Picture Frankie and Annette on the beach, playing volleyball with their buddy Genghis. Khan, that is.
What you're seeing isn't just any beach party, it's a Mongol Beach Party. But don't worry: The historical hordes aren't attacking America's shoreline. Instead, Mongol Beach Party serves as the name for a six-member Kansas City band playing Saturday at the Jazzhaus, 924 Mass.
"We're sort of a pop group in the sense that we have a pop sound," said Jeff Freling, the lead guitarist and co-songwriter of the group. "But we're definitely left of center, with cleverness mixed up in it. We play dance music, we're also really playing accessible and happy music, we're a real fun band. But we're more interested in the music than any kind of image."
THE GROUP came together officially in June 1989, although the genesis of the band goes back to when the musicians were studying at Rockhurst High School, the elite Jesuit-run private academy in southern Kansas City, Mo. An intimate, free-form discussion about things in general gave birth to the group's name.
"The name came up about six or seven years ago, and only one of the band members was there at the time," Freling said in a recent telephone interview. "Two of his friends were sitting around talking about a beach party with Frankie, Annette and Genghis Khan, and from that they began writing short stories about the Mongol Beach Party, and that's what we've been ever since."
MONGOL BEACH Party plays Lawrence frequently and makes all requisite live-music stops in Kansas City, including the Grand Emporium. They were picked as best underground band by The Squire weekly newspaper and received originality awards from The Note magazine and KXXR. The group includes Christian Hankel, Scott Easterday, Bill Belzer, Kyle Dahlquist and Mark Southerland.
The sextet have their roots firmly buried in the garage-band tradition.
"They did have a few high school bands there," Freling said. "We started out as a cover band, we didn't do any original material, maybe one or two songs. But we played what the audience wanted. We were sort of the oddballs at Rockhurst."
After Freling graduated high school, he spent a restless two years studying at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Berkley School of Music in Boston before returning to rock and the Midwest, where his band struggles to get recognized.
"YOU'VE GOT to be a little out of the ordinary to make it here," he said. "We're really lucky, because we've been together only a year and a half. We're kind of a quirky, left-of-center band, which is what a lot of people want. But you've got to bust your butt, work at it full-time."
The band released a demo tape at the beginning of the year with four songs on it it sold out pretty quickly. Then the group entered a fairly fertile period for songwriting, a period that continues today.
"I write most of the music," he said. "Sometimes we have people bring in whole songs, sometimes they bring in partial numbers and we work on them.
"We've written so much material since that tape came out we sometimes don't even play what's on there," he said. "But since we'll be playing all night (in Lawrence), we'll probably get to that."
Now the group has its sights on moving beyond the Kansas City scene.
"We want to get a long way from here," he said. "That's not to say it's a terrible town. This is one of the best towns to get noticed in, and I like the idea of being a Midwest band. But we'd like to become a regional or a national band."