MTX FOREVER, the album
its a happening
I will go into it in far more detail below, but the tl;dr of it is: we’re putting together a Mr T Experience “best of” type compilation, and we’d like your help. What songs should be on it? Go over to Sounds Radical to vote for your choices — they’ve got a “ballot” that lists the entire discography with check-boxes by each track.
I’ve got some ideas on it, but narrowing the entire catalog down to a single (well, double) representative album is actually not such an easy task. We say “best of” because that’s the conventional term, but ideally what we want is an encapsulation of the broad sweep of the material, which, for good and ill, covers quite a lot of ground. Sort of like Hot Rocks, I guess. A “retrospective” if you will… or at least a trip down memory lane. (Unlike the actual Hot Rocks, it won’t be chronological. I want to sequence it as an album rather than just an archive, but there are lots of ways to approach that. Themed sides? Ascending, then descending, keys? Try to “tell a story”? Like I said, lots of ways.)
Here are the parameters for the release:
- It’s going to be a vinyl double LP, from which any other formats will be derived, which means we are going to be limited to 15 to 17 minutes per side. Depending on the length of the particular songs, that means five or six tracks per side, and accordingly we’re limiting the “voting” to 24 tracks.
- We’re considering every studio-recorded released track in the catalog, but as this project is part of a general effort to resuscitate these songs on vinyl, and is meant to be part of a “set” with the Shards compilations, we’re not including any song currently released and available on Sounds Rad. So this means we’re not including King Dork Approximately the Album, nor any of the songs on Shards (in their various versions.) In other words, we don’t want any repeated songs. So, e.g., “Sackcloth and Ashes” and “Semi-OK” are already covered, though not in the album versions. (I know this leaves out some important tracks from the comp itself considered on its own, but it actually makes the task a bit easier, leaving slots for other tracks: you’ll see when you try.)
- Though we’re not going to stick with a strict policy of including material from each release, I do want it to cover the range of the various “eras” and line-ups. Maybe that means, e.g., that no songs from, say, Big Black Bugs will wind up on it, but however it shakes down, it’s not gonna be just songs from Love Is Dead and Revenge Is Sweet, even though, as many think, those thirty-two songs may be literally the “best of.” In fact, straying from the obvious is a good thing in my book, “deep cuts” and so forth, as long as they make sense as part of the whole. e.g., in my opinion “Bridge to Taribithia” and “London” are, well, pretty worthwhile, so maybe they’d be good to include even though practically nobody’s ever heard (of) them. Go wild.
- We probably won’t be including cover songs, and if so, no more than one or two.
- Finally, the software gizmo Sounds Rad is using for the poll doesn’t make it easy to exclude listed options, so repeated tracks are checkable on the discography list, as are excluded songs (like “Sackcloth and Ashes”.) There are notes by those titles. Try not to click them. Votes for duplicates and excluded songs as outlined above won’t be counted. You’ll also have to keep track of your own tally and stop at 24 or fewer. Sorry if this makes it confusing but it is, apparently, the best we can do at the moment and I’d rather start now than wait any longer.
The title will be Mtx forever. Chris Appelgren is doing the artwork. When the time comes, we may share some of it, and possibly solicit suggestions for that as well. We’ll see.
The final track list won’t be mechanically determined by this vote, of course, but I’m sure it will help. I’m interested to see what you all come up with. Thanks in advance for helping out, and I’ll let you know what happens.
Now, here’s the “more detail” part. I first had the idea of compiling an “MTX Hot Rocks” way back in 2006 when my first novel King Dork came out and made a bit of a splash. I was getting all sorts of attention all of a sudden and I thought it might be a good idea to have a digestible chunk of my band to offer to readers who might be curious about the music. Of course, it never happened. Lookout technically still existed but but wasn’t putting out records, and the band was not functional either. I didn’t have an easy way to make it happen. It was just one of those nice ideas that “would be cool if” it were somehow to come to pass.
In 2011, when we started to recapitulate the MTX digital catalog and make it available online, the idea resurfaced, and I went so far as to solicit input from fans and friends on my blog, intending to do a quick-and-dirty ripped-from-CDs digital compilation to put up on the internet just for the hell of it. I think I was going to call it Not Rocks or something cutesy like that. The Dustbin of History was also considered as a title. This didn’t end up happening either, but I did keep track of the results, and they were pretty interesting, as was the commentary. (The top six, for what it’s worth: “More than Toast”, “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend”, “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”, “Sackcloth and Ashes”, “Swallow Everything”, and “The History of the Concept of the Soul”, with “More Than Toast” far, far ahead of all the others.)
In this form it would just have been, rip the songs from CDs, attach some rudimentary “cover” art as thumbnail and upload them to our digital distributor. By the way, I came across this old file of one of Chris’s art ideas, which is, if nothing else, in the fine old MTX style:
The idea kept simmering to no effect over the subsequent years. I tried, a bit, to interest labels in doing it, but no one I talked to had any great enthusiasm. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that grudgingly agreed-to projects don’t tend to work out well for anyone. And, like most projects in the post-music industry world, the difference between doing it and not doing it was hardly noticeable anyway. Plus, as you’ll see if you read this to the bottom, there is a vast difference between simply clicking “upload” and properly releasing a record. I don’t believe I was quite aware of what doing it properly would have entailed at that stage, and had it happened it wouldn’t actually have been all that good or proper. I didn’t even have the tapes in my possession, though I had a vague idea they still existed, in various garages and attics. (Looking back now, it’s kind of cute how I just assumed all the tapes would somehow be there in perfect order, ready to be called forth at a whim as needed, enough so as to be shocked when I found gaps and confusion upon finally investigating the extant materials.)
