By Dr. Frank
I’m not sure exactly what Chris Appelgren had in mind back in 1999 when he approached me with the idea of participating in the creation of a Pokemon themed pseudo-band, but in the fantasy world in which I lived at the time he was playing Kasenetz and Katz to my Joey Levine. We would, in our own unassuming and likely unappreciated way, produce some pre-fabricated bubblegum punk pop for the new millennium. This was the moment I had been waiting for.
RAD-005-7: The Punkemon Story
Good Things Come in Awesome Packages
This is what we are doing with MTX--combining physical apparel with digital music. We are tying everything together in the hope that we can take what has become soulless and disembodied media and turn it into an experience again--buying music should always be an experience.
Our goal is to give you an experience through the mail. Imagine this: You order a custom shirt, hoodie, etc., and receive an instant download of the album that it represents. In a short time (depending on production) you get a custom box filled to the brim with killer apparel and swag.
Every item we sell is packed and shipped in a custom box. We take pride in our packaging.
BEHOLD THE BOX! And try to imagine your delight at getting something amazing in the mail. This month we think we kind of outdid ourselves. We created a special holiday box for our orders shipping after Dec 4th. Not only does it look AWESOME but we think it's a pretty rad vessel to tell the world that the holidays don't necessarily have to suck.
3. Sackcloth and Ashes
Just me, a good song, a double tracked Les Paul Jr., and the tremolo knob on a Sears Silvertone amp. I wanted to record a whole album like this. Still do.
4. Whistle Bait
This Collins Kids cover is one of two songs we recorded with Jim Tierney at Fishtraks in Portsmouth, NH for the Joe King-produced compilation More Bounce to the Ounce. (It was later included on the ...and the Women Who Love Them CD comp.) Not much more to say about it, except: those were good times, and that p-90 sounds great.
5. Itching Powder in the Sleeping Bags (Live)
I'm a little fuzzy on the precise source of this track, but it was recorded live on the radio, probably on KFJC, and probably around 1994 (Joel/Jim line-up.) It appeared as "Bonus Mystery Live Track" on the CD single version of the MTX / Goober Patrol split from 1995.
6. Boredom Zone
The song itself dates back to my high school days. This version was recorded in 1988 by Greg Freeman at Lowdown Studios in San Francisco as part of a lengthy demo tape, and it first appeared on the Lookout Records compilation The Thing that Ate Floyd. It was later included as a bonus track on the Lookout CD re-issue of the Night Shift album. Not, perhaps, my finest hour as a songwriter, but I still like the drone/jangle guitar.
7. Fill in the Blank
Not A-list material by any means, but still kind of a fun track. Recorded at Sound and Vision in San Francisco during the second wave of Making Things with Light sessions, this song originally appeared on the 1991 Flipside compilation The Big One, and was included on the Big Black Bugs CD re-issue comp in 1997.
8. Unpack Your Adjectives
This cover of the Schoolhouse Rock tune was one of five songs we recorded at Sound and Vision in '94 or '95, the first recording session to feature Joel Reader on bass and backup vox, and the last thing we ever did at Sound and Vision. The other songs were "Alternative Is Here to Stay", "New Girlfriend," "You Today," and "Semi-OK." My original plan was to do them all as a self-released e.p., but Larry Livermore talked me into doing a single with Lookout instead. The die was cast. We stayed on Lookout. (This song, under the title "Adjective," appeared on the 1995 Lookout Records comp. A Slice of Lemon.)
9. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
This surf-y song with nonsense lyrics somewhat inexplicably appeared on a 1997 compilation somewhat inexplicably called "Generations I - a Punk Look at Human Rights." Somewhat inexplicably, its title was listed as "Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya." It was later included on the ...and the Women Who Love Them CD comp. I believe this was recorded at Roof Brothers studio in Oakland, at the same session where we did the Duran Duran and Primitives covers. (We used to try to combine the covers comp recording sessions and throw in one of our own songs if there was time for it -- this track was unfunded, meant to benefit... something or other.) I can't remember much more about it, but I do remember the carpet. It was gray and kind of damp. Smelled like cats.
This original version of this song was on a Lookout flexi sampler that came with the September 1995 issue of Punk Planet as well as on the Goober Patrol / MTX split 7"/CD that came out in the same year.
11. Flying Jelly Attack
This was recorded at Dancing Dog Studios in Emeryville ca. 1989 for a Shonen Knife covers compilation called Every Band Has a Shonen Knife Who Loves Them; later on, it appeared as a bonus track on the Making Things with Light CD and subsequently the Big Black Bugs CD compilation. Many of the covers we recorded were done solely because the people putting them out gave us a small amount of money for studio time, but in this case it was a band I really loved and was one of my favorite songs by them. Our version is... well quite weird sonically, but sort of charming I guess. The guitar stuff was perhaps a harbinger of things to come in a way: this is what happens when you give a boy an SG and a Mesa Boogie. A guy from Jon von's work transliterated the Japanese lyrics for me and I sang them not very convincingly, but that didn't stop it being used as evidence for the still extant folk legend that I am half Japanese. (I'm not.) When we played with Shonen Knife a few years later Naoko Yamano told me my Japanese was "very well." Success.
