08 July 2010

10 questions with...Andy Sussman

What can I say about the members of Frogg Café that I might not have said in the past?

That’s a tough one to answer, I think. Other than the fact that I think that both Frank Camiola (whom I interviewed way back in 2008) and Andy Sussman are both borderline certifiable, and also incredibly talented musicians, it’s hard to come up with something new to say. I’ve had countless opportunities to get to know them, and the rest of the band, over the years, and they have always come across to me as genuinely affable, people who have not one shred of ego about what they do or how they do it. Each of their studio albums (Frogg Café, Creatures, Fortunate Observer of Time, and the newest Bateless Edge) have grown in intensity and statistical density, to cop an old Frank Zappa phrase. With three distinct songwriting voices in the group (Sussman, Camiola and Nick Lieto), Café albums are always diverse affairs, requiring an attentive listener to pick up all the nuances hiding in the nooks and crannies.

With the summer release of Bateless Edge, I thought it a good time to revisit the Froggies, and Andy was willing to spend a little time escorting me around the dark corners that are the land of Frogg Café. Toss on a wet suit, because this runs the risk of being a very messy ride :-)

1) Since I am sure there are people not entirely familiar with Frogg Cafe reading this, could you give us a brief history of how the band got together?

Well you see there was this evil ring and we had no choice but to band together in an attempt to destroy it for its powers were eating away at us from within…

The ring I’m talking about was in Mineola, NY (Long Guy-Land) circa 1998 and it consisted of a “grandma” slice of pizza at Mama Teresa’s on Jericho Turnpike, a trip to Starbucks for a cup of leaded beanjuice, then off to “Mr. Cheapo’s” which is a great used CD store that was close by, and then finally to finish our circular journey, back to my apartment to listen to tunes at the beautiful “Rich Lee Gardens” apartment complex. Don’t forget to jiggle the handle after you flush.

Those were the footloose and fancy-free days of Frank Camiola and Andy Sussman before mortgages and wives and children and lawns to mow and long commutes…basically free of hassle. At Mr. Cheapo we picked up a “new” Frank Zappa release called Mystery Disc (which is a lot of earlier FZ) and that was the flavor of the day for us. We were enjoying it even though there were 100 other things we would have preferred the Zappa Family Trust release from the vault, but I digress.

Frank says: “Wouldn’t it be cool to start a Zappa band?”

And I said: “Will I meet any girls doing this? Because just look at us, I’m sitting on a couch with your ugly ass right now.”

Frank: “Probably not but I want to play electric guitar in a band”

Suss: “But you’re an amazing bassist, don’t you want to play your main instrument?”

Frank: “Not really. Besides, what the hell are you going to play if I play bass?”

Suss: “Good point…where are we going to rehearse?”

Frank: “Remember Bill from college?

Suss: “Yes, he’s as big as a giant. I never figured out how he got those sausages up and down the violin neck.”

Frank: “I know, it’s one of the great mysteries of the universe…BUT he has a basement and five bottles of single malt scotch at any given time.”

Suss: “Ok, he’s in.”

Frank: “Someone in the band should probably have some talent.”

Suss: “Nick Lieto is a bad ass monkey on trumpet and can sing his juevos off.”

Frank: “Will he want to do it?”

Suss: “Probably not but what the hell else is he going to do on this godforsaken island?”

Two years as a Zappa Tribute band called “Lumpy Gravy”. Great fun with amazing memories and crazy antics on stage but being a cover band, even if it is of the greatest music of all time, has a shelf life and we started to write. Named the band 'Frogg Café' after renaissance composer John Dowland’s piece called 'The Frogg’s Galliard' which was arranged by Frank (with added renaissance lyrics) for us to play ala ELP style.

It was about halfway through the 7th verse about dragons and a “jolly ol’ pint of ye finest ale, governor” when our drummer wanted off the magical ride called Frogg Café.

DRUMMER AUDITIONS. Lock up your women and the good silverware.

Enter the Dragon: Old Man Marinara aka James Guarnieri to the Frogg Café drum auditions, day 1,013. He shows up on time, he is easy to work with, he is showered and well groomed, he can actually READ MUSIC, and most importantly he can wear jeans without a belt. We were sold. This is not just a drummer…this is a GOD!

Saint Jim Robinson of the NJ Proghouse (and now the NEARfest godfather of prog and overall sexiness) gave us a gig at the now burnt up Metlar Museum and we were now called a…wait for it... a PROG BAND. Over ten years we’ve managed to put out 6 Cds, play more shows then I can remember, tour in Europe and Canada, play several big prog and jam festivals and that has gotten us….basically nowhere…but we love this band and we are close friends who still enjoying making music together.

2) How would you describe Bateless Edge, the band's newest album?

It’s a load of bollocks, don’t bother. No, silly…I kid because I care.

How do you describe this album, he asks. Well, it’s long. 77 minutes and we even cut a track to get it to that. This bitch is a 5 headed monster. We’ve been writing, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering this motha for over 3 years.

It is a musical response to where the live Frogg act had been going for awhile with our previous guitarist Steve Uh. Steve had the 'crazy' idea that maybe more then just 2,000 chubby prog fans (myself a baton twirler in this portly parade) should know who we are and want to see us live and buy our CDs, and generally think we are cute and cuddly, etc. So we expanded our repertoire to some Phish-like, jam band-esque material. We can play that way when we choose to and it can be fun sometimes. But too much vanilla makes a fat guy like me want some pecans, marshmallows, and chocolate chips in my desert. Burp.

