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Mark Sultan/BBQ

Mark Sultan/BBQ

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Thursday 23rd July, 2015 12:29PM

Mark Sultan aka BBQ is returning to New Zealand next week for four solo shows off the back of his tour around Australia with oft-partner in crime King Khan. The pair released the fantastic collaborative album Bad News Boys earlier this year, but BBQ has more meat up his sleeve.

The prolific Canadian native has a solo record (whose title remains a mystery) set to drop later this year through famed Los Angeles label In The Red Recordings. The album, as Sultan freely admits, has been heavily informed by the 1960s sounds of "acne-ridden pizza-face boys with no friends or girlfriends, singing about sad things". And from what we've heard so far it sounds pretty darn promising. With his impending visit, UnderTheRadar thought it would be a good time to get in contact with the one-man-band who dislikes one-man-bands for a grand old time discussing karaoke, endless touring, lucid dreaming and jingles...

UTR: Hi Marc, how are you doing?

BBQ: I’m pretty good. I’m pretty busy, I’m good. I’m in Montreal right now and it’s like 80 percent humidity.

That sounds awful.

It’s an acquired taste.

Yeah it gets pretty humid here in Auckland but it’s the middle of winter at the moment. Anyway, I was reading your Wikipedia page…

Oh no. There’s always an error.

Well, one of the little factoids in there that fascinated me was that you apparently had the ability to recall lyrics really well at a young age. Is that true?

Uh, I don’t know. I mean, yeah. I don’t know why that’s there. It’s kind of creepy. But yeah, I could always recall ads for like bubblegum or chips, or the ice cream jingle. I could probably recall any tune and play it on the guitar right now.

Have you ever been tempted to write a jingle? I hear there’s good money in it.

Ha! If somebody said “hey, do you wanna write a jingle?’. I’d rather it be me doing it than whoever does it now, with all that “hey kids! let’s rap” crap. Yeah, I would do it.

I feel like having a really good recall for lyrics must make you good at karaoke. I mean, obviously the words are on the screen, but an intimate knowledge of the song is very helpful...

Well, I mean if karaoke consisted of a lot of songs about Bubblicious then I’d be the karaoke champion. But if it’s the theme of Titanic or something like that, then I’m probably not going to do it.

Do you get up on karaoke?

I’ll be dead honest with you, I’ve never ever done karaoke in my life. Hahaha.

Ohhh haha... it’s a favourite pastime around here.

I know, I know, and I have friends that are into it. But, and I’m not trying to sound like a dink here, but I can kinda sing so I feel like I don’t want to be one of “those” people. You know, you go somewhere like a dingy bar and there’s scoundrels and skunks doing karaoke and there’s the one person that’s there dressed to the nines every time, going like “yaaaaaaahhh”, into the microphone. I don’t want to be that person.

So, it seems like you’ve been touring a lot lately… like, forever…

Hahaha… that’s a fair description. I really enjoy touring. Even when it’s a horrible show, at the ripe old age of 8000 years old or whatever, I still really enjoy it. I must say though, I have calmed down a little. I used to tour all the time, at one point I was homeless for eight years just touring.

Do you have a home now?

Yeah totally, I have a house in Germany and I have a beautiful wife. I’m very content. For years I was in a bad space and music would be the only thing I could do that was positive in my existence, and now I have other things which surprisingly make the music even more exciting and positive. You know how people go blind and they can hear really well? It’s like that, but except all my senses are really heightened.

Wow. You’ve leveled up. You’re still obviously touring a lot though, and writing music a lot. Do you sleep much?

Um, actually when I’m on tour I sleep maybe two hours a night, but that doesn’t mean that I’m creating anything. But I don’t sleep very much. I try to sleep at least four hours a night, I can cope with that. Understand, this is my life and I enjoy making music or painting, so I’m always doing that. It’s one of the main things that keeps me sane. My body is so habituated to it that I have dents in my hands and calluses on my fingers from guitars and things like that. You know how someone has their arm cut off and they can still feel their hand? I’m the opposite, I think I have ghost fingers and they really want to get in there and do stuff, and I have to appease the ghosts or they will get in there and haunt my dreams with weird smells.

It seems like people who are prolifically creative don’t sleep much because the brain is always going with ideas...

