How long have you been together

The Mr. T Experience, a Berkeley, California band, have just released their fourth LP, "Making Things with Light," on Lookout Records. The band members are Dr. Frank, Aaron, Alex and Jon von. This interview was conducted by Leesa P. Creamer during Alex's shift behind the counter at Rory's Twisted Scoop, an ice cream shop in San Francisco. Alex treated us to mochas and ice cream. We can only hope that his boss does not read MRR.

MRR: How did you guys get together, and what other records do you have out besides the new one?

J: We were all working for this construction company about 5 years ago,

MRR: The truth please...

F: I don't know why we formed a band, it's been a long time. I guess it had something to do with, uh, way back in yesteryear, wanting to accomplish something, but I can't remember what it was.

J: That hope has faded.

MRR: Not why, HOW did you guys get together? Is this all the original members, the four of you?

A: I'm the new one.

MRR: When did you join?

A: About 2 years ago.

MRR: How long have you been together?

J: 5 years.

MRR: What happened to your first bass player?

J: He had to choose between the construction company and us. He made his choice. You know what I heard was that Lynyrd Skynyrd...

A: Byron is in Lynyrd Skynyrd?

(Here the MTX start to ramble on about Lynyrd Skynyrd and Flipper, I'll spare you the details, ecept for the following story from Frank.)

F: That reminds me of when I was in hig school, this guy that got killed the year we were graduating, playing chicken...

A: It's dangerous pretending to be a chicken!

F: He was on the football team and everyone respected him, and thought he was real great, and so for the graduation they decided to have an empty chair with his football jersey on it. But a couple years before, this girl had died, so all her friends were lobbying to get a chair for her too, but the school didn't want to do it, so somebody said one of the funniest things I ever heard: "well, she can sit on Jim's lap."

(laughter, I choke on my Coke)

F: The person who said it almost got expelled from school for that, but it was worth it.

A: Oh, and that's the incident that inspired you to form the band.

MRR: But how did you guys get together?

F: There's no way we got together, it just sort of happened.

MRR: Like mad scientists staggering forth out of the mud?

A: It was just meant to be.

F: It really was like we were a band for probably a year, before anyone realized "Hey this is a band."

MRR: Jon and Frank, do you write most of the songs or does anyone else write?

J: I only write a few, Frank writes 90% of them. He's the creative genius. I just every once in a while have something to get off my chest.

MRR: (to Frank) How do you write? Do you write everything and then come in and tell everyone else what they're supposed to play?

A: Yeah, and if we get a note wrong we get fined $50 or a spanking. I generally prefer the spanking.

J: I did the $50 trip for a while but then...

A: But now he realizes how much fun the spankings are.

MRR: Frank, how much of the song do you write? Do you just write the skeleton of it?

F: To tell you the truth I don't really write songs like that, I just make up one little thing, and then pretend it's a song and we play it for about a year. After about a year I figure out what it's about and what the words are.

MRR: So you don't come in with a complete set of lyrics or a melody? F: No, no way lyrics. I pretty much figure out the lyrics the night before we record.

J: Yeah, he sometimes comes up with really funny lyrics just to fill the space, and actually there's one song which will remain nameless, where we ended up just keeping those lyrics. He knows the one I mean.

MRR: Why will the song remain nameless?

J: It's an exercise for the reader.

MRR: So back to the songs, I'm really appalled, 'cause I read your lyrics and thought, "Wow, these are really great."

F: Reading the lyrics is always a mistake I think, but if it fooled you I guess it can fool other people. The things I think are cool about the lyrics are things that other people think are really stupid.

MRR: Such as?

F: Such as, there's one song on the new record where it arbitrarily says, "Swiss Family Robinson" 'cause it fit in the rhythm fo the song, I just kind of get a little kick out of the fact that it's there. And what's really funny is that people looking at those lyrics have tried to figure out what the point of "Swiss Family Robinson" is... and the point is... nothing.

MRR: And it rhymes.

F: It was either that or, "na, na, na, na, na."

J: Which is what he'd been singing for a couple months...

MRR: I've been wanting to ask you about "Psycho Girl"...

A: Frank is a freak magnet.

MRR: I really like that line, "Psycho Girl just opened her mouth, and a whole lot of interesting stuff came out."