12. As Life Goes On, You Get More and More Out of It
A home recorded never-before-released song that first appeared on the ...and the Women Who Love Them CD. comp. All it's got going for it is the double-entendred title really, but it's a pretty good one.
13. Kenny Smokes Cloves
One of the earliest MTX songs, recorded in that Greg Freeman/Lowdown 8 track demo tape session. Kenny Kaos needed to be immortalized in song, somehow, and while I'm sure I didn't quite do him justice, I did the best I could. This first appeared as a bonus track on the Night Shift album CD re-issue.
14. Can't Get There from Here
Recorded for a 1992 REM covers compilation called Surprise Your Pig (because they gave us $200) and included on the Big Black Bugs CD comp. Figuring out absurd sound-alike lyrics for the incomprehensible Michael Stipe lyrics was the fun part and the main memorable feature here, a rare instance, perhaps, of nonsense parody lyrics making more sense than the original. "Donna Reed is not my mom" will forever live in infamy. Years later our old associate Robert Shimp was engineering an REM record in San Francisco and played the track for Peter Buck, who reportedly said "at least they got the chords right." As with so much else in our repertoire, it was the very least we could do.
15. God Bless America
This much loved/maligned song originally came out on the Blame and Burn 7" comp on Flush Records in 1992. Later it was added as a bonus track to the Our Bodies Our Selves CD issue with no indication that it was "bonus" leaving many/most fans with the impression that it was the final track of that album. In fact, the song pre-dates the album by many years and was originally meant to be solo/acoustic, and generally played during broken string breaks and such at shows. (Ironically, on the other hand, "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend" had been intended as a full band song that became acoustic by exigency.) This recording was meant as the first iteration of what was to be a generic backing track with new lyrics/vox to be added and submitted every time we had a compilation offer with no budget. (cf. "Vive la France" and "God Bless Lawrence Livermore".) It was also included on the Big Black Bugs CD comp. A different mix appears on the MTX/Goober Patrol split.
16. I Was Losing You All Along
As originally conceived, this song was intended to be the grand finale track of Revenge Is Sweet and so Are You -- the album title appears as a lyric in the bridge, in fact. In the event it never quite "gelled" in the studio and we didn't have the time (nor, arguably, the talent) to do it justice so it was abandoned unfinished. Kevin Army and I did what we could with it several years later to make it presentable for the ...and the Women Who Love Them CD compilation. It was during this session at Shark Bite studios in Oakland that Al Jardine poked his head in to say: "that bass sounds a little picky... not to be, you know, picky" lending a Beach Boy's support the tone side in our ongoing argument over how trebly and stringy the bass should be. While the recording isn't perfect, this is still one of my favorites among my songs, and I'd love the chance to re-do it properly one day, or to hear someone good do a cover of it. The reprise of the guitar line from Milk Milk Lemonade's "See It Now" was intended to link those two albums together on the basis of some no doubt pretentious rationale I've since forgotten.
Dr. Frank Discusses MTX Shards Vol. 1
The CDs were seen as an adjunct to the vinyl version, and, like a lot of bands, we used to pile on any available extra tracks in a more or less archival spirit without much (or any) thought given to aesthetic cohesion. The idea was, why would anyone want to pay more money for a CD of this when you could get a perfectly good LP -- better give 'em something extra to justify the extra expense. (Though in some cases it's not at all clear that these extra tracks added value rather than subtracted it.)
Anyhow, the result was, in the end, a mess, and a blurring of the line between the albums per se and the morass of extras. (e.g., the crazy track listing of the Our Bodies Our Selves CD, where the obvious ending song "Game Over" is succeeded by three cool but random extra tracks (one of them inexplicably moved from the main album to the end) with "Swallow Everything" shoehorned in between "More Than Toast" and "Not Guilty" -- because they were recorded in the same session? And then there's a hidden track at the end of a big space of silence after "God Bless America"... Clearly, the product of a madman, if not several madmen. Yet I know that many people think of this nutty CD as the actual "real" album. And maybe it should have been, in that some of the crammed-in songs are many people's favorites. But, it wasn't.)
So when, in the wake of Lookout's exit, we re-organized the digital back catalog, we decided to restore the original vinyl track listing and sequences of the albums, eps, and singles. While many of the CD extras had been b-sides that had been included on their respective singles in the re-organization, this left out a great many previously released songs (thirty-two, to be exact.) Some of these were quite "important" ones too, like "King Dork", "We Are the Future People of Tomorrow", "Unpack Your Adjectives," as well as a lot of fun covers and such. The plan was always to compile these into an Odds 'n' Sods / Relics type album, but what with one thing and another, that plan hasn't happened till now.