Yeah, and for myself I’m also a lucid dreamer, so when I am sleeping it’s almost like I’m not sleeping anyway. It’s like reality, I’ll write music in my lucid dreams. But I’ll forget it when I wake up.

Speaking of writing music, I wanted to ask you about your new album coming up under Bar-be-que. Wait, is that how you say it, or is it BB-Q?

You know, no matter how you say it, it’s one of the most regrettable things I’ve done as a name.

But you’ve had loads of aliases, what made that one stick?

Um, well. I’ve always been a little jerk, and I grew up with punk and all my favourite punk musicians had made up names, so I thought it was fun to have a made up name. And then, I guess what happened was I put out my first one-man-band solo album, it was on a German label back in 2002, and I knew the moment was coming - and the guy asked me “so what do you actually call yourself?”. I think I looked at something randomly and - I remember this because it’s like how you remember the first time you shit your pants or something - and I said it [BBQ], and as soon as it came out of my mouth I was like “ohhhh noooooo”, in slo-motion or something like in a really bad movie. But then I just had to live with it, because that’s what I was doing. It’s just a lot of bad choices in life that have given me inverted hairs on my chest, so it’s just like covered in blackheads.

Oh no, haha! So gross! The one-man-band thing is interesting though. Obviously it’s easier to tour than having 4 or 5 people. But how long did it take you to conquer playing guitar, drums and singing at the same time?

Well, I was a drummer first and foremost. I don’t really talk to other one-man-bands because I don’t really like one-man-bands to be quite honest, so I don’t know how other people do it. But I was a drummer, so the rhythm came naturally. And then when I play guitar, I’m really bad a guitar but what I can do is play percussively. So my thing is to be more rhythm and percussion based, rather than doing solos. I can’t do solos. But I like to sing now, I’ve found a voice and it’s fun. And once those things click, I don’t think about them, and I focus on getting enough spirit out of myself and energy into the room, and emoting and putting forward feeling. That’s what I focus on, and that’s very secondary.

Your album is coming up soon, but we’ve only heard one song from it, ‘Agitated’...

Oh yeah! I forgot to put another one up! Thank you for reminding me. Okay, I’ve got to put out another song... I’ll do that soon. I’ve been on tour, and I’ve been at the mercy of just using a cellphone, so I haven’t really been doing things I should do. But yes, there is a bunch of new songs, and I’m actually really happy with the album because I decided I’m just going to do everything basic. The lyrics and everything. I made it so simple, it’s like caveman dum-dum stuff. And I’m hoping people will make versions of the songs themselves, or add things in. Whatever they want to, just have fun with it.

So you recorded it yourself, and I got the impression that rather than layering parts, you recorded it all live. Is that right?

I wanted to carry on the ethos I had way back when I started BBQ, because it’s a lot of fun. It’s just the movement of my body, it’s like playing one instrument the way someone would play guitar - that’s how it all feels. So the best thing to do it record it live because you can’t replicate that one-man-band thing I do by doing overdubs, the timing gets weird and stuff.

And I noted that you drew a lot of inspiration for the album from the 60s, which goes back to what you were saying about keeping the lyrics really simple and whatnot…

Yeah, totally. I feel like such a nerd [does nerd voice] “ ell, this record is influenced by the 60s”. But it’s true. I go through phases of different things I’m really into, and when I wrote that record I was like “oh man, I’m really into this moody 60s stuff”, but I’m just a one-man-band so it’s not going to sound like that. But I want to take that spirit. A lot of that stuff is basically a lot of 13, 14, 15-year-old acne-ridden pizza-face boys with no friends or girlfriends, singing about sad things. So if you want to tap into something like that, that’s how it was and that’s how it feels when you are playing the songs.

I’m really looking forward to hearing the album, and I’m going to keep my ears peeled for that new single. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk, and see you soon in Auckland.

Hahaha thank you, see you soon.

We dug up some of the tunes BBQ has shared on his Facebook page over the past few months and compiled them into a handy-dandy playlist to give you an insight to his recent sonic influences. Enjoy!

Mark Sultan is playing four New Zealand shows next week, across Dunedin, Queenstown, Wellington and Auckland. Head over here for more information and to buy tickets.


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