Carl King Interview, Xtreme Music, 2005
This interview was conducted by a guy named Justin @ Xtrememusic.org.
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When did you start producing material for your album “How To Sell The Whole F#@!ing Universe To Everybody… Once And For All!”?
In January of 2002, I had a minor nervous breakdown after reading Good To Great by Jim Collins. I was working at an advertising agency at the time, and was horrified and simultaneously intrigued by the vast amounts of money that I saw people generating. The president of the company, a self-made millionaire, became my mentor and we formed a fanatical bond based on the consumption of sales / motivational materials. I was “seduced” by the way that these business / management concepts actually resonated with me on a fundamental level.
I decided I was going to give up on the music business and destroy Sir Millard Mulch & my self-owned record label, Ed Furniture. I wrote a good riddance letter to everyone and everything and shut down the websites. It seemed at the time that there was no way to reconcile my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, and these two halves were constantly at war. I decided I would pursue music as a passion and remove it from any financial obligations. Divide and conquer, so to speak.
That lasted a few months.
My plans came crashing down when I brought a They Might Be Giants album, Flood, into work and played it in my office after lunch. On cue, a secretary that I hated walked in my door, pantomiming every nuance and lyric of “Birdhouse In Your Soul.” In an instant, I did a complete one-eighty and WOKE UP. I thought, “I’M supposed to be the one making up songs for stupid people to sing at work. What have I DONE?”
After work that day I plopped down on a chair in the lobby in a daze as the secretary talked to my boss about something that was most likely superficial and trite like all office banter. As I daydreamed, my eyes came to focus on the cover of a book I had brought with me, “How To Sell Anything To Anybody” by Joe Girard, who has the official Guinness World Record for, “The World’s Greatest Salesman.” The words, “The World’s Greatest Salesman,” suddenly seemed charged with psychic energy, and I experienced something referred to as “The Ominous Numinous.” This is a presence or external consciousness that speaks to me telepathically at very important turning points in my life.
I turned to the secretary and told her, “You have no idea… but I just wrote my new album.”
I spent the next three years researching, planning, composing, recording, and delivering to the public a conceptual work that spans over 150 songs and 200 pages of written text and graphics.
Truth be told, it was not easy. Before I started work on this album I had a great office job, a nice haircut, an apartment on a lake with ducks outside my window, a long-term relationship with a hot girlfriend, a dog & cat who romped around in the living room together, furniture, a refrigerator full of food, and disposable income to spend on vacations and any recording equipment I wanted. Doing this thing required that I give up all the superfluities and comforts that I had been used to and dedicate myself 100% to seeing it through. It became an obsession to get this thing out, and my stable life was destroyed. People talk about “suffering for their art,” but very few understand that it means literally declaring war with anything that gets in the way of your goals. Is your girlfriend hassling you because you don’t take the garbage out? Get rid of her and let the garbage pile up to the ceiling. Quit your job and sell everything you don’t need. Don’t call your so-called friends to hang out unless they’re going to work along with you towards your goals. Move back in with your parents. Beg your friends for food. Never leave the house. Be willing to humiliate yourself and look like a loser in society’s eyes. Sleep on floors. Scrounge for change to buy ramen.
When it gets to the point where you don’t even have time to eat, take a shower, or flush the toilet because you’ve got too many ideas going on at once, you know you are in a deep state of concentration and devotion. If that is what is necessary, do whatever you have to do to bring your dreams into reality. Work 16 hours a day and don’t let up. You can find a way. But you truly have to believe in your vision, because that’s a lot to gamble. I can tell you this: people are going to think you’ve totally lost your mind. But if your inner voice is strong enough, you’ll listen to it, and that’s the only way to succeed. This is the true entrepreneurial spirit.
Please tell us about the writing processes involved in producing your debut album for the Mimicry group.
The writing processes began with reading a ridiculous amount of motivational / sales / management materials and brainstorming. I also spent a lot of time staring at candles, shuffling Tarot cards, rolling dice, and meditating. But out of anything, listening to your own inner voice is absolutely the best “bang for your buck” that you can find. There is a Steve Vai song called, “Answers,” that says, “The answers are with us all the time.” And they really are. As you listen closer and closer, you will soon be able to let “The Answers” speak freely through your mouth. Then you can just sit back and listen to yourself automatically talking and notate it. The shorter the distance between subconscious inspiration and practical facilitation, you more creative you will be.
There is a phenomenon of meta-consciousness that occurs in both sales and in creative processes, whereby you separate from your own mind as an observer and watch yourself think and act. There are an incredible amount of parallels between these two realms, many more than people suspect.
How did you meet Trey Spruance and secure a record deal on his Mimicry Records?
