Photo by Chelsee Ivan
The first time I saw FRIGS live was in Boston, at the tail end of a noise rock slump. Two years of fuzzed-out basement shows and a bad habit of forgetting my earplugs at home had left me at least a dozen decibels poorer in both ears and more than a little apprehensive about standing anywhere within striking distance of a cranked amp. But the Toronto rock scene is always a good bet, and with fellow Canadians HSY on the bill as well, I tucked those plugs into my pocket and followed my heart to Club Bohemia.
It’s a wonderful thing, brushing up against the unknown, but FRIGS went and ripped a hole straight through it that night. Despite their drummer pulling a second shift with HSY that tour, the band went off, sparing no one from the all-consuming, full-body roar they create on stage. Now that they’ve released their debut LP, Basic Behavior, you can get a taste of it off-stage as well.
The sound is tightly-wound, but deeply emotive. FRIGS hurl themselves at the wall of existential frustration, at times maintaining a stately post-punk pulse, occasionally erupting into frantic, borderline psychedelic hysterics as guitars, vocals, and drums lash out in panic-attack waves of delicious noise. From the ping-ponging slapback and measured thump of opener “Doghead,” to the slow inferno vibe-out of closer “Trashyard,” FRIGS aren’t here for your complacency. Basic Behavior is a record of action, a taste of what’s possible when you get up and do the damn thing.
Ahead of their show at Alphaville on March 3 with Bambara, Weeping Icon, Reverent, and Dean Cercone, AdHoc spoke to vocalist Bria Salmena about the record and misguided attempts to classify their ferocious sound.
AdHoc: Can you tell me a little about the artwork for Basic Behavior? The imagery of the floating body in the Houdini-style water escape tank and the barbed wire behind the curtain definitely capture the sense of lurking danger and disorientation that’s so prevalent on the record.
Bria Salmena: The album artwork was a collaborative effort between myself, Olenka Syzmonski, a Toronto based artist, and Jamie McCuaig, a floral designer also based in Toronto. The three of us decided that we wanted to create an optical trick. We worked with photographs of a person in the fishtank and Jamie created the floral sculpture, which actually wraps around the artwork. It wasn’t meant to correlate with the subject matter of the record; it was meant to be just visually striking. Disorientation was definitely a goal—it’s good to have that pointed out.
You have two EPs and two singles under your collective belts, but this is your first LP-length release. Did working with a longer format change your approach this time around? Did it free you up to try anything you weren’t able to do before?
The LP was recorded in two phases. The first was over a year and a half at our home studio in Corso Italia, Toronto. We really took our time cultivating songs and sounds, thinking about production choices, mostly because we were able to do it essentially for free. We could record at our leisure.
Around December of last year, we realized we needed to kick things into gear and also went through a member change, which put a bit of a fire under our butts. So we decided to finish it in a proper studio and went to Union Sound in Toronto to work with Ian Gomes, whom we’d worked with before. Very different process: we gave ourselves a month and a half to finish writing songs and five days in the studio. Time was money, but even though it was frantic, it fostered a really creative environment. We got to see both sides of the coin with this record, and luckily it came together because there’s a very good chance it might not have [laughs]. It’s a very Frankenstein record.
The sound of FRIGS seemed pulled from a pretty tangled web of genres and influences, and I’m sure you’re used to plenty of comparisons to other acts over the years. Is there any comparison you’ve gotten that you don’t like or agree with?
Yes. I’ve been compared to Courtney Love often for some reason, and I don’t really understand why. Not to say that I didn’t grew up really loving Hole. They were definitely a big deal for me growing up, but I don’t think I sound anything like her and I don’t think that I give off the same kind of vibe that she does. Somebody once called me the “virginal version of Courtney Love.” I don’t have any idea what that’s supposed to mean.
Was there any track on Basic Behavior that felt like a stumbling block, or just took a little longer to get right than the others?
The instrumentation on “Talking Pictures” came together really easily, but my vocals just didn’t. The day we were recording vocals seemed to be the day where we had a bunch people scheduled to visit us in the studio, which meant I was putting myself in a very vulnerable place in front of all of them. On top of that, they were all dudes, which was…interesting. It’s hard to be organic, writing lyrics and doing multiple vocal takes, with a bunch of people watching you. There were a few hiccups, but it was overall pretty natural.
Is there a track that feels the best to play live?
A fun one to revisit has been “II.” For a little bit, I’m not going to be playing guitar live. So we’re revisiting songs that I would normally be playing on and seeing how we can make them feel exciting without the extra instrumentation. “II” is a song that we all got a bit sick of playing and it feels that the break we gave it was good.
Any venues/cities you’re particularly looking forward to playing this time around?
We get to play in a bunch of places that we haven’t played before this time around. I’m definitely excited about the New York show; we get to play with our friends in Weeping Icon, and I finally get to see Bambara live. The bill in New Orleans is awesome, and all the bands for the Canadian dates are friends of ours, which is always fun. Beyond that, I’m really really excited that we got the opportunity to open for U.S. Girls in Salt Lake City. I’m a big fan of Meg and we’ve opened for another project she’s in called Darlene Shrugg before. It’s going to be a great tour.