On November 1, MC Frontalot played in my town of Gainesville, FL. Before the concert, I was able to get an email interview with him. What follows in my review of the show (which also featured several Scrub Club artists) and that interview.
Opening the show were Rappy McRapperson and MC Wreckshin. Supposedly, Rappy was going to debut some of his “serious” songs, but unless the song about giving his mom AIDS was supposed to be a serious song, I didn’t really hear anything terribly serious. In fact, most of their songs are really funny, although they seem rather obsessed with gay sex (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). Next up was King Pheenix. Despite seeming nervous (he did flub a few lines in a couple of songs), he kept up the energy level of the crowd. I particularly enjoyed “Traitor” from his Hero vs. Villain EP. He also performed the new 404 Device track (for which he is one of the main vocalists) “Occupied” about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I hadn’t yet heard it so it was particularly cool to hear it first live.
The next act to take the stage was Emergency Pizza Party. Boy can they entertain and work the audience! I remember loving their performance at Nerdapalooza last year, and they did not disappoint here. Funky 49 is particularly adept at getting the audience to participate, shoving microphones in people’s faces (nicely, though) during choruses to get them to sing along. It’s funny, but I’ve seen them twice now live and enjoyed them, but listening to their studio stuff doesn’t really do much for me. Perhaps it’s time to try again. Anyway, the next act up took the night in a very different direction. Brandon Patton, aka Frontalot’s bassist BL4k Lotus, took the stage with an acoustic guitar. He has several solo albums out, and he’s been opening for Frontalot frequently on this tour. Many of his songs are the type that start out with one idea then gradually become something else. The song “Big in Japan” is a great example of that. It’s seems like a typical song bragging about how the singer is much more popular elsewhere than in the U.S., but that’s not quite what is going on. I won’t spoil it, but I will recommend you give it a listen. Another stand out track was “Ketchup and Mayo.” So very wrong…
Finally MC Frontalot took the stage. He opened with one of my favorites, “Tongue Clucking Grammarian” and immediately got the audience “tutting” his bad grammar. During the set, he mixed up old and new tracks, including several crowd favorites (“It Is Pitch Dark,” “Yellow Lasers,” (the regular, non-Latin version), and “Goth Girls.”). New tracks from Solved included “Critical Hit,” which uses the double meaning of the phrase to great effect (something Frontalot does often and quite well), and “Stoop Sale,” which, while not particularly geeky, tells a good story. All in all, it was quite an entertaining evening, despite the fact that I had to be up at five the next morning to go to work (in the words of the Butthole Surfers, “The funny thing about regret is, it’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done.”).
And now let’s hear from the man himself. Here’s my email interview with MC Frontalot. CW is me, of course, and MCF is MC Frontalot (obviously). I’ve added a couple of clarifications to some of the questions in parentheses for those unfamiliar with Frontalot’s work.
CW: You have a distinctive style of phrasing when you rap. Was that deliberately cultivated?
MCF: It is just a sort of a combination of how I talk and every rapper I’ve ever heard.
CW: On a recent interview for The Show, you said you had trouble deciding who the #1 rapper was, but who are #578 and #580 (Added: Frontalot considers himself the world’s 579th greatest rapper)?
MCF: 578 is a fellow who lives under a bridge in Wichita, whose raps none of us will ever hear. 580 is Pitbull.
CW: I know “Yellow Lasers” is a Song Fight winner, but is there a further story behind it? It’s certainly a unique interpretation of the title. (Added: As an aside, in a weird coincidence, the artwork on Song Fight for “Yellow Lasers” is by Chad Walker. Go figure.)
MCF: It was the first thing I thought of when I read the title. I thought of it immediately. I guess that speaks ill of my imagination. While I’m certain the narrative has happened to someone, somewhere, sometime, it has not been part of my experience. I have, in fact, never been to a Star Wars con though I went to a couple Doctor Who shows when I was in grade school.
