Latest release: Smoko at the Pet Food Factory (Shock)
It’s Tuesday morning and Lindsay McDougall, radio host, occasional TV presenter and tattooed love-child guitar player for Sydney punk upstarts Frenzal Rhomb is calling in. Following several long bouts of complete inactivity, Frenzal burst upon the public psyche once more earlier this year with the hilarious “Bird Attack” single, the subsequent album Smoko at the Pet Food Factory and bouts of touring. It was a flurry of activity that even surprised the band and has now led to them being named on 2012’s Big Day Out tour.
“The laziness of Frenzal Rhomb extends to hitherto unknown standards of laziness for a rock n roll band,” McDougall says in typically deadpan style. “You know, having absolutely no ambition for our career other than the opportunity to steal as many bands’ riders as possible, which is why the Big Day Out presents a unique opportunity.”
With a reputation for stunts almost as profound as their indolence, some of the big names at this year’s festival could be well advised to be wary of what Frenzal Rhomb may get up to.
“I’m just interested in seeing Kanye’s rider,” McDougall says mischievously of the rap superstar. “The only thing I know about Kanye’s rider is that he’s asked for eight, I think, black towels. And they have to be pure black, they can’t have any other colour trim on them, or any embroidery or embossing. So I’m looking forward to — we’ve had some towels made up that look black, but they’ve had some pink bunnies embroided into them. I’m going to enjoy swapping them over in Kanye’s dressing room.”
While the likelihood of anyone from his band getting close enough to Kanye West to be able to contemplate such behaviour is remote, it would seem that McDougall and singer Jay Whalley, in particular, have something of a get-square in mind for the show’s other headliner.
“The other aim is righting an unspeakable wrong which was visited upon us the first time I played the Big Day Out – the second time Frenzal Rhomb played the Big Day Out – in 1997,” Lindsay reveals.
As it turns out, that was the last time Soundgarden played the Big Day Out, and in the tale the guitarist weaves about that time almost fifteen years ago the Seattle rock gods play a major role. Or at least their singer does.
“We managed to find our way to the actual after party,” McDougall recalls. “Someone had accidentally given us the address. They never do that. So we were there and we weren’t really rolling in cash. In fact Jason had just enough money to buy one over-priced Bourbon and Coke, the drink of the times. As he took a little drink and put it down on the mantlepiece, Soundgarden all walked into the bar. This was the mid- to late-90s… everyone was drooling in awe of their grungioseness, and Chris Cornell – this is no word of a lie – walked in chatting with some people, picked up Jason’s drink, began drinking it and walked off! To this day, in fact, reparations haven’t been made. So we are hoping that at one stage we may claim for ourselves, with respect to interest, one bottle of whiskey courtesy of Chris Cornell. When he comes across this interview, let him be warned!”
Despite six years behind the mic on various Triple J shows, Lindsay has yet to speak to Cornell about his drink theft, although he says, “I’ve talked about him a few times”.
“These days the first thing I would say to Chris Cornell is, ‘What the fright is going on with your solo albums? They’re just going from woeful to embarrassing’,” he says. “And then I would bring up the whiskey situation. You need to butter him up first.”
Once the BDO is over – and assuming they survive – it seems that Frenzal Rhomb’s future is as up in the air as it’s been for most of the last decade.
“When the year 2012 proves itself to be not the end of the world, and our bass player comes out of his concrete bunker that he’s created to save himself from the Mayan end times, we might look to the future and see what we want to do,” McDougall says. “But really, we just don’t care. That’s the thing. It’s like, we do some shows, and people offer us gigs… we got offered to do some shows overseas but I don’t think we can be bothered. We’re going to New Zealand this weekend, but I mean REAL overseas, not pretend overseas like New Zealand. We just play shows when we feel like hanging out, because we all live in different states. Then we just get sick of each other, and so we won’t do shows for a bit. We are all incredibly awful people so we get sick of each other quite quickly, as can be expected.”