So, I’m kind of glad it didn’t happen that way!
Anyway: when I had pretty much given up on the idea of releasing any more records, along comes Sounds Radical and the unlikely realization of King Dork Approximately the Album and Punkemon in true, meat space, vinyl form. To my surprise, it could be done, and was done.
You can read the details of that story, and of our first forays into translating the suboptimal ripped digital catalog into proper audio format on vinyl here and here. Chris Thacker, the Sounds Rad guy, was nothing if not keen and that made all the difference. We started to plan the Shards compilations, rescuing and restoring the most obscure “orphaned” songs and presenting them as properly as we could, as a precursor to moving on to the rest of the catalog. Which turned the tables instantly: the formerly orphaned songs were the ones in print, while the main catalog songs were now the vinyl orphans.
And so the idea of doing the MTX Hot Rocks, now titled Mtx forever, was revived as, effectively, the third volume of Shards, a collection to set the stage for further re-issues of the material, and a way to get at least some of the songs “out there” in proper form while we began the messy, quite challenging project of rescuing and restoring the material on that vast pile of poorly-organized, disintegrating, jumbled (and sometimes missing) tapes.
And that’s where we are now.
Part of it is just: we’ve got the tapes, let’s see what we can do with them. Kind of like a trial run before we begin to wrestle with the various albums, some of which will require major surgery.
I spent the past year trying to locate, organize, and inventory all of these tapes. It was a huge job, and very frustrating because so much of it was poorly labelled and jumbled up. There are some gaps, but at least we know what we have to work with.
Fortunately, I was able to find a local archival audio preservationist engineer (Jessica Thompson) to work with the tapes. I really wouldn’t have wanted to put these fragile, unique items in the mail to New Jersey and back, which was the other option. The US Mail loses my mail all the time.
So we now have carefully-transfered, neutral, high resolution digital captures of all the extant two-track released mixed masters. Whew. On this hard drive:
Yep, it all fits on there. (That’s everything extant, excluding most alternate mix reels; and excluding Yesterday Rules, which is on its own hard drive — that one, by the way, was recorded to tape and bounced to disk for overdubs and mixing… the tapes have disappeared.)
The tapes we had had to be baked, but most played well enough. I’ve started the process of listening “forensically” — and I can tell you, that is pretty weird. The audio I am most familiar with at this stage, beyond the Shards material, to be honest, is the CD files as compressed into mp3 form. I don’t listen to my own music for fun and there never was an occasion to go beyond the iTunes window when I needed to check something, like trying to remember how a song goes. And often I’d just use YouTube for that purpose. This is all several stages of degeneration away from what was originally on the tapes. (And it’s different from what was cut to vinyl, too, significantly in many cases.) It’s a big difference, and I didn’t quite expect it. Even the stuff with severe deficiencies (and that’s a whole lot of it) is very much more detailed and “present,” for good or ill — because, yes, high fidelity is faithful to the wretched as well as the exalted. It’s rather a surreal experience.
For those interested in the details: I was able to find two-track masters for all the releases except for: [a] the “Sex Offender” 7"; [b] the remix of Big Black Bugs for the Lookout re-issue (which is a bummer because it’s quite a bit better than the original Rough Trade one); [c] the songs mixed to tape from the “Alternative Is Here to Stay” session; [d] all the remixes done for the two Lookout CD compilations, including the “Gun Crazy” songs (another bummer, as they were much improved.)
We’re very lucky to have Everyone’s Entitled and Night Shift at all: I was able to rescue them only because they had evaded being thrown in the trash by being kicked under a couch at George Horn’s room at Fantasy twenty years ago. (Yeah, that’s right, that happened: saved by the couch.) I picked them up from George, who was as astonished as I, shortly before Fantasy closed down. Had I delayed longer, it would have been too late, and we’d be remixing or (more likely) just leaving those songs off.
Anyhow, practically speaking for this project: for [c] this means that “Alternative Is Here to Stay” and “New Girlfriend” would have to be mastered from the vinyl or the CD, which can be done but it’s suboptimal and maybe not worth it, given the fact that there are so many other songs in better shape. (“You Today” was recorded on ADAT, so, assuming my ADAT deck still works, it could theoretically be remixed.) For [a] the single version of “Last Time I Listened to You” is probably out of the running, which is a drag because it’s the one I’d choose and would have been a strong contender for inclusion. And as for the remixes, we’re stuck with what we’ve got, but it means tracks from Big Black Bugs, in my eyes at least, are probably less of a priority here. When and if the time comes for a full re-issue of that, and if the mix doesn’t turn up, it will probably need to be re-mixed (if we can find a machine that will play the tape.)
Some of the mixes exist solely on DAT (which is not as good as tape, but better than nothing): [a] …and the Women Who Love Them; [b]“Gun Crazy”; [c] most of the acoustic songs from the various releases; and [d](though it’s not part of this project) Show Business Is My Life. The Our Bodies Our Selves mix exists only in 1630 form, which is basically a large digital tape cassette. Finding a machine to play that was one of the biggest challenges of the transfer project but Jessica managed it.
(With regard to the multi-track masters, we’re in much worse shape. Huge chunks are missing, meaning our re-mix options are severely limited for many releases when the time comes. But more on that later.)
All in all, though, it sure could be worse. It’s kind of amazing that enough of it is intact to be able to undertake this project, which seems worth doing while we can.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts. As I said, you can vote for your track choices over at Sound Rad and leave any comments or notes with your entry. You can also comment here if that’s easier — do it that way if you’d like an immediate response or conversation.
Anyhow, cheers to you, and Mtx Forever.