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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Jun 23 1999
MK Ultra Has Broken Up, But Then Again, Maybe It Hasn't ... Well It Has, Kind Of ... Oh, Bother John Vanderslice, who for the better part of the '90s has sung, written songs, and played guitar with MK Ultra, is in a strange sort of predicament. About two months ago, guitarist John Tyner told him he was leaving the band and was planning to move to Albuquerque, N.M. The announcement came at what was probably the worst possible time: The San Francisco guitar-pop band had released its second album, The Dream Is Over, in January, and in March had finished a successful tour of Southern and West Coast dates.

Tyner's departure, says Vanderslice, "destabilized the band." Bassist Dan Carr and drummer Matt Torrey, who had their hands in other projects, weren't willing to go through the process of finding another guitarist. "I just came to the conclusion that I wanted to not do it anymore and leave time for other things," says Torrey. Among other projects, Carr and Torrey have been playing behind Matt Nathanson, and Tor-rey is currently working with former Mommyhead Adam Elk and Tarnation's Paula Frazer.

All agree that the split was amicable, but the situation still left Vanderslice wondering what to do next. After all, the band had a clever moniker -- taken from the name for the CIA's mind-control experiments -- that had a reputation attached, and it would be a shame to lose it. And then there were a bunch of songs the group had recently recorded for a follow-up album -- what to do with those? Four of the songs on the planned record -- engineered by esteemed indie-rock producer John Croslin -- were recorded by the MK Ultra lineup, while eight more feature Vanderslice solo or with other musicians. Vanderslice is still pondering whether to release them under the MK Ultra banner -- making the band "a sort of loose collective like Neutral Milk Hotel," as he puts it.

Other band members want Vanderslice to keep the name alive. "When I think of MK Ultra, I think of John Vanderslice," says Tyner. Vanderslice hasn't made a firm decision yet, though the record is slated to come out in the fall, and he's planning to form a new group. But in the meantime, Vanderslice is concentrating on his studio, Tiny Telephone -- where locals and semilocals like Beulah, Oranger, Imperial Teen, Richard Buckner, and others have recorded -- as well as wearing his MP3 booster hat. By the end of next month, he plans to launch an MP3 Web site at focusing on, well, bands that John Vanderslice likes, as well as those that've recorded at Tiny Telephone. "Totally free, no commerce, and based on my own aesthetic leanings," he says. "No feeling of huckstering."

... And All Because of a Tiny Classified Ad It's been about eight months since Rube Waddell -- San Francisco's absurdist gutbucket folk-blues trio who thought to play gigs in front of Leed's Shoes when nobody else dared -- took out an ad saying that they'd write songs around your lyrics. Not that there's been a huge response thus far. "About four at this point," says Mahatma Boom Boom. Inspired, he says, by Rod Keith's '60s and '70s send-me-your-lyrics-I'll-write-you-a-song concept albums, Boom Boom notes that, alas, "so far we haven't gotten anything as good as Rod got." Examples? Well, there's the one from "what seemed like a young teenage girl in Richmond," and another from "a young, lonely, office-worker guy who seemed really pent up" and possessing an obsession with the Pet Shop Boys.

Like Rod Keith, Rube Waddell would like to put out a full-length album of the songs, so long as they can get enough material to work with. "We're really looking for some really absurd mundanity," says Boom Boom. "The worse the better." Meanwhile, the trio is working on another "official" Rube Waddell album that Boom Boom calls "a sea exploration opera," as well as pondering a project based around the band's namesake -- which, if it gets made, will be the first concept album ever about a major league pitcher with a penchant for chasing firetrucks.

Riff Raff Is Not [Expletive Deleted] Balding Last week, in response to our review of Third Eye Blind's "secret" show at the Paradise Lounge last month ("Two Guitarists and a Boob," May 5), a friend wrote in:

You are an idiot. Obviously, I was not present at 3eb's concert so I can't argue that they didn't suck that night ... but to call them a mix of between cheap rock and punk is wrong: what the [expletive deleted]? What kind of music are you into? Airhead empty teen bop-pop like Britney Spears or other Top 40 [expletive deleted] Paula Cole? People like you make me sick, how the [expletive deleted] did you get a job as a music journalist when you judge the musical beauty and genius of Third Eye Blind as junk ... if I see you around, I will [expletive deleted] you up ... you better watch yourself you loser. What the [expletive deleted]? You're probably some [expletive deleted] who takes it up the [expletive deleted] or is so ugly you can't get women to sleep with you ... you're probably a balding [expletive deleted] of a man with no real friends or ambitions, no future ... [expletive deleted], I'll [expletive deleted] your [expletive deleted] up anytime you sarcastic loser. You know why you so bitter and sarcastic? Stephan Jenkins has what you only can dream up, talent, good looks, a beautiful girlfriend, millions of fans that appreciate his music ... while you ... you ... you are nothing compared to him ... that's life ... don't be so bitter and talk [expletive deleted], loser loser loser loser! Don't hesitate to write back ... [expletive deleted]!

-- Mark Athitakis

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

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Mark Athitakis


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