Stoner Rock certainly has its share of diverse influences. Sure, you’ll find tons of people worshipping at the feet of Tony Iommi, but you’ll also encounter music that is loaded with Fuzz, packed with Psychedelia, and quaking with Doom (get our rundown of different genres on our blog or in our podcast).
But when Ghost Frog made contact with us last year, we were unprepared for their unique sonic combination: paranormal Stoner Punk.
As the Portland band puts it, paranormal Stoner Punk is “a retro-futuristic brand of nebulous noise rock that sounds like it was made by angry aliens on acid.” At Monster Riff, we describe it as the sort of Stoner-Punk hybrid you’d hear while the aliens pluck you off the surface of the Earth in a glowing tractor beam (check out our review of their latest album, Astral Arcade, for more).
However you want to define it, Ghost Frog’s delivery is completely different from anything we’ve heard before. This unique fingerprint is largely the result of loving obsessions over the paranormal, underground horror movies, and Science Fiction, as well as the leadership of frontman Quinn Schwartz.
Quinn and the band have taken these influences and run with them both in their music and their marketing.
We recently caught up with Quinn to learn more about the band’s strategy when it comes to promoting music on social media and to hear how finding a diverse collection of source material can assist in songwriting.
A Conversation With Quinn Schwartz of Ghost Frog
Monster Riff: Tell me more about creative influences behind Astral Arcade. There seems to be a heavier influence from video games in this album than your previous work.
Quinn Schwartz: I grew up playing video games, mainly stuff from the ‘90s. I had a Sega Genesis growing up, and then a Dreamcast, and I was also really into PC games like StarCraft, but then I gradually stopped playing after middle school as I got more and more into other pursuits like music and skateboarding. So my love of video games went up to Nintendo 64 or maybe Playstation 2, and that’s where I mostly stopped keeping up with it.
But, honestly, the album really came about because I just had it in my head that it would be a cool-sounding album title. And because I thought it would work well as a continuation of the “space sports” theme which began with our two previous albums, Laser Tag and Cosmic Bowling. So I almost think of it as a concept album trilogy at this point, although those first two albums aren’t quite as committed to their themes as this one is. Then, once I had the album title in mind, it just snowballed into me getting really obsessed with video games again, albeit more classic ‘80s stuff this time around, and trying to bring that into the music and into the lyrics and ideas behind the songs.
I love having a concept for an album because it makes the writing process easier. It just brings everything together and gives it a focus. Instead of just writing a bunch of random, unrelated songs here and there, you have this overall vision for how it’s all going to play out. It’s kind of like writing a screenplay. You have a first act, a second act, and a third act. You have a narrative arc, like the flow of a movie. I’m really into movies too, so I think about music in cinematic terms a lot. I’ll often think about what would be a good music video idea to complement a song while we’re writing that song. Or I’ll think about the song as if it were a score for a short film or a scene from a made-up movie from an alternate dimension.
Ghost Frog is very influenced by movies. I actually work at one of the last remaining video stores in Portland. That’s my day job, so I’m constantly renting old Sci-Fi and horror B-movies and mining them for inspiration. I get all kinds of wacky ideas for songs and videos that way.
Monster Riff: There’s definitely evidence of multiple influences throughout this record. Video games are at the top of the list, but you also have Sci-Fi and space, and then Bigfoot makes a cameo on one of your videos.
Quinn Schwartz: It might seem like a somewhat random hodgepodge of influences, but it’s also fairly consistent at the same time. We have all of these things that we’re really into aesthetically and thematically, and we kind of stick to those ideas pretty closely.
It has an overarching style and perspective that’s pretty cohesive, as do all of our records. That’s really important to me. I like bands and albums that bring you into their own unique world.
Astral Arcade doesn’t ever stray too far from the path of what its world is. Maybe it’ll go in different directions here and there, and you’ll get to explore different parts of that world, but you know you’re always in the same universe. Or Frogverse, if you will.
That’s what we try to accomplish, to bring people into the Ghost Frog Zone—teleport them to Planet Ghost Frog and let them see what kind of strange alien creatures are lurking about in the murky musical terrain.
On Crafting An Experience
Monster Riff: You do an excellent job of weaving that into all of your copy, even going back all the way back to our first contact when you described yourself as “paranormal stoner-punk, a retro-futuristic brand of nebulous noise rock that sounds like it was made by angry aliens on acid.”
The rest of that email was great because it went against the typical outreach, which is simply, “Hey, we wrote this song! Take a listen?” And there’s little to no context, so you have to go digging for more information if you like it.
But with the language you used, I immediately realized that this was a band that knew what they were and I had a good idea of what you were going to sound like before I even played your first song.
I think you do a great job of applying those same ideas you previously mentioned in your social media presence as well. I’d like to bring up your Facebook page here and ask you to walk us through some of your videos, copy, and posts.
If someone lands on your Facebook profile, they’re immediately sucked in by this video, which captures all of your influences at once: video games, Science Fiction, old movies… Talk to me about how you put this together.
Quinn Schwartz: I have a friend who made that for us. His name is Cody Pulliam, and he’s actually the same guy who did the Sasquatch themed video with us too for the song “Permanent Hermit,” along with another dude named Brandtly Carrow.
Cody and I used to work together at a place in town called UFO Pizza many years ago. It was a whole alien themed pizza parlor. So that was probably part of the genesis of how I got so obsessed with aliens originally.
Monster Riff: Was there anything space-themed about the pizza besides it being shaped like a flying saucer?
Quinn Schwartz: A lot of the pizzas had spacey names. You know, like there was the vegetalien. Stuff like that. There wasn’t really anything spacey about the pizza itself though, I don’t think.
But there was Star Wars and Star Trek stuff all over the walls. And the shop was actually originally owned by this old Greek guy who claimed he had been abducted.
Monster Riff: Did any of that influence your writing of Astral Arcade?
Quinn Schwartz: Sure. Anything to do with aliens is usually an influence! But I was already pretty into that stuff even before I started working there, come to think of it. That was probably why I applied there in the first place—because it seemed right up my alley. But that just happened to be where I originally met the guy who many years later ended up making these videos with us.
It’s funny how collaborations sometimes happen like that in unexpected, coincidental ways. So many of the people I’ve collaborated with on making these albums and videos over the years are just people I’ve met in my day-to-day life, like working odd-jobs or through friends or some other serendipitous acquaintances. The guy who did our album art, for example, Patrick Pollard, he’s not a professional artist or anything, although he probably could be. He’s just a friend I used to work with at a music venue who likes to doodle and happens to be absurdly good at it. And then the guy who filmed our video for the song “Kill Screen” is also a co-worker of mine at the video store whose name is Joel Gaddis. Another super talented person who just kind of fell into our laps, luckily.
Anyway, for that video on our Facebook page, I just sent him all the materials, like the song I wanted him to use, “Data Slave,” and some footage of the classic video game Asteroids that I found on YouTube, and some text with the specific font that I wanted, which was like the Casio digital watch font from the ‘80s. And then he put it all together and applied those VHS glitch effects by running it through some special equipment that he has. That’s basically how that video came about. As for the “Permanent Hermit” video, I chose that song to do, not necessarily because I thought it was the best song on the album, but because I thought it had perfect lyrical content to base a video about Sasquatch around, which seemed like a fun and fitting subject for us to explore as a paranormal-themed band. A lot of times what determines what videos we choose to make is not necessarily which song is the single. Instead, it’s about whichever song most lends itself to telling a story visually that complements the concept of the music.
So we just went out in the woods here in Oregon with a Chewbacca costume I found on eBay and a couple of old VHS camcorders, and we more or less improvised the whole thing. A lot of our videos are like that. We’ll come up with a basic premise, get together some costumes and some props, find a location, and just go for it. Just act goofy and film stuff and see what happens. It’s a pretty low-budget, DIY approach, but we have a lot of fun making them. And I think that comes through in the videos since they’re so silly and don’t really take themselves too seriously.
On Creating Music Videos
Monster Riff: I’m glad you went through that. I was talking to another band recently about music videos, and they expressed some concerns about having enough budget for one. But a lot of this can be done cheaply. We sat down and did a shot by shot analysis of “Tourniquet” by Baroness.
If you actually look at how this music video is filmed, it’s mostly lighting and a fog machine to set the right mood.
