Minos the Saint pairs Peter Simon’s rule-breaking songwriting with upbeat, pop-orchestral arrangements. French horn, two trombones, violin, mandolin, accordion, keyboards and percussion beautifully complement the frontman’s poignant baritone. For certain gigs, Minos the Saint’s brass section grows to a powerful five pieces.
After Simon writes his songs, he entrusts them to his classically schooled bandmates. During an interview on a coffee shop patio, three members of the Baton Rouge group, which returns to Chickie Wah Wah on May 13, discussed their musical democracy.
“A lot of songwriters know exactly what they want,” percussionist Micah Blouin said. “A lot of songwriters don’t have a clue, even though they don’t like what you’re doing. Peter turns his songs over to us. He says, ‘What do you think?’ If anyone has a sound or an idea, we go with it. We trust one another. Everybody’s voice matters.”
Simon isn’t protective of the songs. “I’ve done the solo thing. That’s fine, but there’s something great about trusting people with music and letting it go in that way.”
Simon doesn’t introduce his songs to the band until they’re fully formed. He wants to be sure the songs are strong enough to stand alone. But once he delivers them into his bandmates’ hands, he’s confident the arrangements that evolve will exponentially enhance his lyrics and melodies.
The songs’ evolution ranges from subtle to grand. Because Simon keeps his original guitar and voice recordings, he can compare the before and after versions.
“It’s a testament to the group,” he said of the transformations. “It shows me that they care even more about the songs than I do.”
So far, multi-instrumentalist Ben Herrington has done most of the band’s signature brass arrangements. Before the 2014 show at the LSU-adjacent North Gate Tavern that introduced the brass ensemble to Minos the Saint’s performances, Herrington mischievously rehearsed the brass arrangements in secret. Simon and Blouin didn’t hear them until the show.
“It was a whirlwind,” Simon said of the surprise. “It went from me thinking, ‘This sounds nice’ to ‘This is on fire.’”
Blouin heard something else. “The brass became the glue that bound the whole thing together and made sense of it all,” he said.
“Let Me Sleep” served as Blouin’s and Simon’s introduction to Minos the Saint with a brass section. The song’s gloriously rising horns recall such 1960s and ’70s horn bands as Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Simon described Herrington as the mad scientist in the corner.
“We’d known Ben was working on something,” Simon said. “And then he showed up with brass. It solidified our belief that we were doing something interesting, something we could all get behind.”
“Let Me Sleep” is one of 12 songs on Minos the Saint’s debut album, Awake and Dream. Other songs include “Just Like New York,” featuring an animated Latin tempo and contrasting sections, and “New Interrogation,” a blend of Ben Folds’ sincerity and Steely Dan’s pop-jazz sophistication. “Let the Music Play” rises on an urgent tempo, approaching Bruce Springsteen–style grandeur.
Simon tried but failed to find things he doesn’t like about Awake and Dream.
“We prepared well and went in the studio knowing exactly what we wanted to do,” he said.
In performance, Minos the Saint’s improvisation makes every show different. And during the course of dozens of performances, the songs continuously evolve.
“At different gigs and venues, large and small, over time, in front of different people, the song develops its own thing,” Blouin said.
Formed in 2013, Minos the Saint evolved from duo engagements Simon and Herrington played in Baton Rouge. It was a casual pairing at first. No expectations. They played together because they enjoyed it. Herrington later met Blouin at a theater gig. Herrington originally planned to have Blouin play drums for an album of his original songs. He changed course when Simon’s songs became more important to him than his own.
“And I realized that Micah was the perfect addition to what Peter and I were doing,” Herrington said.
He later brought violin and mandolin player Joel Willson to the group. And when Minos the Saint booked a few gigs Herrington thought needed a bigger sound, he recruited more brass musicians. Trombonist Jessica Ottaviano and French horn player Arisia Gilmore eventually became official members.
“The album would not be the same without them,” Simon said. “They brought the band to a new level.”
The evolution of Minos the Saint—from solo singer-songwriter Simon to pop–chamber music collective—happened naturally.
“We’ve all been very attentive to what’s going on,” Simon said. “There’s a lot of listening. That’s always been the thing. We’ve been taking everything slowly, not trying to create anything too big out of it. Instead of rushing into something, we let it simmer and cook.”
Minos the Saint will perform May 13 at Chickie Wah Wah.