Interview by Blake Griffith
In this interview, Carl answers questions about every aspect of his creative career, addressing the early days of Sir Millard Mulch, Dr. Zoltan, and currently, his diverse multimedia work.
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Did you have a clear intent with the direction of Sir Millard Mulch? What was it?
A: Absolutely not. I was a confused and alienated high school kid when I came up with the name. It was completely indistinguishable from my identity, which I would describe back then as extremely lonely and angry. It was all about being an isolated failure in a small town, passing up opportunities out of fear and negativity. It was a lot of futility and helplessness. I inherited a sense of being trapped from the people around me. It was a total waste of life. I wanted to get out of that and grow.
Why did you “kill” him and quit releasing creative content under that moniker?
A: In mid-2006, I was having a talk with a friend who has since gone into the line of work of Counseling. He saw that I was miserable and wanted to help me out. I told him that I did not know how to be creative without anger, and that it felt like my creativity was poisoning me. He sort of issued the challenge that I should try to be creative without tapping into that anger. It really made me question myself and my motivations. I decided to pursue further counseling and it was at that point that I got rid of Sir Millard Mulch. I was having a lot of identity issues that were involved with the success of How To Sell… So I realized I needed to change, and some parts of me would have to go. I feel infinitely more healthy because of it.
Apparently, you were in the middle of Making a Sir Millard Mulch Mock/Rock/Documentary when you made that decision and have yet to complete it; Do you have plans to finish it and release it?
A: This is actually being worked on right now. I have a guy in Switzerland doing some visuals for it. It will get done on its own time. Or not.
For some reason, a lot of People associate you with Frank Zappa, more specifically, the music you made with SMM; Why do you think that is? Do you draw from him as an influence? Can you settle this once and for all?
A: I think people compare my music to Zappa’s because they are not educated on music history. Frank Zappa is one of the only people who has successfully delivered the influence of composers like Stravinsky into modern rock awareness. Any band that sounds “weird” has gotten the same reaction. Zappa is almost an official Genre at this point.
Your musical transformation from the character SMM, a pompous rock star, to Dr. Zoltan Obelisk, the rigid and intelligent cynic, seems unexpected and yet, entirely appropriate. Are these characters autobiographic? Does the birth of Dr. Z relate to your rejection of SMM?
A: Yes, they are most definitely autobiographical. A lot of what I have expressed through them is my dark side, or traits that I find are not publicly acceptable about myself. At the time, (December 2005) Dr. Zoltan was a way of separating my persona from the real me. Evolving to a new level of creativity. It’s been more difficult than I realized. I have a lot of grand ideas for Dr. Zoltan, but it’s hard to materialize them. I’m working on it!
You have always been musically controversial but in a way that mainly offends your musical peers. Your new project with Dr.Z is similar in that way but delivers the harsh criticisms from a different perspective; What is the idea behind the controversy of Dr. Zoltan Obelisk?
A: I honestly thought that Dr. Zoltan would be positively received, based on all of my previous experience in mass communication. It shows how fickle popularity is, and how hard it is for people to understand my sense of humor.
As an early incarnation of Dr. Z, you posted a series of YouYube videos blatantly criticising several large rock bands for various reasons. Did you target these artists because you truly dislike them and their music or were you just trying to get a rise out of blindly dedicated mainstream rock fans in an attempt to broaden their horizons?
A: I was reacting to my personal experience with Los Angeles during the time that I made the first 3. If you are referring to the black & white ones I made with my web cam, I think they are horrible. I don’t know why I have not deleted them. The second batch are tolerable (the ones that are red, black, & white), in my opinion, but I still didn’t capture the character of Dr. Zoltan in a satisfactory way. It’s all still a work in progress, but at the same time I am really shocked at how many people hate those videos. Every morning I wake up to at least 5 or 6 angry replies from people. I often wonder what kind of person could possibly react like that after seeing what is really just a clown in a wig. It’s like writing hate mail to a character in a movie.
Where does your cynicism towards the American Music industry stem from?
A: My goals with music are not shared by the populace. To me, it’s a fascinating science of combining sounds. To most people, it’s a whole lot of things I am not interested in.
Your cynicism also extends out towards the subjects of Capitalism, Marketing, Advertising and an intolerance of youth culture; how did you form such strong opinions on these topics?
A: I can only answer to these topics separately. Capitalism is great when you are running “a lemonade stand,” but on a large scale it allows for the bad decisions of a few to hurt the many. It requires responsibility. Marketing and advertising are obnoxious. And I find Youth Culture to be a disappointing waste of energy. I wish there was something that could be done to keep young people from making the same mistakes that the previous generation of young people made. It’s like the specific kids pass through that phase but the foolishness stays constant. Didn’t someone say that is the definition of insanity?
You’ve worked with so many talented players over the years. How did you manage to make that happen? What have you learned from all the great musicians you have worked with?
A: I’ve learned that the “great musicians” are not anything like the glut of posers who profess to be musicians. They have more in common with scientists and world-class athletes. They’re master-craftsmen who focus on the nuance of their art. They strive every day and align all of their goals towards being their best. They’re not looking outside for stimulation, they’re looking inward. If you approach them on a similar wavelength, they will get what you are doing.
You often experiment with unusual rhythms in your music. Can you explain your interest in odd time signatures and the musical concept of odd tuplets? Does this have to do with the high caliber musicians you work with and you experimental drum programming?
