Mark Sultan (BBQ) on vitamins, 'Seinfeld,' and the death of rock'n'roll

Mark Sultan returns to his roots.

Mark Sultan is an embattled crusader for true rock'n'roll. Though in prose, he'll have you believe that it must be destroyed – to save it from itself.

The former Spaceshit, once known as the one-man band, BBQ, later paired up for trashy garage doo-wap duo King Khan & BBQ Show, has gone back to solo. After the disbandment of KK&BQ, he last year put out $ and more recently released the free stripped-down live album The War on Rock'n'Roll, which showcases his raw vocal talent, along with two new vinyl records (Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want) on In the Red Records and a CD version (Whatever I Want, Whenever I Want) that grabs a handful of songs from each of those two records. He also is touring, and hits SF this weekend to play Hemlock Tavern.

On the phone, the Montreal-born, Toronto-based musician is all over the place, with grand statements, mumbly asides, and clever observations; he's shaking large bottles of homeopathic pills into the receiver and claiming he's on the toilet during half the conversation. His words are captivating, he's the silver-tongued mad hatter of his domain – that of music that means something. He's a rambler, so this interview is long, but it's all golden:

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Do you have any backup on this tour?
Mark Sultan:
No, just me. It's something I started doing years ago, before I even got involved with King Khan. I put out some records and then I kind of stopped doing it on myown and started using the same set-up with Khan. Listen [shakes the bottle of vitamins into the phone]. But at that point, I had to put my own personality aside and adopt a different role in that project, [it was] kind of similar to an actual personality I have, but I magnified it and made it more curmudgeonly. So [now] my personality, I have a sense of humor, it comes through, it's more schizophrenic. I try to play songs I wrote in a lot of bands, including stuff with Khan.
SFBG: What instruments are you playing on stage?

The main instrument is tuba, then I have a glockenspiel and then I have a '69 synth that takes up the whole room, and also a bunch of iPods, like 40 of them at once and Iactually grew a beard and shaved half of it off, so I can be really hip with my 40 iPods. All I do is take a photo of that set-up, then I project it on a screen and then I just strut around with a megaphone and narrate Seinfeld episodes. The “Elaine” role is my favorite to enact, it's very cathartic.
SFBG: So what do you really play?

Ah, drums and guitar and I sing. Not as exciting as the other answer, but it's true.
SFBG: How did these new releases grow so big? Two records, the albums...

Hold on, I'm swallowing pills. Oh god, that's awful. It's make my pee electric yellow. So, the albums – I basically was just recording for fun, and I ended up with 30 songs. I'm not a fan of self-censorship, I wanted to release a lot of them because even if the listener doesn't enjoy all of the songs – or any of the songs – even the worst songs that were recorded during this time meant something because it was a time in my life.
   Then Larry [Hardy] at in In the Red [and I] were talking about the idea of a double album, but I don't like those, I think they're annoying. I know how it is, you don't want to buy a double album and not know what it is. So I thought, you can buy one of these albums and if you like one, buy the other. And then the CD, I didn't even really want to put out the CD to be honest, but I think it was created so it could be sent to college radio or for review, I don't know how this shit works.
   Also, I was in Brazil on tour and I had access to a studio built into my friend's bar there, called Berlin. Oh god, everybody's coming upstairs and I'm the bathroom, this is uncomfortable – okay, so I did this thing in Brazil. I wanted to record with these guys who do really awesome psychedelic stuff, but because of the time limitation I couldn't really do it. I just said, 'I'll record live and I'll do an improv set.' So that became a free album [The War on Rock'n'Roll] I put out myself, downloadable. It has nothing to do with the other two albums, I just wanted to put that out there to document how I actually sound live when I'm playing by myself.
SFBG: Could you tell me more about your blog post on the current state of rock'n'roll?

I'm very facetious and I like to speak in allegory, I also like to upset people, and say things hoping to get a response. I didn't need to write that. I do believe honestly, deep in my heart, that rock'n'roll music – and I mean the stuff in my personal timeline, stuff from early '50s – is important and holy music. And I know it has a history of being tampered with and fucked with but I think now, more than ever.
   And I know everyone knows this, but we're in an age of illumination, universally. I think someone can take one minute of their time to realize that if they're in to this kind of music and they love it, it does need to be protected or destroyed. By destroying it, I mean we just call it quits right now then [outside] predators can't get at it, the meat's been tainted. Somebody will dig up the bones in 20 years and extract the DNA, and make it work again.
   And that's a grandiose, annoying thing to say. This music means a lot to me, and I owe my life to it – I think it really is being raped and people are allowing this to happen because they see money or the smallest modicum of fame or notoriety. People should do things for the love of things. Love your life and love everything. Or hate it. Don't go in the middle ground, that's boring and fucking pointless. I think we should always do something that means something. The moment I do something that doesn't mean something – that isn't outside of a purposeful need for nonsense and abstraction and surrealism – then I think it's a waste of life. Maybe that's just too crazy.

Mark Sultan
With King Lollipop, Lovely Bad Things
Sat/19, 9:30 p.m., $10
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF

"I Am The End" (and he is):


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