MARK SULTAN: TURN INTO EXCREMENT AND SLIDE IN IT
You know Mark Sultan from his work with the King Khan & BBQ show, but he also has two new solo albums and a new 7″, and is about to embark on a June tour that will take him to L.A.’s Blue Star Bar Friday. (Last day to win tix here!) He speaks now about In the Red Records, excrement, and so much more. This interview by Lainna Fader.
You’ve said that 2010 was a continuation of bad shit from the previous year and that you can’t see things getting any better any time soon. How are you doing in 2011?
I’m pretty … I say things, and I can be pretty dramatic sometimes. I don’t really mean it on a broad level. I mean, it was a pretty bad year, as far as—I don’t know, the last few years have been really bad for non-musical, non-career—God, I hate using that word—kind of reasons, more on the personal level, with love and friendships and life and it’s weird, getting to realize how things have changed. And I guess it carried over in these interviews. Unfortunately, I’m an honest person, and sometimes I let things get to me and I say what’s on my mind. I do think, as I get older, year after year, I’m kind of content with everything that happens but I sometimes let things get a hold of me and I puke it up and say it and maybe I shouldn’t. That’s just me being stupid. Yes, I don’t think this year’s going to be worse—I think it’s going to be better. I’m more positive this year.
I’ve read that you’re not really a fan of record labels—why are you working with In the Red these days? What do they do differently than most labels?
I’m friends with Larry Hardy—and that’s one thing, I consider him, beyond In The Red, a friend, first and foremost, and that changes the dynamic right away. Working with a small label—and I’ve talked to Larry forever, he’s this wise guy, he’s from a DIY background and a punk background and I relate to a lot of his taste and what he’s done and I appreciate someone who’s done something on their own—does what they want, and just goes for it and does their shit and doesn’t compromise anything. I just like how he runs his label and how he treats me anyways and the bands I’ve been in. I’m just comfortable dealing with him as a person because I know him as a person and I know where he’s coming from. I look at In the Red less as a label and more as an extension of my musical family so that’s why it’s a lot easier dealing with them.
You’ve said Greg Shaw of Bomp dug your music for the right reasons—what are the right reasons?
He was just telling me about my music and the reasons he liked it and the stuff he was citing, the words he was using to describe the music, the kind of imagery, as limited as it was, was exactly where I was coming from. And I knew that he was a very knowledgeable person when it came to rock n roll and he saw through everything I was doing and knew where I was coming from. I don’t know—the problem is, I don’t think I’m doing anything special in a way. I think I’m doing, in my own head, or, you know, I think it’s simple music that I would think that the influences are pretty obvious and the things that I like would come out pretty obviously but I don’t think that a lot of people—I just think, as I get older, I realize that people obviously like a million different things and it’s great because that’s the way things go but I also think that people who are purportedly rock n roll fans, for example, sometimes they’re fans for different reasons than I am. Might not know exactly where I’m coming from because they’re stuck on one thing or one image or one genre or whatever it is. I was just really stocked first only dealing with Greg on any level cuz I respected the guy a lot, been a fan of his label, but also I was so happy that he understood what I was doing, heard my influences right away, and he was stoked on it and so that was one of the few times in my life where I was really proud of what I was doing. That doesn’t happen very often. Ha ha!
What do you think you could’ve learned from him?
Yeah, I mean, that’s the kind of person I’d love to just hang out with at their place with some wine and listen to stories and records. That’s what it’s about—learning stuff. I’ve always—the majority of my musical enjoyment and my experience with music and the love it’s given me and everything I’ve learned about it I’ve learned from somebody else, either first hand or through magazines or interviews or whatever. I owe everything to everybody else. So somebody that knowledgeable who was privy to so much of the history that I like firsthand would’ve been a really cool experience. But you know, that’s the way things go.
You’ve called yourself a terrible guitar player and said you want to stay that way—why?
