Last month I had the chance to interview a good friend of mine, Frank Portman (Dr. Frank) the singer and songwriter of one of the most important American punk rock bands The Mr.T. Experience. MTX is closely associated with San Francisco Bay Area punk rock movement of the late 1980s and 1990s, revolving around the 924 Gilman Street venue and the Lookout! Records label, through which they have released all of their albums since 1990. The band is relatively inactive since 2005 but Dr. Frank has instead focused on his writing career and in this new interview he shared some details about the past as well as his future plans about his new book, film and The Mr.T. Experience. Here it is and we hope you enjoy it!
PUNK GLOBE : Frank, first, thank you so much once again for accepting this interview. Everybody knows you as the singer and primary songwriter of the punk rock band The Mr.T.Experience and your second novel “Andromeda Klein” was published on August 25, 2009 but let’s start with the early days. Which names or what type of music were your family members listening to when you were a kid? Which T.V shows or cartoons were your favourites? And in means of influence, how much of those, showed their reflections to your early songwriting or maybe the creation of the early MTX albums?
FRANK PORTMAN : My parents had, overall, a small and pretty “square” record collection, by the squareness standards of the time. Mostly broadway musicals, Gilbert & Sullivan, and a bit of “mood music” like Montavani and Ferrante and Teicher. When we got our first 8 Track player, the tapes we got with it were 101 Strings Play the Beatles and Man of La Mancha. Now, of course, a lot of that material, particularly the EZ Listening stuff, has a acquired a bit of hipsterish cachet, including with me. At the time, I mocked it incessantly, but the 1975 me would really be shocked at the size of my “elevator music” collection now. (My dad had a single Johnny Cash tape he played over and over in his truck for years and years. That sounds a bit psycho, but it was actually really beautiful.)

I believe the musicals and the comic operettas did have a discernible impact on my later songwriting. A lot of people have discerned a ‘30s-ish-ness about my stuff, anyway. Some of it comes from there, but as your question intimates, probably more of it comes from TV theme songs, cartoons, game shows, etc., which were generally written by people with that background. As for favorites, I didn’t really play favorites when it came to TV, but rather just surrendered to the media flow indiscriminately, wallowing in it with that once curious combination of earnest appreciation and irony that was my generation’s most obnoxious gift to pop culture. I was obsessed with the Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch, in the latter case applying an almost forensic analysis. I really liked (and still do like) the way Frank De Vol’s incidental music was used to signal impending themes and emotional states and to link different sorts of scenes together across the entire series. Gilligan’s Island, another Sherwood Schwartz production, used a similar technique, though it was far more complex and sophisticated in the Brady Bunch. See what I mean? I’m still doing it. I used to imagine watlking around with various tape players around my neck set to play the De Vol motifs at appropriate (or incongruous) times in my day to day life. In fact, I still plan to do that one day.
PUNK GLOBE : Prior to forming The Mr. T Experience, you and Byron Stamatatos had played together in a band called the Bent Nails while in high school during 1979. Then you moved to Berkeley to attend the University of California, Berkeley. Was moving to Berkeley the main reason for the end of the Bent Nails and looking back now - would the sound be similar to the MTX sound if you had the chance to continue as Bent Nails? What do you think?
FRANK PORTMAN : The Bent Nails was a pretty casual high school kind of thing and I don’t think anyone ever considered even slightly the notion that it would continue on past high school in any way. It was largely about the practicing, which was basically just hanging out for an evening, playing here and there, pretending to be rock stars in the garage or wherever. I think we played a total of four times publicly: a friend’s little sister’s slumber party, a “battle of the bands” at a local high school, a lunchtime “concert” at our own high school, and one show on a Monday night at the once legendary Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco. As for what it sounded like, it was all over the map, quite amusingly inept, I’d imagine. So to answer the question, yes it would have sounded similar.
PUNK GLOBE : You had mentioned in an earlier interview that, “Dr.Frank name stuck when I used it as my "air name" when I was a college radio disc jockey.” Which songs were your favourites to play for the college radio back then, do you remember?
FRANK PORTMAN : When I first started dj-ing I had this idea that I would never play the same song twice, and I kept that up for a bit. I did like a lot of the music I played, but I was in it more for the stunts than traditional music programming. I would do things like sing badly over instrumental or musak versions of popular songs, do Christmas shows in June, fake call-in advice shows (that eventually attracted real questions), deliberately screw up the engineering and basically just make a nuisance of myself. I used to do a segment called “Dr. Frank’s Polka Break” where I would play the same Amazing Accordions song each time, but give it a different name and announce it with what was meant to be a parody of an elaborate audiophile rock geek spiel. (“So here, without furhter ado, I present to you, in original mono, the white label promo alternate b-side to the limited fan club pressing of the “Cabbage Ball Hop” ten inch on green vinyl, matrix number BR-65921-L, here are Mrs. Golpokowski’s Happy Little Onions with “She’s a Lady with Strong Thighs and a Good Work Ethic”...) As it turned out, at the time, there happened to be a burgeoning alterna-polka “scene” so I go contacted by those labels, who acted like they took it entirely seriously.

