Sir Millard Mulch
February 5th, 1995, is a day I remember, in great detail, and for many reasons. First, it was my birthday, as is customary on February 5ths each year. Second, I traveled to St. Petersburg for the first time ever, to see Ween. Third, I was leaving the next day for Reno and my wedding. I remember not only what I did, but a staggering amount of detail. The bitter cold of the evening. The botched detour in Kissimmee. The endless sprawl of T-shirt shops. Jouncing over the bridge to Clearwater and St. Petersburg and not feeling so hot, probably because I’d eaten an entire bag of Doritos on the way. Nacho cheese. The eerie sounds of “Don’t Sweat It” as we entered Club Detroit. Ween’s threat to regale us with a two-hour “Awesome Sound,” because Andrew Weiss scored a Moog at a thrift shop earlier that day. The people passed out upstairs, and escorted downstairs once the alcove passed the horizontal occupant limit. And this skinny dude handing out tapes to people exiting the concert: Sir Millard Mulch.
Just as I have managed to pack all that detail into one paragraph, Sir Mulch managed to cram an avalanche of musical ideas into a tape barely long enough to stretch down the block. Truthfully, the music sounds like your nightmares at a Nintendo (Plain Nintendo. No Super. No 64. Just Nintendo) slumber party. Or like all the music you heard all night while writing that term paper and downing the trucker vitamins, playing back in your head as you head to the front of the class to hand that offspring in. Like that, only a bit more demented.
Sir Millard’s new disc, 50 Intellectually Stimulating Themes from a Cheap Amusement Park for Robots and Aliens, Vol. 1 (you can give the man credit for truth in advertising), contained all that and more, even more than the fifty promised. In gratitude, I agreed to meet again, this time at a Yeehaw Junction midpoint between Melbourne and Venice, a CyBar-B-Q joint called BillyBob’s Bytes. Between frequent swipes with the wet-naps at the keyboard, the following dialogue emerged…
Tell me about the 8th grade.
In eighth grade, I saw Steve Vai playing his triple-necked heart guitar on the David Lee Roth video, “Just Like Paradise.” So I got excited and started buying heavy metal magazines and clipping out pictures of his awesome Ibanez guitars and hanging them all over my walls. That Christmas I got my first electric guitar. It was a Yamaha. I quit skateboarding and socializing and spent 12 hours a day practicing. I made a little sign that said, “Flammable Dillhead Warehouse” and put it next to my amp. I don’t know what that was supposed to mean. It was probably just the forming of an identity as an adolescent, or whatever. Everything back then was dillhead “this” or “that,” or “Tsukemono Atama” in Japanese. “My name is dillhead,” or “Watakushi Tsukemono Atama” or whatever, I would tell people. I’d walk around and fart with my hands and make horrible Japanese sentences. “I heard he’s weird now…he doesn’t go out of his bedroom anymore, he just sits around and practices and says, dillhead.” That was the rumor around town. How do kids first form the concept of weird, I wonder? Parent, maybe? Oh, well.
I was just a happy little kid completely obsessed with practicing guitar and getting lots of F’s. One time this total piece of shit teacher made me write sentences for sniffing constantly. I couldn’t help it. It’s a bad habit I have, along with clearing my throat. I did talk a few times though, to a kid who put a coat hanger in his tie and would bend it all over the place. The last day of school some girl grabbed my butt when I was getting a drink out of the water-fountain. That’s all I really remember about 8th grade. I guess it was when I first noticed something wasn’t right. You know, a bit of alienation. I just kept my mouth shut as much as possible and hoped I wouldn’t get punched. Things didn’t get REALLY interesting until 9th grade, though. Oh, boy…
When did you get your first Atari? To what evil purpose did you first place it?
The one I currently own was my first. Since them, I’ve dropped lots of things on it and broken some of the buttons off. My bird crapped on it, too, just before he flew into my fan. I originally purchased my Atari computer (monochrome monitor, 4 megs RAM, low-density disk drive, dot matrix printer, NO HARD DRIVE) for about $300 in 1993 or 1994 as a method for doing BBSing. There was a vast underground network of sci-fi nerds and comic book kids back then who all met through that type of thing. Back then I didn’t even know what the Internet was, I don’t even know if it existed then, and if you wanted to talk to someone in Alaska, you’d have to dial long distance and hook up directly to their computer. I thought it was fucking amazing. Then I found out it could do music, so my friend pirated me a hacked copy of Cubase and I just started clicking on icons and buttons until music started coming out. It was at that point that I realized, who needs a band? I can just click these buttons here, and it will play whatever I want! AS FAST AS I WANT!
Right around then, I quit my band, Voice of Nothing, and spent 8 hours a day for that summer making the Nice, Nice, Very Nice… cassette. The first thing I EVER sequenced into it was “The Battle Hymn of the Suburban Horticulturalist,” and that is the exact version that is on the tape. It took forever to learn how to efficiently and fluently transfer what was in my head directly to the piano roll screen, but after 4 years with that damn thing I can pretty much improvise a whole 2-minute composition in about 2 hours. The only problem is that it sounds like a fucking cheap video game, and most people hate it. Thanks to my immense imagination, I can successfully pretend that it is an intense live progressive-rock-fusion band playing the whole thing, and that’s what I hear when I listen to it. In the end (or the beginning?) I intend to play all of that stuff with a real live band, but who the hell could/would do it?
That is an awful lot of notes. Is there such a thing as too many notes? Have you tried jacking the MIDI into something not as video-game sounding?
