Aside from John Lennon and The Beatles, before groups such as Soft
Machine, Caravan and Wigwam, there was nothing in pre-progressive
rock that you could call completely authentic. So great were these
sonic pioneers that just about everything that came after in both
rock, instro and prog, sounded derivative of the original. I would
say those groups still have a vast influence-subliminal and otherwise
on a multitude of groups still recording music in 2012 so, thinking
about 21st century music trendsetters, you can count Canadian prog-instrumental
band Mahogany Frog high on that list. With the release of their
fourth or fifth Mahogany Frog studio album, entitled Senna,
that statement rings even more true then ever, while also noting
their much lauded 2006 album entitled DO5. Like a modern day
sonic guitar squadron, Graham Epp and Jesse Warkentin sound
truly possessed, driven to new heights by the rhythm section of Andy
Rudolph (drums) and Scott Elenberger (bass). Each of the
these players also adds in a wealth of wild sounding electronic keyboard
effects that would make Edgard Varese proud. Imagine Pekka Pohjola,
the now late great Finnish music and composer recording with Soft
Machine during their fabled Volume 2 era in late 1968 and you
come close to the wild subliminal sonic soundscapes in play on Senna.
Progressive rock-rock fans and avant-garde experimental music
fans are strongly advised to pick up on this instrumental classic.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Graham Epp of MAHOGANY FROG
mwe3: Congratulations on the new Senna CD. It's a brilliant
amalgam of 21st century music. What were some of the events that led
up to the CD release? Where and when was the music written and recorded
and what's been the reaction so far?
GE: Senna serves as a document of the band over the past couple
of years. With the exception of the soundscape section at the closing
of the record all of the songs were performed at shows before we entered
the studio. We even recorded our own scratch tracks for the entire
album (to serve as a map in the studio) before we stepped foot in
the recording studio. This provided us and our engineer with a map
of the entire record. The bulk of the album was recorded at Private
Ear Studios in Winnipeg, Canada. We worked with a wonderful engineer
and human being by the name of John Paul Peters. He coaxed out a lot
of the sounds we were after. We had a wall of guitar amplifiers in
the studio that had their tubes glowing white hot. We'd plug in for
a particular guitar or keyboard part and John paul would capture it
with an array of microphones. It really was a dream to record there.
These Private Ear sessions took place in the spring of 2011. We took
the summer off to let things stew and then in the fall we recorded
some overdubs with Andy Rudolph (also our drummer) at a couple of
different studios before heading back to Private Ear for mixing.
The record has been out for a few weeks now and the response has been
very positive. Reviews are trickling in and some writers have made
welcome revelations about what it is that we're doing.
mwe3: How does Senna compare soundwise with the other Mahogany
Frog albums? How has the Mahogany Frog sound changed over the years
and can you say something about your other albums? Are they all in
print and when did the earlier Mahogany Frog albums come out?
GE: Senna is the first Mahogany Frog record with Andy Rudolph
on drums. Prior to Andy joining the band Jean Paul Perron handled
drumming duties. These two drummers have a very different approach
to their craft. I think the change in drummers is a very distinct
difference between Senna and our previous records.
With each album we make we get closer to capturing the sounds of our
live show. Mahogany Frog is a band and there has always been an emphasis
on performance. SENNA is a better representation of our live sound
than our previous records.
The entire Mahogany Frog catalogue is:
SENNA - 2012 CD/LP
Do5 - 2008 CD/LP
On Blue - 2005 CD/LP
VS Mabus - 2004 CD
The Living Sounds of Mahogany Frog - 2003 out of print
Plays The Blues - 2002 out of print
mwe3: Can you say something about the chemistry of the four members
of Mahogany Frog and how long has this lineup been recording? How
about live performances?
GE: The current lineup has been together for about four years. As
mentioned before, this is the first record with Andy on the kit, though
he has guested on both Do5 and On Blue. Our chemistry
is different than what you might expect. Gone are the days of us living
together in the band house (as with VS Mabus and On Blue).
We all live very different lives and might not see each other
for a few weeks so when we get together it is a very focused meeting
of music. We convene in the rehearsal space either to prepare for
a tour or to put together a new piece. After finishing the last song
at a rehearsal for our latest tour, instead of packing up and going
home, without a word we dove into an improvisation, something we rarely
have the time to do anymore. This little jam was like a ski resort
holiday for four. We had gone through the grueling process of perfecting
our songs and without a word were whisked away to the backside of
an alpine slope.
mwe3: I hear a lot of different musical influences on the Senna album
including Soft Machine and even some of European instrumental prog-rock
of the 1970s. How important are musical influences to the Mahogany
Frog sound and who are the biggest influences on the group sound?
GE: Mahogany Frog has become an entity that is beyond our control.
Whatever our intentions are with a particular song it ends up sounding
like a Mahogany Frog composition. The songs often start with a melody
and then that melody is auditioned by the various instruments in our
arsenal. Depending on the winning instrument, the color or mood of
the song will then come forth. So the biggest influence on the group
would be the instruments themselves. I'm still surprised what a fuzz
box can do and if all else fails a nice Phase 90 will do wonders.
Not that it's by any means new, the use of MIDI has moved us in a
new direction. We now have the keyboard rig connected with the Scott's
synth and Andy's laptop through miles of wire. Our sequencers can
communicate giving us more control on stage and the ability to use
more sounds simultaneously. But as for records anything by Stravinsky,
the Sadies, or Daft Punk will keep our sails full and the boat afloat.
mwe3: The guitar chemistry of you and Jesse Warkentin is phenomenal.
How do you combine the two guitar sound especially balancing with
all the electronic sounds on the CD? What guitars are featured on
the Senna album and also can you describe your approach to
the great electronics and other special effects you achieve on the
GE: Jesse and I share the guitar and keyboard duties about 50/50.
Generally if I'm on guitar, Jesse will be on the keys and vice versa
with the exception of Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt
where we both play guitar. I think there may be some keyboard parts
on the record that are mistaken for guitar parts. We use some of the
same effects and amplifiers for both guitar and keys.
We've been touring with a coupe of SGs over the past few years. I've
recently picked up an Epiphone Sheraton that Jesse and I have both
been playing in our sets. We used both SGs, a Stratocaster, and a
Les Paul on Senna but ended up using a borrowed Sheraton for
a lot of it. The staples of rock n roll, I guess.
Every member of Mahogany Frog enjoys a nice bit of electronic mischief.
If you can plug it in we'll try it out and if it has a knob we'll
twist it. Scott has a little battery powered gadget called the "tampoura
box" that he picked up in India. I think it's on Grey Shirt.
Andy's piece at the end of Aqua Love includes tape loops,
tone generators, and beluga whales. All of this is really icing on
mwe3: Lastly, can you give the reader some history into how you came
up with the Mahogany Frog name for the group and what is the plan
moving forward into the ungodly year of 2013?
GE: You'll have to be in our inner circle for at least 5 years to
learn that one. As for 2013, look out for a Senna re-mix album,
I'm thinking it might become the psychedelic hip hop record of the
year, a 7" of some bombastic surf rock, a 10" of our electronic
musings, and more touring by airplane. Yeah, 2013 looks good to me.
Thanks to Graham Epp @ www.MahoganyFrog.com