Denmark’s Crunchy Frog Records are bringing the rock action to the festival that’s held on an even bigger piece of rock action!
By Bob Cluness
At the Grapevine, we love our rock and roll, and expect it to be true of spirit and evil of intentions. And independent Danish label Crunchy Frog Records seem to be fulfilling said expectations to the full. While they may be best known for introducing the world to artists such as Junior Senior and The Raveonettes, they’ve been signing bands and releasing records for nearly 20 years, records that contain some of the finest rip roaring noise rock, amped up mod jams and psychedelic woozyness this side of the Alps. And they’re returning again to Airwaves this year with three acts under their belts – Iceland’s own synth maestros, Apparat Organ Quartet, the super cool mod rock of Thee Attacks and the dark psych rock of new signings Shiny Darkly. Things are definitely going to get down and dirty with this lot, so we thought it would be good to find out more.
Over a Saturday night Skype chat/bonding session, label manager and owner, Jesper “Yebo” Petersen, describes to me how Crunchy Frog was set up by the members of cult Danish rock band Thau. “It all started with Thau,” says Yebo. “We were a semi avant-garde noise rock band and we named the band after the actual Icelandic word Þau. This was in 1993 and at his time we were only sending out demos to English labels like 4AD and Creation, all those labels that had a certain identity.”
But the opportunity to start the label actually began with another band Yebo was a member of. “At the same time, I was playing in the band Trains & Boats & Planes, who were signed to a Danish indie label called Cloudland,” he explains. “Unfortunately Cloudland was winding down their operations; they simply said that they weren’t that active any more. But they did have a distribution company, so they said that they would distribute our records if we created our own label under a different name. So we in Thau came up with the name Crunchy Frog for the label and that was how we started. We started the label in 1994, but it took about six years before we really started making any decent money.”
You’ve mentioned labels such as 4AD and Creation and the fact that they had an identity. One thing you get with Crunchy Frog is that there’s a really strong identity in its look and the sounds of the bands. Is there an overall aesthetic that the label adheres to?
It’s hard to say. When we started out back at the early years of the label, the music we were releasing was quite noisy and experimental. But like all true music fans, we love decent music in all its forms. For example back in the late ‘90s, we released music from bands such as called Superheroes, who were really an indie pop band with analogue synths. And then you had acts like Junior Senior, who were in their own way a bit retro infused but still felt modern. In a way, I think that the main thing that runs though most of the bands on the label is a retro feel, a looking back. You have acts such as the rockabilly of Heavy Trash and surf rock of The Tremolo Beer Gut, who are more traditional and true to their genre, but even then, they’re kind of de-constructing the expectations of the genre itself.
Well we’re a fairly home brew kind of label in that all the bands know and play in each other’s bands. With the Raveonettes, I was playing in The Tremolo Beer gut, with Sune [Rose Wagner] from The Raveonettes. We also used to be in a band together many years before called Psyched Up Janis, which at the time was one of the biggest rock bands in Denmark. Between those two bands, Sune wrote most of the songs that would appear on the first two Raveonettes albums. But no one wanted to sign them at the time! Nobody would touch them. But I thought that it was great that they wanted to do this kind of music, so we signed them. At the same time, Crunchy Frog was working with Superheroes, who were very successful in Denmark and probably the most successful act the label had, even more than Junior Senior and the Raveonettes.
We became aware of Junior Senior through Superheroes because Senior was a long time guest artist with the band. We signed them after they supported Superheroes for a long time. They kept supporting Superheroes for six months after that, and there was a great vibe about them, but they didn’t have any great songs to begin with. They were a bit like the B-52s on speed at the time.
So when did it all start getting so crazy?
From somewhere, Junior Senior began to write some really great songs. They wrote “Move Your Feet,” and at the same time the Raveonettes were also beginning to rise. This was about Christmas 2001. We released the debut records from both bands in early 2002 and from there things just went really took off. Out of nowhere “Move Your Feet” became a big hit in Denmark and we did a deal with Universal to release the records in Europe, which they did in 2003.
With the Raveonettes, we released their debut record and then David Fricke from Rolling Stone magazine did a great write up about them. All this started to create a buzz around the band. People were calling me out of the blue trying to sign the Raveonettes without having even heard them! It was kind of fun because being in an underground label, you see all this hype bullshit that surrounded loads of bands, and then you find yourself in the middle of it all.
It must have been a massive upturn for everyone at the time.
Oh man, it was crazy! I was running the label, but at the same time I was playing drums with Junior Senior. The other three guys in Thau were still partners in the label, but one of them had to come in and be the daily boss of the label while I went on tour with the band all over the world. It would be funny at times – we would meet with The Raveonettes in the BBC studios in London to do Top Of The Pops. We did that four times in a year!
Over the span of twelve months it was really mad. Everything was on that hyped up circuit and it was fun, but very hectic. As a label, it was great because the networks that we had been building, with bands such as Superheroes and older bands such as The Tremolo Beer Gut, was paying off. The whole value of the label just went through the through the roof at that point.
