Buddyhead - May 2001
Interview with S. Cinca

interview: Aaron Icarus & Travis Keller
photographs: Travis Keller

With the release of their final album "And We Washed our Weapons in the Sea...", Frodus took their last collective breath. But instead of it being a dying breath, it was probably one of the most creative, inspiring, and innovative breaths "indie-rock" has seen in the past few years. We figured we should definitely meet up with our new pal Shelby, the singer of Frodus, during his stay in our lovely city of angels recently. He made sure for us to come by in between his playing with Bluebird, laying out album artwork for other bands, and Dungeons and Dragons "gaming". Read on young warriors

Do you like Frodus?
Shelby: Umm...Yes. Oh Jesh...

How about I Fro-dis dick in your mouth?
Shelby: That's a good joke. I like that one. Who told you that?

We made that one up.
Shelby: You did? Wow, I'm proud of that one. That's a good joke. I wish we knew about that one when we were around. Buddyhead is clever. Clever little boys.

What does the name Frodus mean?
Shelby: It's actually from an old Monkee's episode. My brother and I used to watch the Monkee's T.V. show when I was a kid and it was this particular episode where this plant alien hypnotizes the world through television and there are these guys that walk around with these big televisions with eyes on them and when they point them at people the people get hypnotized under the power of the plant alien cult called the Frodus, which I found out later was a code word for pot. But we weren't all about that. I remembered it and I was like, oh cool, aliens.

The guys in Frodus didn't smoke a lot of reefer?
Shelby: No. No reefer.

Tell us about your first band.
Shelby: We played a lot of Rush and Steve Miller songs. I played bass. I was just excited to be in a band.

How high was your bass?
Shelby: It was up there, it wasn't way up there, but it was pretty high, like a little above belt level. I had my tucked in t-shirt, jeans, long hair, and glasses. I was just psyched to be in a band. That band ended and I started getting into "grunge", uh... rock and roll. Mudhoney... I was big on Sub-Pop, I loved Mudhoney. I was into Gravel, Estrus stuff, real grunge stuff. Joined a band called Limb Chip, named after a mulch truck in Virginia called Limb Chip Mulch. That's kind of grunge, kinda dirty. i played second guitar, and this guy Dan sang and played rhythm guitar. We lost our drummer, because he liked to hang out with his girlfriend, he was kind of flakey.

You just misplaced him somewhere?
Shelby: Yeah basically, and then we found Jason. So Dan the guitarist/singer worked with Jason's mom. She found out that this band Limb Chip was looking for a drummer, and Jason would make drum tapes, VHS tapes of himself playing drums to check his technique. So he gave the tape to his mom to give to Dan so we could watch it, and it was a tape of Jason playing without a shirt. It was like hardcore, like really heavy drumming with fills and everything and we were like, "this guy is really funny."

Was he into grunge?
Shelby: No he was more into hardcore, like heavy hardcore, next step up, like Baltimore hardcore. He was kind of a skinhead or at least in the waning days of being a skinhead, he wore braces and everything. He wasn't wearing braces at that point but he still had the docs. He had just moved up from Florida and he was excited just to play with people. So when we got him we wanted him to play the loafy grunge beats but he would play things that were more rockin' and we were like nah, nah. The songs just started going in a direction that we didn't want them to go in. Almost sounded like weird Metallica or Danzig, and we weren't that into it so...

How could you not be into that?
Shelby: Well it wasn't done to the true darkness of Danzig. Well, Danzig 1 at least. Then the guy that played guitar and sang left early one practice and we just stayed and jammed and wrote the first Frodus song. "Computers (love)" which ended up on our first demo and later on a CD called "Fireflies" and it's going to be released again on a double CD this year with all our old stuff.

Who's going to release it?
Shelby: Not sure, it's leaning towards Lovitt though. So the singer had left and we wrote a Frodus song and when the singer came back he said the music wasn't really working for him and he wanted to pursue folk music, something a little more mellow, so he quit and that's how Frodus was formed, from the ashes of a grunge band.

So when Frodus started did you just think that the new band was going to sound a certain way or did it just evolve from the slow grunge?
Shelby: Well, in the other band I wasn't writing the songs as much. The singer would write the songs and I would just write little parts. Basically we just wanted to freak out by that point. Our influences were more varied, like I was listening to a lot of Fugazi and Rites of Spring and stuff like that. So that was the end of Limb Chip.

