When the spotlight douses Victoria, B.C.’s Frog Eyes, its beams are usually blinding frontman Carey Mercer. The guy cuts quite a figure — a rocket of bottled energy — but drummer Melanie Campbell’s not the sort of player to hide in the background: She beats a mighty staccato syncopation (or a “ding dong the witch is dead”), playing both speedy and light, buttressing Mercer’s verbal ticks and dialogic attacks, adding punctuation to each run-on. If she hits a stride, it feels like a teleprompter telling an entirely different story. So, despite Mercer’s charisma, it’s surprising that when I approached her for Quit Your Day Job, she told me it was her first band-related interview.
Mercer and Campbell are married — maybe that sort of proximity’s how they developed their complimentary style? Besides Frog Eyes (and, I’m sure, untold collaborations), they played together last year in Prancing Cat, a spastic pop group with RJ Leckhardt and Pamela Dunne.
Mercer gave me the run down: “Prancing Cat was a band with no future and no hope. It was a band that played two shows and recorded 5 songs. R.J Leckhardt, the guitar player, refused to allow these songs to be reproduced or marketed. He says, and I quote: “Money is shit. Pam was a great singer. The songs were recorded so that Pam could ask her parents for 10,000 dollars to shoot a video. The band would then take that money and go to Hawaii. The band would then break up, with no video and no refund of the money. This never happened though. Which means that the band still technically exists.”
To offer Stereogum readers a taste, Campbell and Mercer sent us three of those five songs to post alongside two tunes from Frog Eyes’ excellent fourth album Tears Of The Valedictorian.
How does it all tie into this column? Well, besides pounding the skins in Frog Eyes, etc., Campbell checks pulses as a licensed nurse. I caught up with her between hospital shifts.
STEREOGUM: Did you go to school to become a nurse?
MELANIE CAMPBELL: I attended university in Victoria, and have been a Registered Nurse since May 2003.
STEREOGUM: Can you explain the schooling a bit?
MC: I went to school for four years. The first year was mostly biology and learning how to communicate. The second year we were introduced to practical skills and the hospital setting. The third year focused on the politics and ethics of nursing, and during the 4th year we worked in the community and worked full-time alongside an RN.
STEREOGUM: How’d you choose this particular career?
MC: I really wanted to work with animals but I never pursued it.
STEREOGUM: Work with animals in what way?
MC: As a vet’s assistant. Nursing was actually kind of a fluke. I applied to get into school at the suggestion of my dad and forgot about it. I worked at waterslides, video and grocery store jobs, and was taking classes in college with no direction. I didn’t play music. It wasn’t the most fulfilling time of my life. A year later I received a letter of acceptance in the mail. I went for it.
STEREOGUM: Are you at a specific hospital? And do you have a focus? I mean — intensive care, prenatal, etc.
MC: I work in an old worn down section of the Royal Jubilee hospital, one of the oldest in Canada. Since I started nursing our ward has moved 2 times in 2 years, relocating our patients to a safer location within the buildings. The first tower I worked in was built in the 1920’s. A recent newspaper article noted that the floors are made of asbestos, there is mold in the walls, and there is sewage seeping from the old pipes. There is a warning sign surrounding the building to warn of falling debris. We are now working within 100 meters of that old building. Plans for a new hospital are in the works.
I work on an acute medical ward specific to people with kidney disease. People are generally very sick as the kidneys maintain a fine balance within the body. It is a “heavy” floor. It is also a great area of nursing as far as relationship building goes. People with chronic kidney failure are a little more susceptible to illness, which means that they may be in and out of the hospital more than the average person. As a nurse, you start to recognize the person’s way of being, and how this can translate into their care.
STEREOGUM: Can you describe a typical day in that ward?
MC: This is hard to answer as no two days are alike, but I will run through the basic routine of a twelve-hour shift. I look over patient charts, quickly assess patients, prepare for breakfast and medications, check diabetics blood sugar, and send patients off to dialysis unit if needed. Then the nephrologists write orders, and there are new orders to attend to. Then we have our morning break, start the washes, dressing changes, check the blood work and vital signs, and call the Dr. if needed. We check blood sugars and set up for lunch and meds, etc. At noon we have our lunch break and the patients have their siestas. Then we repeat the morning routine in the afternoon with some variables. Then I chart until 1900.
STEREOGUM: I lived in Alberta for a few years and still relive the glories of subsidized healthcare. Does that system effect the profession? I wonder if patients are less stressed than they are in places requiring more bucks and less care.