You’re asking ME if there is a such thing as too many notes??? HELL NO! Where I come from there are notes strewn all over the place, zig-zagging off the ceiling, clumps falling out of your pockets when you lean back. It’s like those damn subscription mail-back cards you get in magazines. I’d like to get twice as many on there, but as it is, I have to leave parts out. My computer gets bogged down and starts skipping and crashes if I get more than about 15 tracks. Rinky-dink Mickey Mouse technology! I should have never come to this planet in the first place! I use a cheap toy Yamaha keyboard with general MIDI, which I bought in 1994. It’s got all those cheezy sounds in it, clarinet, vibraphone. I’m scared to find out the actual specs on it. Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle uses the exact same keyboard, though, and it somehow sounds great. As it is, I spend all my money on mailing out these CD’s to magazines. Check this out: I’ve sent 53 copies so far to a stupid magazine in New York City called Rolling Stone or something, and STILL no review. What the hell is wrong with this silly world?
I say, enough is enough, they’re not getting ANY MORE until they review the ones I’ve sent them! I can’t even afford a damn computer that can get on the Internet to check my mail with, I’m always going to Kinko’s or the library. How could I afford $1,500 to get a decent sound module? There must be some way for a Malfunctioning Robot Alien Android Composer to make a living on this rock. Welcome to Earth, Millard.
…not that there’s anything wrong with sounding like a video game. I would think that it would be better to orchestrate the whole mess for the London Symphony.
What the hell is that? I heard recently that there’s lightning in London. I did. Several times, actually. I heard that. What were we talking about? I think I spilled my drink…[booming voice from the heavens: “YOU WILL GO TO THE TVAARKSANIANICA SYSTEM! YOU WILL CLIMB THE TOWER OF RABBLE DABBLE ON ELBOW-8!”] I will go…to the…Tvaarksanianica System…feeling woozy…must rest for a moment…
Millard… MILLARD! Get a hold of yourself. Here — wipe up that mess.
[gets up from under table and takes argyle sock from Ian] I’m sorry! Lately I’ve been having these horrible blackouts. Did I say anything while I was out? I hope not. I’ve been having these bizarre dreams about flying and recurring visions of owls. I’m not sure what they mean. I often have these horrible OBE’s and walking around in strange city that are seemingly on other planets, or in a completely different universe. The electricity never works. Sometimes I leave a penny there and try to go back and find it. The problem is… I try to be a good, safe, organized human being, but I get paralyzed in my sleep and all this crazy music pops into my head. In stereo! It’s pulsating in one ear, and if I try to get up and play it, I feel this horrible jolt of electricity. Then I hear all this laughing…like thousands of people laughing at me, echoing. I think there must be something going on that I don’t know about. I’ve got to find out what it is.
Do you think it could be caused by the frantic and complicated pace of your Millenial Ragtime compositions? I remember all those kids in Japan that went into seizures from the flashing red eyes of a cartoon robot rat.
That’s funny you mention that. I remember that I wanted an Atari video game system in about second grade. Instead of getting that, one day my dad came home with my first computer ever, a TRS-80 Color Computer with 16k of RAM. The resolution on the screen was…huge. I dunno how huge, but really big, anyway. There’s a picture of me sitting at it in my CD, hidden underneath the tray. So anyway, he made me start programming, cuz the games you could get for it were really lame. Like Pong type stuff. No Pac-Man. He just gave me this really big ugly book. You’d start from scratch and type these horribly long programs. They would have a name like, “The Dancing Man” and you’d type for like an hour. In the end, you go ahead and type RUN and the friggin thing would start up.
Well…this silly little ragtime song comes on, and this really square little man would dance around diagonally on the screen. I thought it was hilarious. I’d go around doing his dance and singing the song. There was this factor in the programming that you could change the speed on it. Being me, I cranked it all the way up, of course. So I ran it, and the goddammed guy danced SO FAST, I swear to God, his arms and legs fell off. He was just a pile of arms and legs and torso on the floor…AND HE KEPT DANCING! I tried to change the speed back to normal, but he wouldn’t go back together again. I must have laughed about that for a week straight. That image stuck in my mind, and was probably a subconscious inspiration in my music. I don’t know what you mean by robot rats. I like the Japanese language, though.
It sounds to me like your approach to programming and your approach to composition aren’t much different. Have anyone’s limbs fallen off in reaction to your music?
I know a guy who liked to bag groceries. A LOT. One time when he was working at the grocery store, this movie producer came through his line and noticed that his hands were perfect for a certain lead role he had in mind. So my friend got really mad and went home and chopped his hands off, because he didn’t want to share or compromise his abilities, or sell himself short…he felt no one had the right to look at his hands in such a manner, or use them for any other purpose than that which he intended. So he had these really expensive and bitchin’ bionic hands sewn on, he picked them up at Spencer’s Gifts or something. So he goes back to work the next day and he found out he could bag groceries 50 times as fast, and he was finally awarded employee of the month or something. No one ever gave him any doo-doo again. The point is, I like people who take their art or vocation that seriously. It’s important that we all learn as much as we can from experiences like that.
So can we expect organic integration of Sir Millard Mulch and Atari’s best technologies soon?
That is highly likely and VERY TOP SECRET. I am currently hard at work on a plausible and cost-effective formulaic solution that will fuse both sides of the same coin, into a cohesive, digest-able medium through which I will reveal the steps necessary to (in real life situations) trisect any given angle utilizing only a compass and straight edge…and a small piece of string, which the great geometric theoreticians and algebraic dumbshits of our century have failed to incorporate. This will not only make me a millionaire (as my high-school teachers have claimed…) but will give me an incentive to record a new humanly-performed EP in the next 4 months. What does EP stand for? Why are there metal rods attached to my forehead when I wake up in the morning? There must be an answer…