Tuesday, September 15, 2015

INTERVIEW: Three Questions for Frog

In case you missed it, frog released a sublime album earlier this year. The gents were kind enough to respond to some of my questions about Kind of Blah and I learned some new stuff about Judy Garland!

Credit: Andrew Piccone

1) What's your deal with tragic lady celebrities? First Nancy Kerrigan and then Judy Garland?

I’m not really sure!  Nancy Kerrigan was a personal thing; if you’re my age and you grew up in the US, it was a very intense media event when she was attacked and then won silver.  The song was a reflection on how a huge news blitz like that becomes warped by your memory until it becomes something very personal, very tender, mixed in with all your crushes and family vacations.

I wrote Judy because I learned about her connection with the stonewall riots and her status as a gay icon in the 50’s and early 60’s, when I only knew her from Wizard of Oz and Meet me in St Louis.  Something about it was very moving!  She’s also one of my favorite all time singers.  I was thinking a lot about Fred Astaire, Hollywood, Judy in the 40s-60s, what they meant to the country as a whole; Also who knows what was really going through my head?  I try not to think too much about what I’m writing about, if it feels right then it goes on the record.  If I overthink it I end up throwing it out.  

In answer to your question,  I think the country in general has an obsession with tragic lady celebrities, including my mom, so my songs about them are more because the environment I was brought up in had them splayed across every magazine cover, poster, etc. than any ingrained quality of my own.  It just felt right to sing about them.

2) Your music is extremely layered in its approach. How do you construct the music in your compositions? How do you two generally approach your songwriting?

The songs come about in lots of different ways.  Sometimes they come to me fully-formed, other times I’m forced to squeeze them out like juice from a lemon.  I write most of the songs, and all the melodies, lyrics and so forth with Tom arranging them, and sort of molding them and helping grow them into frog songs.  Sometimes the songs are written in 30 seconds with me just playing some chords and singing some melodies with Tom in the practice space, sometimes it takes many, many months/years.  
Kind of Blah went through a lot of revisions, but what it became was an dark, minimalist record that we tried to keep as bare as possible in arrangement, instrumentation, and theme.  Lots of songs were written before we decided to do that, and most thrown out, but some were reworked to make sense in the album.   My favorite song on the record is the final, secret track, and it was actually the catalyst for me to make the record so dark because it came out so good.
I think that part of having a long career in songwriting and record crafting is keeping your process fluid and not falling into any pattern or routine with it.  If you keep making songs in the same way, you’re gonna come out with the same songs again.  You should pick a different route to work every day,  you should run in a different place every time,  you should keep finding ways to be surprised by yourself and your environment, otherwise you’ll lose the ability to look at anything in a new way.  All great artists constantly strive to innovate, not just to be further ahead of other artists, but to be further ahead of their old work.  It’s gotta be fun, otherwise why not get a job in a Manhattan tech company 40 hours a week.  (full disclosure: Me and Tom both work at the same Manhattan tech company 40+ hours a week)

3) I was genuinely struck by how "New York" this album is. Was this conscious on your part?

I think this was probably the first time I’ve been able to write good songs about NYC, because I’ve been here so long that my impressions of it have settled in my mind and subconscious enough for me to be able to draw on these kind of images.  To me, New York records always have a dark edge to them, sort of like the noir feel that many films about the city have.  Its very easy to paint your characters in between the girders and post apocalyptic elevated trains because with a little imagination, things that are infuriating and depressing about living here become evocative backdrops for story lines and characters to develop.  

Mostly, I think the period of my life where I was most melancholy was when I was single and living in Astoria and working in midtown, and for some reason most of this records’ songs draw on this part of my life.  There is a special kind of loneliness that I’ve only really experienced here and that seems very particular to the city, and all the songs are firmly rooted in this feeling.  Just like Sinatra, in the wee small hours, schmaltzy type stuff.  To be honest, the record is mostly about my life struggling to make music here, and trying to find meaning in a life where you have no money, no success, and no time to work on what you want to do.  This goes out to Manhattan, the island of Staten, Brooklyn and Queens they livin’ fat and the boogie down, enough props enough clout, ill will r.i.p. yo I'm out.
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