A: I cannot explain my fascination with odd time-signatures or contrasting tuplets, any more than I can explain why I like words and logos to be rotated in graphic design. A lot of the concepts that sound strange in music are because people are not used to the sound of them. Listening to complex music can be like a puzzle to solve. When you look at a sentence written somewhere, each word has a different number of letters, and words are not broken up into neat little squares. Yet no one thinks that is “odd.” Then why is music that is not 4/4 considered so odd? I personally like it when things are slightly off, but in a clever way. I think asymmetry is the key. There are all sorts of conceptual possibilities and a rich vocabulary in music that have not reached the mainstream. Isn’t that silly, considering how many people say they LOVE music? It’s like claiming to love travel but only walking around your block.
People mainly percieve you as a musician when in reality you are an all around creative person. You play guitar/bass, record music, program drums, write songs and still managed to learn graphic design, video production/editing, web design and creative writing. As of late, what type of creation have you been enjoying most?
A: I am fascinated by visuals and animation. I hope to express my ideas through it much more in the future. I would really like to produce a graphic novel or animated show. I’ve already done most of what I want to do with music. I’d like to apply all of the skills I have learned in the past year towards creating a multimedia show with Dr. Zoltan as the host. One of these days I will get it right.
Do you ever relax?
A: Rarely. I really have a problem there. I admit it.
Musically, you are more prolific than most musicians and still you manage to refine so many other skills. How have you become so versatile in you abilities?
A: I suppose it’s just because I like to make things. I don’t have a lot of interest in people. I’ve always spent the majority of my time alone. It frees up a lot of time to learn more skills. It’s just what I naturally gravitate towards. But I have no interest in learning skills unless I am going to apply them to something. I think people who are compulsive about their time and learning new skills are crazy. There is a big fad going on right now about saving time and speed-learning. It all depends on the kind of lifestyle you want to live. I’d rather make sure what I am doing is meaningful, whatever that happens to be at any time. Musicians seem to have this faulty belief that they can’t learn anything else. I don’t know why.
You seem to have more technical skill and musical knowledge than a lot of musicians in the mainstream but you generally seem aloof about gaining any sort of status in the music industry and maintain an indifference about commiting to one musical path. Why is that? Is that a false assumption?
A: I am just not interested in the music industry very much. From what I have seen, I don’t like the lifestyle or most of the people who inhabit it. I think I gravitate towards comic artists and film editors. People who understand the concept of sitting down while they work. I think that is why I also respect drummers.
Dr. Zoltan’s recent “War on Fun” Campaign was a a series of “anti-hip” dogmas.. Is there any correlation between the “War on Fun” and your strict work ethic?
A: Absolutely. The War On Fun is a dark and humorous way of expressing my own desire for productivity and success in my life. Thanks for making that correlation. I think it is my subconscious mind urging me to become an adult.
Do you draw any inspiration from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, as it applies to your intense proliferation?
A: Ayn Rand’s philosophy was all about being honest, good, creative, independent, logical, and happy. A lot of people don’t get it. The heroes in her novels are not what you’d consider materialists like you see in Los Angeles or capitalists like you see in big business. They’re mostly just creative workaholics, out of step with the mainstream. Eccentrics and inventors. Problem solvers.
You often recompose and rearrange your songs. Similarly, you often revise, repackage, and redistribute your albums after their initial conception. Why is that? Does this have to do with your perception of the changing consumption of media in a contemporary setting?
A: I think that if you have a good idea, there is no reason why you can’t use it again in a new way. If we always continue to grow and learn, we can take those ideas with us into the future and see them from our new perspective and skill set. Digital media makes this very easy to do.
Why do you think so many people are so mentally absent and vacant or just unwilling to maintain the type of self discipline that you use to be so productive?
A: I think it’s just that people are so fascinated by each other, and the mundane details of each others’ lives. They get some kind of stimulating feeling from the drama of it all, which to me feels exhausting. They get wrapped up in gossip and complaining about each other instead of trying to better themselves and the world. I have learned to ignore most of the worthless social data that comes at me. I have to. If you’re not going to take action, just shut up. It’s the only way to look forward and have the time & energy to build something new.
As someone who is so deeply involved wih technology, what is your opinion on the changing shape of the music industry and where do you think it will finally settle, if it ever does?
A: I think the majority of people who expect to make money in the music industry should just go get a job doing something meaningful. For too many people, art and commerce have become intertwined and indistinguishable, when they are really two completely different things. In some ways, technology has made it too easy for people to think they are musicians. Over the past 100 years, “music” has devolved from classical music — to rock music — to now simply being a video game. Regardless, I believe that weird old men with wild facial hair will continue to come up with great ideas. They always have.
In your Creative Career you have been full of surprises and constantly evolved. What are your future plans with Echelon, Mutant Mall, Dr. Zoltan and other creative projects?
A: I want to build Dr. Zoltan into an entire universe of characters. At the same time, I plan to continue to offer my creative and technical services to other creators who need support. I discovered about a year ago that I really enjoy helping people.
What advice can you give to budding musicians and creative people alike?
A: I think one of the most important, fundamental ideas is to admit to your primary motivation for doing it in the first place. If it is for fame and fortune, get in touch with that right away. If you want to do it to be creative, then accept that and what it means. Don’t get these two things mixed up, because society has gotten them terribly confused.
Blake Griffith can be found browsing through used musical gear in Long Beach.