many zine writers get to interview their favourite band of all time in their
first issue? Not many, probably. Guess I'm one of the lucky ones, cos here
is an interview my pal David and I carried out with Dr. Frank, the driving
force behind The Mr. T Experience and soon-to- be solo artist! Dr. Frank
is probably one of the nicest, friendliest, most intelligent people I've
ever had the pleasure of speaking to. But enough butt-kissing, and on with
Who selected your tracks for the Lookout samplers?
Dr. Frank: You know, I don't know! Probably either Chris or Molly
or someone there. They just said "We're doing a sampler, is it OK if we
put songs on it?" and I said yeah. They select one from each record that
they put out. I don't even know what they are!
David: It was "I Fell For You", "Velveeta", "She's Coming (Over Tonight)"
and "So Long Sucker". Would you pick those songs yourself ?
Dr. Frank: I like those songs OK. I mean, y'know, the older ones
are from the record that's a compilation of stuff and, y'know, I don't know
what I would pick. I think there's a lot of things on the older records,
like, there are some vocal moments and everything, but if I sat there and
tried to say "Oh, we can't do that one cos I get this note wrong," they'd
be crossing off all the songs! It's actually better to leave it up to their
Why did you decide to come back to England so soon?
Dr. Frank: Last time we were here was a year ago.
Paul: That's still quite soon, though.
Dr. Frank: I guess there's two answers. We have a new record so we
have the same sequence of events, like, the record comes out, we do a US
tour, then we do a Europe tour. This was part of that. Also, part of it
is I like coming here cos I like England a lot. I've always really liked
it, and my girlfriend lives here so I get to see her. Everything about coming
to England is a plus for me! And our shows are much better; much better
than anywhere else really. Not necessarily bigger, but more people kinda
get it a little better than in some of these other European countries, so
that's a help. I guess there's just a longer tradition of punk-pop here
than there is in a lot of these other places. It's got better, more fertile
ground, or something like that.
What do you think of the English punk-pop scene?
Dr. Frank: The current stuff... I'm afraid I only know what I've
encountered cos of when we've been here, like Skimmer who we played with
in Leeds this time. Actually, I was a fan of The Sect, that guy's earlier
band way back, before I even started this band. That scene of pop-punk revival
in the early- to-mid 80's was one of the only good things happening, in
my opinion, in music in the 80's before we and all the other bands in Berkeley
started out. There were them, Mega City Four kinda groups and the Hard-Ons
maybe in Australia. I think that was about it at the time. I thought they
were very good. I've heard Crocodile God and Chopper. I've only heard the
ones that we've come in contact with. It's not really well publicised in
the rest of the world that there even is an English scene and it seems like,
those bands, it's very hard for them. They play shows here and nobody comes
unless there's an American band on the bill. The, uh, it's not even the
previous generation, like, three generations ago of British punk rock is
in many ways the all-time best music ever made. It's what I grew up obsessed
with as a young teenager and, er, it's cool, I mean here... are you from
Paul: Yeah, from near Manchester...
Dr. Frank: I mean, I know it sounds dorky and everything but I'm
like walking down the street and I think "Hey, the birthplace of the Buzzcocks!"
I mean, it sounds stupid but it means something to me, y'know?!
Who are your major influences?
Dr. Frank: That was one of them.
Paul: Who's influenced the writing of your lyrics, cos your lyrics are
Dr. Frank: The lyrics are, um, it's weird. I don't think there's
any particular thing I was exactly imitating in making the lyrics so extremely
over-articulate or whatever. I mean, I like a lot of things other than rock'n'roll,
like a lot of the songwriters of the earlier era of pop music, like the
30's and 40's. I listened to a lot when I was growing up and everything,
and that might have been part of it. As far as influences goes, a lot of
times the influences that you don't like are as important as what you do.
