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toroddfuglesteg View Drop Down
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    Posted: December 10 2010 at 07:49

Canadian act Mahogany Frog was founded in 1998, when self-described high school noise-makers Graham Epp and Jesse Warkentin met flamboyant bass-player Nathan Loewen. They have so far released five albums and had their break through with the excellent fifth album DO5.  

I got in touch with the band for their story and my questions was answered by both Scott and Graham.


Your biography has been covered in your ProgArchives profile so let's bypass the biography details. But why did you choose that name and which bands were you influenced by ?

Scott: Graham and Jesse picked that name before I joined the Mahogany Frog, probably 1996. they say not having heard of Mahogany Rush, and seemingly they don't know the details themselves.I've asked on several occasions.

I was influenced at an early age by Thick As A Brick, I think it was my favorite when I was 8. my folks records is all I listened to until the mid 90's. Rubber Soul, Valdy, Switched on Bach, Zepplin, Hendix, Budgie. By 2000 the world of music really opened up to me, and I've tried to listen to new music all the time.

Graham: Mahogany Frog. Doesn't it have a nice ring to it? Kind of like "the Beach Boys", it just seems to fit.
We all listen to a lot of different kinds of music and learn from it all. When I think of what gets regular play in the tour van...the Besnard Lakes, Traveling Wilburys, Jaga Jazzist, Frank Zappa, the Kinks, Caribou...
When Jesse and I met and started playing guitar we were into Jimi Hendrix and the Smashing Pumpkins. Then we heard jazz music. Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis. In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew continues to be a reference point for me. Electronica came shortly afterwards. Aphex Twin, Autechra, Brian Eno...
With Mahogany Frog we've never set out to make a certain type of music. I think if we ever did that I'd get tired of it. This band is about challenging ourselves not only with the task of trying to perform music that may be beyond our own technical abilities but also with the concept of what music is. We're using a pretty straight forward rock n roll set up with guitars, keys, bass and drums but rarely trying to sound like it. What keeps things interesting is that I can bring in a surf song that I wrote and it will work with the band and then the next day Jesse will show us a lush, electronic, easy listening piece that he's working on and we'll switch gears and work on that.

Your type of music is very special and mainstream. Why makes this type of music your heart strings sings and/or what makes it so fascinating to you ?

Scott: Mainstream? We are just trying to make music that we want to hear. Possibly a fusion of what we enjoy, or have enjoyed. Personally I like the expression of music, the challenge physically and mentally. Mahogany Frog has helped me achieve far more than would have actually playing mainstream music. We get to play loud and crazy while getting into the pocket, psychedelic sounds that fills my ears and stretch my mind.

Over to your albums. Please tell us more about your first album Plays the Blues from 2001

Scott: That was recorded before I joined the Band. I did get to play a few songs from the album, but they quickly were dropped so we could play the ever realizing newer material.

Graham: Though we call it our first full length, it is officially out of print with no plans of a re-release. It was indeed an important step in the evolution of this band but I'm afraid that people familiar with our last three records would be bitterly disappointed. First off, it was recorded very quickly and not properly mastered. It's also very different from our current sound. There are some vocals on a couple of tracks and to me it sounds like the Smashing Pumpkins playing a set of Grateful Dead tunes with Bootsy Collins, from Funkadelic, on the bass. Perhaps that's too harsh. I really should listen to it again.

Please tell us more about your second album The Living Sounds from 2003

Scott: I played this piece several times with the band, once as an encore even. Quite a low budget affair it really seems to be a quality demo, and I hope we redo this song someday.

