By Michael Grondin
CALGARY – After 17 years of collaborating and participating in Canada’s diverse music community, the Vancouver-based experimental pop masterminds Frog Eyes are closing the book on a weird and fruitful career with Violet Psalms (Paper Bag Records), their eighth and final full-length. It’s a carefully crafted musical collection of tension and unease coated in hopeful melody.
According to Carey Mercer, Frog Eyes’ lead singer and guitarist, Violet Psalms isn’t so much a headstone, but rather an indicator of a specific point in time.
“It seems like there’s been some kind of demarcation line created in the past couple years where it feels inappropriate to carry on a project that started, in a sense, pre-climate change, in a sense, pre-Trump. Frog Eyes was birthed in a different time,” he says.
He explains that Violet Psalms was designed to be disorienting and introspective, mirroring the strange times we find ourselves in.
“Let’s just put a nice end to it, and you know, the band comes with so much baggage, and when I was making the record I never thought it would be the last one, but it just feels like a right to time to put an end to the name and its legacy and hopefully gain a new perspective.”
Unlike their previous releases, Mercer self-recorded Violet Psalms in a studio he built in his Vancouver home with the help of drummer Melanie Campbell, keyboardist Shyla Seller and bassist Terri Upton, which gave him control over both the sonic elements and ideas.
“From the first instant I started making music I was very jealous of the engineer’s knowledge, like, ‘Why do you put this mic there? These are my songs, why do you get to determine how it sounds?’ So much of the engineering affects the end product,” he says with a laugh.
“We didn’t want that. We wanted this claustrophobic, disorientating, swirl of drums.”
Thus, in an attempt to take the sonic qualities of this record to a new level, Mercer got creative.
“Every time you listen to a record, every instrument and microphone is obviously placed, and there’s a cohesive totality to the sound. Let’s fail miserably at mimicking that, and in our failure, let’s create something with a distinct imprint,” he explains of his end game.
Displaying many such examples of Frog Eyes’ outside-the-box techniques, the finished product is “a gnashing jubilee.”
“There’s always an image, or a flickering essence that you try and capture, and sometimes it changes in the process, or when you listen to the record after, or when you hear other people’s impressions of it,” he says. “When it started, I was thinking about shadows, and shadow puppetry, and silhouettes. This idea of creating depth where depth can’t exist, you know?”
Apart from the band’s last tour under their amphibian moniker, the next developmental stage in Frog Eyes’ evolution has yet to be unveiled. An exciting prospect for Mercer, who is the first to acknowledge that the only real constant is change.
“I spent half my life building this studio in my mind, and then after we built it for real and made this record, I went and sold everything. I don’t know if you have to be happy when you make a record, but you should at least be engaged and focused,” concludes Mercer. “It took a very long time, and a lot of dedication to learn how to make a record on your own, to compile tracks, to make them fit. And a record, in general, is a real magical thing we take for granted.”
Frog Eyes’ new LP Violet Psalms drops May 18 on Paper Bag Records. Frog Eyes perform May 11 at The Office of Surrealist Investigations (Kamloops), May 12 at Milkcrate Records (Kelowna), May 25 at Copper Owl (Victoria), May 26 at China Cloud (Vancouver).China Cloud, Copper Owl, Frog Eyes, Hothouse wallflowers, Milkcrate Records, Paper Bag Records, The Office of Surrealist Investigations, Violet Psalms