Frenzal Rhomb are bona fide legends of the Australian punk rock scene. After 23 years and eight albums they’re as strong as ever as they shape up for their first appearance at the Soundwave Festival soon. 2015 has been a year of ups and downs for the group as they tour without drummer Gordy Forman, still recovering from the hand injury he suffered in Perth. It hasn’t kept them down, however, and we caught up with dreadlocked frontman Jay Whalley for a good old chat.
I know we’re talking about Frenzal today, but I got the latest album from The Neptune Power Federation yesterday. That’s something a bit different for you, isn’t it?
Yes! It very much is. I enjoy it a lot. Anything that Fox (Mike Foxall) has anything to do with is guaranteed to be a good project. It just treads that line between serious rock n roll and complete nonsense.
So there was no hesitation when Fox said, “Hey man, you wanna join a heavy metal band?”
No way! Especially with Troy (Scerri) and then he said he wanted my wife Lauren to sing, I thought Wow that’s perfect! She’s great at it!
But we are here to talk about Frenzal Rhomb; particularly your upcoming appearance at Soundwave. It’s the first time you’ve done anything this big now for a while.
Yes… we’ve done a few bits and pieces over the last couple of years, but this will be the first one in a while. I think it should be all right. I think they’ve run out of bands over the last couple of years so they’ve gone down the list and gone, ‘Ok, we’ll call Frenzal Rhomb.’
Funny you say that because there’s been a little more controversy than usual with Soundwave this year. It seems to be one of those things that people get upset about, kind of like how the Big Day Out used to be.
They do, don’t they? I’m old enough to remember before there were any alternative rock festivals like this, and now people are sounding like spoiled little kids: Oh no, my favourite band’s not playing! But I guess that’s the thing about music: If you like something, you’ll go and watch it and if you don’t, you don’t have to.
Is it weird for you that you’ve been doing Frenzal now for probably longer than a lot of your fans have been alive? Does it feel strange that a lot of people in the audience weren’t even born when you went out with that first Frenzal line-up all those years ago?
It is funny. It gets a bit awkward when I forget the words and they know them, and I’m thinking, You weren’t even fucking born! Then I just think that maybe I should try harder.
You never seem to lose that popularity either. With some bands it’s like, ‘Oh no not these guys again’. But with Frenzal, people still get excited.
I guess the key is to not be very popular in the first place, then you can’t get any worse. But that’s good, I like it. We have some very loyal fans. We don’t lose many, once we have them, it seems. They’re a lovely bunch of people and they just keep turning up. The music is fun, it’s very fun to play and there’s a good atmosphere on stage.
Yeah I’ve had some interesting experiences in Frenzal Rhomb crowds…
People feeling you up?
…that, yeah, and being fallen on by fat ladies, stuff like that.
It’s a very sexual crowd.
Sometimes the fun on stage gets out of hand too, as Gordy found out recently.
Yeah that’s right. He tried to get sexual with the crowd and they said, We don’t consent to this! and they threw him back on the stage, which he missed! He fell down between the stage and the barrier and broke his wrist. We were supposed to go in to record the next album and we were almost ready to go, and then he did that and we’ve had to postpone it for nearly a year. We’ll get there. He’s feeling much better. He’s doing the right thing and taking lots and lots of heroin, so that should help him out with the pain.
That may not help him keep up with the band though.
No, that’s true. Hopefully he’ll be done in rehab before it comes out.
It has been a while since the last record. I talked to Lindsay about that and it seems like years ago!
We’ve been demoing for three years. There’s not very much point for a band like us to put out a half-average record. We have to make sure all the songs are pretty good and for the vibe to be right, so it takes a little bit longer. But we don’t have any record company breathing down our neck saying, There’s 7 million people wondering why Frenzal hasn’t put out another record! So it pays for us to take a bit longer on it.
Just after you all got back from Europe recently I heard Lindsay telling someone that a band that played at a festival you were on does a song about Frenzal Rhomb.
Yeah! A band called F.O.D. have written a song about when a Frenzal record turned up on their door and what an amazing day it was. It was bizarre. We went and watched them early in the morning when they played and it was very strange. It was a very strange thing. It was kind of like being in a dream. When we went over there and did some interviews, the first place we did interviews with was this place called Bird Attack Records, named after one of our songs. They had this radio station called Bird Attack Radio – it was weird, being interviewed on Bird Attack Radio about the song ‘Bird Attack’.
You must have felt like you were in some kind of almost Hard Ons universe, where everybody’s paying homage to your band in some way.
Yeah, it’s funny. Hard Ons are obviously at the next level, but we seem to have generated a lot of good will in the community over the years. We have what we call the Frenzal Rhomb Discount where you’ll go into Harvey Norman to buy some clippers and the guy at the counter will be like, ‘Hey, Jay!’ and I’ll ask ‘How much are these? 60 bucks?’ and he’ll say, ‘Nah, 30 mate! It’ll be fine!’ People grow up with the music, I guess and it becomes a soundtrack to their lives after a long time.
It does seem to be that people who were just getting into music say, twenty years ago, and just discovering Frenzal have passed that on now to their kids. For myself as a metalhead, I’ve watched that music go from back in the 80s when no one seemed to like it to now where it’s everywhere and I guess it’s the same for you seeing other alternative music go from being niche and underground to just being all over the place wherever you go.
I met a kid at an all-ages show that one of my bands did and he was like, I’m so into Frenzal and you never do all-ages shows anymore but I’ll see you one day. He was 16, I guess. I said, How’d you get into it? and he was like, Oh, my maths teacher! Which is pretty cool. In my day maths teachers weren’t the people introducing me to cool music.
Soundwave’s going to be the big one. After that do you have plans to do the new record?
Yes. As soon as Gordy’s hand’s better – because he’s got a bit of nerve damage there – hopeful in the middle of next year it’ll be done and out.
Then I guess we’ll see you out and about after that, but you’ve been fairly busy this year anyway.
Yes, just keeping it ticking over. We’ve got Kye Smith playing for us. He’s pretty cool. He already knew all the songs. We only had to rehearse once and he knew everything. So we’re just keeping it all rolling on.
Frenzal Rhomb is out on tour from December:
18/12: Carmen’s, Miranda NSW
19/12: Fitzroy Hotel, Windsor NSW
20/12: Baroque Room, Katoomba NSW
6/1: Hoey Moey, Coffs Harbour NSW
7/1: Club Forster, Forster NSW
8/1: Chelsea Heights Hotel, Chelsea Heights VIC
9/1: Village Green Hotel, Melbourne VIC
14/1: The Solbar, Maroochydore QLD
13/1: Spotted Cow, Toowoomba QLD
and the Soundwave Festival:
23/1: Brisbane Showground, Brisbane QLD
24/1: Sydney Showground, Sydney NSW
26/1: Melbourne Showground, Melbourne VIC