Graham: This a piece of work that I'm still very proud of. I guess you could say this is where I started listening to the records of Gentle Giant and Soft Machine. Jesse was off traveling in South-East Asia and I had a lot of free time to work on writing. I had acquired an old electric piano, which we still use in our live rig today, and started thinking about ways to incorporate it into our music, because until now we were strictly dual guitar, bass, and drums. So when Jesse returned home from his travels I had a cassette tape full of music that I was trying to string together into an epic piece. Jesse and I toiled away on it for a month or so on acoustic guitars in my bachelor suite in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and had created an hour long piece. Now we just needed a bass player. We found one in the name of Shaun Mason, who now heads the folk group, "Dumb Angel." We crammed Shaun into my little apartment for a few weeks of grueling rehearsal and then figured we were ready to add some drums. JP Perron, our drummer from 1998-2008, was patiently waiting for us. These were the days of 8 hour long rehearsals in JP's Mom's basement. They were grueling to say the least. After several weeks of rehearsing we debuted the new song live on June 30, 2002. It went over well but we weren't quite satisfied with the overall sound. Something was missing. We decided to recruit a keyboardist by the name of Jordan Perry, now drummer with Montreal based death metal band, Derelict. He brought in a Farfisa organ, which we still use, and an analog synthesizer. Along with the addition of a saxophonist, Mike Spindloe, the sound was much thicker. We now had more voices in our attempts at jazz and it allowed the guitars to take on other roles. We played two shows with this six-piece lineup and then as summer was ending Jesse, JP, and I were feeling the need to move the band to another city. Sensing that this would be the end of this lineup we quickly booked some time at a friend's studio (the same one where we recorded Plays the Blues) and recorded, mixed, and mastered the song in one 24 hour session! Needless to say there are things I'd love to be able to change in the mix but it really does capture the spirit of that lineup and the creative burst we had that summer.

We released the recording the following winter after we had relocated to Winnipeg. Jesse designed the cool album art and we hand stenciled each CD in a three colour process. I think it took me about a half hour to assemble each case. But oh did they look great.

Please tell us more about your third album Vs Mabus from 2004

Scott: The first album I worked on after joining the band. We set up and recorded in our practice room with our friend Petkau on the Pro-tools. Looking back it was really a learning experience. trying to capture our live chemistry in multitrack fashion was very difficult. Pauls Overalls is my favourite chunk because we did it in sessions and then had fun putting together the final piece in editing, experimenting with the computers capabilities.

Graham: VS Mabus is our prog rock record. This is where we really got into keyboards.

Where as our first two albums were recorded live in a studio over the course of a day or two this one was completed over a period of months. We dissected each tune and layered up the instruments. The songs are often lengthy and epic. It was a fun and educational experience recording this one.

Please tell us more about your fourth album On Blue from 2005

Scott: We wanted On Blue to be a bit shorter so it would sound good on vinyl. The songwriting was maturing fast at this point, we played so much those years. We spent more time getting quality sounds, and used a recording studio for half the tracks. The track Various Artists Q me and Graham did one smokey day in our practice space on my 4-track, then Jesse worked it over a bit for the album.

Graham: With On Blue we decided to strip it down a bit and go for a more raw or live sound than the previous record. We also added some studio only numbers. Various Artists Q was recorded by Scott and I one wintery afternoon an a four track and UXB41 was an idea I had on the way to the studio one night. Those two songs are kind of special to me because they were very spontaneous and we've never tried to recreate them live.

I think this record displays our experimental side more than anything else we've done as Mahogany Frog. That said, the cuts; Zulumatic and Baroque have been staples of our live show even on our most recent tour.

Please tell us more about your fifth album DO5 from 2008

Scott: We did this whole record in the studio, knowing that we had to blast everything through tube amps to get the best sound. Having more experience recording and doing it with the same engineer (Petkau), we had real confidence in the building of this album.

Graham: We recorded Do5 with Mike Petkau (the same engineer on VS Mabus and On Blue) so after doing a couple albums with him and playing on his own record we could communicate to him as to what we were trying to achieve with this record. Sonically, this is the gem of the Mahogany Frog catalog. The songs were very well rehearsed before we entered the studio (except Last Stand At Fisher Farm which was written during the sessions) so we spent our time honing the sounds. We used a lot of unorthodox recording techniques and used the vacuum tube to its full capacity. At times the tube was the instrument.
In terms of genre Do5 is all over the map. Spaghetti western soundtracks, electronica, jazz, psychedelic rock. We are playing what we want to hear.
From the first day in the studio to the final master the project took a year and a half!

How is the creative process in Mahogany Frog from coming up with a theme/riff/idea to you get it down onto an album ?

Scott: Almost all the songs are played live and rehearsed thoroughly before recording (some exceptions: Last Stand At Fisher Farm, Various Artists Q). And not being millionaires we have done things on what some might called a shoestring. The songs come together resonably fast, once we get it together as a 4piece, not much changes in the way of composition. Since we have no lyrics there is not enough meaning in the songs for us to have many differences, we know our roles and capabilities.

