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Interview Music

A Conversation with Froggy About Their New EP, Riot Grrrl, and Frank Zappa

Combining the lighthearted satire of the Dead Milkmen with the raw, grating energy of Babes in Toyland and the Lunachicks, Philly-based hardcore riot grrrl trio Froggy deserve just as much praise as their indie contemporaries in bands like Priests and Skinny Girl Diet. With songs like “Midwest Emo Scum,” “Silverskin,” and “7/11 Nachos,” Froggy strikes the perfect balance between unrelenting rage and absurdist humor, poking fun at the music industry and dumping on society’s unhealthy expectations of young womxn.

When I hop on a zoom call with songwriter and bassist, Brooke Feenie, she is in the middle of designing a flyer for an art contest that the band will host on social media in a few days. In addition to writing songs and playing bass in Froggy, Feenie designs most of the band’s merch, promotional materials, and album art. Observing her intense DIY work ethic firsthand, it’s incredibly clear that lot of time, care, and effort goes into the band’s output.

As children of the internet, Froggy are highly aware that in order for a band to succeed in the digital world, the marketing and branding side of the hustle is just as crucial as musical talent and band practice, if not more. “We’re still learning. We’re trying new [marketing strategies] all the time… It’s very competitive,” Feenie tells me. “A lot of musicians think they’re above [promoting their music] on social media, but at the end of the day, a band who only posts once a month is not going to grow,” she adds.

Drummer Fiona Clark is the second member to join the call, enthusiastically telling Feenie that she’s just washed her brand new costume for next Halloween. “[Fiona and I] are going to dress up as the members of The Garden from their music video, ‘Call This # Now,'” Feenie tells me.

We are eventually joined by lead-singer/songwriter, Morgan McClain, who ends up getting ambushed by a large dog. “This is Callie, my partner’s dog,” McClain says as she attempts to wrestle the dog back to the floor.

As I chat with the band for an hour, we discuss a wide range of topics including their brand new EP, “Sopa de Elote,” the Philadelphia punk scene, the Riot Grrrl movement, and Nikki Sixx being a fan. 

What were the first songs you learned to play on instruments? 

Morgan: The first song that I ever successfully learned to play on guitar was “Brain Stew” by Green Day. 

Fiona: Dude, no way! “Brain Stew” was the first song I learned on drums! I had seen [a kid from school] perform “Brainstew” at a 5th grade talent show and decided to learn it as well. 

Brooke: The first song I learned on bass was “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz. I was going through a serious Gorillaz phase at that point.

Fiona: I went through a phase in seventh grade where the only band I listened to was Green Day! 

Morgan: Me too, I started with [Green Day] and then I got into Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, and just kept going. I think we all had that pop punk/emo phase in middle school! 

Brooke: Oh yeah! In seventh grade I fell into that dark niche hole where everybody was into the emo trinity–Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance… 

Morgan: My sister is 11, and she’s just entered her hardcore emo phase. She’s listening to all the stuff I used to listen to when I was her age, which is crazy. It’s really cool to see how my taste has been passed down to her! 

Walk me back to when you initially started playing together. When did the magic really start to happen? 

Morgan: Well, it started with me in quarantine. I posted on my Instagram story, asking if anyone would like to start a punk band, and [Fiona and Brooke] were the first to respond. We then started sharing our ideas and piecing together what each of us had written, and those became the first couple of songs! 

Fiona: Yeah, it was meant to be. We should probably make up a more interesting story, though. I can pretend Morgan sent me to the hospital and Brooke was the doctor! 

Morgan: Yeah, or I could like, pretend that I hit Fiona with my car!

Brooke: Like Gorillaz? Or we could just be like Twenty One Pilots, and change the story all the time! 

People always ask us who our musical influences are, and it’s always been a little bit of everything.

– Morgan McClain
Froggy – Left to Right: Brooke Feenie (Bass), Morgan McClain (Vocals & Guitar), Fiona Clark (Drums)

What initially sparked your interest in playing music, and how has your relationship with music developed over time? 

