FROTH: THE CUTEST WAY
Froth was a fake band first and that taught them how to be a real band, and now as their first album comes out, they reveal themselves as Brian Jonestown babies resurrecting psychedelic rock for yet another generation. Their Patterns LP (on Lolipop / Burger) pulls from every classic album that sounds better in the dark—Seeds, Elevators, the gnarly early Spacemen 3—and they meet on Bonnie Brae to talk vacuums, Velvets and BBQDIY. They play this Saturday at Desert Daze. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
The Detroit bands I talk to say Detroit music has a heavy beat cuz of all the factories there. You guys are from El Segundo—how come I don’t hear more jet engines in your music?
Jeff Fribourg (Omnichord): That’s where the phaser comes into play. ‘SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHH.’
What’s normal life there for a kid growing up underneath the landing patterns?
Joo-Joo Ashworth (guitar/vocals): We were both caught in skating and surfing growing up, and my friend who lived down the street was in a band and I’d go to all his shows—they were called Cab 20 and I remember the first show I went to was at some bar in El Segundo. And that’s how I got into seeing live music a lot. I was like, ‘I wanna be in a band, I don’t wanna surf anymore.’ There was a transitional period of like, ‘I wanna make songs that’ll be used in surf movies.’
Why a clean break? Why couldn’t you do both?
JA: The more I thought music was cool, the more I felt surfing was lame—a bunch of aggressive dudes that get jacked up on coffee and don’t care about anyone else. There was this dude Tyler who does all 60s throwback stuff, and I think that aspect of surfing in the South Bay is the only true culture of surfing.
JF: The only culture in El Segundo—
JA: —is Tyler. All the stuff he’s done is super cool. Motorcycles, like 60s Triumphs. Boutique-y surfboards.
JF: Classic Mercury 40s cars.
What happens when you hear weird music in a normal town?
JF: It made me not wanna work at a pizza place and not have the same job all my life.
So all negative lessons.
JF: In the South Bay, everyone is on the same trip—they do the same thing. I have people I know who got their first job at a café or a pizza spot and still work at the same place seven years later.
Psychedelic music arguably started in cities—Austin, San Francisco—but this new set of bands is coming from the suburbs, not the core. What relocated psychedelic music?
JA: I think I can really figure out what it is. Everybody I went to high school with in El Segundo is like, ‘Oh, yeah, I just listen to the radio,’ and I probably had like two or three good friends who showed me good music—the Smiths, Christian Death… I got way into punk and goth stuff. And 60s stuff and I got into Brian Jonestown Massacre. So I can like ‘be different’ here and feel better about myself cuz I’m not listening to the radio. That’s the most positive thing about growing up in a total suburb. All it takes are two friends with punk parents. That’s the key to being a band in the suburbs.
What happens when there aren’t all-ages shows? Does that bottleneck this kind of thing?
JF: When you don’t have all-ages shows—one, it’s stupid. Two, I dunno, I never would have played music if I hadn’t gone to shows. I wasn’t able to get into venues and I’d have never been influenced by other local bands.
Jeremy Katz (bass): And kids are the ones who are gonna obsess over it and share it, and drag all their friends to the shows. It’s so funny, like if on Facebook we post a show, all these young kids comment and tag all their friends.
JA: The social media aspect is really beneficial to being in a band and having all-ages shows.
You started as a ‘joke’ band—what was the joke?
JA: I know this too.
This isn’t a quiz!
JA: So Jeff and me and two other friends were in that phase of ‘We wanna be in a band cuz being in a band is cool, but we don’t play music together.’ But Bill Smith Custom Records is in El Segundo and it’s really cool, and we became good friends with Kevin, Bill Smith’s son. He was like, ‘I have recycled vinyl and this blank press—we can make a blank record that will play no music, and I’ll press it for you for free. Just buy jackets.’ So our friend Nils was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll carve the name FROTH in it.’
That’s really elaborate.
JF: But we never ended up doing it.
JA: Omit that we never ended up doing it.
JF: People would come up to us like, ‘Oh, I saw you play the other night!’ And I’d be like, ‘Uh, I’m definitely not in a band.’ But at a certain point of ‘Oh, what’s your band called? I saw you play!’ you’re like, ‘OK—Froth.’ We’d go to the Smell and write FROTH on a piece of paper and stick it on the desk where the band stickers are. As a joke. Not even a sticker, a piece of paper.
Were you worried you’d fuck it up? That you couldn’t live up to what everyone was imagining?
JA: Fuck yeah—the pressure was so high. We had a world tour planned!
JF: Our friend Nils made a fake Pitchfork thing that said FROTH with all kinds of crazy write-ups. I don’t think there was an actual rating. It was like a track preview.
JA: ‘A solid mix of Tad, Soundgarden, Justin Bieber and Hawaiian shirt bashing.’
You should have photoshopped yourselves in front of cool venues and places around the world for a fake tour.
JF: So sick—we shoulda!
