Reducing Cultural Footprints: Frog Eyes Interview + Free Downloads
Experimental, avant-indie, freak-pop. Call them what you will, but Frog Eyes has been rocking the scene for nearly 10 years and has helped pioneer the Canadian indie explosion. Now with an album fresh off the presses and a new label backing them, Carey Mercer and Co. are hitting the road, playing a handful of US and Canada dates. The Owl Mag was able to get Frog Eyes mastermind Carey Mercer on the phone for a quick interview to hear about the tour, the new album, and the recent label switch. We caught up with him at home in Victoria, British Columbia, taking care of his newborn and preparing for the tour.
You’re playing this first leg of the tour with Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band. How did you get paired up with them?
They’re label mates. I asked Philâ€”who runs the labelâ€”if he had any idea so he came up with a list of bands and narrowed it down to who’s available and we like them and they could tour the west coast so we said yeah.
After S.F. you’re making quite a leap to Minneapolis, why the big jump? Any fun plans in between?
We actually come home for about a week. We have a baby and he’s 6 months old and it’s our first tour with him so we wanted to break it up.
Congratulations on the baby, is it your first?
Yeah, our first baby. It’s exciting, I think the tour is going to be fun.
So how have fans embraced the new album so far? It’s gotten great reviews from critics.
We’ve only played one show in Vancouver which is kind of a weird place, so it’s hard to tell. My friends like it [laughing], that’s the only feedback I’ve gotten. It’s an interesting question because there’s a gulf between what critics think and what your average music listener says and thinks. It’s hard to say because music has changed so much in the last couple of years. I grew up in a time, I know it’s funny to start off a sentence with “well, I grew up in a time,” when you would get three CDs a year and you would just devour them, play them over and over and over again, which was actually really boring. The 21-year olds that go into the music stores now have infinitely more awareness of the traditions of 20th century music that I wouldn’t have had at 21. It’s like comparing cavemen to modern men [laughing]. They are so much more sophisticated. So I don’t know how people receive new music any more. In my era you know it was much more boring and now it’s so exciting. In these times you can become versed in Krautrock, you can download the entire legacy of Krautrock and get to know it, but at the same time there’s not as much value in it. So I guess the big challenge is how do you make music people will value. I think the more individual the music is, the more people will value it.
It was quite a bit of time between your last album and this one. Were you taking your time with this album or were you working on other projects?
It was actually intentional, that’s a nice segue, it’s a reaction to the inexhaustible iPod or whatever and this feeling that there’s too much music in people’s lives right now. I felt like reducing my cultural footprint. It just felt like we should slow down a bit, I mean this record could have come out in 2008. I also wanted to work on a solo record in between and that takes a lot longer because you have to play all the instruments yourself and it’s much more cerebral. But it’s actually a really quick process, I just start playing guitar. So yeah, I’m not trying to brag, we could have a record out every two months, but the gap was definitely intentional and maybe more bands should have a gap too. The other thing is, is that it’s so easy for bands to constantly churn out music. Most bands if you have a couple thousand dollars you can set up a pretty decent little recording studio in your basement. But the first question you asked was how are fans receiving it, I keep coming back to that, I actually have no idea how people are listening to music these days.
I guess this tour will be a good gauge then.
Yeah, that’s right. I hope it’s not just tumble weeds. [laughing]
This album has some pretty long songs. Four that pass the 5-minute mark and two that push 10-minutes. Did you have a lot to say on this new album or is that just the way it all came together.
I think this record gets credit for being an exploration of space. We have our record right before “Tears”, called “The Folded Palm”, which is kind of the antithesis to this album and the songs are all 2 or 3-minutes, but in my mind the songs are kind of the same. They have the same ideas, but in Folded Palm all those ideas are extremely condensed and happen at the same time. It’s like picturing an accordion squeezing in and out. So the reason the songs are long, it’s like instead of saying “we have 20 ideas lets get them all into a 2-minute song,” instead lets allow this reverberation of the guitar to go on and all of a sudden you have a 9-minute song.
So this is your first album in a while that hasn’t been on Absolutely Kosher. Is there a reason you made the jump?
There wasn’t really a reason, you just feel that a change might be better for the music, just to bounce your ideas off someone else. Absolutely Kosher is such a good label to their artists and I would never have anything but the most glowing recommendations for the label and how they treated us. There’s no reason, you sometimes just feel the winds of change.
How did you come across your new label, Dead Oceans?
Phil, the guy that runs the label, has been a long time Frog Eyes fan and we talked to some of the people that run their sister label and they put us in touch with Phil and that was that.
So who’s going to be touring with you this time around?
We actually have a full stable line up which is the first time since The Folded Palm. So for close to 5 years what we’ve been doing is just recruiting people. Always touring with someone new, there’s a good quality to that, but at the same time you go on tour you have to spend a month straight with someone and by the time you do that every time you become so sick of the songs. So it’s nice not to have to do that. So it’s me, Melanie [Campbell], Ryan Beattie and Megan Boddy.
That’s got to be relieving to have a stable crew.
It was always kind of depressing too because you really start to click with the band at the end of the tour and then you have to just be like “see you later.”
So what’s next for you? Are you going to continue to focus on Frog Eyes or do some work on Swan Lake or more solo stuff or something completely different?
I’ll just have to see how I feel after this, we’ll have to do a few tours, but we’ll see. After a long tour I feel like spending some time with the computer and after I’ve spent some time with the computer I feel like playing real music with real people. That seems to be the fluctuation.
Well I’m glad you’re in your “being out with real people” phase.
Yeah, I definitely am.
Be sure to catch Frog Eyes at The Crepe Place in Santa Cruz on May 25th or at Hemlock Tavern on May 29th and pick up a copy of their new record “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”
Download “Lear In Love” from Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph
FROG EYES TOUR DATES:
05/22/10 Seattle, WA – Crocodile Cafe w/ Plants and Animals
05/23/10 Portland, OR – Holocene*
05/25/10 Santa Cruz, CA – The Crepe Place*
05/27/10 San Diego, CA – The Casbah*
05/28/10 Los Angeles, CA – Echo*
05/29/10 San Francisco, CA – The Hemlock Tavern*
06/10/10 Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry #
06/11/10 Madison, WI – The Frequency #
06/12/10 Chicago, IL – Schubas Tavern #
06/13/10 Pontiac, MI – The Pike Room at Crofoot Ballroom #
06/15/10 Toronto, ON – Music Gallery Courtyard #
06/16/10 Ottawa, ON – Mavericks #
06/17/10 Montreal, QC – Il Motore #
06/18/10 Cambridge, MA – Middle East Upstairs #&
06/19/10 New York, NY – The Mercury Lounge #&
06/22/10 Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie #&
06/23/10 Washington, DC – DC9 #&
06/24/10 Columbus, OH – The Summit #
06/25/10 Bloomington, IN – The Bishop %
06/26/10 St. Louis, MO – Luminary #
* w/ Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
# w/ Pearly Gate Music
& w/ Beach Fossils
% w/ Tammar