Q&A with the Mr. T Experience’s Dr. Frank

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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?

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

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.