by TIM BROSS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & bout three years ago, Mint Chicks vocalist Kody Nielson toted a buzzing chainsaw as he climbed aboard stage at the New York City music festival known as "Big Day Out." The machinery wasn't a prop. It was a means to end: Nielson introduced the business end of the tool to a large corporate banner that was partially obstructing the audience's view of the Auckland band.
"It was really annoying," Ruban Nielson -- Kody's brother and Mint Chicks band mate -- says of the sign. "We're all kind of small guys. You could only see us from the waist up."
Despite their vertical challenges, the Mint Chicks are becoming increasingly visible stateside. At once, they were one of New Zealand's most popular groups and their 2007 effort Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! earned them album of the year, best album cover, best group, best music video and best rock album at the New Zealand Music Awards.
But the island fame quickly lost its appeal.
"We were always really used to working really hard to get people to notice us," Nielson says, adding that as the Mint Chicks became more accomplished, everything else started to seem too easy. They could imagine getting lazy.
So they turned to their passports, electing for Portland. They have an uncle there, and it seemed like a nice place. Doesn't hurt that the City of Roses is quickly emerging as the alt-rock capital of North America.
But despite the connections and opportunities that Portland offers, life hasn't been as easy as it was in New Zealand. The band's success has not translated as quickly.
"We're used to it," Nielson says with sincerity. "We just enjoy it. We enjoy it when things are a little more challenging."
Amid the challenges, they are releasing a new album, Screens, and Nielson is stoked about it. He's excited because his dad, a former jazz musician, recently overcame a drinking problem and helped his sons produce it.
"So we ended up making the album in Kody's garage with our dad, who had just gotten sober," Nielson says with palpable pride.
Pops has a different take on music -- he has "no appreciation" for the Chicks' specialty, punk rock -- but Nielson sounds hopeful about the record. At the very least, there's symbolic value attached to it -- to starting anew in the States and creating a record.
"To prove to people we could do it," he says.
Mint Chicks at Terrain (120 N. Wall) on Friday, Oct. 3. Free. Visit www.spokanewonderground.com.