MC: I don’t know any differently. I can’t begin to imagine being sick in the hospital and worrying about accruing debt. That being said, our hospital is still a stressful place, especially when it’s full. For example, when our ward is fully staffed with nurses we are capable of safely caring for 19 patients. When the emergency room starts to fill up, all wards need to accommodate the incoming patients, adding to the number of patients on each unit. If our ward is short staffed even an extra patient can significantly add to the overall stress and workload. Sometimes on a twelve-hour night shift I don’t even have time to eat. There’s so much work that needs to be done, and when the unexpected happens you can’t ignore it.
STEREOGUM: Does touring get in the way?
MC: I work as a casual. I try to work as much as I can handle while we are not touring. Working the night shift is not that different from playing a show at last call and then driving until dawn.
STEREOGUM: Has your training come in handy on the road? Patching up cuts, etc?
MC: Usually at the start of a tour I am tending to my own blistered fingers, and occasionally to Carey’s very weakened state at 4:59 when I give him a Snickers bar.
STEREOGUM: Or, vice versa … A friend was curious to know if the arm strength you get from drumming is at all helpful with your day job. In his words, if you “can hold a syringe mega-steady or subdue violent patients or anything like that.”
MC: When I come back from tour I always have “lobster arm” from drumming. This could be helpful, for example, in dealing with a patient that is
lashing out at the nurse. “Hey Lobster-Arm, Get over here! We can’t get
close enough to sedate him!”
STEREOGUM: So your co-workers know about Frog Eyes?
MC: My co-workers are quite proud of me. They always mention how great the two professions must balance out and how nice it must be to travel so much. Co-workers are always interested to hear about upcoming tours and where they will take us. They always say, “will you remember us where you are off and famous somewhere?!” A few have even come to see us play locally.
STEREOGUM: At this point, can you imagine doing only one of these jobs — only playing in the band; only being a nurse? How do they compliment each other?
MC: Nursing and the band have always existed together. In my interview to be hired I told my employer that I would need to take off chunks of time during the year to tour. So far it has worked out great. Before a tour I start to get so excited about taking a break from a job that has enormous responsibility. By the end of a tour I am always refreshed and ready to use my brain muscle again.
STEREOGUM: Carey writes the lyrics, but have any of the relationships you’ve established with patients made it into Frog Eyes’ songs? Perhaps through stories you’d told?
MC: No. Carey’s lyrics are a mystery.
STEREOGUM: How about an album title — The Bloody Hand?
MC: No connection.
STEREOGUM: Are you the only one in the band with a day job?
MC: Michael delivers pills and sells liquor. Carey’s talents have been steered in a new direction: fixing stereos and pricing records and books in a second hand store and giggling with his gaggle of gals. He loves it. And the rest of our various members are always up to something …
STEREOGUM: I was just looking at this Dimmu Borgir press photo and started thinking of old hair Metal bands — or Blink 182, for that matter — and realized tons of rockers fixate on, as my girlfriend calls them, “sexy nurses.” Do you have any theories for this?
MC: I don’t know if I really want to get inside the head of Shagrath.
STEREOGUM: Hey — Dimmu Borgir reference! Are you a metal fan?
MC: I can appreciate the scene. My older brother James will always be a “metal” guy. He’s an awesome bass player. I can still remember trying to think when I got home from high school, but all I could hear was his band “Elixer” rocking out in our garage. The drummer would set up in the middle of my little brother’s half pipe. My mom was harshly estranged from our neighbours.
STEREOGUM: Did you ever play in a band with your brother? Is he still making music?
MC: No, I wouldn’t have dared ask to be in James’ band back then. I didn’t play any instruments either. When I started playing music James stopped. He’s a busy dad. Every now and then he asks if we need a bass player!
STEREOGUM: Speaking of drums … didn’t you invent some sort of percussive instrument?
MC: No, the Dinger is not an invention. It’s just a found object with a purpose in mind. Before I learned to play drums, Carey and I were walking home from a hot date and he spotted this shiny piece of metal at a construction site. It’s a heavy wok-shaped piece of steel with a hole drilled in the top like a cymbal. He said, “Hey I could use this.” It was part of my first drum kit. It has a very nice bell-like sustain.
Prancing Cat – “A Swig And A Nip At Ye Olde Prancing Boar” (MP3)
Prancing Cat – “Hey Bald Eagle Silver Dollar” (MP3)
Prancing Cat – “Teenage Worf Remembrance Rites” (MP3)
Frog Eyes – “Idle Songs” (MP3)
Frog Eyes – “Bushels” (MP3)
Tears Of The Valedictorian is out May 1st on Absolutely Kosher.
[The couple that swaps instruments together, stays together.]
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