Music News

Boys and Frogs Aren't Afraid of the Close-Ups

There's no quicker way to alienate listeners than to be so pretentious as to describe a band as an "experience," "lifestyle," or "state of mind." Still, despite the groans the following statement may elicit, there's no way to get around it: Boys and Frogs is more than a band; it's a sensory experience.

Given such an introduction, you'd probably conclude that the band members are totally up their own asses — the sort of people who look down their collective nose at those who don't see music as a multi-faceted front for all art. Just watch the band's five music videos, all released within the past year and a half. Bolstered by elaborate dance routines, cinematic visual art, and deft editing, the clips represent the work of a band that takes things (and themselves) quite seriously. What, are they all filmed through the video version of Hipstamatic? Look at them, with their quirky bone bow ties and their thick, black-framed glasses.

But it's not a front; Boys and Frogs are doing something completely different from anyone else in the Valley, with the band's music acting as just part of a grand artistic statement. Video producers and visual artists are listed alongside band members on the Boys and Frogs website, and for good reason. The videos quickly earned the band attention, prompting viewers and listeners to wonder what exactly is going on with this band from Peoria.

The answer to that question isn't an unusual one. As do plenty of less cinematically focused musicians, the members of Boys and Frogs came together while studying music at Glendale Community College. They were members of the school's jazz band — something that drummer and founding member Carissa Encinas will tell you wasn't really her thing.

Encinas and songwriter Michael Alexander formed a version of the band in 2008. By 2009, they wanted to do something new. They enlisted the help of keyboardist Daniel Seckler after bassist Kyle Grabski took off for the high seas to play jazz bass on a cruise ship.

The band eventually became Boys and Frogs, with a baroque pop sound that defies all categorization besides "indie," Encinas says. The band's influences are clear, though, as evidenced by their Indie Mixtape: Sorry for the Weight, which featured Bowie, The Beatles, Kanye West, MGMT, and more in an homage to the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The band's live show is nearly as thematic as something Bowie or 'Ye would come up with. On a cold February night, as part of a Third Thursday "Geeks Night Out" on Mill Avenue, Boys and Frogs set up outside Madcap Theaters with all the fixins: a Persian rug that seems to follow them wherever they go, from the video for "Heir to Stares" to regular gigs; a stethoscope set up on a vintage nightstand; and art and abstract videos that act as a backdrop for the band's collective, quirky perspective. It's like you're in their dimly lit living room, and they're about to bring out taxidermy for your viewing displeasure.

There's a running theme in the videos, from 2010's "In Dreams" to 2011's "Lay Your Wet Hair Down": an unsettling dichotomy of upbeat music and dark imagery. The vision is the band's. They've employed different directors — each bringing his own methods and ideas — but have maintained a careful watch over the band's visual representation.

"With 'In Dreams,' I really caught the bug. I've been obsessed with film and becoming more and more into it and hands-on," Alexander says. "When we got together and decided to mix the arts . . . [we said,] 'If there were dancers that were Boys and Frogs of dance, what [would] that look like?' Then we started going for paint. 'What does a Boys and Frogs painting look like?' You can't even put your finger on it. It's such a weird conceptual thing, like 'Oh, that painting sounds like the music' [or] 'Oh, that dance looks like the music,' and I don't even know if I truly understand that, but we search for that."

In that search, local music fans have approached the band with questions about their video inspirations, which have found the band shooting scenes on both coasts, in New York and L.A. The band has a hard time explaining, but they seem to know what they are getting at, even if they can't put it into words. And they refuse to relinquish full creative control to anyone outside the band.

"The more and more music videos we do, people say, 'Who does it?' and they're sort of surprised that there's been three directors and there's been different writers and different influences, but yet it seems like Boys and Frogs every time," Alexander says. "I'd say that's Boys and Frogs. That's the thread."

Boys and Frogs is completely a do-it-yourself effort. Their engineering education shows as Alexander spent hours on end editing and re-editing the music that eventually became their two EPs, 2009's In Desperate Need of a Car Crash and 2011's Rain Dance Snow In. That meticulous nature paid off when it came to the latter, a huge step in music maturation, with its bombastic drum hits and spooky, tinkling piano — a real move toward legitimacy for the four-piece. Alexander admits that In Desperate Need of a Car Crash was more his effort (he'd already written the songs before the group existed) than a group collective, but as the band evolved, collaboration became more natural.

If the band seems like it's set its sights high thus far, just wait for the full-length. The group cites Kanye West's 2010 release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with its big, booming sounds and flair for fabulosity, as an inspiration for the band's first full-length album (but third release overall). But don't worry, the band hasn't completely been swallowed up by their egos. They're more than happy to joke around.

"I think it's good for a third album, but when you think of it technically being the second, it's, like, out-of-control good," Alexandler laughs. "In my very important opinion."

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Christina Caldwell