JA: Nils took pictures of us standing next to guitars, like, ‘Band practice!’
JF: One time we got 40s and tried to practice. I lived in Inglewood and we went to my house and drank beer and I lost my mind a little bit. Sitting there joking with a guitar and the Omnichord on the floor. We tried!
JA: It was a year before we started the band, but we did try. It was the biggest joke.
You did everything but the last part of being a band … which is actually being a band.
JA: It was so beneficial having a fake band for a year. Now I know what to post on Instagram!
How did it finally become real?
JF: Joo-Joo jammed with Bert and Joey, and I bought an Omnichord.
Do you come from a long line of Omnichordists? How did you find one?
JA: He found one in a cave in South Africa.
JF: I went to find my mind, but instead found Omnichords.
JA: It was known to be a psychedelic cave, but they’d thrown away the Omnichord cuz it was too 80s. We wanted it to sound like Country Joe.
JF: I’m a huge Country Joe fan. I had mix CDs labeled OTHER SHIT, so no band names, but I was super into it—country guitars and organs. I really wanted to play keys but I’m basically illiterate when it comes to keys.
JA: And with words, too.
JF: Yeah, words too! So I just turned the sustain on the Omnichord all the way up. I figured out how to make it hold on a chord, so I could do it very simply, and I wanted it to look like I was actually doing something so I strummed it really hard. And I figured out that if you strum it really fast in a certain area, it makes a warble.
Do you sling it over your shoulder like a keytar?
JF: I put it on my lap.
JA: That’s just the cutest way.
JF: We had set design before we had anything else. I got the Omnichord and we were like, ‘Cool, we’ll get a coffee table with a lamp to go with it, and have a cigarette burning in the ashtray but never smoke it.’ I used to have a designated stool, but I think I lost it.
How did you not break up when you lost the stool?
JA: Cuz Noah from Dirt Dress makes chairs.
JF: I have a stool sponsor.
JA: We actually started playing music together cuz Jeff put a music event together in El Segundo called Our-B-Q, and one band dropped out. ‘Oh, you guys gotta play! The hype is too much!’ I’d already written some songs, and we kinda jammed them. And people were like, ‘The hype is too high!’
Good thing you didn’t wait. ‘Yeah, I loved the first album they didn’t make, but the second one they didn’t make was really derivative.’
JA: When Jeremy joined, it became a real band. Before, it was more of a playdate. We’d never played a real show. It was all barbeques.
JF: We tried to make our genre barbeque.
JA: Jeff had a hard transition. ‘I’m not gonna play the show if there’s not a grill.’
JF: I wanted to have the Omnichord stand be a barbeque. There’s so much set design that never happened.
Do you have a grill sponsor? Or want one?
JF: I’m down with Coleman. Also if Dyson wants to get in touch, I love vacuums. It’s so shitty having carpet cuz it collects everything and it smells, and then you vacuum it and it’s like turning a new page. I wanna say thank you to Dyson!
JA: You never had a Dyson.
JF: I almost bought one for $700 and my girlfriend got really mad at me.
JA: This happens any time you mention home appliances to Jeff. Dyson is purely Jeff’s dream. I don’t care about vacuums.
What music is the best vacuum? What records can best clean the carpet … in your mind?
JA: Depends on how dirty the carpet is. For a pretty clean carpet, I’m thinking super ambient, like Eno’s Apollo. And I wanna say [My Bloody Valentine’s] Isn’t Anything for a dirty carpet.
JK: Brian Jonestown. ‘Vacuum Boots’!
JA: That’s on the record player right now. Full circle.
JK: Cameron doesn’t like psychedelic music.
JA: I feel the vacuum doesn’t have to be strictly psychedelic. There’s a beautiful abrasion.
JF: Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs is psychedelic and just beautiful. I got in a deep hole with that album. I couldn’t listen to anything but that album for weeks.
What’s an album you love but you can’t listen to? Something that’s good, but that you just can’t put on when you’re cleaning the house?
JA: We were talking about Sonic Youth as everyone’s favorite band they don’t listen to.
JK: For me, it’s Pink Floyd Meddle—the one with ‘Echoes.’
Cameron Allen (drums): I think a lot of Pink Floyd is like that.
JK: You hate Pink Floyd.
CA: I don’t hate it.
JA: When I had my Volvo, one of the only CDs that wasn’t super mellow was In the Flat Field by Bauhaus. That record was so intense. I love it, but I had a really hard time putting that on.
The lyrics on your first demo all seem pretty explicitly about sex and death—and the one that’s either about oral sex or cannibalism.
JA: The first band I remember really liking in middle school was the Unicorns. I love the way they related sex and death, and I thought that was such an easy thing to write. And looking back, all those lyrics are really contrived. But that first demo … that’s what I thought was cool, and what I thought was cool since I started getting into music.
Why was that easy for you? ‘Death’ isn’t the most convenient word to rhyme.