I’m very very comfortable with my limited knowledge of guitar. It’s one instrument that—I could probably get accused of wanking with my voice, and that in itself, that bothers me, because I’m just trying to emote, as much as I can, through my voice. But I understand that. But I think the worst culprit is a wanky guitar. It’s like 1000 cocks jerking off in your face at once. I think it’s one of the rudest things in the world! If you can play really well, that’s awesome too, but the idea of me practicing so hard to master something so phallic—I’m just not into it. And I just like staying simple because it compliments the music I’m trying to get across. Any musician I don’t think—or maybe some do, some that play piano, a composer probably can moreso, put out what’s in his head into people’s ears—I don’t think that a lot of people really can. But I’m happiest with a really primitive, simple guitar sound and let the vocals be the melody that carries everything to an extent. That’s more important to me. I admire people that can play really well but I just can’t do it and I’m too lazy to learn. I guess that’s what it comes down to.
You’ve said you write books about the vulgarity of existence.
Well I did a lot in my past, but lately I haven’t really had time to continue on with them unfortunately. I hope to take a break in the future and finish at least one of them. I really like writing, painting and writing and all that kind of shit. Cooking. Whatever
What’s the most vulgar thing you’ve ever witnessed?
Oh, man. You know, I used to be really bad. I probably was a living stereotype. Some snotty kid that was—I don’t know. I’m not really like that anymore. I don’t really touch upon it anymore. But at the same time, somebody showed me a—I could look at anything and find it revolting. Like angles and weird shadows really bother me sometimes. Visually, there are certain little things that make me wanna puke. Moreso than an attitude or a person cuz I think that’s all fake. Things that are real to me are angles and shit. Shapes. Shadows. I don’t think people are real. They don’t disgust me as much.
You don’t think people are real?
I don’t think I’m real. I don’t think anything is really real. Unless you met some feral kid in the woods, maybe they’d be real. I don’t know.
And you’ve said you don’t believe that time exists—have you ever felt your were sneezing for 6 hours straight?
I understand the concept of it and the measurement it’s supposed to be but I don’t think it exists and I don’t believe in it. I know I’ve felt sometimes—like everybody—you’re sitting down doing something and it feels like three hours but must’ve only been like ten minutes. I don’t know. I just—I can’t really answer your question, I just don’t believe in it.
How does not believing in time affect your creative process?
People say, ‘Woah, you tour a lot’ or ‘You write a lot of music’ but I don’t think I do. In fact, I seem to have a lot of downtime and I find myself to be really lazy a lot of the time. It’s frustrating. I don’t believe in that shit. I don’t think so. I think I’m just fucking retarded.
In an old interview, you were asked what fans could expect of your show, and you said they can expect to “wipe your brain with their ass.” What happens when you wipe your brain with your ass?
Ha ha ha! I guess you get some dirty thoughts and some stinky memories! I don’t know what I was trying to say. Ha ha ha! I’m pretty—I guess, especially now, last time I came to L.A., it was a while since I’d played on my own, with my one-person thing. I mean I’ve recorded a lot of stuff and done all that but now, in the last year or so, I like to fuck around with people. I’ll make up songs on the spot and go faster and slow it down and stop something mid stream. I like fucking around. I think the concept of rock n roll show—like, ‘Okay, the next song is about a lake made of chocolate’ is lame. I like doing whatever the fuck I wanna do and hopefully people’s thoughts will turn into excrement and we can all slide in it. Have a little party in it.
What’d you do to get blacklisted at clubs across Montreal in the Spaceshits?
