It’s Good to be The Kings of Frog Island

It doesn't say it anywhere on there, but this is II.II, the aptly-titled second album from the UK‘s The Kings of Frog Island is the very essence of stoner rock, packed so tightly with fuzz-laden grooves that all you can do is sit and space to it. The hypnotic vibe of “Welcome to the Void” could be prescribed as medication for anxiety disorders, and the darkness of cuts like “The Watcher” and “Witching Hour” take a cosmopolitan approach to classic heavy metal paranoia, bringing influences not only from the deserts of California, but also the echoing gospel tones of Southern Appalachia.

To hear multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt (also of classic fuzz rockers Josiah and newborn amped up garage trio Cherry Choke) tell it, they’re just a bunch of stoners writing songs about planetary warfare. In any case, right on.

The album comes some three point five years after its predecessor (delivered by none other than heavy psych’s foremost purveyors, Elektrohasch), and was largely recorded live at guitarist Mark Buteux‘s Amphibia Sound Studios on June 6, 2006. Roger “Dodge” Watson provides a classic ping ride behind “Joanne Marie” and drives the rest of II deep into the reaches of a catchy, classic pop-flavored stratosphere, setting expectations high for what will reportedly be the last album of a trilogy. You’ll never guess the title.

After the jump, Bethancourt fills The Obelisk in on all things future, past and present, including what happened to bring Josiah to an untimely end and when we can expect that third installment from The Kings of Frog Island.

Someday, my prince, all this will be yours. Frog Island, Leicester (thanks Wikipedia)Describe the Frog Island area of London. What was it about the neighborhood that appealed to you in terms of making it such a big part of the band?

Frog Island is an area of Leicester not London [I only know what I misread online, apologies for the ignorance — ed.]. We all grew up in and around Frog Island and Mark had already named the group by the time I started recording with him. It?s pretty much just a pile of bricks and a few disused factories now.

What was it about Roger?s work with Scum Pups that made you want to collaborate? How did Mark enter the picture and how did everything finally come together to make the band? Going into the first album, did you have a heavy psychedelic sound in mind, or was that just what came out of playing together?

Roger! Who?s Roger? Ha ha! I saw Dodge drumming with the Scum Pups when I was in my first group, Sprawl. We all just ripped off Mudhoney at the time before Nirvana exploded and Dodge was a decent drummer when I was drunk. Ha ha! After the Scum Pups split Dodge formed Granton Star with Mark. Our paths crossed again when they supported Josiah and Mark offered to demo some Josiah tracks at Amphibia. The deal was that I sang on the Kings project in exchange for studio time. I ended up singing, playing guitar, bass and arranging.

Mat Bethancourt getting his red on, performing at Roadburn 2005 with Josiah. (photo by Jo Jo)You?ve said that Kings of Frog Island will do three records. Is there a narrative behind them? Is it a trilogy or just a project that you?ve put a beginning and an end to? Is it definite that you?ll just do three, or is there a chance for more?

Just three then we?ll move on to something fresh. There is a loose narrative running through the albums. Basically the planets of Satanica and Amphibia are fighting an epic battle for control of the universe and all its lost souls.

How did the writing process for II go? Was there anything specific that you wanted to do differently from the first album? Is there anything you?re going to look to change for the next time around?

For II, Mark set up a live recording session on 6.6.6 and the results formed the basis The first coming.for the album. The first album was recorded in stages but both have been built up from live backing tracks. II saw us concentrating on the production way more than I. II is a great listen on the headphones. We already started the session for III and it?s working itself up real fast with a heavy guitar vibe.

The layered vocal approach, especially on ?Welcome to the Void? and ?Witching Hour? really adds something to make the songs stand out. When you were writing the songs, did you have that in mind, or were the arrangements simpler initially and fleshed out later?

Everything starts out with a simple approach and then we just see what happens. Gav [Searle] sang a lot of backing vocals on II and he takes the lead vocal on “Ride A Black Horse” with me on backing. I really wanted an Aphrodite?s Child feeling for the vocals on II.

How is writing for Kings of Frog Island different from working with Josiah? Both bands have some pretty insane stoner groves, but Kings of Frog Island sounds a little moodier at times. Are there different headspaces you need to be in for each band?

Mark writes almost all of the riffs for the Kings and I write almost all of the lyrics then we both thrash out the arrangements depending on where we want to take any given track. With Josiah I wrote all the songs and arranged them. Also with Josiah the songs and there treatment in the studio needed to translate to the live arena. The Kings don?t play live so we don?t have to worry about replicating anything on stage.

?The Watcher? has this dirty Southern vibe with almost a bluesy gospel sound in the layers of vocals, like something out of O Brother Where Art Thou, and musically it?s very sparse, almost minimalist. How did the arrangement for that song come about and how important was capturing the right mood in the studio?

That was one of the first tracks I worked on for II. Mark played me the live backing and I just came up with the main vocal in one take creating the lyric as I sang. I really drew on Aretha Franklin and the whole gospel sound. It kind of reminds me of The Doors too. We knew we where looking at a different album too when we listened to the playback.

More Mat with Josiah.The recording process, with live stuff done 06/06/06 and more added to it later seems really spaced out, between 2006 and 2008. What took so long to put the album together, and do you prefer working this way as opposed to getting everything done in one shot? Aside from the more natural feel, what?s the advantage to tracking live?

I prefer recording an album over two weeks and keeping it as live and as real as possible. It took me a while to get into the Kings mindset. We all have other commitments so after the initial recording session we had to work hard to get together to work the album up. I was touring and recording with Josiah and with my new group Cherry Choke so I was hard to pin down. II did seem to take forever to finish but since I quit Josiah I?ve had more time to give the Kings and III is coming on real fast.

Are you guys ever going to play out as Kings of Frog Island, or is it purely a studio project?

I can?t see us ever playing live. The other guys are to stoned to leave the comfort of the studio. Ha ha.

With Josiah coming to an end and a time stamp on Kings of Frog Island, what are you going to be doing musically? What happened to make Josiah break up and do you in the meantime consider Kings of Frog Island your main band? If so, when do you think we might see the third album released?

Ah well! My main band is now Cherry Choke. Our debut album is out on Elektrohasch Feb ’09 and we have already played a few choice live shows. Cherry Choke started back in June ’07 and as I got more excited about the music I was writing and playing with Cherry Choke. I got more and more frustrated with life in Josiah, getting cornered in the increasing stale stoner metal scene. Josiah came back from Duna Jam in Sardinia June ’08 and I told the guys I wanted to leave. I?m really proud of what Josiah achieved and I think we where a great group live and on wax but sometimes you just have to move on. I would like to see the third Kings album out late 2009 or early 2010; that will be up to Stefan [Koglek; guitarist/vocalist for Colour Haze] at Elektrohasch. I?ll also have a new Cherry Choke album ready to release by the Autumn then who knows what I?ll get mixed up with next?

Saying farewell to Frog Island. (Thanks Wikipedia for the photo)The Kings of Frog Island on MySpace


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