Anyway, the goal was to be as irritating as possible. I did play music I liked in the midst of it, but that was incidental to the main point. As for what it was, it was heavy on the punk pop of the 70s that I grew up liking (Buzzcocks, Boys, Undertones, etc. etc.) with roots of punk obscurities, oddball music, and lots of novelties.
PUNK GLOBE : My personal favourite MTX album is “Our Bodies, Our Selves”. The whole album is brilliant and there are some great songs on that album like “Personality Seminar” & “Swallow Everything”. Can you tell us about the sessions of this album? I mean, are all the songs from this album written after “Milk Milk Lemonade” or are there any older but reworked songs among them? Are there also any songs left out from the album that haven’t seen the light of the day yet or made their ways to the following 4 albums instead?
FRANK PORTMAN : Thanks very much for the compliment. It is a bit hard to remember exactly but my recollection is, the Gun Crazy songs (that wound up being added to the Our Bodies Our Selves CD) were being written around the time we were recording Milk Milk Lemonade. The other songs came later, and were, like the Gun Crazy ones, the beginning of an attempt to “buckle down” on the writing and make it more focused and worth recording, less random. In fact, a lot of them still turned out that way, but I think you can discern something of a transition in there. Of the electric songs, “Martyr” is the only one that dates back before that period, and it’s one that we’d tried and failed to play live for several years. That line up was not able to handle such a song, and I certainly wasn’t able to sing it. “Will You Still Love Me” and “God Bless America” (which had been done as a solo song for several years) were older, and I played them during our final tour of Europe with the Jon von line up (causing a lot of “challenges” from our politically correct tour entourage – something that bemuses me to this day.) “Even Hitler had a Girlfriend” was written very quickly the night before a session. I envisaged it being played like a Byrds-y jangly pop tune but there was no interest (or budget) to learn and arrange a whole new song so I did it solo, live in the shed we were recording in, unheard by anyone, till I played it that one time. It reduced Kevin Army to paroxysms of laughter followed by catatonia, after which he sputtered: I can’t believe you did that. So I knew I’d done something sort of right. It would have sucked to try to do it a la the Byrds anyway because our musicianship just was not up to it.