F: If I knew her now I probably wouldn't think it was as interesting as when I was 19. People try really hard to be interesting, but after a while you've heard it all.

A: Frank's hard to impress.

MRR: Do you have some kind of deathly fear of cuckoo clocks? (Refering to "What's in the Cuckoo Clock," a song on the new record.)

F: Well I didn't write that song, that was originally done by Rachel Sweet, written by her producer Liam Sternberg. And it just fit with the record because it makes absolutely no sense at all.

MRR: What other records do you have out besides "Making Things with Light?"

F: Our first record was "Everybody's Entitled to Their Own Opinion," which was an LP we did all by ourselves.

J: I put it together on my kitchen table. The second record was "Night Shift at the Thrill Factory," and we wasted thousands of dollars making a lousy recording.

F: Then we made "Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood," a 7-song 12" which came out pretty good.

J: The first record was almost a live recording. We walked into the studio and said, "Start the tape." We've actually been trying to get back to a raw sound since then.

F: Now that I'm running out of ideas for songs, I wish we'd saved some of those old songs to record now.

J: On the CD of the new record we put liver versions of some of the old songs that weren't done justice on the old recordings.

A:As if they were done justice when we did them live!

J: I thought the live tracks were pretty good, but I don't have to pay for my copy of the CD.

MRR: So the new record, "Making Things with Light," was just recorded live in the studio?

J: The only overdubs are vocals and some guitar solos.

MRR: How have your records sold?

(pause, then laughter)

MRR: How do you do overseas? Do you get fan mail?

A: I think we got a letter from Germany once.

F: Even better than fan mail, lately we get responses to personal ads. Someone put our PO Box number in an ad for a woman seeking a middle-aged Jewish man, so we've been getting all sorts of great responses.

A: We're hoping to get photos soon.

J: (to Frank) It wasn't your sister, was it?

A: We're hoping to compile a photo journal of middle-aged Jewish men. I want to see what I'll look like in 30 years.

MRR: Where the hell is Hogboro? (referring to an instrumental song on the record, "A Weekend in Hogboro.") F: It's a city in a book called "Lizard Music" by D. Manus Pinkwater.

(Alex walks up from behind the counter.)

J: Hold on, we have to order our Mochas.

MTX in unison: "Chocolate, cinnamon or nutmeg!"

J: I hear if you eat enough nutmeg, you hallucinate. People do that in prison.

A: The last thing I need is nutmeg-induced hallucinations. Just chocolate would be fine.

(Alex walks up)

A: So you got a question for this boy?

MRR: Um, I don't know, he doesn't do anything but play drums right?

(Alex looks distressed)

J: He makes a hell of a mocha.

MRR: Alex, you're really young aren't you? (more distress)

A: The two ways to bug Alex are to point out his age, and to belittle his contribution as a drummer.

MRR: And to tell him his hair looks funny. (to Alex:) "Look how red you're getting."

(at this point Alex leaves)

MRR: Come back, come back...(laughter)

J: Those were some pretty low blows there.

MRR: No, I think it's pretty cool that you started in the band when you were, what, 15? You hit 'em pretty hard, most drummers don't.

X: Actually I had a lot of problems with my parents when I was a kid, and I was always grounded, so I'd come home after school, go down in the basement and pound on the drums to get my frustrations out.

MRR: I don't understand how anyone can stand still and play rock and roll and obviously you guys can't either. Have you always moved around a lot on stage?

A: Actually we figure that if we're jumping around a lot it will distract people from noticing...

F: (cuts in) all the songs sound the same.

MRR: Where else have you guys played besides San Francisco?

J: Twice around the United States and Canada.

MRR: Do you ever play in cities where people just look at you and don't fathom what you're doing?

F: That happens here.

A: People not understanding is OK. It's when they actively want to kill us that it's a problem. Like when we were bing a "San Francsico pussy band." Well, I guess it's true.

J: But they don't have to rub it in.

MRR: Frank why are you always eating cheeseburgers?

F: It's just good food, and it tastes good.

A: As Cybil Shepherd says, "Nothing satisfies like beef."

F: Eat two cheeseburgers a day and you could end up like me.

MRR: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

(Alex comes over)

X: Can I take your glasses, gentlemen?