I mean, how many dumb rock songs do you have to hear before you think "Wouldn't
it be cool if someone wrote a song that all the lyrics were in complete
sentences?" I'd never heard that before so I thought I would do it. This
last album it really is all of the songs are sentences; not totally on purpose
but when I was typing 'em out I realised, hey, they are! Not that that's
necessarily the best way to go. A lot of great songs and most rock'n'roll
isn't like that, but I thought that... There are a lot of things that I
really hated when I was forming my idea of what kind of rock band I wanted
to have, and part of it was that it seemed like big, dumb rock bands...
it seems like that territory has been very well-covered and did not need
another college graduate pretending to be a dope in order to make rock music.
I was a fan of Elvis Costello too, and I'm still a fan of him and I'm impressed
with him and everything. He's way more obscure than I am. I try to make
it so that everybody who hears it knows exactly what it's about and everything,
and you don't have to go trying to figure it out, but nonetheless, maybe
if you think about it you can notice things that you didn't maybe notice
the first time. I mean, I try to make it have depth but I also try to make
it be down- to-earth and not pretentious. I could never be a guy like him;
he's this real artist or whatever. I'm just a guy who makes up songs. I've
listened to everything and some of it I hate, some parts of it I... there's
part of the Bob Dylan song-writing corpus that are like so amazing and brilliant
and then there's parts of it stink. The brilliant parts are the parts you
remember and the stinky parts are the parts that you kinda wish you could
forget. It's like that with everything else, I just pulled Bob Dylan out
of the hat cos I was listening to a tape of it earlier today. His new album's
great. It's the surprise of the year for me but it's real good. I listen
What's your favourite track off "Revenge Is Sweet..."?
Dr. Frank: That's really hard. I mean, all songs are... songs are,
to varying degrees, they're... when you have it in your head and you make
it up and then in the process of that happening to it getting recorded and
actually made into a record, um... Part of the story of how it ends up the
way it ends up is all the screw-ups that happen along the way and all the
things that don't come out exactly like you want - and nothing is ever exactly
like you want it. One thing is that as you get better and better at doing
it, which I believe that we have, you learn to make it so that it is less
fucked up than it ordinarily would have been. But still, as I've a kind
of pessimistic outlook on it I see every song as just some degree of failure
to write the perfect song, so I look at 'em and I see the failings. I really
couldn't say my favourite. I think I came... I think the last few records
I've come pretty close to, y'know, I don't think that any of the songs suck
or anything. There's things I might have maybe recording-wise wish that
had been done a little better. Let me try to think... I guess my favourite
songs are not necessarily the best songs but they're the ones that I feel
like we did something different and pulled it off. It's also a challenge
to do that. You can't make eight records and have them all the same. You
have to try to do things and still retain some of what you're all about.
I think that the song "Another Yesterday" which is probably the simplest
song I ever wrote was a big challenge for me because I've been used to multi-syllabic,
and tricky... and, y'know, puns and that's one's just what-you- see-is-what-you-get.
I'm kinda proud of that. A lot of the songs on this record are simpler than
the other ones and you have to work hard at making something simple.
Are all your songs autobiographical?
Dr. Frank: Basically, although not literally in most cases. A lot
of people do take it that way and they believe that you've got this list
of seventeen break-up songs, that means that Dr. Frank had seventeen girlfriends
and seventeen girls broke up with him, and it's not like that. The songs
to an extent are, even when it's based on something that you've experienced,
you have to pick and choose the details that are gonna make the song come
across most and gonna communicate it, so it's not exactly a literally play-by-play
account of everything that's happened. Some of them are about characters
that don't have anything to do with me, but all of them are based on things
that I really have thought about or gone through or whatever, and I think
that other people will understand. The whole point of when it works is if
people see something that they know about that... "Here's a way to express
something that I have experienced that I never thought of putting that way,"
or whatever. That's the goal. That's what I hope happens. Sometimes it does,
I know for a fact sometimes it does. Sometimes it just is a complete failure
and no one understands what the hell I'm talking about! All you can do is
I saw you on Friday in Leeds and for the last song you let someone else
play guitar and you just sang, yeah? Did you enjoy that? Did you like the
extra freedom that you got?
Dr. Frank: I enjoyed how bizarre that experience was! I mean, it's
very strange. Yeah, I mean, it was weird, it was funny, it was strange.
I don't know that I would wanna do it all the time. That was the first time
that I've ever done that.