Morgan: When I got older, I started to deal with really bad anxiety. I wasn’t sure how to handle that until I picked up a guitar. My parents had put me in music school, and I remember one of the administrators asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I probably should have said something mature, like, “I want to be a professional musician.” Instead I said, “I wanna be a rockstar!” and they just scoffed. But I’ve always maintained that mentality. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that music is the best outlet for me to express myself and get my energy out. The biggest inspiration for me was Riot Grrrl. That is what drives me to continue working on my craft, and not care about what the outcome is. 

Brooke: I actually used to listen to a lot of techno music, so I didn’t really think about playing much as a kid. Then my parents took me to see a Sleater-Kinney show, and that was my [first foray] into punk. When I first heard The Dead Milkmen, I obsessed over their basslines and also realized how easy it is to write these silly lyrics that also have substance. My dad bought me a bass one Christmas, and I decided to join a music program, which was where I formed a lot of close friendships. It was mostly dudes, and I went through a brief phase of [internalized misogyny] that I definitely regret now, but that experience really helped me improve and get to where I am now. 

Fiona: I was in 5th or 6th grade. One of my close friends had asked me if I wanted to join his band, but I couldn’t join because I didn’t know how to play an instrument. The following year, I decided to learn how to play instrument so that I could join a band like my friend. I enrolled in classes where I learned to play a variety of different styles, but nothing has really stuck with me until I discovered Seattle grunge and Riot Grrrl. Those scenes really spoke to me more than anything else. 

We’ve never really tried to hide what we like or what inspires us.

– Morgan McClain
Froggy – Left to Right: Brooke Feenie (Bass), Morgan McClain (Vocals & Guitar), Fiona Clark (Drums)

It’s clear that you guys have really studied your Riot Grrrl history. Are you the type of band to wear your influences on your sleeve, or is that something you try to avoid?

Morgan: We’ve never really tried to hide what we like or what inspires us. 

Fiona: Yeah, sometimes we’ll write a song and think, “Oh my god, this could totally be a Lunachicks [B-side],” but we’ll usually just go for it without thinking about it. 

Morgan: People always ask us who our musical influences are, and it’s always been a little bit of everything. All of the music the three of us have listened to over the years has [melded] together. Whatever pops out of our heads sometimes ends up sounding like something else, but that is never intentional. When you think about the infinite amount of music that has been produced over time, it would be pretty difficult to write a song that doesn’t sound like anything else. 

I’m not a lyric writer, but whenever I come up with an idea, [Brooke and Morgan] will have written an entire song ten minutes after I tell them! It’s crazy and so awesome.

– Fiona Clark

I would also like to point out how striking your song titles are (“7/11 Nachos,” “Midwest Emo Scum,” etc.). I really loved how the lyrics tackled serious topics with layers of humor, and I was wondering if you are aware of how well you are able to balance the two? 

Morgan: We’re definitely aware of that, but we never go into [a session] thinking, “We’re gonna write this type of song today!” because that never works. It just happens naturally. “Midwest Emo Scum” was written by Brooke about a [weird] interaction that she had with an older musician. A lot of the sillier stuff comes from Brooke. She wrote “7/11 Nachos,” “Midwest Emo Scum,” and “Pizza Ball (An homage to Eric Andre).” Those are the heaviest Dead Milkmen influences. I usually write with a more serious tone. I wrote “Silverskin,” and Brooke and I collaborated on “Livvie Folds.” I’m more on the heavy side and I love to combine that with Brooke’s more lighthearted tone. 

Fiona: Yeah, it’s crazy. I’m not a lyric writer, but whenever I come up with an idea, [Brooke and Morgan] will have written an entire song ten minutes after I tell them about it! It’s crazy and so awesome. 

