Prove your humanity

Perth punters will be lucky to mosh to veteran punk act Frenzal Rhomb, who will be playing sideshows in Perth and Fremantle on February 16 and 17 next year, as part of Download Festival.

Grok found time to chat with the Aussie band’s front man Jay Whalley on politics and punk, touring in a submersible, and sticking narcotics where the ‘sun don’t shine’.


Frenzal Rhomb has been a part of the Australian punk scene for 27 years now—how has Australian punk changed over the years and where do you see it going?

It seems to go in and out of popularity—mainly out of popularity. There are always people doing it; I’ve got a small recording studio and I get a lot of young punk bands coming in doing the same thing that we were doing 25 years ago. It’s really aggressive. I feel like this ‘scene’, if you want to call it that, is slightly more inclusive now, it’s a bit smaller. You can’t really afford to have the same divisions based on very specific styles of music that they had in the past, so it’s a bit more diverse.

Punk is a bit more universal these days—do you think it’s become more mainstream?

It’s always had its mainstream bands, people who call themselves punk to make a career out of it. There is nothing more boring than dissecting the rules of what’s punk or what’s not. If people make good music, I’m into it.

Is that something you’ve realised as a musician over time, that only good music matters?

I guess so, I remember hearing a good quote, someone saying that punk music is basically “good songs played by bad musicians”, and I like that. I think that seems about right, because the best thing about the genre is, that it’s really ideas-driven a lot of the time. Someone will have an idea but have no technical training in music, so they just get up and have a scream and give it their best shot. Sometimes that can be the most exciting music for me.

There is a lot of humour in the music as well; like the band’s last album High Vis Hi Tea has a song about you having a ‘pig worm’ in your brain?

I’m not sure if it encapsulated the range of emotion that I was going through at the time. But you know, shouting ‘pig worm’ 25 times felt therapeutic.

Reading the media release, the sideshows you have organised for Download Festival, it sounds like no one particularly wants the shows—who wrote that?

It would have been our illustrious guitarist Lindsay McDougall, who writes a lot of our press stuff. He’s really a media whore, he loves it. There were always a lot of complaints whenever an east coast festival happened, like why isn’t Frenzal Rhomb coming to Perth or Adelaide. We thought we’d pre-empt that before anyone had any interest in us coming there, we would say “hey hang on, before you get on your keyboards, saying what about Perth, we’re just going to come there, so sucked in.”

We hope close to the time there will be some interest, in the fact we will be there. But Perth is bad, I remember seeing it and saying, “fuck that is a good line-up”, and we get to do it in Perth, which is even more exciting. We go to Perth slightly less than where we go to everywhere else because it is about eight days drive through the desert. It’s going to be good.

Considering the disappearance of Soundwave, there isn’t a heavy rock-orientated festival for Perth anymore, so Frenzal Rhomb are probably doing a good thing for the city.

Maybe we’ll play some Ozzy Osbourne covers, or some Judas Priest covers and whatever else they’re playing in that festival in Sydney and Melbourne.

Do punks never age?

That’s dreadfully incorrect. I’m having both my hips replaced as we speak—we all suffer the ravages of time at various rates. All our shows seemingly every time we play, they’re kind of mental. People go a proper sort of nuts and have no regard for their own personal wellbeing. Which keeps me enthused and young of mind.

We played a harbour cruise the other day in beautiful Sydney Harbour and they thought it would be a good idea to sell 950 tickets on this boat. It was 36 degrees outside, a walled-in glass function boat that was like a greenhouse, so it was an absolute swamp on the water. People drank 5000 cases of expensive beer and lost their minds. It was sort of great we get to do things like that, and to have that reaction from the crowd.

Is that Frenzal Rhomb’s secret to immortality, sucking the youth out of the mosh pit in front of them?

Maybe, we’re like a cutscene out of Harry Potter. Sucking all the energy out of a crowd, that’s dark—it is a fun time.

Is the band amphibious?

We are amphibious. On the Gold Coast there is a vehicle called the Aqueduct, and its one of these buses that can drive along and plough into the water to become a boat. We will do an amphibious tour at some point, on the aqueduct.

You could beat U2’s 360 stage, just stick diving suits on.

We had an idea for a while to tour in a submarine and then we would breach in front of the audience on the wharf, surface in front of them and play a set. Then submerge down into the ocean and go to the next town—it’d be good.

Is Sydney Harbour even deep enough?

Sydney Harbour has very steep walls on the sides, it’s a good shipping port—also good for touring in submersible vehicles.

Just need to find someone who owns a submarine

Do you sail a submarine? I think it’s doable, it’s all logistics. We can do a harbour cruise, and as you say, we are Australia’s premiere amphibious band.

The band was very political during the John Howard years, is the band still as political now?

Very much so. We’re still very political, we’ve always tried to keep a lot of the overt political message buried deep within the sub-text of different songs. It’s always been an undercurrent, on the new album there is environmental activism on songs like Digging a Hole for Myself.

The whole album High Vis High Tea is a little tip of the hat to how Australia digs up the earth and we just destroy the planet. The benefits of that is that we get to sit in our ivory towers, sip delicious tea and eat cakes while the planet burns because of us. There’s also all that stuff and as you pointed out, ‘pig worms’.

Considering the political climate now, and the events of 2018, is new punk going to emerge from this political climate?

We recorded [High Vis High Tea] two months before Trump was elected and we didn’t put it out for another half a year. By the time we put it out we recorded in the States, it was like a joke at the place where we recorded it, because all the people there were very progressive and like-minded people. I just thought, “as if that would happen.” I don’t know if it would have been a different record had we done it slightly later.

But we tend to go on songs, then we will record the good songs. A certain element of them are always going to be political and a certain element of them are going to be really fucking stupid. It’s almost a gamble to see what the ratio is on the final record depending on how catchy the choruses are. Like I’d prefer a catchy chorus about sticking ecstasy up your bum than a really shit song about Pauline Hanson.

Have you ever stuck ecstasy up your bum?

I can’t disclose that. Let’s just say yes.

Would Frenzal Rhomb have fared better as a band in this current political climate?

Who knows, I don’t know. I think when you start a band, we always had the intent to play shows, try and be good and try and not suck in front of other people as well as try and write songs you enjoy playing. I feel that’s generally what people still do.


Catch Frenzal Rhomb at the Civic Hotel, Inglewood on February 16, or at the Newport Hotel, Fremantle, on February 17.