Dr. Frank: Yeah!
David: Are you gonna do it tonight?
Dr. Frank: I don't think so!
What do you think of British acts like Oasis and The Prodigy; big British
Dr. Frank: I have to confess I don't think much of Prodigy. I'm not
really that... although some of the techno stuff has some interesting things
in it, some interesting ideas. To that extent I'm kinda interested in it,
and when rock bands incorporate that stuff then it can be kinda cool; it
can add some flavouring or whatever. Oasis has done that to great effect.
That techno music really isn't music to listen to, it's for dancing, and
I'm not much of a dancer. I hear that beat that they always have in it and
it reminds me of aerobicise or something, "Alright girls, 1, 2!" I mean,
Prodigy is almost completely devoid of content, and that's the point of
it. In a way it's kind of impressive but it just doesn't communicate anything
to me except, y'know, it's just a showbusiness act. They're very good at
what they do, that's cool, but it doesn't do anything for me. Oasis I think
is really good! There's no two ways about it. They're derivative but derivative
in a pretty good way, I mean, of good stuff. I like their first album quite
a bit better than the other two, but I think they're good. I mean, I don't
know that I think that word "pop" means anything. It's just a media term,
a marketing term, because none of the bands that are put in that category
have much in... anything in common with each other, but I like a lot of
'em anyway. I like Pulp...
Paul: Yeah? Excellent!
Dr. Frank: I'm impressed with Pulp, I mean, their music is good in
its own right, also I find it a little bit encouraging and inspiring that
they were around for like 16 years and they put out a whole bunch of really
lame records in the beginning, and then they still managed to get somewhere.
I sort of see... well, y'know, if they can do it I don't know if I can but
at least it's not unprecedented so... I like a lot of those groups.
Do you think you'll ever cross over into the mainstream?
Dr. Frank: I doubt it. There's probably not space in the market for
us, and we're not doing any of the right things to do that. We're on a little
label. I think that's it's frustrating because I'm definitely not interested
in... the whole reason I'm doing it is not to try to become a pop star or
anything, but it would be nice if... right now people who listen to us,
people who know about us are people who already knew about us or who knew
about other groups like us. They're already in on it. I think that there's
something to what we're doing that if a greater number of people who didn't
already know about it were to be exposed to it then they would get something
out of it, and I would like that to happen. It's frustrating, it's so difficult,
but I don't believe that we have another option to do what we're doing because
I don't think we could be like a major smash huge success that would justify
some big label spending a lot of money on promoting us so we just have to
do it bit-by-bit by ourselves. We work a lot harder than a lot of "real"
bands and to get almost nowhere, but my philosophy on it is that the songs
are very important to me and I wanna do what's best for the songs, and that
means I wanna always be able to make another record, and most of what you
do if you're in the real showbusiness angle of rock'n'roll, what you do
is you risk that, and I'm just not willing to risk it. What I'm risking
is I'm digging myself into this huge hole that I'm never gonna be able to
get out of. I wanna keep writing songs and playing and everything until
nobody will listen anymore or whatever. That might come very soon. Then
I'll be left without anything to do! It's a weird thing to think, looking
down the road, I'll never be able to afford anything like a house or a car
or a family or anything like that. I'm just always gonna be just barely
scraping by. That's the sacrifice that I make... it sounds corny, but I
make the sacrifice for the songs cos it's important to me that they exist.
Are you still happy on Lookout despite all the shit that's been said about
Dr. Frank: Yeah, I believe I am happy on Lookout. I'm on Lookout's
side of most of the arguments, although I understand why the people are
making the complaints, especially now. The new regime of Lookout is the
one that... I was always in that contingent and there was essentially a
revolution in Lookout where two of the owners left and got bought out, and
the one who remained was the one that was always my ally, so it's been all
good for me. Lookout has always been, y'know, like this band, we've been
learning as we go along and they make a lot of mistakes and we make a lot
of mistakes and, y'know, I kinda feel like we're in it together. It's kind
of us against the world sorta situation and I like that. The only thing
that... the complaints we have with them are the things that we know that
we need to work on are all more ,like we know that we've got limited resources
to publicise this band and this record label. How do we best use them? Sometimes
I'll think this should have been done a different way and we discuss that,
but that's different. It's not like Lookout's fucked, it's like we're just
working together to... but they have a different relationship with some
of the other bands. That's probably the explanation of that stuff.
