RAD-003–1: the MTX Shards vol. 1 Story

Frank Portman
8 min readJun 5, 2018

Side A: King Dork / How I Made a Million in a Punk Rock Band / Whistle Bait / Unpack Your Adjectives / Itching Powder in the Sleeping Bags / Fill in the Blank / God Bless America / Sackcloth and Ashes. Side B. Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah / Semi-OK / Flying Jelly Attack / As Life Goes on You Get More and More out of It / Kenny Smokes Cloves / Can’t Get There from Here / Boredom Zone / I Was Losing You All Along

The official release date of the vinyl version of the MTX Shards compilation, volume 1, is this Friday, June 8 and I figure I ought to mark the occasion with an explanation of what it is and how it came to be. (Note: the preponderance of copies of this first, very limited turquoise 180 gram vinyl pressing of this album have already been reserved and are spoken for; if you want one of the remaining 200 copies, you’re going to have to hunt for them at record stores around the country. A few on-line stores are taking orders, while supplies last. And starting Friday, the digital version will be available on all the “services.”)

The short version is, it’s the first volume of a kind of “odds and sods” rarities compilation, originally digital-only, that is now being released on limited edition, fancy specialty vinyl and in a new digital version. But making that happen took quite some doing.

When Lookout Records gave up its final ghost in 2012, I found myself with a huge, suddenly unpublished back catalog. There was of course a large number of used LPs, cassettes, and CDs out there somewhere (and I had a stockpile of the old Lookout stock myself); and there was pirated stuff on the internet. But nothing was commercially available and there was no official digital MTX presence. I had a vague idea of maybe looking into trying to do some genuine re-issues, even if I was a little fuzzy on what that would entail. My band wasn’t active at the time and this wasn’t a huge priority for me; plus the project of actually excavating all those old tapes and sorting through the relics and ruins was extremely daunting. I did what I usually do when faced with something daunting, which is to be daunted — and to shy away from the whole thing.

But it seemed as though publishing the digital catalog (i.e. “putting your music up on the internet”) at least was doable and doing it seemed better than not doing it. So former Lookout presidente Chris Appelgren and I set about it. There was nothing fancy about this. We didn’t re-engineer or process or manipulate anything. We just uploaded files ripped from CDs and front cover artwork to the digital distributor the Orchard and let it filter out from there.

Our man Chris (and did I mention: balbum!)

But the MTX catalog on CD, like that of most bands with output in the 80s and 90s, I’d guess, was a huge mess. There’s a detailed explanation of that situation, and why it was less than optimal, here. But briefly, most of the CDs had a great pile of bonus tracks (the usual aggregation of B-sides, comp. tracks, and out-takes) tacked on to the end, often placed there in an archival spirit with very little thought as to how it played as a whole. It was confusing, and annoying. Well, it annoyed me at least. (CDs pretty much ruined everything, didn’t they?) So we decided to take the opportunity to re-organize and re-constitute the catalog as a digital mirror, of the track-lists at least, of the releases as they originally came out.

So for instance, instead of uploading the program of the Our Bodies Our Selves CD (which was basically a weirdly-sequenced compilation of the 13 track album, the Gun Crazy 7", and couple of other random tracks we had lying around) we did Our Bodies Our Selves as a 13 track album, and Gun Crazy as a separate three-song e.p., just as they were originally released on vinyl. (But using the CD audio — that’s another issue that I’ll get to later. There wasn’t another option.) We did this with all the releases, doing the albums as albums and the singles and EPs as singles and EPs. This was a good thing to do.

We couldn’t use the original cover (long story) so we made this one instead.

