In the beginning, there was Dr. Frank and his band, the Mr. T Experience. Often tagged the "inventors of pop-punk" (or "pop-core" or the "East Bay/Gilman Street sound"), the Mr. T Experience (or MTX, or MTX Starship) kept tongue planted firmly in cheek in the early '90s as many of its peers became millionaire rock stars. Dr. Frank (vocals and guitar), Joel (bass), and Jym (drums) continued touring exhaustively, improving their songwriting skills, slowly building their following, as Green Day, Rancid, and others took their sound and sold it to millions.
Mr. T Experience
RKCNDY, Saturday, June 5
Then, just as quickly and unexpectedly, Billie Jo and Tim and all the other rock stars faded from sight. The dust cleared, and the Mr. T Experience was left standing.
"You hear it all the time," says Frank now of his band's pioneer status. "The people who are saying it are paying us a compliment by saying that we're the inventor of something that in other people's hands became very popular and influential."
Now, after 14 years as the conscience and power source for MTX, Dr. Frank is pondering the band's direction. Its new album, tentatively titled Alcatraz and due in autumn from Lookout! Records, is a departure. It comes on the heels of Frank's solo debut, Show Business Is My Life, an effort that shows a fully realized, versatile songwriter stretching his wings a bit, free from the expectations—on whatever scale—that dog a veteran band like MTX.
"The solo album was radically different [from prior MTX albums]," Frank notes. He is almost universally regarded as punk rock's resident academic, and he expresses his thoughts carefully. "I intended it as a precursor to the new MTX album, which I knew was going to be a sonic departure. I wanted to set the stage for people to not expect a record that sounded like 'the poor man's Green Day.'"
However, Show Business won't sound completely unfamiliar to longtime MTX fans. It's got all of the melodic strength they've come to love, along with Dr. Frank's unmistakable lyrical content—it's just presented in new ways. And Frank says that's what listeners can anticipate on Alcatraz: "It's not very punk," he explains, "but I think it's good. I tried to shake everything up to such a degree that there would be no chance it would sound like our last record—like deliberately doing songs when I was totally sleep-deprived, turning the heat up in the control room to make everyone uncomfortable, stuff like that."
Still, says Dr. Frank, who also has a reputation for self-deprecation, "I'm well aware that usually, when someone talks like this, it's the prelude to something that really sucks." Then he laughs, because honestly, it's been a very long time since his band did anything that really sucked. Also, and he makes this clear, Dr. Frank of the "bratty" punk band the Mr. T Experience is not joking when it comes to songcraft. "At the risk of sounding pompous, I take the artistic angle of this really seriously," he says. "This time around it was important to come up with something from an absolutely different angle."