Ask Dr. Frank

According to lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Dr. Frank, the Mr. T Experience has been around long enough for him to call his current lineup (bassist Joel and drummer Jym) the MTX Starship. Though they haven't exactly built this city on rock and roll, Dr. Frank and crew are, and have been, key players in the East Bay punk pop scene. A new album, Revenge Is Sweet, and So Are You!, is set to be released August 26th, and Dr. Frank marked the occasion by sharing his thoughts on weathering a decade of musical fads.

Bay Guardian: You've been doing the Mr. T Experience for a long time. Is the Bay Area a hard place to be in a band?

Dr. F: I actually wouldn't know, 'cause I've never lived elsewhere. It's easy to be in a band anywhere, even here, if your expectations are relatively modest. It's when you actually start expecting things like having shows that people come to, and stuff like that, that you start to realize what a challenge it is. The secret of this band's existence was that everybody just left us alone. The line I used to say is "The complete lack of any commercial interest has left us free to pursue our unique vision unhindered by any undue success." There is a positive aspect to years of pointless suffering.

BG: Do you have high hopes for the new album?

Dr. F: Um ... high hopes, low expectations. There's grounds for guarded optimism. I think that people will have something to sink their teeth into. And I hope that it's a record that they'll listen to and not forget about after they hear it once.

BG: After 10 years, do you ever get tired playing guitar-driven anthems for the lovelorn?

Dr. F: I'm pretty cynical about most things, but if you can say that I believe in anything, I believe in rock and roll. My songs, though, are deliberately tricky. The planning and complexity are not obvious to someone who hears it. The fact that we do 1-4-5 pop songs is in itself a statement, about what I believe is the proper thing for rock and roll and pop music to do. I always try to have a little bit of a twisted angle to everything. The utilization of the cliches -- you're supposed to read it straight and ironically. I'm not always successful at it.

BG: When would you say you started seeing people other than your friends coming to shows?

Dr. F: It took a hell of a long time, actually. It was also a challenge to get the members of the band to come to the shows. There was a long period of time where basically nobody really wanted to be associated with us, including us. We were kinda sheepish about it, like "Yeah we're still doing it. I'm not really sure why...." The worst point in the band's state of disintegration came at the time when we were recording Mr. T Experience and the Women Who Love Them. The disillusionment was very severe and the psychic disturbance was really bad. I think it remains my favorite record we ever did.

BG: What do your parents think of your playing music?

Dr. F: I think that along with the rest of the world, they eye it a little dubiously. As do I, really. It's a dubious proposition. You've got to do some dubious things or else very little will ever get done. By most people's estimation, this is pretty much an exercise in futility, or I think there's a way to look at it that you would say that. There are rewards, but not the sort of thing that looks good on a resume.

BG: I understand you're a bit of an academic. Did you ever feel the temptation to go back to school?

Dr. F: I was going to go to grad school at Harvard for history, probably. I suppose the day will come when I won't be able to play music anymore. I imagine it'll be extremely difficult to deal with. I've always had some outlet for it, even if it was an outlet where only your family and close friends ended up buying the record.

BG: So you don't think that you can do both? Go to school and have a band?

Dr. F: I think certainly you can do both. And I did as an undergraduate at Berkeley. People do amazing things, you know. But I would find it difficult. And certainly, holding the band together, holding your life together, is already quite a challenge. And having to pile on top of that almost anything else, I admit I'm probably not man enough to handle it. Although you can do what you're forced to do by circumstances. Sometimes you hear about ... the Donner party managed to survive their cruel winter by adapting to their circumstances, and I suppose that's what I would have ended up doing if I went to graduate school.

BG: Do you really have as much romantic woe as your songs depict?

Dr. F: I've been kicked along love's dusty trail as much as the next guy. Maybe more than some guys. But it's not like "Dear Diary, My girlfriend broke up with me today, and here's a song." In order to write effectively, you've got to have enough distance to manipulate it so that you focus on certain things -- so that you make a song about a particular thing rather than everything in the world.

BG: They could tap from your lyrics for an advice show.

Dr. F: I've talked to people that have said the songs have helped them through tough times. I know it sounds dorky. I will go no further than to say that that's kinda neat. Maybe one day they can collect them into a recovery moment-type pop psychology book. Or a Hallmark card series.

BG: Then you can see some real funds.

Dr. F: Yeah, I've heard the greeting card business is where it's at. I think my slogans are a bit too negative.

BG: There's a market for it.

Dr. F: I had a song last time around, "I Just Wanna Do It With You," that had a lyric "Will you waste your life with me?" That would make it a good marriage proposal card.