Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com (1999)
It’s always interesting to watch bands interact with their fans. I am standing by the merchandise booth at an outdoor venue in Columbus, Ohio where Frogpond has just finished their allotted 25-minutes set as the opening band for the Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray. A few teenagers are milling around the booth, copies of Frogpond’s second release, Safe Ride Home, clutched nervously in their hands. One kid tests his magic marker on a scrap piece of paper, just to make sure that it will write when he asks Heidi Phillips (guitars/vocals), Justine Volpe (bassist), and Billy Johnson (drums) to sign his CD.
As the band emerges from behind the backstage gates, the kids’ eyes dart quickly towards the band and then, just as quickly, to the concrete that they are standing on. Everybody is nervous about that initial contact – both Frogpond and the fans. It’s those first few moments that will shape the memories the kids go home with that night. The band could easily brush off the kids or have superficial conversations, but, as their mothers taught them when they were kids, the members of Frogpond treat others the way they would like to be treated – with respect.
Justine will tell me later that she is a huge fan of Fugazi (perhaps even a fanatic) and that she has always been afraid to meet them because she wouldn’t know how to respond if they weren’t all she had hoped they would be. It is for this reason that Justine, Heidi, and Billy sign every kid’s CD, smile in every picture, hand out Frogpond stickers, and try to respond to every message posted on the band’s official website.
After the last autograph has been signed and the last photo has been taken, I head backstage with the band for what turns out to be an hour-long chat. The following is an excerpt of that conversation.
Besides your own CD release party, what was the best CD release party you’ve played? I will tell you that there is a right answer for this question.
Justine I had a good time at Baboon’s record release party.
Heidi Ultimate Fakebook’s record release party?
That’s it! They told me that that better be your answer.
(laughter by all)
Justine They had this wheel that they’d have somebody come up and spin at the end of their show. It had these songs that they didn’t play, so the spinner would land it and they’d play it. It was like Wheel of Fortune.
Billy It was a spectacle. It was like, for $300, they put on a better light show than the Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray. They had these big cardboard cutouts that said “UFB” with Christmas lights in them and they just lit up. It was awesome.
Justine They played our record release party too.
Billy I’ve been in competition with Eric (Melin, Ultimate Fakebook’s drummer) ever since I met him, I swear. We’re good friends, but I’ll get done playing and I’ll say “I hit harder than you.” Then he’ll go up onstage and hit as hard as he possibly can. He’s a hard hitter, that’s for sure.
When VH-1 does their “Behind the Music: The Frogpond story,” what kind of embarrassing stuff are they going to be able to dig up?
Billy I worked in a porn shop.
Justine You’re not embarrassed of that! We’re embarrassed of that. No, I’m just kidding. Probably high school pictures.
Billy You had the Pat Benatar look.
Justine No, the senior picture, the Debbie Gibson. Before the Pat Benatar, I had Billy Idol’s haircut, because he was my idol. I had the spikey blond hair. That’s embarrassing. He’s still hot though.
Billy I crapped my pants once. I had food poisoning.
Are they going to be able to find someone to interview about that?
Justine My mom will give them all the dirt. (In Mom’s voice) “One time, I had to go pick her up from the police station because her friends were drunk in the car and she wasn’t old enough to drive.” What about you Heidi?
Heidi I don’t know. I’m not spilling it yet.
Justine What about high school pictures? No, your high school pictures aren’t embarrassing. She has the same haircut.
Do you have any ex-band members that might spill some dirt on you?
Billy If they go after my old band members in Rocket Fuel is the Key, I’m through, because those guys know too much about me.
Justine And those guys would love to tell. I’ve never been in another band.
Dave Suycott plays the drums on your new CD. Wasn’t he in Stabbing Westward briefly?
Billy He recorded on one of their records.
Justine He’s recorded on like 50 major label records. He is so cool. He is laidback, doesn’t want to tour, totally married.
Billy He sat me down in the corner and gave me more advice in 20 minutes that I’d had in my whole life.
Justine We didn’t give Billy enough time to get ready to record the record so Dave played on it. We just started jamming together with Billy like three months before. His band broke up, our drummer left, and we had been friends. I’m drunk and he called and was like “I should come over and just jam, I know your songs.” I was like, “All right.”
Billy I was a closet Frogpond fan. I never told my friends.
Justine Then we were drunk again, not that drinking is a good thing, but good things come out of it sometimes. Heidi and I had talked about it to ask Billy if he would be willing to record the record with us. It was like a month before we were going to do it . . .
Billy 14 million dollars later, here I am.
(laughter from all)
Didn’t Blake Smith from Fig Dish also fill in on guitar with Frogpond?
Billy Yeah, he actually did a show with us.
Justine His new band Caviar . . . have you heard them?
Yeah, they are great.
Justine We went to go see them. We drove in to Chicago that morning just to make sure that we could see them at this street fair. Then they didn’t play. The drummer was in L.A. so, we didn’t get to see them.
Did you guys meet Mike Willison (Fig Dish/Caviar)?
Justine We met him.
Billy The one with the tennis shirt on? Blond hair?
Justine He’s really funny.
He looks like Chandler from ‘Friends.’
Billy Blake’s girlfriend is in a band too – Starball. It’s two girls and a guy; their drummer pounds the drums.
Justine We got to see them at the street fair but not Caviar. I don’t know how long he’s been dating her. She’s totally hot. She’s a good bass player.