How old were you guys?
Shelby: I was 17. And actually I should have you guys take note that when we lost the first drummer we changed the name from Limb Chip to Diesel Mitt. So that was the transition band that became Frodus.

Diesel Mitt?
Shelby: Yeah Diesel Mitt... pretty grunge.

Who was the bass player in Frodus at that point?
Shelby: At that point it was Jim Cooper. He was kind of transient right after we recorded our first demo. Which came to be because we had this show that we booked at our high school. My friend became the President of this club that didn't exist anymore called S.T.A.D.D. (smart teens against deadly decisions), and we basically used it as a front to put on a show. So we got all these papers signed so we could use the gym after school for a show, or rather a party, like a going away party for a friend. But we were like, "let's just make this a huge punk show", and we had all these other local high school bands play and we were headlining. So we made flyers that said "free rock show" and we handed them out to all the record stores and like 600 people showed up. First we set up in the cafeteria and these old people were having a dinner and they were like, "you can't set up here" so we set up in the gym and all these people started showing up. Then some administrator showed up and we said, "this is a party for smart teens against deadly decisions" and it was ridiculous because all these kids were there, and the bassist for Dead Meadow's brother, Ron, who was a manager of circuit city with a mustache and a big truck said he was the chaperone. He ended up leaving with some girl with crazy big hair. But when we were asked about the chaperone we just pointed at this guy Ron and he vouched for us. But all the administrators that were there were looking at all these kids and were thinking this was insane. There were so many people that were psyched to see our debut, and right before we kicked in, the fire alarm goes off. Someone had jammed up the fire extinguisher and the fire department came and we didn't get to play and we were so bummed. So the show that we made so we could have our huge debut, fell through. Jason was so bummed, he had this huge 70's station wagon at the time and he was so mad he broke a branch off a tree and started beating in the hood of his station wagon with it. He was so pissed, but it was really funny because he was in high school. And then shortly after that, I don't remember if our bassist went to work on an Indian reservation then or later but...we were like, "this sucks, we didn't get to play our first show, let's just record a tape". Just so we could have a recording of our set list for ourselves. So Jason made a bunch of calls and stumbled across this place called WGNS studios, which at that time was recording bands like Hoover and stuff like that. We said we wanted to record and they were like "sure", and we put down some of our own money, recorded 6 songs, which was going to be the set list that we were going to play, an instrumental at the beginning and then these crazy neo punk songs in the middle and then an instrumental at the end. We went in and recorded it. The basement was flooding while we were recording, Jason was playing in a little puddle and they brought up a pump to suck the water out and our bassist had the craps and they didn't have toilet paper. He remembers that to this day. But it turned out pretty cool, sounds really raw with a lot of energy... really blown out sound, and we were like, "lets make some tapes". Our bassist had left at that point to the Indian reservation in North Dakota just to help out, like a missionary thing. So the bassist was gone and Jason was like, "let's make some real tapes", so instead of dubbing them ourselves we decided to get them manufactured. So then, out of the blue, my friend steve kille (who is now bassist for Dead Meadow) was just inspired and designed a tape cover and that just kind of pushed it over the edge. So we started taking pre-orders at our high school and stuff and we made enough money to release it as a 7", and we were also playing with this guy Kyle who was just filling in on bass at the time. We started to practice and get our stuff together and we played our first show in Jason's basement. And then there was this place called the Music Store outside in Chantilly, Virginia, way outside of DC and some local bands were looking to play some shows. So we talked to those guys and they were like "cool let's do it". We talked to the owner of the Music Store, and he was this total backwoods guy with a huge beard, his name was Johnny Ray, he was like "yeah you can have a show here". It was this big backroom with painted cinder block walls. I think our first show there was our 7" release party. At that point we were selling our stuff at our high school and selling the 7"s around town so there were like 300 kids there, it was really amazing. Then we played that New Years eve and made enough money to make a full length. We made more money then than we did when we were putting out cd's and touring in Sweden. But I guess we weren't in debt at that point so...

It works that way when you are involved with high school kids.
Shelby: Yeah you just sell so much crap. We just kind of became cool or something. Like there was one show at a church for 500 kids and all the Dischord people heard about it and it was blowing their minds we were drawing so many people. We didn't even play D.C. proper until like '94. Our actual first show was in December 93.