Lindsay goes on to say that even their latest album, recorded with producer and legendary Descendents/Black Flag/All drummer Bill Stevenson, was virtually an afterthought.
“We didn’t even know we were going to record,”he says. “It wasn’t until after we spoke to Bill Stevenson and he told us about the pet food factory, we looked at ourselves and thought, ‘I think we have enough songs, maybe we should do something’. And we even had the wherewithal to actually record another album.”
Smoko at the Pet Food Factory was put down at Stevenson’s studio in California which just happens to be be directly attached to a factory he owns that does indeed produce pet food. Finding a name for the album couldn’t have been easier.
“The smell was over-powering, especially in the place where we were actually recording. So the whole title refers to the fact that we had to bloody get out of that place as often as possible and just stand outside breathing pure air, or in the case of the smokers in the band, sweet nicotine.”
For a band with an almost hardline vegetarian outlook, McDougall quite soberly admits that it was a somewhat confronting environment for Frenzal Rhomb. He is quick to point out, however, that it was also a very enlightening experience.
“It’s interesting though because you tend to live in these bubbles,” he says cheerfully, “especially when you live in the inner city. It’s good to get outside and experience a bit of real life to base your beliefs on, see how the majority of the world lives. Which is to bask in the glorious odour of a pet food factory!”
Frenzal Rhomb’s return was proclaimed by the song “Bird Attack”, which was introduced at last year’s No Sleep til Festival. With marauding magpies making the news in recent times, perhaps the band should have further cashed in on those ice-cream bucket bird attack hats they were taking out on tour with them earlier this year. Or could it be that the band has some power over the avian hordes and were, in fact, themselves responsible for wing-borne bloodshed?
“This always happens!” McDougall exclaims with mock indignance. “I get one football player on my [radio] show talking about planking and suddenly they’re planking all over the world and somebody dies because they fall over a balcony because they’re an idiot. Then, we release a song called ‘Bird Attack’ and three months later some kid has his eye gouged out by a magpie and suddenly we’re to blame. Suddenly Frenzal Rhomb’s bringing the filth again and somehow manifesting these attacks!” Quietly, he adds, “Which I have to say, resolutely, that’s more than likely true.”
The bird attack hats are no longer to be found on the band’s merch table because, unsurprisingly, they couldn’t be bothered making them anymore. But with their return to Australia’s biggest touring festival imminent, surely they’ve come up with something special for their appearances?
“The closest thing we could think of is — because recently we recorded a song for the Wiggles tribute album — was to come out as the four lesser-known Wiggles in the lesser-known colour skivvies,” McDougall says. “They’re all various shades of brown and tan. We haven’t thought any further than that. Generally what will happen is, just before we leave for the Gold Coast we’ll think, ‘Ah shit, we should have done that! Quick, let’s find a really shoddy version of the idea we’ve come up with and do that’.”
While we’re on the subject of shoddy ideas, and just before he has to be gone to — no doubt — prepare to spread some more good Doctor airwaves vibes, it’s necessary to ask his thoughts about Lulu, his one-time radio guest Lou Reed’s crazy colloboration with Metallica.
“It really does sound like the crazy man who sits in his own piss outside the rehearsal studio being caught on tape with some high school band jamming bad metal riffs through the doorway of the not-quite-soundproof walls,” Lindsay says. “But Lou Reed is a guy who, when in Australia, put on a concert for dogs at the Sydney festival last year. So I’m absolutely fine for him to put out an album with fuckwits. It’s not playing against type at all for Lou Reed. And as we know, James Hetfield is a recovering alcoholic, so he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Lars, being an arch capitalist, sees the investment potential. And the other two, well (ha!), the bimbo on guitars is just smiling and going, ‘Yeah, whatever, there’ll be some solos and I’ll be really good at it’, and Trujillo’s just crab-walking his way across the stage.”