Billy Have you ever heard Rasputina? They sound like a really hard Rasputina. But I don’t listen to that much Rasputina, just when Justine puts it on right before I put my headphones on. They were good, don’t get me wrong.
How did you go about finding someone to produce your most recent album?
Justine We took the time to find a producer that we gelled with. If you don’t someone could be directing you the wrong way or not directly you at all.
Heidi It’s more important to have someone that has the same vision and is coming from the same direction. That’s more important than someone with a lot of experience.
Doug McBride produced the new one and Art Alexakis (Everclear) produced the first one?
Justine Art produced the first one in two and half days, so not a lot of producing happened.
Heidi We laid down the basic tracks and did some guitar overdubs and there were a few arrangement changes, but not a lot.
Did something strange go on with Art?
Heidi We agreed to a certain fee at the beginning. We wrote a budget up for it. We agreed to a fee. Then he came back and told us that he deserved more. So we gave him more and then after the record is done, mixed and mastered, he comes back and says that he wants more money because he feels he wasn’t compensated enough. We told him we couldn’t get more money from our label. Then he started saying that I told him that he could do the second record. I was like, “Uh . . . I never said that.”
Justine It was just a weird situation. I haven’t seen him do it to other bands. You never know, some people are shysters. It was really no big deal, but a lot of people freaked out.
Heidi I guess I was pretty naÂve to think that people were doing the right thing and not really trying to take advantage. Boy was I wrong.
Justine It was just a learning experience for us. From what I read, he’s starting his own record label and I’m sure it wouldn’t happen to anybody else. I’m sure it was just a weird time. He said he was going to try to sue, that was what was said in the paper. We hadn’t talked to him because we weren’t allowed to. It never went forward. No papers were ever drawn up.
Heidi It never got to litigation because it would never have stood up.
Justine To me it was a good experience in the long run because we learned a lot. You think about what you’re doing and we would never do it again. The Goo Goo Dolls have taken us three times now. Just so you know, none of us date any of them. They had never even met us. They heard our demos and liked them. We share the same attorney. They did it because they love the music. They worked their asses off for so long that they know how hard it is. I think they’re just trying to make it a little easier for a baby band. I know that because of that, if we ever got in that position, I’m not saying we’re ever going to, but I know we’d have the right intentions. You think about how you treat everybody, you know?
Didn’t you release a demo before the first official CD?
Heidi We only made 1000 copies of our 2% demos, and we sold them at shows. We have fans writing on the web page, “Does anybody know how to get a copy of 2%?” We don’t even have copies. There are just some of them floating around out there.
Justine I wasn’t in the band when they did 2%. I was in college. I kind of knew Heidi, we weren’t best friends, but I guess my best friend at the time was in the band. So Heidi comes driving around the corner and I’m like detailing my car and I’m blaring the tape.
Heidi I was so stoked when I heard that.
Justine I was so embarrassed. I got caught driving to Kansas City to meet Megan, our old drummer, and she would hear me blaring the tape. I listened to a couple of songs over and over and over. I was a huge fan. Now I look back and the demos don’t sound great. It sounds like a totally different band, but the songs are there.
Was there a band that you liked that you had a chance to meet? Did they treat you with the same respect that you treat your fans?
Heidi We met Mike Mills from R.E.M. He was so awesome. He was just a normal guy. You meet people and it’s like you’re a person just like anybody else. There is no reason to act like you’re any better.
Justine I was astounded. Heidi had met Mike before. He was like, “Hi.” I was nervous because he is one of my favorite bass players. The Goo Goo Dolls did that too. We met them in December and they are huge. They are so nice, so funny, so accommodating, all of their staff. It was just us and them on the stage. They are so nice. They were like “If you need anything you let us know.” You don’t expect that. That’s when you are like, “See, they remember what it is like to be a baby band.” They became really good friends of ours. When you meet other bands that have gone through the same thing as you and remember and treat you well, it’s awesome.
Have you met any of the people that post on your message board?
Justine There are two girls here who saw us in Louisville and they came to the Cincinnati show. They were like “We saw you guys in Louisville.” It’s like a two-hour drive. I had these leopard-print keychains, but it’s a book so you open it up and it has paper so you can write. So I just gave them to them and then I saw them today and they were like “Thanks!”
I saw that somebody said they were going to drive nine hours to see you tonight.
Justine Was it Emily? She was here tonight. She gave us a stuffed frog. She went to see Goo Goo Dolls shows for two weeks straight. But she gave us this stuffed frog. Isn’t is cute? I know it’s weird. That kind of stuff freaks me out a little bit. We’re on the second stage. We’re the little band. It’s cool. That’s why I talk to people on the Web. I love Fugazi. I worship Fugazi. I’ve gone to see them in seven states. I would never talk to them, but if I did I would want them to be nice. If I went on their website, I would want them to respond. That’s why we try to respond, not to everything . . .
Heidi If there is a question about when we are playing, or somebody the other day asked me the chords to “Into You,” as best as I could I tried to let them know.
One final question: Who is the guy that posts on the Frogpond message board who calls himself Lonenut?
Justine & Heidi That’s our friend Bob Cuttler.
Heidi Right now he’s on the road with D.O.A. It’s a punk rock thing.
Justine He is crazy. But we love him. But he really is crazy, but he’s not. Like he’s not dangerous. He’s extremely intelligent and he cracks me up. Did you ever see the post . . . how did he get us involved with the Kennedy assassination? Did you read that? It cracks me up. It’s so entertaining. He’s got a lot of fans on the website, a lot of people like him. And whoever doesn’t, just don’t read it.