With the aesthetic you’ve chosen, you’re in a really cool spot because even if your original video quality ends up being subpar for whatever reason, you have that VHS aesthetic to fall back on. And that complements your sound so perfectly because you have all of these retro influences. And it goes right back to what you’ve already said: Once you’ve decided on a concept, it makes everything else so much easier.
Now, since you brought up the Sasquatch video, I’d love to break down this post a little more. Let’s deconstruct the way this is written out.
You’ve presented this song as a found-footage documentary, as if there is evidence of Bigfoot, which I love.
Quinn Schwartz: I wanted to have a post that would complement the content of the video well. And it’s never explicitly stated in the video that it’s supposed to be some kind of a found-footage horror film, like a parody of The Blair Witch Project or something, so I wanted to add more context about the thinking behind it and what we were going for with it, and to set the scene for it without giving too much away.
It’s cool to be able to use your words as a way to clarify or expand upon the work that you’re putting out. I try to approach social media and any other promotional outlet like it’s an extension of our art. It’s not just a way to promote and market a product—it’s part of the product itself, and if you look at it that way, it makes being a digital salesman for your music feel slightly less grueling because then at least you’re still getting to be creative. You’re actually exercising your craft to an extent.
Overall, I just try to have fun with it and make our attempts at advertising ourselves something that’s a little more interesting and original than the average fare. Instead of just saying, “Here’s our thing, check it out,” add something different. Make it unique. Make it weird!
Monster Riff: I was just about to ask you what you think of bands when you see them drop a music video that they obviously spent money on, and then all they say is, “Here it is!” Why not tell us more? Why not pull us into the narrative? Why not get us excited to sit down and watch?
Quinn Schwartz: Yeah, it’s kind of what you’re trying to do with your whole band. You want to create a narrative that people can get invested in so they’re following you along on that journey.
If bands don’t do that, if all they’re doing is making music and there’s no kind of personality behind it for people to latch onto, I feel like it’s just going to fall flat. People want to feel like they’re part of your story, and maybe even eventually become part of your cult!
Monster Riff: Right. People want a story, but they also want to be pulled in enough that they feel like they’re part of the experience. When I listen to one of your songs or I scroll through your posts, I feel that mystique in the way you’ve presented your content. I feel like Agent Mulder will come rushing around the corner any second to save us.
Quinn Schwartz: Totally. If I had just released the video with nothing written about it or anything, it wouldn’t have been the same experience for people to see it.
I think of old movies with all the cool posters and trailers and everything that went into the marketing. All of that is part of the mythology of the movie itself. One aspect is to try to get you to see it, of course, but the promotional materials could also be seen as being entertaining in their own right, and actually serve to enhance people’s perception of the entire project, ideally.
That’s why I think the best approach to all of this stuff is to view it as an extension of your art. It’s everything—every single thing from your merchandise, to your album covers, to your website. Even your interviews! it all goes toward creating this overarching story, or idea, which is your brand, basically. Obviously, the music itself is by far the most important piece of the puzzle, but the music is like the rocket ship and all the other surrounding stuff is like the rocket fuel that propels it and allows it to achieve lift-off.
On Writing Compelling Copy
Monster Riff: Right. If you had just released the video itself with no context, that would have been a risk, right? Because there was a possibility that the first interaction somebody had with your band would be through that video. And if it didn’t have this copy attached to it, it just would have been a guy dressed as Chewbacca running around the woods. And there’d be like a little bit of confusion—Are you supposed to laugh? Are these guys being serious? But if you have the context attached to it, with the tree, and the poop emoji, and the tree, it gives you the right frame of mind. Then you’re like, “Ah, OK, I have permission to laugh, and now I’m in on the joke.”
Quinn Schwartz: I’ve always found that when it comes to social media, the more poop emojis, the better. [Laughs]
Monster Riff: Right, that’s Marketing 101. On a more serious note, I really dug your About section. “Welcome to Spacebook” is a nice touch, but I think the word choice in your second blurb is critical.
This is made by four humanoids (not humans) from Planet Earth (not just Earth) who make strange sounds (not just music) in the winter of star date (instead of just the year). In this first sentence, the word choice immediately helps to set the scene.
When you talk about humanoids, you create the possibility of martians and other extraterrestrial life. When you talk about Planet Earth, you create the possibility that other planets are just as important. When you discuss strange sounds, you suggest that you’re expanding well beyond the typical sonic template.
