To the average person, Gabe Minnikin hasn’t changed much. He’s still the same friendly, deep-voiced, long-haired musician he always was. But over the course of a conversation, it’s apparent there’s something different about the ex-Guthries singer-songwriter, who recently returned from a year-and-a-half sojourn in Manchester, England.
Although his eyes retain the look of someone who has seen a few things, he appears to be healthy and happy. Professionally, he has been busier than ever, at work recording a follow-up to 2004’s reflective Hard Feelings at Ultramagnetic Studios. He also has a few shows lined up, including one at Stayner’s Wharf this Saturday.
“I just appreciate life a lot more, which is something I never really did before,” Minnikin says over tea and cigarettes. “That’s a pretty big thing. That can change a person drastically.”
Minnikin’s attitude is a 180-degree turn from the headspace he was in just over two years ago, when he wound up in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse shortly after a two-week binge around his 27th birthday. After he recovered, he recorded and released his debut solo disc, then left for the UK in search of a fresh start in May 2004.
Still sober and back in Halifax for the time being, Minnikin, now approaching 30, speaks highly of his time in Manchester. There he worked at a music shop both as an employee and teacher while also touring Europe and producing a record for English chanteuse Lisa Redfield.
“Since I was working at a music shop selling instruments, most people didn’t know how to play them,” he says, smiling. “Middle-aged men would want to learn how to play the banjo. So I would sell them a nice banjo and then sell them myself.”
Meanwhile, a sound engineering school invited Minnikin to record his yet-to-be-titled album with the students. Despite the quality of the 14 songs, they called for something more. So he sent copies of the songs to his former bandmates in the storied Dartmouth band The Guthries.
“I thought that the Guthries feel would be appropriate for these songs,” Minnikin says. “So I sent CD-Rs and emails asking what people thought and if this was a record they might like to contribute to. Everyone said yes. I’m glad they said yes because I wasn’t sure.”
Minnikin got his start as a full-time musician when his younger sister Ruth invited him to play with The Guthries. The group achieved critical acclaim with Off Windmill and The Guthries before it dissolved in the late ’90s, when the band’s talent could no longer be contained within a single act.
The elder Minnikin took the break-up hard. But with each member—most significantly Matt Mays and Dale Murray—finding success after the band, such sentiments have been largely forgotten. In fact, rehearsals for Minnikin’s record went so well that a future Guthries reunion show is a distinct possibility.
“Everyone is doing so good,” Minnikin says. “It was probably was for the best . The idea was brought up about maybe doing something in the future. When? I don’t know. Everyone has such crazy schedules that it’s not possible right now.”
His latest project also sees a shift in songwriting. Whereas in the past Minnikin would write songs as they came to him, he now sets aside time to write songs from scratch. He also says the next record is more experimental than the last, incorporating new instruments as well as atmospheric loops and samples created by New Brunswick keyboard/piano player Pete Gorman.
Once the record comes out, Minnikin may take up some production work in addition to touring. But eventually he’d like to make a return to the UK, where he found peace of mind and plenty of reasons to get out of bed every morning.
“It slows things down and before it was go, go, go,” Minnikin says about sobriety. “I never had a chance to think or breath or feel comfortable.
“I’m being productive,” he adds. “I haven’t been productive before. It’s neat to be busy doing things that you like to do, having money in the bank, just feeling comfortable that you’re contributing something.”
Gabe Minnikin w/Al Tuck, November 26 at Stayner’s Wharf, 1781 Upper Water, 9:30pm, $5, 492-1800.