Brooke: I was talking to our producer the other day. I had written another song about a creepy dude that I’d encountered, and I was saying, “Dude, why am I always running into these creeps? It’s getting annoying,” and he said, “Well, at least you’ll never run out of stuff to write about!” 

Morgan: Yeah, same. Whenever I get angry about these horrible situations in my life, it’s very [cathartic] to be able to transform those awful experiences into songs. 

Fiona: Yeah, but at what cost?

Brooke: Yeah, Nikki Sixx told me the other day to keep up the great songwriting, but I also wondered, “at what cost?” 

Morgan: Oh god! That was incredibly overwhelming too. Like, holy shit! Nikki Sixx has heard us sing and play! That was just too much to process.  

Brooke: Yeah, that was really cool. He asked us to send him some merch the other day too, and we were like, “Yes, my liege!” 

Whenever I get angry about these horrible situations in my life, it’s very [cathartic] to be able to transform those awful experiences into a song.

– Morgan McClain
Froggy: Morgan McClain (Vocals & Guitar)

Were there any records that challenged how you thought about music? How have your relationships to music changed over time? 

Morgan: Great question! For me it was the records that captured the essence of punk [and its subgenres]. I’m much less interested in records that try too hard to be musically advanced. My favorite album of all time is “Facelift” by Alice in Chains. A lot of people don’t consider that to be their best album, but it’s always been my favorite because of how well it channels the raw emotional energy of punk. Another favorite of mine is “Bricks Are Heavy” by L7.

Brooke: For me it was “We’re Only In It For The Money” by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. [That album] changed everything for me. The intricate sounds and vocals they produced totally blew me away. I loved the way he wrote about stuff that was culturally relevant, and used crude humor to communicate the message of each song. I know Frank Zappa wasn’t exactly the biggest feminist in the world, but he always did what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to poke fun at society. Hearing him mock religion, misogyny, and electoral politics really resonated with me, because I have my own strong opinions about all of those topics. I constantly try to channel that type of attitude in my own writing. 

Fiona: The record that had changed everything for me was “Ladies, Women, & Girls,” by Bratmobile. That was the first Riot Grrrl album I ever listened to. I had never heard anything like it before, and it blew me away. 

What do you value the most about being in a band? 

Morgan: What I value the most is the sisterhood. You need to have chemistry with your bandmates if you want your band to last. If you are going to be putting your heart and soul into making music, you have to be each other’s support network. We spend all of our time together. We practically live at Fiona’s house. That bond is what allows us to thrive.

Brooke: We always take care of each other and take one another into account. Without that type of relationship, a band has no foundation. 

Morgan: Definitely. I recently went through a nasty breakup, and I was a total wreck after that. Brooke and Fiona were the people who helped me get back on my feet, and I have no idea where I’d be if it wasn’t for the band. 

Brooke: Yeah, I always say that if I didn’t have Froggy, I’d either still be getting bullied or I’d probably be dead. 

Morgan: Yeah, me too! That’s why the band is so important to me. We all really believe in what we do. 

What is the DIY music scene like in Philadelphia? Are most of your gigs community-driven or are they more isolated? 

Brooke: There’s a lot of pop punk and post punk bands, but it’s also an eclectic mix. I would go to shows every weekend [before lockdown] and the lineups were always unique. I went to one show that blended reggae, punk, and hip hop. Philadelphia was the birthplace of the Dead Milkmen, Ween, and Bloodhound Gang. Those are three of my biggest inspirations, and they practically formed right in my backyard, which is nuts.

We haven’t gotten to play many live gigs during the pandemic. We’ve been playing a lot of outdoor, socially-distanced shows since things started opening back up. My podcast has really helped us book gigs. Bands that I’ve interviewed were gracious enough to add us to the bill on several of their shows. We’ll be playing at FDR Skate Park in a couple of weeks. We were also invited to play at Camp Punksylvania in September by two lovely ladies from Riot Squad Media. We’re very honored and fortunate to have connected with these other bands in the area. The overwhelming community support has been unreal. 

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