Was it a problem though for the label? You hear many stories about small independent labels that run into problems when one or some of their acts become really big.
To be frank, it wasn’t a problem with regards to the creative side of things, but all of a sudden you have to deal with so much more pressure. Before, you had just one distributor, and that was often your only income stream when it came to record sales and accounting with the band. But now you’re getting streams from sales all over the world and you had to deal with all of that shit. From an organisational point of view it was terrible. In the beginning it used to be just me and my wife running everything, but we really had to man up on the whole business side and get more people working on the label. But somehow, we managed to work through it.
All these bands and everyone playing in them together. Are you sure you aren’t Icelandic?
[Laughs] Alas no, but I definitely get that!
It happens here a lot. You have someone who plays in three, four bands, and when one of them becomes successful, the other bands almost fold because they lose their members.
Yeah, I was just thinking about making the point that back in 2002-04, when everything was going really great, The Tremolo Beer Gut had to stop because I was with Junior Senior and Sune was doing his thing with the Raveonettes. It was sad that it happened, but we were both so busy with other bands. And it only started up again once I had more time again and we ended up replacing Sune with The Great Nalna. He is my brother (for real!), is a member of Thau, and is a co-owner of the label. He produced the first two Tremolo Beer Gut albums, and played some guitars on them as well, so he was a natural choice to take over for Sune.
After all of this, things began to die down a bit. But you now have a new roster of artists including Iceland’s very own Apparat Organ Quartet. How did you get involved with them?
Well if you check out Superheroes and their fascination with analog synths, you will definitely hear the connection between those guys and Apparat Organ Quartet. I knew about Apparat’s first album, because my friend Thor, who used to run the Skífan shop on Laugavegur, signed on with 12 Tónar who then opened a shop in Copenhagen, where we had some involvement with the shop. Also one of the girls who worked at 12 Tónar is actually married to Jóhann Jóhannsson.
At that point though, we weren’t in a place where we could sign them. But when their second album, ‘Pólyfónía,’ was released, I listened to it and thought, “Wow, this is great!” I loved it even more than the first album. While listening to it, we started talking about doing something with the record and the band itself. At the same time, we moved our offices and had some spare room that we ended up renting out to Jóhann. So within our offices, Jóhann is renting this room for his studio! Meanwhile Thor ended up moving from 12 Tónar and is now working with us at Crunchy Frog.
As well as Apparat Organ Quartet, you’re coming to Airwaves with two other bands, Thee Attacks and Shiny Darkly. Can you tell us about these guys. For example, I don’t see Shiny Darkly on the official line up at all.
Yeah that’s true. We’re actually bringing Shiny Darkly with us to Airwaves even though they’re not really on the line up.
How did Thee Attacks get signed on the bill?
Thee Attacks were probably booked because some Airwaves guy saw them perform at the SPOT festival, or Roskilde or something. So they were booked just kind of normally. And we were pushing hard to get Shiny Darkly on as well because in the way that Thee Attacks are a REALLY great rock band, really extrovert and they put it out every night, Shiny Darkly do the same thing but in a really introverted way. They’re incredibly brooding, and have really intense shows where people go, “Woah! These kids are into some heavy shit!” [laughs]. And even though they’ve only been around for a year and a half, they’ve been making waves. So we thought they would be perfect for Airwaves. But in the end, Airwaves, for some reason, didn’t want to book them. But Reykjavík is a small place, and you make a great impact in a big way by putting on some proper shows So we thought why don’t we just bring them up anyway and make our own proper show?
Tell us about your Airwaves label show. Will it be similar to what you do with your Crunchy Club nights?
Well those are what we do in London and we’ve done those all this year. We did the fifth one just last month and it’s going well considering its really tough breaking into the UK. But we’ve built up a lot of contacts and networks and in a way that’s what we’re doing with our Iceland shows, making a big impression and meeting people. We have a lot of friends in Iceland and guys like Thor have been really great in securing decent locations and equipment.
So where will you be playing then?
We’ll be playing at Bakkus. It should be on the Friday evening. I’ve haven’t been to Iceland now for a few years, but I’ve heard some really great things about the bar not just from Icelanders, but also from some Danish friends who’ve been there. So it seemed like a natural fit. And of course we’re bringing 90 litres of this brilliant beer from a brilliant independent Danish brewer called Mikkeller. Believe me this stuff is truly some of the best beer you will drink! It’s called American Dream, and was voted recently as one of the top beers in the world. Which of course ties in with us being one of the top labels in the world! [laughs].
Apparat Organ Quartet will be performing on Friday 2nd November, 22:10, at Harpa Silfuberg.
Thee Attacks will be performing on Friday 2nd November, 00:10, at Gamli Gaukurinn.
The Crunchy Club Iceland Airwaves Edition will be held on Friday 2nd November, 1700-1900, at Bakkus. Check HERE for more information.