An Interview with MGK Ultra
In their first interview, MGK Ultra talks about Olympia, ritual theater, recording on 4-tracks with Ariel Pink, and “the journey of the soul through the dark night.
Josh Wolf: How long have you been a band?
MGK Ultra: MGK Ultra has been a band for the past 3 months, but Trip and I have been performing music together since we met last year at Evergreen. We called upon our brothers Cole (L.A.) and Stephen (NYC) three months ago to play.
Tell me about your name. Where did it come from?
Its an omitogram for the word ‘Magic’. An improvement upon magic basically, and whatever ideas come to mind about that symbol. It’s also a play on words of MK Ultra: the government mind control conspiracy that we are children of: this experiment of American culture being put under a spell. The name is meant to resurrect something positive in the face of what we are born into.
Do you write the songs together?
I have a host of songs and melodies that have haunted me for the past 15 years of my life. They come to me when I’m walking by myself. They become a soundtrack to my life, and it’s felt like my responsibility to express that with music.
As band mates, we’re like soul mates in the way that we’re reflecting these sounds and ideas, and we all contribute. The double thunderbolt, a Tibetan symbol, is a good metaphor for how we write. It’s like the four directions, or elements of nature, and we’re all participating our own forces equally, basically in the shape of a thunderbolt flower.
What are some of your influences?
The drum and bass are heavily inspired by phrasing, jazz rudiments, and The Misfits. You could say that a lot of our songs are driven by melody and repetition, and that’s what’s holding the music together. I really want to emphasize Patrick’s bass playing. He plays his bass like a guitar and a bass at the same time, and fulfills both roles.” “Cole was a non-musician before he came to Olympia. He is the only keyboardist we’ve found who has had the nerve to let us overlord the process of the keyboard parts while learning how to jam.
Trip and I started playing shows with our first band, The Mother Ruckus, completely improvising the entire thing; lyrics, melodies, rhythms, everything on the spot in a dance trance frenzy. Recently we’ve been getting to the point where we have more structure, trying to strike a balance. It’s about learning the rules before breaking them, allowing more freedom to play around and have a musical conversation. Each of us does what we do individually, we understand how to manipulate our tools, but we all come together to play the songs.
What are your values musically?
We show up to the practice space after a long day of school or work or whatever we do, and we just wanna bang it out.
Are you a pop band?
No. We just like to get loose and get to the heart of rock n’ roll in an effort to spiritualize all of our culture over the past 60 years. It’s also kinda a reincarnation of 50s shock rock.” “We also share an affinity for drone music, Tuvan throat singing and other types of sound that possess vibrational healing properties. Olympia is a hotbed for creative and innovative music. All our friends play in bands, there’s a show every night of the week and we’re constantly being inspired to participate and keep it going.
How do you record?
I learned home recording by using cheap modern technology in LA with Ariel Pink, how to listen and make sounds work. Beat boxing drum sounds, worshiping your idols by emulating, impersonating, psychedelics, keyboards. Creating soundtracks for our reality and experiences; nothing new in the big picture, but for us it was a re-evolution. Sweating like a beast for the thing you really love that’s all. Put yourself up there even if it’s not that good. Hide behind your bangs n get weird. Having recording capabilities at home is a huge blessing. Get a four track or cheap digital multi-track recorder. Write songs. Get together with your friends. Have adventures and create some gems you’re proud of.
We’re recording at Big Name Studios in two weeks with John Lervold. That’ll be our first recording as a live band. Hopefully, this new recording will get at the heart of how it feels to be at our shows. When we play live, there is a presence that is integral to the whole thing.
What do you think of Evergreen?
Everyone’s really nice here. It’s very conducive to doing whatever you want to. Everyone is positive and supportive. It has an amazing history of spirituality, performance, dress-up, and tradition.
Do you study music in class?
I’ve been studying art here, but my soul and secret purpose was to meet other band members and find our own personal means for sonic hyper-extension through the world.
What about MGK’s image?
I think we’re all artists and we’re all attracted by visual stimuli, and it’s important that we embody that with our performance. It’s not just making music; it’s an aspect of ritual theater, creating a mystique. The overlying theme is the journey of the soul through the dark night. You put on all these different masks and costumes, but then you have to shed the costume in order to shine the light.
I love playing the music, and we’re really serious about making it work right. It’s in the tradition of David Bowie: the music is first.
Where do you practice?
We practice in the loading dock under the CAB.
“Do what thou wilt, love shall be the whole of the law” – Aleister Meowley.