In what way did the band progress musically? In what direction did you see the band going?
Shelby: In all honesty we didn't expect the band to do anything, but when we put out this tape, it just kinda started going crazy, so we just rolled with it. Our bassist at the time, who had only played a few shows with us, didn't expect this to happen. He just thought we were going to make a tape for our friends but it just started going. Jason and I wanted to keep it going so...

How many bass players were in Frodus?
Shelby: On record, the ones that recorded with us, there were four, Jim Cooper, Andy Duncan, this guy Howard Pyle, R. Mason, and then Nathan, so I guess five. Art Mason used to play in this band called Enemy Soil and a lot of crazy grind bands. He played at one point in Anti Schism or some new Anti Schism band, he lived in Texas for a while, he is a really cool guy, really prolific and really quiet. He's so quiet and modest about what he does but he releases so many records. He ended up doing a bunch of experimental noise stuff and all that, but that came later... see the Frodus story is very long. Basically when Frodus started playing shows in 94 and we had all that money, we recorded at inner ear and we put out that tape and sold about a thousand tapes. We got on this label called Level Records out of D.C. and they folded but they put out a cd of some of our old stuff, in our transitional period with a couple bass players. Then we got the co-owner of Level Records, Howard, to play in the band. Then Level folded and we got on Double Duce which was that Caroline label. Then we did that 7" for Day After Records (from the Czech Republic) doing a Devo cover "Explosions". Then that bassist left to pursue computer stuff, he just wasn't into it that much anymore. Then we got Mason that summer and he recorded that Tooth and Nail ep with Roadside Monument. Then he left, he didn't have the money to go on tour. At that point we were just living at our parents houses and we could afford to go out for a long time and not make much money, so he left...actually its kind of cool, he met this girl on tour in North Dakota and now they live together in Virginia. Then our friend Nathan who we had known for years and actually we had asked him to be in Frodus years before, was back from school and we were like, "well, we're asking you again now do you want to be in the band?" He said o.k. and that's when it all just kind of started to happen. He played on "Conglomerate" and the new album.

How did you get hooked up with Tooth and Nail?
Shelby: We became good acquaintances with Roadside Monument, from trading tapes when one of the guys was in a band called Mr. Bishop's Fist. They were actually really good, kind of like a heavy hardcore band but more original... a lot of interesting stuff going on. He was the bassist for Roadside Monument, we became good friends and we were throwing the idea around for doing a split ep. We did it the split, and afterwards Tooth & Nail and Frodus decided to work together because we felt they really worked hard for the split ep and getting it out there. We knew we were going to get a lot of crap for going with a christian label but they gave us great tour support and really helped us out. They bought us a van when our van broke down in Indio, California. Actually it broke down in Chariacho Summit, hence the song on the new record, but we stayed in Indio that night and that's where we bought a new used van. Tooth and Nail just wired us money and we got the new van and drove to Texas, where we had thanksgiving dinner at some place off the side of the road. Jonathan from Roadside Monument was with us. That was the '97 tour I think.

Did you ever play any of the Cornerstone music festivals?
Shelby: We had the opportunity to, but weren't a christian band so, we made it a point to not play those shows even though we could have because we were on the label. It seemed like a lot of the bands at that time that weren't christian bands would play Cornerstone anyway. It's crazy because you sell so much merchandise there, thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. Make it all worthwhile, you could play a crappy tour and make it up in one show. I always wanted to do a multi-media thing with these heads on pedestals with lights shining on them and a film going on in the background of people buying Frodus cd's in exchange for money and shaking hands. Just basically a big commercial, like a mind control thing. We would just play our cd in the background. Just mock the whole thing on how commercial it was.

Where did all the Frodus imagery come from, the manifesto and everything?
Shelby: That all started from the very beginning in 93.

Are you guys all computer geeks?
Shelby: No just me. But our bassist at the time was kind of into that stuff too. He wasn't that into computers but he was into the concept of writing about computers, writing songs about computers. We have straight songs about computers on our early stuff. Our first 7" is really funny, there's a song called "guru meditation", the first line is "my computer/ it's not working/ makes me mad." That's all the lyrics in the song...it makes me mad! It's really funny, I'm into it, it's really dorky. I'm just curious as to what people thought that we gave the 7" to.