So, as uncomfortable as it was, we had to part ways with Steve who is an old and dear friend of ours going back to Music Ed. School in the early 90’s. The band had to go back to the warm bosom, in this case a man bosom, of our prog family. I called Frank, who had retired from FC because he couldn’t do the 35 shows a year we were doing with his tinnitus condition, and asked if he’d be up for a studio CD. And he definitely was because his two tracks on this album plus his angular guitar solos are as anti-jam band as you can get.

This album for us is dark, it’s personal, it’s sometimes avant-garde and at other times it’s gentle and melodic and sometimes we just let loose and jam. Sometimes it will cuddle with you and sometimes it wants you to shut the hell up and make it a sandwich.

You tell me. You can stream the whole sucker here for free you cheap bastards:


3) What kind of response has the album gotten thus far?

Well, my mom really likes it. Actually we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on the CD personally but it was only officially released on 7/2/10 so it hasn’t been heavily reviewed yet. The reviews I’ve seen so far have been good, but at the risk of sounding like a primadonna douche bag, I get really annoyed at how most people write music reviews. And it’s not because they are saying bad things about the CD, now or in the past, it’s just that most of these guys don’t spend the time to really digest the music they are writing about. They probably have 100 other CDs in their queue and it’s not like they get paid to do it so you’re lucky if they give it one complete spin. Most of the time they are writing the review WHILE they are listening to the disc. You can just tell with how they are describing things, like a color commentator for a MLB game.

I’ll leave it alone with this: I haven’t read a review yet of Bateless Edge, good or bad, that makes me believe the reviewer spent any amount of time with the CD before putting the pen to the page. Have at it.

4) How would you say your songwriting style differs from Nick Lieto's or Frank Camiola's?

Nick and Frank really look to me for guidance in almost every measure they write…YEAH RIGHT. These two are compositional monsters coming from completely (and sometimes the same) musical places. Both love and play jazz, both love to listen to Mahler, both love piña coladas and getting lost in the rain.

Nick: Loves Johann Sebastian Bach and Nick’s style of writing use many of JSB’s compositional techniques with his own jazz flare for writing for brass. It’s a great combo that has served him (and us) well and every piece he writes is better then the last. Last year Nick wrote an amazing three movement symphony orchestra piece. Anyone want to record it?

Frank: Immerses himself in 1000’s of different recordings in several styles. Ironically, considering the tinnitus, he has the best ears of all of us. He has a penchant for the bizarre and his ears favor music that stretch the limit of tonality, timbre, and creativity. Listen to his solo CD called Cardboard Amanda and you’ll know what I’m talking about. His Waterfall Carnival days are over. Well not over, just evolved. Robert Fripp says move on.

Me: I cut a lot of my composition classes in college. I used to make mac and cheese for lunch, throw in a can of tuna and a slice of Kraft American cheese. Kind of like eating a cement truck. A damn tasty cement truck. Class was at 1pm but Sussy was sleepy. I’m a classically trained cellist who grew up listening to Van Halen, Rush, Yes, and ELP. And then later Zappa and KC and the rest. So I write what I know. My stuff is more middle of the road for the listener and sometimes more accessible, for better or for worse.

5) Considering the band's affection for Frank Zappa, do you feel humor belongs in music?

It does when you can pull it off. Otherwise just shut up and play your guitar.

6) What would you say was the 'biggest' show you ever played (be it audience size, or the bands you played with, et cetera)?

The festivals we played in Germany had by far the most people in the audience. We actually played right after Caravan at the Burg Herzberg Festival. Cool guys who told us stories of when Genesis used to open for them! The song 'Leave of Absinthe' is about our crazy time there.

But the biggest thrill was playing at NEARfest because those are our people and the vibe is unmatched anywhere.

7) What would you like to achieve musically that you haven't done yet?

I’m trying to figure that out right now in the wake of Bateless. I just listened to Brett Kull’s (of Echolyn) amazing solo CD called The Last of the Curlews and it really inspired me to maybe write my own CD from soup to nuts. There is a real allure to doing something like that where the final product flows from one thought process.

On the Frogg front we’ve been throwing around the idea(s) of an all acoustic album, a children’s concept album, an album based on improvisation, or maybe just another straight up Frogg album of tunes. It will come to us, it always does.

8) When Frogg Cafe appeared at NEARfest 2005, Frank Camiola had a brief live reunion with the group. Parts of that show were released on the NEARfest 2005 DVD. Is there any chance that the band might release the entire performance at some point?

I think that would be a cool thing to do down the road. Maybe as a bonus disc to a remastered Creatures album or something like that.

9) It's fairly well known that Frank had to leave the group due to health issues. Do you think Frogg Cafe will be limited to being a studio project now?

The Frogg live act will ride again, it’s just a matter of how, who, and when. We would love for Frank to play with us obviously, but that might not be a reality for him. We’re working it out now and when we do come back we want it to be bigger and better. Otherwise why bother because it’s a lot of friggin’ work. Rule #1: It can’t suck.

10) Do you have any final words for our readers?

If you’ve actually read this far you are either in the band or related to me. But if you are not in one of those two categories that probably means that you like the music that we have worked so hard to put out over these last ten years. And all joking aside, I can’t tell you how much it means to the band and myself to have that kind of support so THANK YOU!

Discover more at:

(Photo of Andy Sussman at NEARfest 2005 by Bill Knispel.)


Mark C said...

Does Andy know that you do CD reviews? If so, dare I say he issued quite the challenge in answer #3? ;-)

Bill K. said...

Not sure if he does...but the gauntlet that has been tossed down I have picked up ;-)

Roger T said...

I am one of the guilty mentioned in Q3, having posted the first review of Bateless Edge on Progarchives after having played it no more than 3 times. And yes, it was on while I was reviewing it! I will try harder next time, honest!

Anybody who might be interested, it's just before halfway down this page: