Mark Sultan on Free Jazz, People Not Getting His Music, and "Doing Some Drugs"

"I don't want to be hip. I don't want to be cool. I think that shit [trends] is not hip or cool, so I don't want to be that," Mark Sultan, also known as BBQ, says over the phone from Austin. We're discussing his new set of albums, Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want, his recent comments to Spinner about dubstep (he used dubstep as an example of a trend, and doesn't know barely knows "what it fucking is"), and the breakup of of King Khan and The BBQ Show (he and Khan are on good terms, but don't expect a reunion).

His new records show off his varied taste, offering doo wop, garage rock, free jazz, and experimental songs. He's a little annoyed that reviewers have been given a condensed version of the records, but stresses that he knows he makes music for weirdos. "If you don't like my music, that's totally fine. If you do, I'll see you at the show. We'll talk."

Up on the Sun: The new records, Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want, are really fantastic. You really go all over the place.

Mark Sultan: Yeah, yeah. It rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but for me, it's like they're mixtapes, and I never had a problem listening to mixtapes. But I guess some people just need uniformity and things like that. Structure and shit. I feel like I read the same review [of the albums] four times over. It's like people just cut and pasted a Pitchfork review, and made that their own in different languages. So I'm glad people have an open mind. It's great to know.

I've never had a problem with records that go all over the place, because I like a lot of different kinds of music.

Me too.

It's clear with your records. But I can see why people are annoyed by it, also. Especially considering that a lot of people have come to your music through the garage rock scene, and for music that's as wild and uncontrollable as it is, it can get kind of dogmatic, too.

Yeah. I mean, I grew up doing that. I've proved [in terms of] garage rock and rock 'n' roll, I've proved I can make that music, and I still love that music. But I'm not going to lie to myself or anyone who might enjoy my music, and pretend that's all I listen to, or that's all that influences me. That would be wrong. I need to do the things just to stay sane. If I feel like doing something, I'm just going to do it; I'm not going to be in some kind of musical jail because some dude with a Sonics shirt is giving me guff. I don't give a fuck about that kind of shit.

And the new record shows that off. There's doo wop, which has always been a big part of your sound, at least as BBQ, but also free jazz. I guess that's kind of a marginalized kind of music anyway. Not a lot of people --

Yeah, people aren't going to like that anyway. But to me it's weird. People are conditioned to hate music like that. People always rag on free jazz, or avant-garde, or experimental music or whatever else, first and foremost as "pretentious," and secondly, "unlistenable," or whatever. [It's] not cool somehow. But for me, that's fuckin' punk as fuck. You listen to black dudes in the sixties, playing fuckin' crazy music. It's punk as shit to me. I don't see how you can dismiss something like that. That's an influence on me, because I'm into psychedelic shit also. It just makes me happy when I listen to stuff like that.

There's no rules, and that's what punk is supposed to be. It's not about three chords. Well, it can be about the three chords.

It's about a whole bunch of stuff, but I like to believe it's multi-faceted, as well. Yeah, it can be about one chord. Just the primitive squeezing the life force out of one thing, and making it amazing. It can be about not being able to play at all, and doing a bad cover of something. It could be a million things. It can be "no rules at all and fuck everything" and this is what I'm doing. [It's] the attitude and ethos I think is awesome. It's all the same to me, but people can't accept that [adopts a whiny voice] "It's eight minutes, and, c'mon there's no Chuck Berry solo?" I'm like, c'mon. Open your mind a bit. Do some drugs, holy shit. Just do some fucking drugs! Do them! Jesus Christ.

When the Sub Pop record came out, I remember talking to someone about the Joe Meek cover, and someone told me it was just too mellow. I remember thinking, I don't know -- maybe you're just bored because there's nothing swimming around in your head. It's great to sit down and chill a minute and listen to something.

It's funny, because those same kind of people, whenever I got a negative review or says something like that, [those people are] spinning Pavement or whatever a second later, "Yes sir." People just full of shit, essentially. But I totally get it if you don't like my music. Sometimes I don't like my music. That's fine, you know? But essentially, a lot of people will like or not like something based on a lot of other factors. 80% of which are not based on what's going on in their heart or mind. So many people think they're not consumers. Oh no, mainstream radio, that's bullshit. But they have the same ideas as those people in listening and the way they choose their music.

You mentioned Pitchfork and the reviews. Do you read them, or try to stay away from them?

I try to stay away from them, but they get sent to me. I saw a review from my last album, which [was released] as two vinyl albums. I don't even care that there's a CD, but it's just a condensed thing, because reviewers tend to be like, "I'll listen to the first and last song, then I'll make my judgment." But I read the review, and I was like, Seriously, I know it's not that bad. The guy is trying to be clever, but he's obviously not hearing where I'm coming from. And that's cool, but within one review you're saying it's all over the place, but it's too samey. Like, are we being political now? I kind of saw that the guy liked King Khan and the BBQ Show, and he's mad because that doesn't exist, and maybe he was a fan of Khan. I'm always the bad guy. That always comes up.

But if you're going to blame someone for being inconsistent, you should be consistent in your own review. At the same time, I don't really care -- because I don't expect someone who references Pitchfork as the way they are going to listen to Pitchfork to like my music. I'm not Coldplay or whatever. I'm not ever going to be that; I don't want to be that. I'm not hip. I don't want to be hip. I don't want to be cool. I think that shit is not hip or cool, so I don't want to be that.

I read their review of Khan's last thing, too. They didn't love it, and at one point they made a joke about "Bob Log Stomp." Reading it, they didn't seem to know who Bob Log was. They didn't realize that was a person, and that Khan was using his lyrics. I remember reading that and thinking it was shitty, but at the same time, I don't want to be some elitist about lowbrow rock 'n' roll. I don't want it to be this special club, where you're only allowed to like this music if you know all this stuff, or if you've got all the right records.

I don't expect everyone to know where I'm coming from. I go for really obscure references. That's my own problem, my own fault. If everybody liked all that stuff, maybe it wouldn't be as magical somehow. But I want to be obscure. Obviously, what I choose to do is what's going to keep me obscure. The few people who enjoy it really enjoy it. It's just a private time for us all. The people who don't like it, it's not immediate enough. That's fine. I get immediate. But there's stuff they will never know of anyway.

I know there's a place for Pitchfork, and I don't hate Pitchfork. I just don't belong on it. When I criticize this review, I don't even mean to criticize it. He's doing his thing. If he doesn't like it, it's totally cool. I don't expect everybody to like what I do.

Mark Sultan is scheduled to perform Monday, November 21, at Trunk Space.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.