I don’t know, it was really weird. That band—me and King Khan and some of our friends—they were a lot younger and I guess at the time, there had always been a rock n roll scene in rock n roll but I guess we were young and brash and whatever and we really started—for fun—we were really into the band, super enthusiastic, and I worked at a record distributor and I’d send out stuff everywhere. To magazines, labels. We’d play all these shows and break lots of shit and we thought it was cool. Nobody was really at the shows—or the people at the shows were in our crowd and were just having fun. But then the moment we started getting label attention—international labels, being from Canada—it would really piss people off that young, seemingly idiotic kids, punk ass dudes, troublemakers were getting to tour but we worked our asses off—though we didn’t consider it work in the least. We’d send out stuff and we wanted our heroes to hear us and we made it a point to make everyone hear us. We knew what we wanted to do so we did but and I think a lot of the bands at the time were very concerned about what was trendy and didn’t really know what they were doing. Anyway, the point being, we started playing bigger shows and we pissed off a lot of the right—or wrong—people, depending on how you look at it. Our antics just led to ‘Okay, guess we won’t be playing here again.’ And that was fine. Because of that, we’d get on radio shows and do some nasty stuff to people but we thought it was fun and jokes. Punk stuff. And the bigger we got—which wasn’t very big at all—I got in a lot of trouble because I was working at this record distributor, and we had this big show, and people from the company came to the show. They were sitting in the balcony and lounging around with their fancy cigars or whatever the fuck these people do with their money. With a monacle and shit. You know. And we were playing, and somebody through a pillbox at me, and I threw it back. It broke on the mic stand. But then somebody got hit in the back row with a beer bottle and we found out years later that this guy we kind of knew personally went to jail and blah blah blah he actually was ‘punkin’ out’ with the beer bottle behind him and he smashed the beer bottle on the owner—or no, the guy who booked the show, or his girlfriend or something—and in the same five minute span, the drummer threw a drumstick and it hit my boss, the distributor boss guy, in the eye, and then it was like a gong show, a massive hook came out and dragged us off the stage. That was one of the biggest things. After that, people didn’t really wanna deal with us. It didn’t really bother us. A lot of bands just focus on their city and we really wanted to travel. We got increasingly annoying and just did whatever the fuck we wanted. That’s how you get in trouble—people don’t like that!
Yeah, most people don’t appreciate beer bottles being smashed on their head…
Well, I understand that. But you know—and there’s been other incidents—that particular incident was not me, and I know that for a fact. A lot of things happened, stuff like a band trying to attack a whole nother band on stage, something like that. So pissed off that we were doing shit. Small community. Sometimes you don’t know what to do, you feel threatened. Whatever.
How does purging yourself of your possessions prepare your mind to work on projects? What does it do for your creativity?
I’ve always done that. No real point in doing it and it really doesn’t really do anything for my creativity. I hate shit. I hate things.
I don’t think they’re necessary. Yeah, I have records—I like those. But there’s been a few times in my life where my shit’s been stolen and I don’t whine about it. I think, ‘Well, hopefully someone’s enjoying that record.’ You know what I mean? Or my guitar—I like my guitar. I don’t know. I just think there are more important things. For instance, memories. I’d rather not take pictures of stuff and not hold on to memories, just remember them, because I know they’re going to be completely wrong. I’d rather have that cartoonish memory—the real memory is probably super boring and not as fun. So I just get rid of shit. As far as creating shit, I don’t know. I like to create. Whatever
If memories are what’s important, what happens when you start losing your memory? Are you worried about forgetting?
Ah, that probably will happen. If you lose your memory, a picture’s not going to bring it back to life. Your brain’s rotting. Yeah, I don’t really care. The only time I really feel bad about not having stuff is when people ask me, ‘Hey, can I get that single off whatever’—I don’t have that shit. That’s when I feel bad, cuz it means some kid that wants to hear my music doesn’t get to. But as far as pictures and postcards and letters go, I don’t give a shit.
L.A. RECORD PRESENTS PSYCHO BEACH PARTY WITH MARK SULTAN + THE LAMPS + TRMRS + DEATH HYMN #9 ON FRI., JUN. 17, AT THE BLUE STAR, 2200 E. 15TH ST. 9 PM / $10 / 18+. GET TICKETS HERE!