What’s your thought process when you sit down and start writing? How developed is the Ghost Frog world? Have you built an entire universe?
Quinn Schwartz: I wish I could say that it’s that well thought out, that we’re Tolkien-esque in our worldbuilding. But it’s definitely not that extreme. I’m just very conscious about the fact that we don’t want anything we do to be bland or generic. I want to put our own little twist on everything, even something as stereotypically boring as a band bio. Why not try to make it a little less boring?
I try to do that with everything we do in the band. The band bio is a small part of that. I also just wanted to make sure that it had certain wording that tied into the whole Sci-Fi aesthetic that we have going. When you read it, I want it to bring to mind certain nerdy notions about interplanetary exploration so you have more context to approach the music with when you’re listening. I mean, our lyrics and music are inspired by Science Fiction, so why not have our writing style reflect that as well?
Anyway, I’m glad you liked our bio. We actually got a random email from a guy a little while ago where he was like, “I love your music, but your band bio is cringe.”
Monster Riff: Did he say why he didn’t like it?
Quinn Schwartz: No, he didn’t really elaborate. I sent a response where I was like, “Well, sorry you feel that way, but it’s hard to write about yourself!”
It’s all kind of a cringe-inducing process, at least for me, personally. The whole self-promotion aspect of music is not something that necessarily comes naturally to me. I’ve always had more of an introverted kind of personality.
The thing I love most about making music is just being by myself, or with a small group of friends, and getting into our own little world of creating things. And when it comes to having to interact with the public—that’s super important if you want to actually connect with people and get your music heard. But it’s always been the thing about doing music that I’ve been the least inclined to want to do. It has always felt like it’s the most “work.”
I think that’s a big part of why I’ve tried to make everything I do, as far as promoting the band, fall more in line with what my interests are outside of the band. It just makes everything seem less tedious and more enjoyable.
The thing I love most about being in a band is actually making the music, but it’s not that simple, unfortunately. In order to make something that anyone is ever going to hear, you have to figure out a way to put it out there so that people are actually going to click on it. There’s just so much content out there now, and you’re constantly competing with so many people’s voices and so many bands that it can be kind of overwhelming. So I think the best thing you can possibly do is to just double down on being yourself when it comes to the way you present your material, and also when it comes to what material you choose to create in the first place.
I love all kinds of music, and media in general, and the band is a reflection of all the stuff we’re into, regardless of whether those things happen to be typically associated with one another or not. And I think when you can combine different elements that have never been combined before, that’s one way of creating new and exciting work that has never been done before. To me, that’s a much more interesting take. Instead of trying to imitate a single specific influence, you take a bunch of different varied influences and put them into a blender and mix it up. Then you have something fresh, but that also feels familiar. Best of both worlds.
On Strategies For Self-Promotion
Monster: Alright, now I’m going to ask you a tougher question, but I think you’re up to the task. By the time I finish reading your bio, I have a pretty good impression of what I expect to hear. But there are many bands out there that just say, “Stoner-Doom. Black Sabbath-inspired riffs.” The problem, though, is that doesn’t mean anything to the reader—everyone in this space is inspired by Black Sabbath, and if all you write is Stoner-Doom, I don’t know if you sound like Electric WIzard or Sleep or Kyuss or something else.
If I’m a band in the Stoner/Doom space, how can I expand beyond this sort of description? How can I get better about describing my sound?
Quinn Schwartz: I think it starts with the music itself. Like I was saying before, if you have more than just one influence, you can expand upon it. So you might start with Black Sabbath, but then you say, “We sound like Black Sabbath in outer space” or “We sound like Black Sabbath crossed with The Misfits in outer space, while smoking a bong and playing Space Invaders.”
Having multiple influences definitely helps, especially if those influences are a little out of left field. But it also definitely helps to have a niche and to have a scene, like being in the Stoner Rock scene, for example. It’s a great community and it’s very supportive, and we’ve found it to be generally more accepting of us than some of the other genre camps we’ve fallen into before because it seems like stoner rockers usually tend to be pretty open-minded about their taste in music, and are willing to indulge a fair amount of our extraterrestrial eccentricities as long as they stay within orbit of some heavy ass Space Rock.