I moved out to San Francisco in September 2002 with the intention of somehow working with Trey. I had met him at a few shows and he was already familiar with my albums. So when I moved out there, I e-mailed him and he came and picked me up and we went out to dinner a few times. One of the times we hung out, I brought him into my apartment at 3 a.m. when my girlfriend was sleeping and played him my cover of Estradasphere’s “Hardball.” After a few seconds, his eyes got wide, and said, “This is…” Then he covered his mouth with his hand, listened for just a second, and then hit the floor laughing, unable to breathe. I’d have to say this was one of the greatest honors of my anti-career.
He got up and said, stroking his beard, “What are your plans for this? Does this album have a home?” I said, “What do you have in mind?” He replied, “I think I have an idea, hang on,” and he went in the bathroom to take a piss. When he returned, he said, “I think we can do something with this.” Many, many obstacles had to be overcome to make it happen, and it wouldn’t have been what it is without his support and encouragement. He has been a huge personal influence on me.
What can you tell us about the cover artwork and additional imagery included within this album?
The color theme symbolizes Hermes, The Magician. He is the god of salesmen, artists, and thieves. His pseudonym, Mercury, is where we get the word Merchant, Merchandise, Commerce. He is also the god of communication between the worlds of divinity and mankind. There is endless bulldada to discover within the world of Hermeticism, so I will just point anyone in that general direction if they want to learn about it. The graphic design is obviously inspired by endless motivational / sales training books I read. If you look at the back cover of a particular motivational Book-On-CD, you’ll find some more-than-coincidental similarities.
Who would you say are your main influences that have helped shape your musical direction?
Absolutely, from the very beginning there was Steve Vai. I would have never played guitar if it wasn’t for him. I’m deeply moved by the amount of intensity and detail he puts into every little nuance of his guitar playing. I have never heard another musician with that much charisma and personality invested in every second of the performance. If you listen to his music from a superficial standpoint, you hear a meat & potatoes rhythm section and some cock rock guitar wailing. But if you really, really listen closely and open your mind you’ll hear aliens yodeling their terrifying hieroglyphics at you from their secret school of millions of years ago. It blows my mind. When I first heard his guitar when I was about 13, I thought it sounded like angry robots, spaceships, and laser beams. I couldn’t fathom how a guitar could make those sounds. To this day, even after learning the music theory behind it all, I still hear a unique, esoteric creature singing in its native language.
My other biggest musical influence from a very young age was John Williams. The fantastic, heroic music of Star Wars and Indiana Jones is so magical that I can barely bring myself to listen to it out of fear of spoiling the experience and wearing it out.
From a music career / music business standpoint, my biggest influences were Devin Townsend, Victims Family, Negativland, Frank Zappa, Jello Biafra, and Mr. Bungle. People who were industry mavericks in one way or another. These people provide true inspiration to go up against any kind of adversity because they made their career in their own image.
On a more personal level, my friend and early guitar teacher, Christopher Schlegel, set me on a path towards self-confidence that was crucial to my development as a creator. He instilled in me the absolute necessity to use my own eyes, ears, and mind to judge the worth of my creations. “I ask no one,” as Metallica would say.
Please mention some of the hilarious references you incorporate from Mr. Bungle, Estradasphere, and Mimicry Records.
My music is always self-referential and loaded with references to other pieces. I feel this makes the music seem more “alive” and “sentient.” Everything I stumble across tends to get thrown into the equation, and that includes songs by other people. I like to see the melodies as characters and personalities that can make multiple appearances at a later date, and interact with others, both new and old. I can take a song such as Merry Go Bye-Bye, and re-contextualize, call it, “Mary, Go Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy!” and extract the Primary Hermetic Dictum of “As Above So Below,” and superimpose it on the dual worlds of abstract wealth and ownership of property, or dreams and reality as in Creed’s “Higher.” All of the pieces are conceptually linked by one or more threads, and I see no reason I can’t take someone else’s work and incorporate it into my own to show how things relate which did not apparently relate before. The songs can be written and linked from multiple conflicting perspectives without fear of hypocrisy or insincerity. This is all role-playing. I just create the characters and roll the dice.
What are your reflections from working together with Trey Spruance, Nils Frykdahl, Chris Parsons, and Devin Townsend on this album?
Bitter sweet. Nils Frykdahl, Chris Parsons, and Devin Townsend all recorded their parts in their own studios and mailed them to me. As did Nick D’Virgilio, Virgil Donati, Morgan Agren, Mark Critchley, Dave Meros, Lale Larson, and Paul Mazurkiewicz. Some of it was scripted, and some was pure improvisation. After receiving their materials, my job was to once again recontextualize what they have contributed and make it work conceptually. Sometimes that can mean deleting everything they have done except for one key phrase or section that totally captures the essence. Sometimes what I will get from contributors is so far off course that I have to build a conceptual bridge linking them to my original idea. Sometimes it’s 100% perfect from beginning to end.
