Out in the vast prairies of Western Canada, there is a unique species of frog living amongst the ever-shifting snow drifts and endless highways.
Originating from Saskatchewan, bohemian band Mahogany Frog has spent the last three years creating its own brand of instrumental rock.
“It’s a small city,” says Graham Epp, co-founder of Mahogany Frog. “There are just a handful of bands in this experimental bohemian artist scene.”
Mahogany Frog began seven years ago, when Epp’s casual jam sessions with his high school friend Jesse Warkentin evolved into something more serious. Over time, the band has consistently changed its sound, stretching from half-hour long orchestrations on its first few albums, to shorter and tighter rock ’n’ roll tunes on its newest release, Mahogany Frog: On Blue.
“[The shift in style] was a conscious decision on our part. We wanted to put it on vinyl and we had time constraints,” Epp says.
“We were working on some more rock ’n’ roll stuff, and we just felt it fit vinyl better. It’s a lot easier to fill an 80-minute CD with those long composed songs than a record.”
However, fans shouldn’t expect this to be a permanent change. “We’re working on some new stuff again, back to orchestrating these great build-ups. We’re always changing our sound,” Epp says.
With an evolving sound comes an increase in instruments, and the most recent addition is keyboards.
“We kind of got into keyboards when we moved to Winnipeg,” Epp says. “We found these old ’70s keyboards and just started using them. Every time we find a new instrument, we like to incorporate it.
“We end up hauling around all these ancient keyboards wherever we go on tour now. We’ve tried recording them as samples, or using synths, but you don’t get the same sound. Until they have the technology to do it, we are going to keep packing them in the van for our shows.”
With such an eclectic variety of instruments and a continuously changing lineup, it’s hard to pin down Mahogany Frog’s sound — even for Epp.
“We are all big fans of bands like Tortoise and Soft Machine, but we don’t really sound like them,” Epp stresses. “We might have parts of their sounds, but overall we are not really alike. Fans of those bands might have an idea of what to expect, [and] sort of know where we are coming from.”
Mahogany Frog also avoids being labelled too easily. “We are definitely not a jam band,” Epp insists. “We get asked if we’re improvising but it is all structured and composed beforehand.
“We try to play that way every night. We like improvised bands and music, but we’re honestly, like, 90 per cent composed beforehand. We end up practicing more than we actually play live.”
Although the band is from the West, it’s much more familiar with the Eastern half of the country.
“In reality, we’ve only been out touring in the West once or twice. We are much more familiar with Ontario and Quebec,” Epp says. “The towns are so much closer; they are all lined up together.”
Touring in Ontario has allowed Mahogany Frog to build a fan base in Sudbury, of all places.
“Sudbury is one of our favourite places to play,” Epp says. “A lot of people there might not listen to us at home, but we get a great response from all kinds of people. Music geeks and people off the street all get a kick out of it.”
Aside from its Sudbury fans, Mahogany Frog has another reason to love Ontario.
“You guys have a lot of micro-breweries down in Southern Ontario. It seems every town we go to has its own brewery,” Epp says. “We’ve had some really good beers down there.”
Mahogany Frog plays with Old Soul and the Riderless at Forest City Gallery Saturday, April 1.