JA: Cuz we never thought we’d be a real band; we thought no one would ever listen. So it was just easy, cuz no one would ever listen to what we were saying.
What’s easy to write about now?
So it’s the same?
JA: It’s more romantic.
‘Pale Blue Eyes,’ not ‘Heroin’?
JA: It’s weird you say that, cuz that’s so relatable to what Velvet Underground album I was listening to at the time. I listened to Loaded, which is super optimistic, when we did Patterns, and before that it was The Velvet Underground and Nico.
What do you connect to most about the Velvet Underground?
JA: The dynamic of those albums is really impressive. White Light/White Heat is supposed to be what they sounded like live, and the way you can hear what that album sounds like—that balance of recorded music and live energy he was able to bring on to a record, that’s so cool. I liked the idea of having a live show and a band that could do that on a record. We took so long to actually get into the studio. Playing live was all we really knew. I think the next album might be different. But it felt super good just to play live.
That’s very documentary of you—just faithfully recording your live show.
JA: Maybe we’re self-conscious about our past as a fake band!
You did a fifteen-minute song for the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show—did you hypnotize yourselves when you had to play that riff over and over?
JK: I played for fifteen minutes, but Joel [Morales] did the rest on ProTools. He’s really good. If you listen to the song, it has the same drum beat the whole time. We were like, ‘You know, you don’t have to do the whole song, Cameron.’
Did you want to?
CA: No, I was so down to stop playing.
JK: That song, the drum beat is just mimicking the sound the Omnichord makes. And Cameron wasn’t there the first day, so we originally recorded it with a drum machine.
So you had to prove the superiority of the human drummer?
JK: It’s probably a little uncomfortable to play drums to that.
CA: No, it was super easy—I didn’t like it but it was easier.
JA: Recording a super-long song was a learning experience, too.
JK: On the album, it’s just we play the songs how we play them live.
JA: At most two guitars at one time, and one Omnichord. But on that song there’s ten minutes with like two Omnichord tracks, four guitar, two vocals … psychedelic, dude!
JK: We’re planning to do this next album with Joel. He has like 45 keyboards, a big box of percussion, and we went in and Cameron was like, ‘This is a place to make really creative records.’ Pick it up and shake it—that sounds cool!
JF: Like a kid in a candy store. He has that thing you hit and it makes sparkles—a marxophone.
What’s the best bootleg album you have? A record you love that the artist never wanted to exist?
JF: I like bootlegs a lot. The Velvet Underground Prominent Men one is super awesome—total bedroom recordings. Super personal. I feel bootlegs are super personal and interesting.
What if someone bootlegged you? Would you understand how it pisses people like Bruce Springsteen off?
JA: I like it almost post-mortem. If we’re a band now and someone released something we did when we were a fake band I’d be kind of bummed, but once time has gone by—once we’re done … I probably don’t have any bootleg vinyl, but I still think the Unicorns and the Velvet Underground are the two most favorite bands I have. And I found all these rad bootlegs of the Unicorns when they used to be called All Makes Parts & Collision—and the coolest thing is they covered the Velvet Underground. My favorite band covering my favorite band.
What’s the most psychedelic experience you ever had totally sober?
JK: The first time I saw the Entrance Band, that actually made me start playing music.
JF: When I was 17, I went to a music fest in Big Sur—Beach House was touring their first album, and Little Joy and the Entrance Band. I was helping film a documentary, and I was like 17 in the forest watching all these bands, most of whom I had no idea who they were. A lot of people around me weren’t sober and were tripping on acid. It was so colorful—like if you watch the Monterey Pop Festival documentary, it’s the same feel I had there.
Funny every answer is immediately about music.
JK: The first day I moved to L.A., I was driving around taking pictures cuz I had no friends or anything, and I went to the observatory. I was shooting time-lapse and this guy came up to me like, ‘Your birthday’s in May, right?’ It is! He told me all this shit, like, ‘You need to go to Sedona.’ Five minutes later, my mom is like, ‘We’re going to Sedona for our anniversary. Wanna meet us?’ That’s the weirdest thing that ever happened to me. ‘You have a lot of pain. You need to go to Sedona.’
What happened when you went?
JK: I never went.
Your rightful future denied.
JK: Next time, we’ll make a point to stop there.
JF: Once we were semi-sober on tour with Corners and we went to Mt. Shasta and swam in the lake. We all had like one beer and swam all the way across the lake and Ricky broke his finger, and we were sitting there watching the sun go down … that was pretty magical.
FROTH WITH BLONDE REDHEAD, THE RAVEONETTES, LIARS AND MORE ON SAT., APR. 26, AT DESERT DAZE AT THE SUNSET RANCH OASIS, 69-520 S. LINCOLN ST., MECCA. 3 PM / $45-$100 / ALL AGES. MORE INFO AT DESERTDAZE.ORG. FROTH’S PATTERNS IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM LOLIPOP RECORDS. FACEBOOK.COM/FROTHLA.