The first song on the new record, "The Red Bull of Juarez", what is it about?
Shelby: We actually have the red bull of Juarez in Sam's bedroom here, I'll go get it. It's when we were on tour with Bluebird, in '98. Sam Velde bought this in Mexico, in Juarez. Therefore it is the red bull of Juarez, owned by Sam James Velde. And that's where I came up with the slogan "rock n roll is war," because the shows sucked and I felt like being on tour was like being in a battle. Sam and I would talk about it every night, like, "ok it's war." We would play these crappy shows and give it our all but it would kind of be moral killing.

Was that the last tour you guys did?
Shelby: No, we did some shows in the fall of '98, when Refused was supposed to be with us. They did a few shows, broke up the third show, finished until they got to D.C., then we went up to Boston. Our van broke down, and we still wanted to finish the tour so we called up that band 90 lb. wuss, that band that was on Tooth and Nail, and asked them if we could use their stuff. They said yes and we flew to Seattle, grabbed their stuff and finished the tour on the west coast.

What was it like being around Refused at that time?
Shelby: There was a weird tension going on. I kind of felt that something weird was up as they came in to the first show. It just wasn't very positive. In a weird way I knew it was going to happen. I guess it was probably for the best. After the third show they played there was all this discussion in Swedish, and a lot of crying and we ended up going back to stay at this guy, Elliott's house. They were talking there and they decided that they didn't want to finish the tour, so they just decided to finish until we got back to the D.C. area. Actually their last show was in Harrisonburg, VA at this house and the cops ended up coming and shutting it down because it was too loud. It was a good show. It's kind of crazy that Chris and David almost immediately flew out to California.

Do you think that the weird touring contributed to the breakdown of Frodus? What was the reason that you guys broke up?
Shelby: I think in our heads it might have started to dissolve because we weren't really being fulfilled through touring. The turnouts at the shows were pretty small most of the time and we were really struggling as a band. We weren't really doing very well financially as a band and being together for six years at that point it kind of matters. You know you want to just be doing music. And in some respects we could have, because we broke up in '99 and at the same time everything kind of picked up in the indie scene. If you persist you'll last, but at the same time everything happens for a reason. Forces worked so we would just end, tensions between ourselves, crazy family stuff happened.

I know there is that song "6/99" on the last album, can you tell us what that is about?
Shelby: That was the month that during the same week my dad had a stroke and Jason's girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer. It was one of the only songs where Jason really got active in contributing to the lyrics. It's a really personal song, real emotional because it's about that whole crazy month. Just realizing stuff that none of us had to deal with like mortality at that level, it just really hit home. There were crazy tensions on the sessions because we had all this personal stuff to deal with. It wasn't bad but it was just hard. It was something that really mattered and we were trying to put energy into sessions.

Going into recording the album, did you know what label it was going to be on?
Shelby: Originally it was going to be on Tooth and Nail, but we were feeling a little leery because at that point everyone that had worked there on the other records had quit the label and it kind of became a different label. Definitely more focused on being a christian label as opposed to '97... they were just trying to expand and do whatever. It made more sense because as a business they made more money as a christian label. So for them to work our record they would have had to spend more money than their regular bands and it just wouldn't be right so they let us go for just the cost of the record and the publishing. They let us out of our 3 record contract so they gave us a really good deal considering. They didn't want to be paid back for the van that they bought us, and plane tickets and stuff so it was cool, they handled themselves like true christians. They said. "it makes sense, you guys can be off the label". This was right after we finished recording the record, and we started talking to different labels. We were talking to C.C. at Sub Pop and they seemed pretty excited, and then we ended up breaking up in '99 because it just wasn't fun anymore. We were happy with the record but we weren't really happy doing shows or band stuff anymore. We just felt that letting the record be the last thing was the most respectful way to bow out. If we would have gone on tour in 2000 I don't know if we would have been as close as we are now. We would have gotten in some crazy fight. We played a few shows in December in Indiana and Pittsburgh and it was just the same kind of shows that we had been playing, it was the breaking point, it just wasn't fun anymore, that's when we decided to call it quits.

So now that the record is out, what is everyone from Frodus doing?
Shelby: Right now, Nathan (bass) is working on a record with a new band he's putting together, it's a great record from what I heard. Definitely a mixture of a lot of his influences from 4ad records, early Creation Records type stuff, to like The Chameleons UK and even Aphex Twin. Very cool. Jason (drums) just completed a tour of the UK and Israel with Good Clean Fun filling in on drums and has been exploring the middle east and becoming a certified scuba diver. As for me, you know what I've been doing; Bluebird, The Cassettes, recording Dead Meadow, designing record covers, re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I've just been enjoying tea and this weird fig bread the guy from the food co-op near my house gave me. I'm also going to Romania and Prague for 2 weeks.