But part of the true art of managing that many talented and skilled people is realizing that you have to motivate different people in different ways. Some people are totally in it for the money. Some are in it for self-promotion. Some are just looking for an opportunity to be 100% creative and wild in showcasing their abilities with no restraints. Some are in it just to use you because some other famous person is on your album. Some are just cool people with a great attitude that want to have fun and be a part of something. You have to take all of that into consideration and “pay” everyone differently.
To be honest, it can be a real drag to work with people that you have to babysit, and some of the people involved were like that. My philosophy is that you have to look at how much Creative Profit you are getting out of a situation. If it takes you more energy to manage them than they are contributing of their own volition, you’ve obviously got a problem. Sometimes it’s a tough call. Overall, I’ve spent too much time trying to reverse the self-defeating mechanisms inherent in “artists” and I’m fed up and am moving on to work with people who are already successful; not a bunch of people I have to “fix.” My plans have been endlessly sabotaged by people that I really believed in, sometimes out of jealousy and sometimes out of inertia. But you know what? No one needs that kind of bullshit around them in an industry where the odds are already stacked against you, so it’s important to “keep the weeds cut if you want roses.”
For those who enjoy music from Sir Millard Mulch, what other bands or musicians can you recommend?
That’s a tough one. With no post-modern sarcasm or irony, I can tell you that I primarily listen to mainstream rock music that is on the radio. 5% of the music I listen to would actually be considered, “weird.” There are so many incredible works of art out there both in the mainstream and in the underground, both of which are illusory containers and markets. And there are so many elements of music. I like everything all at once. It’s the opposite of what Trey thinks, where he likes his band broken up in 7 pieces.
When positive highlights and experiences can you share from your music career?
It’s the best feeling in the world to get a sincere, thoughtful e-mail from Steve Vai telling you that what you do really is important, and that you need to stick with it regardless of the difficulties and frustrations you may encounter. I’ve had some of my favorite musicians in the world join forces with me and participate in things that sound absolutely ridiculous to the average person. Famous bands that I listened to in high school know who I am now, and buy my albums. What better reward is there?
On the other hand, for every one thing that goes perfect, five hundred things go wrong. I’ve lived through every bad review that can ever be written about me. I’ve had big plans fall through, I’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars on projects that went absolutely nowhere. I’ve been boo’ed off stage multiple times for what I thought was a great performance, and I’ve been encored for playing total nonsense. I’ve had teachers, parents, and girlfriends do everything they can to get me to just GIVE UP.
“A Good To Great Company will get many ‘Once-In-A-Lifetime’ Opportunities.”
This is the 18th time I’ve released a product into the world. Nothing can phase me at this point. As Frank Zappa said, “There are two things you need to remember. One is to not stop, and the other is to keep going.”
I will add that doing this interview is a very positive experience. It gives me something to do all night instead of sleeping, which would just be too boring and normal for me.
What are your plans for music projects in the near future?
I plan to continue to expand and make even larger projects involving hundreds of people, spanning concepts across various mediums, bringing in specific experts and subcontractors to handle part of the work-load. This current album is just a very small step in that direction.
Which tracks actually feature Trey Spruance, Nils Frykdahl, Chris Parsons, and Devin Townsend respectively?
Trey Spruance does not appear on the actual sound recording. He helped me out with some minimal conceptual guidance and input on the packaging, but mainly was “hands off” and let me do anything I wanted. There was one exception: he asked that I remove an 8-minute track making fun of Mike Patton.
Nils Frykdahl is on the tracks “Fantastic!” and “TJ’s Original Surrogate Activity Soup!” as well as several parts of “Mundus Imaginalis / Journey To The Underworld of Buyer’s Remorse.”
Chris Parsons can be found on Hemisphere III : Hermes viii. Executive Producer Brings The Rock Opera To A Cost-Effective Ending as “Soundman.”
Devin Townsend appears on, “The Great Strength of Our Professional Affiliations / How To Spend Music Industry Currency.”
Complete credits will appear in the 222-page book, to be published in August.
Are there plans for a live tour of material from “How To Sell The Whole F#@!ing Universe To Everybody… Once And For All!”?
Yes. I will tour the U.S. in September with Lale Larson as my band. He is a virtuoso pianist / keyboardist from Sweden that is releasing a DVD called Seven Deadly Pieces, a Concert For Piano, Chamber Orchestra, and Thrash Metal Band.
What do you believe are the key marketing points from this album?
Marketing Point #1: It has some of the best musicians in the world on it, with no segregation between subversive pop music and geeky shredding.
Marketing Point #2: It is a Triple-CD album that is Four Hours Long.
Marketing Point #3: It is released on Mimicry Records owned by Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle.
Marketing Point #4: It’s radio single is 20-minutes long, features 3 drum solos by world-class prog-rock drummers (Virgil Donati, Nick D’Virgilio, Morgan Agren), and is an addendum to Rush’s Hemispheres, in which I added a Third Hemisphere, Hermes.
Marketing Point #5: Every bit of it was coordinated by one person. Me.