Graham: With the exception of one or two songs per album, we perform all of our material live before recording it. I guess we can write and rehearse songs faster than we can record them. Doing it this way also lets us work out any bugs before we enter the studio and start paying by the hour.

Just to give those of us who are unknown with your music a bit of a reference point or two: How would you describe your music ?

Scott: Instrumental

Graham: That's always hard to answer. I'm sure if you asked all four members of the band you'd get four completely different answers.
There are four song writers in this band and we all listen to a wide variety of music.
The music obviously appeals to the prog rockers because it's genre-bending and instrumental.

I think if you enjoy Sergio Leonne movies, attempt to play tennis at least once every four years, believe in love, and don't feel comfortable unless you're a little uncomfortable then you may enjoy Mahogany Frog.

How is your gigs situation ? Is there any plans or wishes to play gigs or festivals in and outside Canada and USA for the rest of this year and/or next year ?

Scott: Because of the nomadic nature of some of the band members, we can only play certain times of the year. for a few years summers were out, so we have yet to play many festivals. Progday was very fun and we hope to play NEARfest sometime, and the progrockers have regailed us with tales of european festivals. Right now we are focusing on some upcoming releases, and plan to tour after they are finished. Most likely a full ca.

Graham: We don't have any shows planned until the spring. We've started piecing together a new record and probably won't be doing any extensive touring until it's released. We did offer our services to Nearfest for the 2011 festival.

How is the availability of your first albums and what is your experience with the music industry and the new internet music scene ?

Scott: Having only done small runs of the first 2, and not having them for distribution makes them fairly rare. And being an independent band we don't do much promotion, other than playing. Our last 3 albums are on Scratch Distro, and MoonJune has been great at getting us in touch with a group of great music lovers. I think our intention is to be underground, we are not trying to get with big labels and we love playing rock shows in bars. The internet can really make it easy to check out different bands, but we don't spam.

Graham: Only our latest three albums are in print. CD Baby sells On Blue and Do5. In Canada, Scratch Records handles all three CDs as well as our vinyl. So far nobody carries the vinyl versions of our records in the USA. I don't know why because they sell quite well here in Canada. So as for the USA, MoonJune distributes Do5 and Wayside Music carries all three CDs. Then there is itunes...
Though I wouldn't call it a "scene," the internet is great for a band like us. The accessibility to independent music that the internet provides is an invaluable tool. A couple of years ago a film company from Los Angeles stumbled upon us on the web and contacted us to ask if they could use some of our music in their film. How else would they have heard of us?

Are you involved in any other bands or projects ?

Scott: I have been involved in Winnipeg for nearly 10 yrs. I enjoy doing expeimental music with a friend Greg Hanec, over the years as Phillia, Suture, Moment Device. Absent Sound is a band I have been in and out of over the years, most recently a tour out east to record a batch of new tunes (sept. 09). Just recently I have joined forces with our filmographer Steph Oysterik(aka Pretty Grizzly). The new band is called Amiga, I am playing synth to his saturated guitar.

Graham: We've all been involved with a lot of other bands and projects. Jesse was playing synth and organ in a hot garage rock band called the Summer of Legs for a while. I even got fill in on bass for a few gigs. It fulfilled a small dream of mine.
Andy, our drummer, has done some film scores recently, has an extensive catalog of electronic music, and had a classical metal three piece called the Calculus Affair.
Scott is always involved with an experimental project of some sort and has recently started playing synth in a rock group.
I've been working on a solo project for years that seems to have all the good songs stolen by Mahogany Frog.

What is your plans for the rest of this year and next year ?

Scott: Hopefully by the end of spring 2011 we will have some new releases. The possibility of a live record hangs in the balance between our inability to play the parts perfect live and our willing to let go of that and pick out some great takes. We have already started working on our new studio album, with our new drummer Andy Rudolph we are taking a more traditional approach, and hope to record at BreakGlass studios in Montreal.

Graham: Finish this record. Play Nearfest.

Thank you to Scott and Graham for this interview

Their PA profile is here and their homepage here

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avestin View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 10 2010 at 16:30
Thanks for the interview, this is a band I've come to appreciate a lot in the last two years, having gotten their albums, On Blue and DO5. Looking forward to new material from them. 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 23 2010 at 10:47
I tend to follow Assaf tastes, and I've seen he's keen on this band, so I am sure their music is guarantee of a good time.
Another great interview.

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