MK Ultra's days of dissonance

Orlando-based MK Ultra produces a refreshing blast of feedback in a scene characterized by the adult contemporary lite-rock of bands like Matchbox 20, GumWrapper Curb and My Friend Steve. The band is making a stand for surreal dissonance in modern rock.

"We don't necessarily fit the rock scene that is going on, and we don't necessarily fit the real underground/alterna-scene," says guitarist Jeff Matz. "We're just trying to do what feels right for us."

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MK Ultra -- named after a CIA program that used drugs and mind control to train would-be assassins -- astounded Sapphire Supper Club audiences last month with their opening set for Philadelphia noise-rockers Bardo Pond. Instead of a typically bland supporting-band experience, the audience was treated to a loud, dissonant rock show anchored by the unassuming vocals of guitarist Stewart Grace -- with nary an acoustic guitar in sight.

Although Grace, Matz and bassist Ed Geis had played together in veteran Orlando bands Killing Everything and Romey Buzley, it wasn't until they hooked up with drummer Maury Gil in January that they began to develop a truly distinctive sound. Following a muse to concoct a rawer, more visceral experience than their previous bands, MK Ultra set out to explore the use of dissonance as a songwriting tool.

They looked to Sugar and Sonic Youth as reference points, but the scrappy indie-rockers in Guided By Voices were a more primal influence. The concise, noisy songcrafting of the Ohio-based band gave MK Ultra impetus to let the spirit of a song dictate its length. "The song will tell you how long it is supposed to be," says Grace. "I learned personally to try to feel a flow, I don't know how to explain it other then that."

Indeed, four of the six tracks on their self-released CD, "Launch the Waiter," run under three minutes. Produced by audio engineer Grace and Matz at a friend's makeshift studio, "Launch the Waiter" is a portrait of a band taking control of the creative process. "It's so comfortable doing it yourself." says Grace. "There are no restraints that you have in the [professional] studio. You can stay there all night if you want, do whatever you want to do."

Despite their desire for control over their music, the band may not have the same control over their name: A San Francisco art-rock band and a techno-producer both work as MK Ultra. Grace and Matz remain unfazed and will continue to record as MK Ultra when they re-enter the studio with Geis and their new drummer, Carl Wogoman. "We're too far into it to change, says Grace. "I said to everybody, ‘May the best band win.'"


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