CW: What inspired you to do the secret track on Zero Day? I don’t suppose you’d reveal how to crack it (kidding, of course — I’m #144)?
MCF: The album is about puzzles and secrets, and the idea of a “hidden track” on a CD is pretty dumb since they’re never hidden by anything fancier than long silences and track indexing tomfoolery. Defeating a hidden track on all previous CDs has been a matter of putting the disc into a player, pressing the play button, and listening to the whole thing. So I thought I’d make one that was actually quite difficult to get into your ears. Only a little over two hundred people have heard it and the album’s been out nearly two years.
CW: Talk about your involvement with 26 and a Half (a “Weird Al” tribute album) and the Mink Car tribute. I’m particularly curious to know if there’s a reason why you chose to sing (which you do quite well, by the way).
MCF: Thanks! Singing is lots of fun, but I am no expert at it. Producing my own tracks makes it easier to cover up the mistakes in my vocal. That goes for rapping too, of course. I decided to sing those songs because they are covers of songs that are not rap songs. Just normal logic there.
CW: On the song “Nerdcore Rising,” the album version features Jesse Dangerously and MC Hawking. I’ve also seen Beefy and Schäffer the Darklord perform it with you live. Are there any other nerdcore rappers that have their own verse to the song? Is there anyone you’d like to have perform a verse?
MCF: Lots of folks have jumped on that song over the years. Jesse, Beefy, Schaffer, Doc Popular, MC Lars, Random, ytcracker, Wheelie Cyberman. I think Dual Core and Whoremoans have done it with us. It is hard to remember, because we did that one at every show for like four years. We don’t do it anymore. It is too hard to sing.
CW: How did you get Kristen Schaal and Wyatt Cenac for Solved? Are you going to be on the Daily Show? (that would be awesome!)
MCF: I am not quite famous enough to be on the Daily Show, but I like to dream about it. I have made casual pals with a bunch of my idols from the New York “alt comedy” scene and I just kind of hassle them until they let me stop by with a recording rig. I guess the real answer is that once you’ve had Hodgman guesting on an album, everyone else feels like they can say yes without wondering if you’re an idiot or not.
CW: You’ve been on the BBC and ITV. Has nerdcore risen up and become mainstream? Just how popular do you think nerdcore is?
MCF: It remains a tiny subgenre with niche appeal, but it has certainly struck many mainstream news sources as notable enough to cover, which is nice.
CW: Based on your songs “Charity Case” and “Captains of Industry,” I’d guess it’s not necessarily selling your music that brings in your income. What are your thoughts about BandCamp and similar sites? What about the music industry in general?
MCF: Actually, I make a lot from music sales. I mean, it seems like a lot to me, compared to the zero that I would be making if every single listener just nabbed it for themselves online. If everyone who listens to my songs at home had bought one album, I’d be kind of rich… so it’s nothing like that. Some small percentage of the listeners take it upon themselves to pitch in and help make sure that the music keeps happening. But that ends up being substantial. iTunes pays my Brooklyn rent every month, and the fans buy CDs as much to be supportive as to own them. That said, 60% of my income is probably from the shirts and other non-media items. So, yes. The music is a charity operation and the textiles are an industrial concern.
CW: Since this interview is for Fandomania, we usually like to end with the question, “What are you a fan of?” So, um, what are you a fan of?
MCF: Tom Waits! Mos Def! PJ Harvey! Del tha Funkee Homosapien! Mike Doughty! Busdriver! Also: Wilfred, Always Sunny, Aqua Teen and Squidbillies, Flight of the Conchords, Sifl & Ollie, Tim & Eric, Monty Python, old Doctor Who, Evil Dead movies, Terry Gilliam movies, Dr. Strangelove, Citizen Ruth, Acme Novelty and Eightball comics, Jim Woodring’s Frank, Clive Barker, William Gibson, Twain, Nabokov, Borges.