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Though he keeps busy collaborating with I Am The World Trade Center's Dan Geller in the band Ruby Isle, Minneapolis' piano-pounding showman Mark Mallman still finds time to keep his solo career alive. On Aug. 11, he'll release Invincible Criminal, his first solo record since 2006’s Between The Devil And The Middle C, and he'll give these new tracks an early airing on Saturday, June 13, at Bryant-Lake Bowl. Decider met with “The Fastest Piano In The Midwest” in his basement apartment in a converted church, where we got down to brass tacks about fame, broken records, spectral experiences with Elvis Presley, and the difficulties of bringing a scooter into a club.
Decider: Your records often revolve around unifying concepts. What is Invincible Criminal about?
Mark Mallman: My records all have themes, and the theme of this one was going to be money and Satanism, and then I changed it to crime. It’s usually just a loose theme. With Devil And The Middle C, it was alcohol, and with The Red Bedroom, it’s about prostitution. It’s not absolute, but it comes out in bits and pieces here and there. For me, if I don’t have a theme, I just write songs that are totally unrelated. When I listen to the record, it’s about time. You wake up in the morning one day and you’re 100 years old—that’s one of the lyrics. Invincible Criminal is [about the idea] that time is robbed from us, and we can’t fight it.
D: The story goes that you completely changed Invisible Criminal's focus after a spooky experience at Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion. What happened?
MM: That was fucked up, man. I had finished writing the record. [The lights in the room go out; Mallman laughs nervously.] And I was going to take a break, and went down to Memphis and we went to Graceland. They don’t let you go upstairs, which is creepy. [That’s] where he died. It feels like time just stopped when this guy died. You just walk right into it and it’s overpowering—it blows away all the tourist shit around it, especially if you are a musician. And I went in the kitchen, and I looked on the floor, and all of a sudden it just dawned on me—I’m standing in Elvis’s fucking house, and I had this image of him passed out on the floor with no one to help him. Here’s an American icon with all his moments of glory, and you’re in his intimate space where all the weird shit happened. He’s the first extreme celebrity, so there’s still this transitory period where he’s a regular guy. And I can’t shake this image of him passed out on the floor—I was so struck by it. The negativity of it overpowered me, and I just started re-thinking [Invincible Criminal]. Fortunately, we were still in the studio, and I went back took all the negativity out of the lyrics. [Graceland is] just a very intense place to be. No matter how you immortalize someone, you can’t escape the human condition.
D: Pianist Chilly Gonzalez recently picked up a world record for the longest concert with a performance of a single 27-hour song. You're well-known for a marathon show at the Turf Club, where you played for more than 52 hours. Why didn’t you bring the Guinness Book Of World Records people out to that show and make your feat official?
MM: That’s why Chilly Gonzalez is slamming me [in the comments of a recent City Pages post]. There’s a fee you have to pay if you want them to consider your act. I don’t believe that’s fair. They’re making money off of the book, and people who are in the book shouldn’t have to pay to be in the book. The Onion sent them a letter trying to get them to recognize it, and they said they wouldn’t consider it because of [how they defined] a “song.” Going to do something just for the world record is cool. I just think it artistically cheapens what that is about. Eventually, if they wanted to give their approval, fine, but … fuck, it’s just the book with obese twins on motorcycles. [Laughs.]
D: Why aren’t you bigger than you are?
MM: Why? Because I don’t have money behind me. I mean, you wouldn’t believe the promises that have been made where none of them happened. My team right now is a lot of honest people. I’ve got a good team as far as my label, my agent, my manager, and my publicist. We’re all working hard, but we don’t have $500,000 of promotion. I don’t sit around at night thinking, "Why don’t I make millions." I really wish I had more money to give the kind of show I want to do, but if I have to live in a basement or drive the minivan, I don’t care.
D: Are you bringing anything like your New Year’s Eve motor-scooter act out on tour with you?
MM: If the record takes off. I always say that because I’m hoping someday I can do a New Years Eve style show in every city. But it’s great that the show is back—that’s what people want. In the early '90s, grunge music was like punishment for me. You just had to sit there with a guitar and pretend you’re poor, you know? And now bands like Gogol Bordello, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fischerspooner are out there and they all have great live shows. I’m all about the show, but I don’t want to make it a non-stop gimmick fest. So I always try to walk that line. The road is really difficult, and there are fire codes and such, so the rest of the country just knows me as the crazy guy who jumps off the keyboard and screams a lot.