I've tried to arrange the tracks as albums that can be listened to as such, eight songs to a "side" in the traditional manner, rather than chronological archives. They are from various sources, (covers comps, out-takes, demos, one live on the radio song) spanning 1987 thru 1999. The criterion for inclusion when it comes to the out-takes and demos is simply whether they have already appeared (and subsequently disappeared from) somewhere. I have however left off the terrible sounding live cassette recordings that were on the Making Things with Light CD; they were just messing everything up like they always have. (They're easy to find if you must have them, and in fact, I can even sell you a CD if you want one of those: drop me a line at email@example.com) As for the demos and out-takes, maybe one day I'll find the machinery and the gumption to re-examine those tapes and see if there's anything else interesting on them, but that's for another time if it ever comes. For now, this is what there is. You can get the whole thing at once, or song by song as needed. Or not, as the case may be. Just putting it out there, as it were.
Finally, big, heartfelt thanks go to our good friend Pete Mattern at Planet X Recording Studio for mastering the comp. You'll probably be surprised how good it sounds, especially considering the sources.
We're Music Fans Not Machines: Making an Experience Out of an Impersonal Medium
By Frank Portman and Chris Thacker
The devastation that the digital music revolution brought to the music industry and its reciprocally sustaining culture and subcultures has been exhaustively discussed and analyzed. The results of it are plain for all who walk in its ruins: music has been devalued to almost nothing in the commercial market, almost everyone went out of business, and the role of struggling musician became even more of a struggle.
Less discussed has been the effect of this devaluation of music from the perspective of fans and music lovers, which has been paradoxical. While there is easy, cheap access to an effectively unlimited aggregate of material, being swamped in undifferentiated “content” has not proven to be the paradise it was cracked up to be. And in a world where releasing a record typically involves little more than pressing “send”, and where consuming the music encoded therein involves little more than clicking “add”, or even just doing nothing at all and passively allowing yourself to be fed from a cloud, the resulting experience, for all its convenience, has become highly impersonal at best.
What can be done to restore the immediacy and personal quality that made bands and their “content" so compelling in the first place? No one has figured out how to do this very well. Most of just press “send" and click “add” and hope for the best. That’s just not good enough, and we decided to do something about it by--
A record label is nothing more than a curator of music. If people trust the curator's taste(s) they will buy the music. That's why it is critical to focus on working with amazing artists. When the idea of Sounds Rad was being kicked around, the first person to immediately buy into the idea of personalizing the experience of buying music was Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience. If Sounds Rad’s first principle is to curate the best possible music, then damn it, MTX has to be a part of it. And from there it became clear that to goal is to find as many existing MTX fans and create a community by knocking them on their ass with releases that they would love to hear; merch that they would love to wear; and a shared experience that makes that them feel if they are members of a secret MTX cult replete with ritual handshakes, code names, and songs about girls.
Everything that "we" (the royal we--Sounds Rad and MTX) are trying to do is based on quality: records, apparel, and the experience. Imagine this: You place an order on the Sounds Rad website. A few days later you come home to a custom designed box at your door. You run inside and carefully open the box to find a new signed limited MTX album, a t-shirt that you actually want to wear all of the time, and the knowledge that you got amazing value. That's what we want to do. Everything item sold is coming from the band to the fan: a shared experience.
This shared experience is exciting. We want you to get excited! That’s why we will do everything and everything we can to get you to listen to our music, wear our march and come out to our shows. You are not just customer, you are part of our cult, cabal, faction, clique, coterie, and possibly a junta. So froth at the mouth, sing-a-long, and be rad!
But in the pretend rock star parallel fantasy world that lived in my mind alongside the actual one, every show had a Kozik poster, because of course it did.
So I was indescribably excited, overcome with emotion in fact, when I learned that Krista, my editor at Random House, and Angela, the book designer, had arranged for Frank Kozik to do the cover of my new book King Dork Approximately. I wanted to kiss them. It was such a perfect idea. It was amazing that he agreed to do it. Also, it was the realization of a lifelong dream.
Plus it was just great art. He'd read the manuscript and come up with a terrific King Dork-ization of the Judas Priest Screaming for Vengeance eagle (which plays a big role in the book.) The original sketch looked like this:
"Well, Doctor," I said to the face in the mirror, "they can't take this away from you." Except, they could.
It's a long, complicated story, but publishing a book is never a simple matter. There are many considerations, and hundreds of people involved in considering them. Folks who hadn't been through the same rock and roll wringer that I'd been through, for whom this artwork was nice but not, perhaps, the realization of a life-long dream, wondered whether people would "get it." We looked at other options, as you do. And in the end, due to circumstances beyond our control, the cover was scrapped, new approaches investigated, release dates delayed, tears cried, teeth gnashed -- the standard procedure in every human endeavor. The hardcover book was published with the yellow cover you know, and life went on.
Well, in publishing, a paperback release is like a second chance. And as you may have been able to tell, I've put a whole lot of energy into making this particular second chance as special and second chance-y as possible, with new cover art, a new album, singles, videos, shows, T shirts, lunchboxes, cookies, etc. etc. So when Chris of Sounds Rad and I started to discuss ways to make our rock and roll KDA specialty packages as cool as possible (and remotely signable) we decided to reproduce the original cover, book sized, as an insert for me to sign instead of the usual bookplate. Pretty cool. Welcome back, lifelong dream.
Reviewing music ... kind of.
Copyright © 2023
Copyright © 2023