"THE FROG EYES formula is kind of: storm and then the clouds clear, storm and then the clouds clear," says Carey Mercer. "There are, hopefully, moments of peace. There's supposed to be." But those moments of peace aren't the first things you notice when listening to Frog Eyes. You're more likely to hear the shards of squalling guitars, the shape-shifting rhythms, and Mercer's own unmistakable singing, which goes from bellow to howl to squeaky chitter, sometimes all within the same word.
"The honest answer will paint me as kind of mad or insane," Mercer says when asked about his unconventional approach to vocals, "but to me, my singing is just my singing. I don't hear the tones of the world in such stark dissonant or consonant terms—[for instance], this is sonorous and this is displeasing. For me it's like, does it have heart? Does it convey that which is trying to be conveyed? There was never a day when I was like, 'I'm going to be weird! Time to eat my weird pills,'" he laughs.
Mercer has fronted Frog Eyes since 2001 with his wife Melanie Campbell on drums, and the band may best be known to casual music fans as the old stomping grounds of Wolf Parade's Spencer Krug—who also teamed up with Mercer and fellow Canadian Dan Bejar for the Swan Lake project. Like Bejar, Mercer's songs are densely packed with imagery and literary references, but unlike the chilly impenetrability of Bejar's work with Destroyer, Frog Eyes songs virtually bleed out of the speakers with passion.
The new Frog Eyes album, Paul's Tomb: A Triumph, kicks off with the pummeling "A Flower in a Glove," which begins as a rousing rock anthem, then turns into a pensive meditation before dissolving into washes of electric guitar. Paul's Tomb won't be mistaken for a conventional rock record anytime soon, but it could be the photo negative of one.
"What you're hearing is some really funny, old guitar amplifiers that have somewhere between fuzz and distortion," says Mercer of the album's lost-in-time sound. "The speakers in those amps—I've since blown them. It was just a nice little window of a couple months where they sounded like that. You know, if I took all of the money I've spent on the myriad of $300 guitars, then I could've bought one nice one pretty early on. But for me, it's like, if you have to spend $300 to feel kind of invigorated again and have a slightly new sound, and if you end up writing 10 new songs, that's like 30 bucks a song. That's pretty good to me. It's not a bad deal."
A lot of Mercer's identity comes from living in Victoria, British Columbia, an isolated but gorgeous city on Vancouver Island that's much nearer to Washington and Oregon than most Americans realize. "That's the funny thing. If you were to continue the 54° 40'N," Mercer says, referring to the east-west parallel that marks most of the Canadian-American border, "we would actually be part of America."
Meanwhile, Frog Eyes remains unique in Mercer's ability to fit so many ideas—both lyrical and music—into his songs, which despite their strangeness are actually quite warm and welcoming. "I could become, like, a noise guy who gets paid to go play artist-run centers," says Mercer of the alternatives to indie rock. "Maybe I could read a poem. But that doesn't seem as appealing to me as playing in front of 30 awkward teenagers in Boise, Idaho."