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“We could disappear,” Frodus singer-guitarist Shelby Cinca repeatedly intones on “6/99,” one of the more compelling songs on the D.C.-area trio’s recently completed fourth record, And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea. It seems fitting that those lines stick out because, to many in the area, Frodus itself seems to have vanished.
“Yeah, we’ve seemed quiet ’cause we’ve been in the studio for months and have toured so much,” Cinca explains. Maybe that’s the standard gripe of the rock ‘n’ roller, but, for Frodus, it’s no bull. The last two years have been like Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” video, sans the arenas. And the thousands of fans. And…well, you get it. Touring in support of 1998’s Conglomerate International (on the Seattle mega-indie label Tooth & Nail) may have kept the band away from home for longer than its members would have liked, but it tightened the band’s latest incarnation—Cinca, bassist Nathan Burke, and drummer Jason Hamacher—into one of those efficient machines they seem so obsessed with.
Weapons is the band’s finest hour, a blast of refined technical ability, thinly veiled paranoia, and old-fashioned hardcore venom. There’s just one problem: Frodus has suddenly found itself without a label to call home, so the record hasn’t been released yet.
During the one-album experiment with Tooth & Nail, a label that specializes in Christian hardcore bands, Frodus was the odd band out. “I like the label and the people, but at some points we were caught in the middle,” Hamacher recalls. “We weren’t a Christian band, so some of the Christian kids didn’t like us, but we were on a semi-Christian label, so a lot of the non-Christian kids didn’t like us.”
“Ultimately, we became the weird kid at the party,” Cinca remarks. “It seems as if they have their niche marketing with what they do and, for our record, they would have to spend more money and work harder than they would normally have to.”
But then again, being the weird kid at the party isn’t an entirely new feeling to Frodus. Since the band’s inception, in 1993, the trio (which went through a series of bass players before settling on Burke in 1997) has never really gone with the flow. Making cheeky, spastic rock music that was initially more indebted to Man or Astro-man? than to standard D.C. punk influences, Frodus has carved its own place in local music. Coupling its eccentric nature with a workmanlike touring schedule, it didn’t fall in with too many other local bands—which, for better or for worse, led the band onto its current path.
“I’ve always felt we’re our own entity in a way,” Cinca declares—and his bandmates concur.
“I don’t feel like we’re in the D.C. scene. I never have,” Hamacher adds. “We don’t play regularly around here and haven’t, really, for three years.”
When it is pointed out that it might not be easy to feel that you’re part of a scene when you’ve played there only a handful of times in the past three years, Cinca asserts: “In the past, we played too much locally. It wasn’t as special.”
Burke agrees: “It might be fun to play [in D.C.] a lot again, but you have to be careful, ’cause people will get sick of you.”
The band’s association with Tooth & Nail probably didn’t help things much. Reviled in many circles for the content of some of its releases and the pseudo-major-label vibe it exudes, Tooth & Nail may not have been the right label for Frodus in terms of building indie cred. Of course, people’s perceptions of the band haven’t mattered much since the beginning.
“For a label, it was amazing,” Hamacher says, defending Tooth & Nail. “They got our name out a lot. They advertised like crazy for [Conglomerate International]. They had good distro. They did a really good job.”
“We recorded our record and realized we were going in a different direction than Tooth & Nail was,” Cinca says. “That’s why we decided to leave. It’s hard to sell the weird kid at the party when you’re not a weird kid yourself.”
Weapons certainly fits in with Frodus’ weird-kid theory. It sounds unlike anything else the band has done to date—and unlike anything else that is being done in punk rock. The record takes the band’s sound, composed of Cinca’s primal-scream-therapy vocals, frenetic rhythms, and occasional moments of metered tranquility, and twists it into a different, quite satisfying creation.
“The Awesome Machine” is the centerpiece of the record, featuring Cinca and Burke venting irascible vocals over a propulsive musical landscape, a tableau that gets wiped away in favor of an ominous, mosh-worthy groove that is equal parts early-’90s emo-core and hardcore, with the two vocalists insisting, “The machines never died…We will be vindicated.” It’s a minute of music that crystallizes everything the band is about.
And is that a drum machine at the beginning of “Hull-Crush Depth?” A slide guitar on “Belgian Congo?” Frodus’ peculiar experiments with its sound work in a way that few could have expected, making Weapons the finest record currently in limbo.
“I wonder if people will understand the new record,” Cinca admits, sounding concerned. “Some of the songs on this record are some of the heaviest this band has ever recorded, and then there’s some of the quietest and prettiest,” Burke explains. “Everyone’s gonna hate it,” he adds with a laugh, though whether he’s joking is hard to tell.—John Davis