|by Jeff Ashley|
In October of 1999, I wrote a feature story for this very magazine that was a call for any information about Mark Griffin, aka MC 900ft Jesus. More specifically, his absence from the "popular" music scene, and I begged for information regarding him. For months after its publication, I thought that the article was having no impact and I felt that I had written a self-serving "MC 900ft Jesus" article to demonstrate how cool my musical taste is. But that all changed a couple of months later with at least two people a month contacting me asking if I had any further info. Now, nearly two years later, I still get frequent correspondence from passionate fans. For those people, and others wondering, this interview is for you. You've inspired it.
Mark Griffin's albums are essential '90s listens. Few artists took as much care to hone a craft. Here, in a rare conversation with Mark, he goes into detail regarding everything from his absence, to the future of his 900 foot alter ego.
Mark Griffin: Pretty good, I'm getting the caffeine buzz going and trying to be productive today. We're getting ready to do some shows next month and I've got to put a CD together of some demos of new tunes for the guys. We're only going to have a few days to rehearse before these gigs. So I need to get them the new material as far in advance as possible.
Mark, are you still MC 900ft Jesus?
Griffin: Yeah, although I have been doing other stuff. After we did all that touring for the last album, I took a little bit of time off and started working on some new material. I wound up in the studio and doing a few days of sessions with the same crew I had been touring with. At that point I just wasn't hearing what I wanted to hear. We had done so much touring that all of the band members had settled into ruts of what they do in the dynamic of that group. Even though we were doing new songs they really sounded like outtakes from One Step Ahead of the Spider. And I just felt like I was done with that sound and didn't want to just do it again. So I decided to set it aside for a while and try to come up with some new ideas. Coincidentally American Recordings was going through this process of getting out of their distribution deal with Warner Bros. So they ended up laying off all of their label employees including my A&R guy. Rick Ruben wanted to go back into the business of just producing records and not being a label any more. They dropped all of their bands except for the big guys like Johnny Cash and Black Crows. They had already advanced me half the money to do my next album so I wasn't officially dropped, but they obviously don't give a shit about me either. I also didn't have anybody from the label nagging me about get a record done. I just concentrated on other things and haven't done any MC 900ft Jesus shows since that last tour in 1995. I've mostly been doing things that are fun but don't really make me much money. There is a really good theater company here in Dallas that I have been doing music and sound for.
Are you still on the American Recordings roster?
Griffin: I don't think they are really interested in putting out my next album. My contract says that they guarantee that they will put out my next album, but I don't really think they want to. So as long as I just fade into the woodwork and don't make an issue of it, I'm sure they are fine with it. I'm eventually going to have to get motivated to do a record and send it off to them. I'm sure they'll find some way to weasel out of the deal, which is fine with me. If they don't want to put the record out, someone else will.
Are you currently working on a new MC 900ft Jesus album?
Griffin: Yeah. Sometimes I put time into it and sometimes I don't. These days most of the stuff I'm doing is going back to working on my computer, so it's all electronic stuff. I'm still using the original Protools set up that I bought when I was working on One Step Ahead of the Spider.
What spurred the absence from popular music?
Griffin: Well...it was the opportunity to be lazy and I wasn't feeling too particularly inspired. After the last album I just felt like I had taken the idea as far as I knew how to take it. The problem now is that this little sub-genre that we have going on has been going on for ten years, and there is so many clichés about it now. How many shows have you seen where there is a guy playing turntables and he's really not doing jack, he's just there as a prop? This is one of the reasons why I needed to just go off and get some new ideas figured out.
Have you enjoyed to time off?
Griffin: Yeah...I got my pilot's license a few years ago. So these days I enjoy flying and everything related to it a lot more than I enjoy music. I am going to do a new album though.
Do you get the perception that there is still a sizeable interest outside of the chat room community, that there is an interest for new MC 900ft Jesus material?
Griffin: That remains to be seen. When I was planning these upcoming shows I had to face the issue of where to try to books the shows. Is there enough interest around here to support doing a show in a venue that holds 700 people? It's a total gamble. I have no idea at this point, so it will be really interesting to see what kind of crowds those shows draw.
Are you still playing with the same guys you played with on previous albums?
Griffin: Yeah, it's going to be Earl Harvin, the drummer that was on that last album. He's done a lot of touring with me. And Dave Palmer is the keyboard player, Chris McGuire is the sax player that I work with all the time. I've got a new guitarist who has been a friend of mine for a long time, his name is Phil Bush, and Dave Montzy who has toured with me quite a bit. I don't know, I may not have a DJ with me on these particular gigs.
Will the shows be completely live then?
Griffin: Yeah, that has been the philosophy for these particular shows. When I've toured with these guys before I used to have a few tunes in the set where we would have a sequencer running some kind of beat box track and I think I'm going to try to get rid of all that this time. These guys are some of the best jazz players west of the Mississippi, so I figure I can just dispense with that kind of stuff without it turning into some major tragedy.
Are these guys traditional jazz players, or do they come from a place where there is a mixture of the hip-hop and electronics with the jazz like you do?
Griffin: Well...they are all real well rounded guys. Palmer and Harvin started out as pretty much strictly jazz guys at UNT. I don't know if you are familiar with North Texas State University, but it is one of the better music schools in the country. They have a really strong jazz department, and that is what these guys started playing. When I first met them they were doing straight ahead jazz trio gigs. They still do a lot of that.
Did you meet these guys at the university?
Griffin: No. I was at North Texas in the early 80's finishing my masters. When I first became aware of them they were playing shows at some of the little jazz clubs here in town. I like the idea that they are among those real young players that are incredible virtuosos, but they're not hard-core assholes about being traditional jazz players. They are really open to doing all kinds of crazy stuff. I'm really glad that I've gotten them to go out on the road with me.
Do you play with these jazz musicians outside of MC 900ft Jesus?
Griffin: There is another band that I play in that is just a bunch of old friends of mine and we have a group called the Enablers. We play around Dallas doing really-low key shows, just at our favorite watering hole playing for 30 or 40 dollars a piece. It's just three of us. Me, Phil and some regular sit-in guys. I play trumpet with them and it's the kind of thing where if I don't show up they can still do a gig.
Do you find that you have MC 900ft Jesus fans coming to these jazz shows just because you are in the band?
Griffin: It has happened. But for the most part, those shows are so low-key that the only people that actually know about that connection are the people that may or may not show up anyway.
If the shows goes well could the plan be to take the shows outside of Texas?
Griffin: That is what I would really like to do. I'm getting to the point in my life where I've got to either stay in the music business or get out. These new shows have given me some ideas of new things to try, so it is artistically inspiring. I'm also working with Nettwork to re-release the first two albums. So they will be back in print soon.
What inspired you to take Oral Roberts vision of the 900ft Jesus and use that as the name for your band?
Griffin: I was an employee at a little indie record store and I started to really like the dance club 12-inch singles that we specialized in. The logistical hassle and soap opera of being in a band was always frustrating to me. I realized that the 12 inches are really cool, one guy in his bedroom can do this. I wanted to try my hand at it and that is how I wound up coming with the first EP that I did. I was getting ready to have to come up with the artwork and was also trying to come up with the most ridiculously long, hard to remember name that was a parody of a rap artist. I wasn't particularly thinking of Oral Roberts, I have no idea why that popped into my head.
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