Guitar over his shoulder, Ryan Mintz saunters up to the adorned beverage counter at AJ’s Cafe and orders a soy latte. He makes a special request: A mug. Saving a Styrofoam cup was a conscious go-green decision, as was his one-mile walk to the coffeehouse from his sister’s Ferndale office, and making his album eco-friendly – but drawing out his silly side on his debut, “Monkeys & Ice Cream,” definitely wasn’t.
“It just sort of evolved that way. I wrote a funny song and somebody liked it,” he says, geeked. You wouldn’t know Mintz, 31, had a goofy aura if you perused his music collection, which is comprised heavily of Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette and Aimee Mann, but lyrics like, “Let me be your monkey/I’ll keep you warmer than he will,” is heartfelt – and if you find yourself giggling, you won’t be the only one.
“The first time I played it in front of a large audience, people laughed,” recalls Mintz. “Then they started calling me ‘The Monkey Guy.'” He didn’t take offense to it, and how could he? He’s fully responsible for writing the song, along with the other 11 folksy-sounding ditties. All he cared about was leaving an imprint, which he hopes to repeat during two Motor City Pride performances, and a spot at West Michigan Pride, in June. “If people remember that I’m ‘The Monkey Guy,’ fine, I’ll be ‘The Monkey Guy,'” he laughs.
Sipping from his mug, Mintz sinks into a couch facing outward toward the cafe. His bare feet tucked underneath his slender stems, he looks toward the wall, explaining his temporary move to L.A. to record his album. Then, he stops. Glancing over the coffee table, piled with an array of magazines, he spots our recorder.
“I’m like, ‘You’re not taking many notes,'” he says after realizing our conversation is, in fact, being taped. Good thing, too. His long-winded run-down of why he’s moved where, where he’s moved to, and where he hopes to be deserves more than a few pages from a reporter’s notebook. “I don’t have a normal social circle, and I don’t have a place to come and be home and unpack my stuff and have a filing system. Like, it’s driving me crazy that I don’t have files,” he breaks into laughter, “’cause it’s so hard to be organized, and I like to be organized – but I deal.”
Trekking from one city to the next every few months, Mintz, who’s been sans home for three years, has scored film and video freelance projects in several cities, worked on his album in L.A., moved on a whim to London to pursue a relationship – and, now, he’s back home in Bloomfield Hills, where his parents live.
He grew up there, before leaving to study film and video at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. But after earning his bachelor’s degree, he opted for the nomadic lifestyle: “It’s let me live without being tied to stuff, and that’s been really neat to experience non-materialism; sort of like, ‘I guess I don’t need that pair of jeans,’ or ‘I guess I don’t need all of those clothes’ – or all of those books, or all of those pictures, or all of those whatever that’s in storage. You realize you can get by with a lot less.”
He stores his belongings in Boulder, Colo., and when the urge is strong enough, he’ll settle down there. For now, though, he’d rather be “movin’ ’round to each new town” because “this is how to be,” he sings on “Arapahoe Road,” titled after the street where his storage unit is.
“I miss a couple of things,” he says, “but for the most part, this is working and it’s letting me choose a new adventure because I don’t have to worry about my rent, and my utilities, and my whatever. That’s why I decided I could go to France for a summer or go make a record in a city where I wasn’t living – wherever served me the best at that moment is where I would go.”
At one point, he found himself renting an apartment in L.A. for several months. He began work on his album there, finding a graphic designer on Craigslist and a producer via an ad in a music magazine, while simultaneously working at an hourly-paying job.
“I took my money from my job and I did not put it into a house, I did not put it into a car, I did not put it into clothes. I put it all into my record,” he says, proudly. How he even landed in L.A. in the first place to record an album still baffles him; his mom and dad – despite raising a screenwriter, a video-producer and a musician – are a teacher and a lawyer, respectively. The artsy influence came from his older sister, who participated in musicals and choir in high school, inspiring Mintz to do the same. Later, came the writing.
He started a journal in 1998, when a pal convinced him to jot down his feelings after a scarring break-up. His musings turned into songs, some of which landed on the self-reflective “Monkeys & Ice Cream.”
All the songs, save for two written from other people’s perspective, revolve around Mintz’s life – and his life as something other than himself: A stuffed monkey.
“I had a crush on a guy; he had a stuffed monkey. The serious part is that I had a crush on someone and I put my heart out there and he did not return the heart; he did not return the feelings,” Mintz recalls. “The cute thing was, he had a stuffed monkey and I thought, ‘I want to be your stuffed monkey. I want you to love me as much as you love that stuffed monkey.'”
He didn’t. Now, they rarely chat, but Mintz isn’t sulking.
“I wouldn’t really want to spend time with somebody who’s not into sharing their feelings,” he says, before cracking a smile, “even if he was cute.”