But, then, what about the non-LP, non-single, non-EP songs, e.g. the two tracks on the Our Bodies Our Selves “compilation” CD that we just had lying around, “God Bless America” and “Don’t Go Away Go Go Girl”? They were left out. I always had the idea of trying to assemble these “orphaned songs” into a a digital compilation of their own, just for the sake of completeness, so that the digital catalog matched the meat space catalog, song for song. It wasn’t that hard, as most of them had wound up (as yet more bonus tracks) on the Lookout CD re-issue/comps. of Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood and …and the Women Who Love Them. But it also wasn’t this huge priority. No one was clamoring for a comprehensive MTX digital catalog. It wasn’t like doing it was going to make anybody any money, or even be appreciated to any great degree by anyone. Doing it would be solely for my own edification and for the sake of dotting the tease and crossing the eyes and calming the OCD jitters that flared up every now and then when I thought about the fact that something, somewhere, was missing. If you guessed that I basically did nothing at all with this idea for a good long stretch, well, you guessed right: you must know me pretty well.

The years passed.

When I finally did get around to examining the situation, I found there were 32 of these “orphans.” So Chris Appelgren and I, back in action once again, set about creating a digital compilation in two volumes of 16 tracks each, conceived as “shards” of the shattered MTX catalog. He designed an image for a digital “cover”, I had my buddy Pete Mattern jiggle the audio a bit to make the variously-sourced tracks cohere sonically and seem more like an album, and we were finally ready to go.

It was around this time that I started working with Chris Thacker, of the late, great Insubordination Records, and his new outfit Sounds Radical to do a vinyl version of King Dork Approximately the Album (previously only a download with the book — the fabled “balbum.”) When the time came, he marked the occasion of the new Shards digital comp. with some enamel pins and various related accessories. And he started planting the idea of maybe considering doing this casual, stop-gap, digital upload compilation album as a proper, physical release. KDATA had proved it was possible. (And, as I’ve said before, no matter how much you talk it up and how convenient and up-to-date and easily-copyable and -transferrable and -storable it is: digital ain’t quite real. It’s just not.)

this is what the vinyl looks like. sweet, right?

Well, obviously, that’s what we ended up doing, and the limited, turquoise, 180 gram specialty micro-pressing of Shards vol 1 that comes out on Friday is the result. Chris Appelgren did great new artwork for it. Liner notes are by me. (And, in case you haven’t realized, this pressing is deliberately designed to be scarce: you’re gonna have to hunt for it. I find that fun.)

But, in case you don’t know, producing a vinyl record is way way more complex and fraught than just uploading ripped CD files to a service and hoping for the best. Ideally, you want the original masters, whatever condition they may be in. CD audio is suboptimal and nearly useless for such a purpose. And this is where I was finally forced to confront that daunting pile of tapes, just tentatively, and to discover, to my horror, just how much stuff was missing. The project suddenly went from fun/casual, “hey might as well do it, since we can” to: my God, we’ve got to preserve this stuff, before more of it disintegrates or goes missing — this could be our last chance!

So, though it didn’t begin that way, Shards nevertheless became the first step towards what, if we live that long, will be a much greater, more extensive project of “preservation.”

Why? Well, as I’ve said before, it ain’t much of a legacy maybe, but it’s the only one I’ve got. If I had a better one, I’d be working on preserving that, no doubt. But as for this particular sweet little legacy, if I don’t do it, no one will.

I plan to write a great deal more about this situation as this process goes on. Dave Eck at Lucky Lacquers did a splendid job of working with and restoring the extant material for the vinyl, and for the digital as well. We’re leaving the old digital comp up for completeness, but this new transcription will be digitally distributed with the new artwork as Shards vol. 1, the vinyl edition. (Get the vinyl if you can though — it’s way cooler.) As we do more releases, the digital audio of each will be augmented with better, more professionally realized versions as well. We shall see how far we get. It’s going to take years.

Anyway, next up (date TBA) will be a similar charmingly scarce micro-pressing of Shards vol. 2, and, then if we can get it off the ground, a properly mastered “best of” compilation (kind of a Hot Rocks sort of thing, still in the planning stages); and then, with any luck, some proper re-issues, depending on whether the state of the tapes will justify the effort. I don’t want to do anything quick and dirty. (Though to be honest that’s how a great deal of this material was done in the first place, by necessity.)

In the meantime, just…. well, you know, just basically do whatever you were going to do anyway I guess. I can’t stop you.