’ve been a huge fan of his forever- despite how well known he is I think he’s extremely underrated. Like grossly. He’s fearless, dances in and out of any genre of his choosing, and is just one of one - there’s no one else out there like him. Midnight Vultures is peak Beck IMHO, it’s weird, funky, and sounds really good loud. My only regret with this album is I have it on CD and not Vinyl - it’s pricey and pretty rare to find in the wild. (Now you have me checking prices on Discogs…dammit!).
As far as a new record goes I just recently became hip on Mono/Poly (big ups to Aaron at Vinyl Index for NEVER steering me wrong!) and Monotomic, his 2019 release, is bonkers. Like I was saying with Beck, he’s so versatile but also so modern with his approach - and the quality, depth, and details in tracks make me both inspired and jealous. He’s really good at what he does. “I’m Lit Like Fire” is my favorite cut on the album - shit pops.
For the uninitiated, what is the ethos of MINT PILLOW? What should they expect from your music and/or DJ sets?
I listen to, create, produce, and surround myself with music not because I like to but because I have to. I know people mean no offense when they call what I do with music a hobby - but I do get offended. It’s as essential as air to me. I’ve come to peace knowing that I’ll likely never make a living via music, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop pursuing it. Bukowski wasn’t discovered until he was a septuagenarian right? And my ass needs to breathe. If someone listens to music I create or sets I spin I hope I challenge them. I’m a selfish DJ. I do it for myself first. If I’m not feeling something what’s the point? I’m not trying to make people dance, play the hottest track, or be a turntablist - I actually steer the other way (and I’m a horrible turntablist). I’m very confident that the shit I like is good because I’ve put in the time. My favorite art is produced by people who are unequivocally themselves, and I aim to do the same
What can we expect for your ESPECIAL 022? What inspired your mix?
Summer vibes. It’s usually a single track that sets off a mix or set for me and that track was Yse Saint Laur’ant’s “Freeze Frame” for this one - I picked up their Beards 12” recently and while I love all tracks on it, this one just feels like a late night in August to me. You can feel the warm breeze and smiles around you.
Okay, rapid fire DJ Q&A. Ready? Set? Go…
Describe yourself using the title of a song: “Aint No Half-Steppin’” Big Daddy Kane
Where’s the strangest place you’ve woken up? A cornfield in Upstate New York.
What would be the worst dance track in the world to be tortured with on repeat? Eiffel 65 “I’m Blue”
What is the one genre you will never play? Never say never, but I’m really not into Metal.
The most awkward moment you’ve had as a DJ? I had to pay an Uber driver to go to my house and pick up my needles once before a gig at State Park, lol.
What’s the most played record in your bag? I’ve played Toro y Moi’s “Anything In Return” a shit ton - I love that album.
What’s the most prized collection in your crates? Damn, that’s impossible to answer. My O.G. copy of Maggot Brain makes me happy.
What is the one record you are still crate digging for? I’d be very happy to have an OG copy of Meat Puppets II.
What was the first concert you ever attended? My sister & brother in law took me to see Aerosmith with a GNR opening.
Where was your first DJ gig and what did you play? It was a fashion show in college. It had an 80’s theme so I played Madonna, Duran Duran, Culture Club - shit like that.
What question would you like to ask an omniscient, all-knowing being before you die? I’d feel bad for them, and just say “I’m sorry."
What was the first record you bought and where? U2’s Unforgettable Fire at Fays Drug Store.
What artist or person who isn’t a DJ would you like to see DJ? I’d be very interested in a Thundercat DJ set.
Last question: What is coming up for you next? What are you working on? When and where can we see you spinning next?
I’m spinning this weekend at a private party my friends and I throw every year called “Meats and Beats” - it’s basically a weekend of food and music and tomfoolery - we’ll be getting weird up on Ossipee Lake in New Hampshire this year. Once back I’d like to figure out a plan of attack for the tracks I made in 2020 - and just jam more, preferably with other people - I also bought some pedals that I need to sit down with and really learn as well. Rust never sleeps.
Derek, thank you so much for sharing your talents and thoughts with us. We love this mix and are stoked to put it out! I can’t wait to spin wax for the people with you again IRL soon. Until then, this mix will have to hold us over.