What do you think of MaximumRock'N'Roll these days? Do you think it's going
too far in sort of enforcing rules on the scene?
Dr. Frank: Yeah. I think it has. I think it was always like that.
I think it was like that from the beginning but I think that in those days
it didn't matter. I think they went off at the deep end a little bit. It's
of no interest to me. I think that their screwy hippie politics are absolutely
worthless. There's only a small group of wackos who really go along with
it, so what's left is just their music coverage which is so limited that
I'm not even interested in that. They certainly have turned against us and
all our friends in a hypocritical way. I don't blame 'em for that cos that's
what that sort of person does. I don't get anything out of MaximumRock'N'Roll.
I'm amused sometimes when I read the bad reviews of our stuff because it's
usually such an infantile level of discourse that all you can do is be amused
by it. I'm not a big fan of MaximumRock'N'Roll, and I used to work for MaximumRock'N'Roll,
I used to write reviews and stuff, I used to be really close friends with
Tim, but a lot has changed since then.
Do you think that music and politics have got anything to do with each other?
Dr. Frank: Well they can, but usually when people try to have a...
Most people involved in music and involved in punk rock particularly, when
they talk about politics they don't really know what they mean by it. It's
almost completely lacks substance. It's usually sort of "I mistakenly believe
that recycling slogans form some previous era's revolutionaries is somehow
hip and cool." It's not, it's not cool at all, and sometimes by sheer coincidence,
it seems, some band will use that topic and I think it's just like a topic,
y'know, it's just like I write songs about girls. Their topic is revolution
or whatever. Sometimes by accident it ends up being good. Like The Clash.
They shouldn't have been any good. They were just a great rock'n'roll band.
The content was not very sincere or important. They just took Chairman Mao's
little red book and various situationist hippie literature and copped phrases
from it and it turned out into this sort of crazy pseudo-political thing.
That just happened to be good because they were a great rock'n'roll band,
not cos there's something really great about recycling those clichés. For
my purposes, and not everyone's like this, but I think that you should write
songs about things that really happen to you and really mean something to
you, and that's how you have the greatest chance of having your song work
as a song. That means that somebody else is gonna hear it and say, "Oh yeah,
that's what that feels like." I mean, that's the whole point of it, y'know?
Most of the political punk is really just hippie politics with slightly
different costumes and it's usually very bad, I think. It's no substitute
for actually having real songs or actually having the songs about something.
So that's my opinion on it. A lot of people disagree with that. MaximumRock'N'Roll
people disagree with it. It's like, why are you doing things like being
in a band or you wanna dress punk or whatever, what are you doing it for?
You're gonna be a vegetarian as some sort of first step towards an overthrow
of the government? That's a pretty dubious proposition, but it's exactly
how a lot of those people think, and it's the same thing, y'know, I'm gonna
have my rock band instead of playing "You Really Got Me", I'm gonna have
my rock band have some song that says "Fuck the President" or whatever,
whoa, that'll show 'em! Or anti-nazis, whoa, that's going out on a limb!
They're way more impressed with themselves than they ought to be. I guess
that's the bottom line for me.
What are your plans for next year? Are you gonna rest next year because
you've done so much this year?
Dr. Frank: No, we're gonna take Christmas off, and then we're gonna
do another tour, definitely at least one more of the United States. I'm
gonna record a solo album, then we're gonna start work on another MTX album,
and probably try to do the same schedule we did this time, maybe like three
months later so we have time to do it. I don't know how much longer we have
to be a band before it's... I've been doing it for a long time. I don't
know how much longer the powers-that-be will let me. I figure whatever that
time limit is, how many more years, 2 more, 3, 5, 6, 10, whatever, how many
years, there's a limited number of Saturday nights in that time, and I gotta
make the most use of those Saturday nights as I can cos one day I won't
be able to do it anymore, right? So I don't wanna take any time off.