As for how the sessions were, it was a strange combination of grim determination and exhilariation. We were conscious of the fact that it may well be the last time we would get to record. It felt like a last hurrah, and I approached it with a certain resigned bitterness. Actually, that’s how most of the records were recorded.
PUNK GLOBE : Your young adult novel “King Dork” was published in April 2006. Second novel "Andromeda Klein", was published on August 25, 2009. The film rights to “King Dork” were optioned and in May 2009 you mentioned that a new deal had been reached with Sony Pictures and that a director had been attached to the film. What are the recent news about the film, any estimations of a release date and will there be more novels from the author Frank Portman in the following years?
FRANK PORTMAN : It’s always hard to say definitively with film when or what’s going to happen, and I’m not even going to try. It’s in a state of flux, and when it is actually for real, it’ll be announced and you’ll hear about it. That’s all I’ll say about that. My new book, King Dork Approximately, will be out sometime in 2012, God willing.
PUNK GLOBE : Back to music - As a historical detail : The Mr. T Experience recorded their first album “Everybody's Entitled to Their Own Opinion” in July 1986. They began to build a local following through tours and airplay on college radio stations and quickly became part of the thriving late-1980s Bay Area punk rock movement centered around the 924 Gilman Street venue and the Lookout! Records label. At this time you briefly also played drums with the band Sweet Baby…. In the music world bands like Bad Religion, Rancid, Nofx, Offspring and Green Day got more recognition during the early and mid-90s. These 5 bands still continue to this day. Green Day even had a stage musical and the musical was transferred to Broadway. Now, remembering these bands from the late 80s - after all these years, we would love to hear your opinions about them.
FRANK PORTMAN : Well, there’s a hell of a question. Bands never, ever have a sense of humor about themselves (and quite right, too – it’s hard enough keeping a band together without having to have a sense of humor about it too) and I always get myself into trouble when I talk about anyone. If you can say something nice, don’t say anything at all. That said, Green Day is and will always be a great rock/pop band and I’d never breathe a word against them. And I congratulate everyone on whatever success and joy they have managed to wring out of the music business’s grimy and disgusting dishrag.
PUNK GLOBE : You are in the music scene for like 30 years now and you are the founding member plus the brain of one of the most special and amazing bands in the music world but, if you were to create your all time dream band, who would you choose to be the members of this heroic army?
FRANK PORTMAN : Guitar: Chuck Prophet; Bass: me; Drums: some kind of robot; engineer: Justin Perkins; Singer: some other kind of robot.
PUNK GLOBE : Frank, which bands are you listening to nowadays? Are there any unknown bands that you like and recommend us to check out?
FRANK PORTMAN : I am in my own retro world and haven’t been paying much attention to new stuff for quite some time. This morning I listened to Free Design’s Kites Are Fun, the Zombies’ Odessey & Oracle, and Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance.
PUNK GLOBE : The MTX’s last album was “Yesterday Rules” in 2004. You released three solo albums during the years including one for “Andromeda Klein” in 2009. You also occasionally play in The Bomb Bassets with your longtime friend Dallas Denery. What can we expect from the world of Dr. Frank and especially the MTX in the following years?
FRANK PORTMAN : It’s kind of an open question what will happen. I have been laying the groundwork for some future recording that may well be self-released, and if it goes well, perhaps some more and some touring as well. Still a lot of details to work out, but one way or another something will happen. I think.
PUNK GLOBE : The question I would like to ask the most. The characters in your songs…. Where’s “Velveeta” now? Has she met “Chrstine Bactine” & “Swiss Army Girlfriend” or “The Punk Rocker Sheena” at the end of the road? Tell us about the current story please.
FRANK PORTMAN : I have no idea as to the answer to any of those questions. I’m pretty sure all those girls hate my guts. It happens.
PUNK GLOBE : Last question : When you were a kid growing up, who did you imitate when you stood in front of the mirror?
FRANK PORTMAN : I wanted more than anything in the world to be Mick Jagger!
PUNK GLOBE : Any last words for Punk Globe Readers?
FRANK PORTMAN : Love is like oxygen. You get too much, you get too high; not enough and you’re gonna die. Love gets you high!
*** Readers can follow Frank Portman and The Mr.T Experience from the following pages :

*** Frank Portman Official Website : http://frankportman.com/

*** Dr. Frank’s What’s-It (Frank Portman’s Blog) : http://www.doktorfrank.com/

*** The Mr.T Experience Official Myspace : http://www.myspace.com/themrtexperience

*** Dr. Frank’s Official Myspace : http://www.myspace.com/doctorfrank