After backing up the breakout country star for most of 2019, the Toronto post-punk band are back on their own path. Here's what they've learned.
FRIGS with New Fries and Piper Maru at Velvet Underground (508 Queen West), Saturday (December 14), 9 pm. $15. showclix.com.
Frigs are having déjà vu. Sitting at Kensington Market haunt Ronnie’s, the slow-burning post-punk band are back where they were the previous night, celebrating after a massive homecoming show by fringed and anonymous country sensation Orville Peck at the Danforth Music Hall.
Peck started the year playing the tiny Monarch Tavern, graduated to Lee’s Palace, Longboat Hall and then the Danforth in December – exponentially bigger venues each time. The NOW cover star has had a huge breakout year, and Frigs have been there with him the entire time, supporting him in the studio on his breakout debut album Pony (Royal Mountain/Sub Pop) and the long tour that ensued.
Frigs singer Bria Salmena is a member of Peck’s live band, but doesn’t play on the record, while bassist Lucas Savatti took part in the recording sessions for Pony but handed bass duties to Wish’s Kyle Connolly for the live shows. So with their first gig as Frigs in nearly a year, the quartet are excited to be whole again, and they’re finally ready to look ahead.
Reunited and a little bit delirious from months of touring, they shared what the Orville Peck experience has taught them and how it will influence them going forward.
Though Frigs’ earliest musical output (back when they went by Dirty Frigs) had some twang to it, their mode of post-punk is deadly, hypnotic and uncompromising. Going full country came with a steep learning curve.
“This is the most straightforward kind of drumming I’ve ever done in a band and it’s actually way harder for me,” admits Kris Bowering.
Guitarist Duncan Hay Jennings had to learn the slide guitar technique that’s an essential part of Peck’s sound.
For Salmena, the demands of the live show meant reacquainting herself with the guitar, an instrument she doesn’t use in Frigs, and a new instrument altogether: the keyboard.
“It reopens avenues for the style of writing that we used to do, and what we’re excited about doing,” she says, talking about how the new skills in their tool kit. “I literally have an instrument that I know how to play now that I didn’t before.”
The colourful Nudie suits, bolo ties and cowboy hats Bowering, Hay Jennings and Salmena don when they join Peck onstage are a far cry from the minimalist shirts-and-jeans look you’ll find in a Frigs press photo. The shift has caused the band to rethink the way they approach their own costuming.
“One of the most fun things about Orville Peck has been coordinating what we wear all the time,” Bowering says.
“The emphasis on appearance is such a huge part of the performance,” Hay Jennings adds. “Why not just go for it?”
There’s always an immense pressure on bands to maintain their momentum. Write, record, tour, repeat. Part of the incentive for Frigs to join up with Peck was to remove themselves from the cycle that was wearing them out.
“Taking a break gave me an opportunity to refocus on what’s important, a perspective that I’d lost after touring [Frigs’ debut album] Basic Behaviour. Taking a break and missing [the other band members] really put that back into focus,” Savatti explains.
“For me and Duncan, Frigs has been a part of our lives for eight years,” Salmena says. “It would’ve stopped by now if it was going to stop.”
Playing with another band let them reflect and realize their genuine desire to actively continue with Frigs rather than being passively swept up in the constant tide. It’s not only afforded them the ability to explore their own art at their own pace, but given them a wealth of inspiration as they head back into the studio this February.
“Working with Orville came at a time when Frigs felt the real need to expand and start taking influences from different areas and experimenting more,” Hay Jennings says. “That’s the nice thing about playing someone else’s music for a year.”