It's impossible to scroll past Jess Girillo (AKA Froglady), the self-declared "frog jester who sings." Their hair is dyed rainbow, from root to tip, and occasionally shaped into giant spikes that frame their head like sun rays; they decorate their face with clown-inspired glam, extending the corners of their mouth like The Joker, and finish everything off with piercings, stickers, fake freckles, painted tears or multi-colored contacts — a children's book protagonist who's been tossed through teenage trauma and dropped into the online algorithm.
A style star in their own right, the 22-year-old New Yorker is also a trained musician, though their sound might surprise you. Taking notes from the likes of Amy Winehouse (a la Back to Black), Froglady revives a neo-soul, rock genre so few of their contemporaries are leaning into, right now. On Faces, Froglady's indie nine-track debut, they lend their jazzy vocals to a retro band of moody piano melodies, grungy guitars and fuzzy drums. While it could easily be pulled from another decade, the themes explored on Faces reflect that of their generation, from mental health to self-expression and isolation.
"Froglady is the version of myself that I aim to be on my best day" as they tell PAPER. "Bold and obnoxious and dramatic and sensitive and true." Indeed, a balanced explosion of all this comes through on Faces, bringing together their "kookie little world" of technicolor beauty and Muppets plushies with more introspective, honest songwriting poured straight from the heart. "Froglady tells you stories, and forces you to look at them and to listen."
Below, PAPER gets to know Froglady a bit more, as we dive into their "lifelong love of frogs" and the many different faces they've worn over the past two years that inspired this breakout LP.
Where did the name, Froglady, come from? How do you feel it represents you as an artist?
My artist name, Froglady, came from my lifelong love of frogs. People always ask me why I love frogs so much and, honestly, it's hard for me to answer that question. Frogs have just always been a part of my existence and kookie little world. Maybe Kermit from the muppets has something to do with it because I've been watching The Muppet Show since I was probably three. The name, Froglady, definitely represents me as an artist because it's weird and different enough that you won't forget it. It's silly, but it stands out, and that suits me as a musician and a performer.
What’s your musical background? How did you get your footing in this field?
I've been performing live for years. I started singing in choir in high school, but it wasn't for me. I was always more drawn to singing songs that meant something to me, whether written by me or others. I did a lot of cover performances in high school and started writing my own music when I was around 16. I've only been releasing my original songs for the past four years and my first ever release was recorded in my friend's dorm room when I was still in college in 2018.
For those that follow your Instagram, the sound of your music might come as a surprise. How did you land on that sound?
I honestly love that my sound and genre come as a surprise to people who may know of me from social media. It's a juxtaposition that I think works well for me. People don't really know what to expect when I get up on stage and they've never heard of me before. I've experimented with a lot of different sounds over the last six years in terms of my own music. I think I landed in the spot I am now because of my upbringing with music. I was raised listening to all the most incredible R&B and soul singers. I can thank my mom for that because I draw inspiration from my soulful childhood music roots. I've struggled with the idea that I wasn't able to use my voice to its full capacity with some of the music I was making in the past. So for this project and moving forward, I wanted to focus on creating music that allows space for me to use my instrument and tell stories that are threaded with emotion.
For you, what’s the relationship between your image and your music?
My relationship between my music and my image is always tied to my intense emotions. I use self-expression as an outlet for my emotional state. Both music and physical presentation create avenues for me to say what I need to say about my experiences and who I am — to pour a bunch of my heart out all over the place, so that you can't look away or close your ears. Froglady is the version of myself that I aim to be on my best days: Bold and obnoxious and dramatic and sensitive and true. Froglady tells you stories, and forces you to look at them and to listen.
Who’d you work with on Faces? What does that collaborative process look like?
I got to work with so many talented people on this album. Firstly, all of the songs were produced by my friend, Sean Hardin. I've known Sean for years and used to work with him at a music school I attended back when I was in high school. I approached Sean about a year ago after I had many of the songs in a really rough demo phase. Sean can play literally every instrument and always knew exactly what vibe or energy I was going for when piecing together all of the final instrumentals for the project. He's the type of creative that you can sit down with, tell him a few descriptive words for the song, maybe a bit of the story and he'll give you a track that makes you want to spill your guts out all over it. Which is what I did [laughs].
I also had the privilege of working with so many of my co-workers at Mansion Studios NYC, a recording studio in Brooklyn. I've been working there since they opened this past summer and recorded many of the final versions of the songs off the album there. My co-workers have helped me mix and record most of the tracks, and have encouraged me so much throughout my creative process.
What’re some of the themes you explored lyrically on Faces?
A big lyrical focus for Faces is, of course, my experiences with love over the past two years. I like to explore the concept of being or not being a "digestible person," especially in relation to interpersonal relationships and my relationship with myself. I actually almost named the album, Digestible Faces, instead of just Faces because of that theme. I also wanted to use this project as an opportunity to begin talking about my struggles with mental illness, the joys of self-expression and the love I have for my chosen family. I tend to use imagery throughout the album that you can see in my looks like clowns, bugs and big hearts.
"Froglady is the version of myself that I aim to be on my best days: Bold and obnoxious and dramatic and sensitive and true."
Is there a song on this album that you feel best represents you as an artist, right now?
I feel the song that represents me most as an artist off Faces is "Cycles." Not only is it the most recent song I wrote and recorded off the album, but it feels like the closest I've gotten so far to emulating a certain sound and feeling through my music. The song tells a story about where I am as a person and creating, breaking old cycles and evolving with every day that passes. "Cycles" is about seeing yourself in love, but it's also about loving yourself enough to realize you deserve the things you want and work so hard for.
Who do you look to for inspiration, sonically? Who’re your music idols?
My top four musicians that inspire me are Mary J. Blige, David Bowie, Prince and Amy Winehouse. I've been listening to these incredible artists for my entire life and know pretty much every song they've ever released. I've studied them and still refer to them often. They've always kind of been like my guardian angels for music making and I wouldn't be the artist I am today without their magical influence.
How’d you land on the name, Faces, to best wrap up all the songs and ideas of this album?
I ended up naming the album Faces because I feel as though the album does a pretty good job of showing the many faces I've worn over the last two years. The concept behind the album is focused on the masks and emotions that have dictated and influenced my life. I wanted to create space to explore my feelings and the layers that exist to Froglady and, of course, the layers that exist to Jess. We all have different faces that we wear.
Photography: Morganne Boulden