Bullfrog more than Koala

By Alan Cho

His name is Eric San, a.k.a, Kid Koala. Though he may not be a towering figure in person, his shadow stretches into an inevitable singularity of focused creativity overpowering all that falls in its loom. Prolific would barely begin to describe one of the world’s most revered turntabilists and one of the masterminds behind the supergroup The Gorillaz.

With that in mind, you would think Bullfrog would never be more than a blip in the pop cultural consciousness, a side project to be relegated to the annals of novelty and self-indulgent experimentation.

But powered by a genre blending melodies supported by a healthy dose of funk, Bullfrog has proven themselves to be a creative force to be reckoned with by itself. Unbeknownst to most, the band formed in 1994, before Kid Koala became the critical darling he is now. Having just put the kids to sleep, Mark Roberts sits down to talk of the band’s early days.

"The core of the band has always been me, Eric [Kid Koala] and Peter Santiago the bassist. Blu Rum 13 has come in and about because he’s part time living in the states and part time in Europe," he says. "I always wrote sort of 80 per cent of the material on the first album, but it was interspersed with the live stuff that came about from playing for years. You heard the emcee a lot on the live record, because you would in the live show. We wanted a record that represented what we had been doing for 10 years."

Times have changed since those days, and though they may protest, Bullfrog has grown up. Blu Rum 13 has come into his own as a hiphop artist, Kid Koala continues to explore the possibilities of the turntable, and Mark Robertson has thrown himself in the creation of the new Bullfrog album.

"We don’t want to always do the same thing, so you want new ways in defining yourself. It was a direction that we’ve always tried to push the band. Eric really encouraged me to capture the intimate moments of the live shows. His experience with working with Money Marks he felt those moments were the real potent moments."

Having moved the studio from the cosmopolitan downtown of Montreal to the isolated forests of Laurentian, Robertson has been in the studio for the past year working on the new album, Deeper Shade of Green. Instead of mimicking their boisterous live show, the new album will take a more introspective approach. And it is with these new songs in the repertoire, Bullfrog is ready to test the material in front of a live audience when they hit the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival.

Mark couldn’t be more excited.

"Jazz festivals are great, because there’s a real crossover audience. And I think that’s where Bullfrog does well, because we do a lot of different styles and appeal to people of all ages," he says. "We were the first band to bring a DJ to a jazz festival. In Montreal, they were like, ‘what’s this, a keyboard?’ But then the audience really got to see what he [Kid Koala] could do in that context. That happened a lot first, but then Kid Koala blew up and the reverse happened. We’d go to these scenes with all DJ kids who were all of suddenly dancing to a live band."

"That’s what Bullfrog is about: bringing back old sounds lost in popular music, but with a new spin. That’s where Kid Koala comes in. That was our partnership, me and Kid Koala. I write the old-sounding songs and he makes them sound new."

And there lies the power of the band, a gateway between genres, blending and bending them into an aural ecstasy to be enjoyed regardless if you’re a jazz enthusiast. You’ve just got to get out of the shadows and onto the dance floor. Bullfrog would have it no other way.Bullfrog plays the Warehouse on Mon., July 1, 2004. Tickets are $29.50 and are available at Ticketmaster.

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