What kind of weird fig bread?
Shelby: It's this fig and pine-nut bread, very interesting taste. It's almost like a pastry or something but not. Just a sweet bread. I like figs.

How nice. So you're recording the second Dead Meadow record?
Shelby: Yeah, it's been a year in the process already. It started with a session we did at a barn in Liberty, Indiana last summer. The drummer from The Cassettes, Stephen McCarty, it's his grandfather's farm, who worked in the Ford factory for years, then retired and bought some land. He built a barn, cabin, and an a-frame house, which we stayed at. It was pretty magical at the barn when we were there.

Magical? What kind of stuff went on? And what did recording in a barn allow you to do that you wouldn't be able to pull off in a studio?
Shelby: All day and all night recordings, eating awesome fresh vegetables, good conversation, merriment, and jamming on acoustic instruments. Lots of hanging out and looking at fireflies at night. We recorded in a barn to get away and totally focus on the music and also to get big zeppelin style drum sounds. We have all been really into getting a "vibe" to the records since we feel it comes across on the recorded medium. People can pick up on it whether they know it or not.

So now you're in Bluebird and still writing Cassettes songs?
Shelby: Well, The Cassettes have like 10 songs that we never committed to tape, so we are going to document this band before we all go our separate ways. We are doing basic tracks in 3 weeks and I will probably end up finishing the record (vocals, overdubs) in LA. I'm not sure if it'll be the last Cassettes record, it's something that I feel could pop up again when the time is right.

You are recording it yourself?
Shelby: Yeah, I'm going to engineer the record with the assistance of my friend Caroline.

So is Bluebird becoming more serious? You're moving out to California for "the bird" right?
Shelby: Yes, Bluebird is definitely becoming more serious. I am indeed moving out to California within the next few months to focus on the bird.

How do you feel about moving to the city of angels?
Shelby: I'm excited. It should be interesting. I feel like it's pretty natural though since I have already a pocket of people and a circle that I am stepping into. It's not like I'm going there completely alone.

What records have you designed lately?
Shelby: As you know I laid out The Icarus Line LP on Buddyhead and The Speedtrain CD on Jet Glue.

Do you ever feel like you just gotta listen to Slayer?
Shelby: Nah, I'd rather listen to Iron Maiden, Megadeth, or Queensryche before Slayer. I like more conceptual "art" metal if I have to choose a metal.

More of a D&D feel?
Shelby: Exactly. Something a bit more otherworldly, y'know?

Yeah. How does pro wrestling make you feel?
Shelby: I used to really be into it when I was younger. I enjoy obscure japanese pro-wrestling these days more than WWF/WCW, but I don't follow any of it really anymore. I used to watch Saturday Night's Main Event when I was in 8th grade. Did you ever get into wrestling?

I think I did actually. Sometime in grade school. It was when the Hulk was still the shit and Andre the Giant was still alive. But it didn't last long. So, are we gonna get a D&D game going on out here when you move or what?
Shelby: I would like to. We'll see how time fares upon us. I posted a message on the wizards of the coast board and got some responses from some other gamers in the LA area. Serious ones in their 30's that have gamed for like 18 years that have computer jobs. Hee hee.

Like, maybe guys with swords and chain mail in their closet?
Shelby: Perhaps. I don't care as long as they are good story-tellers and serious gamers. Much like recording, gaming is about getting the right vibe too.

What have you been listening to? Reading?
Shelby: Book would be "Tono-Bungay" by HG Wells, "Dune" by Frank Herbert. Record would be Bo Hansson "Lord of the Rings" & "Magicians Hat", Gorky's Zygotic Mynci "the Blue Trees", The Kinks "Something Else". Websites would be www.planetary.org and www.designiskinky.net.

Last words?
Shelby: If I was good at math I wouldn't be playing rock n' roll. I always had a dream of being an astro-physicist in an observatory or an archaeologist at an ancient site. But I must say that I do enjoy playing rock n' roll. Perhaps I just need to marry an older archaelogist woman one day. I would also like to say that I enjoy the concept of gnomes. Check out www.frodus.com, www.themindcontrol.com, www.bluebirdsounds.com.