Q&A with the Mr. T Experience's Dr. Frank
When I first heard the fast, buzzing guitar sounds of the Mr. T Experience, it dawned on me that every genre, along with its atrocities, has its geniuses. What put the East Bay band's cleanly executed pop-punk songs over was the personality that emerged through the lyrics. It's one that any smart listener can (or would like) to identify with: Dr. Frank.
The band is reissuing an expanded version of its 1994 The Mr. T Experience... And the Women Who Love Them, with previously unreleased material. Dr. Frank's first solo album, Show Business Is My Life, came out in 1999; he is working on another one, to be released sometime in the next year.
I spoke with Dr. Frank, my teenage crush, recently and tried to remain composed while fumbling for questions to ask. He was as nice and gnarly as you'd expect.
Okay. So are your crushes these days as intense as they were in high school?
That's a dangerous question. As you get older, it gets more intense because there's the added element of desperation.
Describe a person you had a crush on in your youth.
My situation in high school...if there was a social ranking of A-B-C for desirability, I was all the way down at the other end of the alphabet. There seemed to be some unwritten rule that I couldn't talk to the beautiful teenage girls or something horrible would happen. I never considered talking to the girls I had crushes on. Actually, I don't think I spoke to a female except my mother until I was past the age of 21.
Are you married now?
I have a girlfriend whom I've been with for a long time. We've been threatening to get married for a while now but it hasn't happened yet.
So when you're writing all these songs about girls, what're you drawing on?
It's all sorts of different things. Ideally you have all sorts of songs about all sorts of different things, or the same thing from different angles. Some of it actually happened and some of it is stuff that I imagine happened. I guess it depends.
Okay. I know you graduated from Berkeley and that you were accepted into Harvard grad school. But then you decided to spend your life writing songs about girls. Did it ever occur to you to be anything other than a musician?
My intention was to have a full-on academic career. I envisioned myself being a professor and writing stuffy books wearing a tweed jacket and smoking a pipe and ogling coeds. Part of doing that meant I'd have to go to grad school for all those years... Well, I wouldn't have to. I could still smoke a pipe and ogle coeds. But I guess that would be a little inappropriate.
How long was it before you could finally quit your day job to just be a rock star?
About eight years. But it wasn't the sort of thing where it suddenly became possible; I don't think we've ever really been that successful. It's a big risk and it's never a safe thing to do. I just worked up the guts to try it one day.
I always assumed you were the sole force behind MTX. Assuming this is true, why did you feel the need to embark on a solo career?
When you're a songwriter in a band, you have to pitch your songs to the people involved. You have a certain idea of a song and how it should come out, and when they get fed through the band, at the end it's not how you envisioned it. And over the years you acquire a sizable chunk of songs you can't persuade them to do.
One of my favorite songs I've ever written I couldn't get the band to agree to, so I finally made good on my threat. Also, at the point where I did that [solo] album, I had been with the same lineup of the band for a while and we were kind of in a rut.
Every once in a while I get this feeling you want to stray into country music, but in a really pop kind of way?like what the Wonder Stuff sometimes did. Do you have any interest in country music at all?
I love country music. Country songs that are well done are the hardest things to do?they can be the best examples of popular songwriting, like the songs of George Jones.
In terms of trying to present yourself as country singer, you've got to be wary cause it might come off as a big spoof. I write country songs and even record and play them. But you've got to be careful?they've got to have a sincere irony, if that's possible. You wouldn't want to do it and make a joke out of it, like talk in a fake Southern accent and wear a big hat.
So what do you listen to when you get home?
When I get home I want to hear something different. I listen to a lot of country music, 60s stuff like the Who and that kind of thing. After touring every night in a smoky little club listening to loud rock, you come home and you want to change the palette a bit. The last thing I want to hear more of is that kind of loud rock...the current punk bands... God love them, but it's not my favorite thing to listen to.
Are the rents in the Bay Area getting any better with all the dotcoms crashing, or is that just another Silicon Valley myth?
I'm hoping and praying that that will be the case. For a while I was living in fear that I would be evicted. I've lived in the same apartment for eight or nine years, and the person who moved in upstairs pays about three times as much as me, so I'm sure the landlord really wanted to kick me out. Now the market will be getting better, which is a little bit of a relief.
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