“It just kinda popped out of my mouth,” Carey Mercer tells Exclaim! “What if this was our last record?”
He was sitting with the rest of Frog Eyes‘ current lineup — drummer Melanie Campbell, bassist Terri Upton and keyboardist Shyla Seller — discussing their upcoming tour. The band’s eighth record was already finished, and not intentionally crafted as a swan song. But that’s what Violet Psalms became: the band agreed to conclude, beginning the end of one of Canada’s most spectacularly perplexing bands.
“It’s 2018, and this project stretches back to 2001,” Mercer reflects. “I feel like we’re on the other side of a schism, or an epoch or something — it doesn’t make sense for anything to stretch from 2018 to 2001. Too much weird shit has happened.”
There’s also ample baggage that comes with a project that spans 17 years, he notes: the energy that goes into making each album, the expectations of the perpetual touring/recording cycle, the weight and memory of the band’s former lineups. Not all of the baggage is difficult — Mercer also points to a sense of camaraderie with other longtime bands they’ve shared stages with over the years. But it’s still significant history to work under, and to Mercer, something simply felt right about bringing it to a conclusion.
“There’s a ring-like circle to eight,” Mercer notes.
As a goodbye, Violet Psalms finds Frog Eyes going out with unbending idiosyncrasy. Its ten songs are full of skittering flourishes of sound and emotion. Produced, recorded and mixed in Mercer and Campbell’s basement, the album took shape in a particularly labyrinthine process: they recorded each part of the drum kit separately, giving the album a peculiar, shifting bedrock to build on. Bass, synth and guitar would be added, then possibly subtracted. And by his own admittance, Mercer isn’t particularly versed in mixing, adding copious amounts of time to the album’s gestation.
“It was days, and many hours each day, put into just listening and thinking about it,” Mercer says. “And then dark nights of the soul, like, ‘Oh, we made a huge mistake, we should can it and start fresh.’ But there was always something: ‘Well, except this part is so cool, and we won’t be able to get this part [again]. No one will let us do this, if we don’t do this ourselves.”
Frog Eyes’ conclusion doesn’t necessarily mean that Mercer’s done with music, but bringing such a long-time project to a close relieves the weight of expectation connected to it. Whatever comes next for Mercer and the rest, it won’t beholden to the past.
“We have a plan, when everything’s done, to sit down and talk, to see if anyone wants to come back together or not,” Mercer says. “But to be able to do it on the terms of, ‘This is a new band,’ without all the history of all the other players, all the other songs — the weight of history of the band weighing on us. And it’s quite possible, as people get older, [they] won’t want to. It’s really nice that if you do come back to it, it means something, but if you don’t, it’s fine. Not every band gets to release eight records.”
Violet Palms comes out May 18 on Paper Bag Records.
Frog Eyes’ Farewell Tour Dates:
05/11 Kamloops, BC – TBA ^
05/12 Kelowna, BC – Milkcrate Records ^
05/18 Toronto, ON – The Garrison ^
05/19 Montreal, QC – Bar le Ritz PDB ^
05/20 Ottawa, ON – The Warehouse ^
05/21 Hamilton, ON – Mill’s Hardware ^
05/25 Victoria, BC – Copper Owl ^
05/26 Vancouver, BC – China Cloud ^
06/29 Bellingham, WA – Shakedown Tavern ^
06/30 Portland, OR – The Bunk Bar ^
07/01 Seattle, WA – Sunset Tavern ^
07/03 Los Angeles, CA – The Moroccan Lounge ^*
07/05 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill ^*
07/07 Brooklyn, NY – Elsewhere: Zone One ^#
07/08 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s ^
07/09 Washington, DC – DC9 Club ^
^ with Hello Blue Roses
* with the Skygreen Leopards
# with Zachary Cale