The Beach-Going Art Of Not Giving A Fuck with Frenzal Rhomb's Jay Whalley
They'll be hitting Download Festival in March along with a few sideshows around the country.
There are few things more quintessentially Australian - besides perhaps, the bucket bong - than Frenzal Rhomb, the punk-rock mainstays created by frontman Jay Whalley in 1992 (!), before being joined by perennial partner in crime Lindsay McDougall a few years later. Over that time they've recorded nine fast and furious albums, culminating in last year's Hi-Vis High Tea, their first in some six years.
The blistering 20-track release still comes in at only the 35-minute mark, and is once again filled-to-the-brim with social, environmental and political commentary delivered through that particularly suburban slant that they've completely owned in the past quarter-century. In the time since they've traveled to Europe, where they've garnered a very healthy following over the years, and in 2019 they march towards a slot on the monstrous Download Festival lineups, and will be playing a few sideshows around the country as well becuase...well why the fuck not?
Before the Christmas break I had the chance to chat to the ever-affable Whalley mid-house move, and found a bloke who's still very aware of the dumpster fire this country can sometimes feel like, but also learning that sometimes you've also gotta give less of a fuck, and put your head under the ocean from time to time - you never know what you might see.
So just how fucked is Australia at this very minute?
The premise is that Australia is fucked, and how fucked is it? What level of fucked is it? Is it all in perspective? I mean there’s a lot of fucked things happening, people struggling, we suffer under an oppressive regime that’s doing nothing to lift our most vulnerable people out of poverty and stress. But then you have the swimming pool at North Coogee which is a pretty sweet place [laughs]. I am a firm believer in the mental healing powers of the ocean, and with my physique I really am a beach guy. Everyone loves seeing me with not many clothes on.
The older I get the less I give a fuck and how much it changes your day just enough by going to the beach. And that includes big picture negativity on a political level, an environmental level... You can be more equipped to deal with things just after putting your head underwater and seeing a fish. I saw a manta ray a couple of weeks ago, it was fucking incredible. You can fortify yourself against the bad things, and it can put you in the right mind to do something positive, make your surroundings better. Friends, work, whatever, making that world look slightly better – things you have control over.
You guys have been doing this for 20-odd years, do you take the foot off the gas a bit when it comes to being as full-on as you were back in the day?
I feel like we’ve always tried to have that balance – we’ve never been comfortable writing lyrics in the vein of Propaghandi or Midnight Oil…smarter people I guess [laughs]. But I like to talk about my Australian suburban experience, and the real change happens on a much more subtle level, where people are just exposed to stuff without even noticing. When they’re like, 'Oh that guy’s different, I wonder what that’s about?' or whatever. Rather than saying, 'If you’re not vegetarian I’m gonna kill you!' or whatever. Although I might try that, it sounds powerful [laughs]. We try and put lyrics in subtexts of other songs...
I was talking about our Hi-Vis High Tea record just before with an interviewer and he was suggesting our records in the past have been more political than this one, and he cited the song Pigworm. And I’m like dude the whole record’s political, look at the cover! It’s probably our most environmentally charged record, but different people take different things from it. We still get people singing along to songs like Some Of My Best Friends Are Racists like that’s a good thing. Like we the band are thinking that’s a good thing. It’s like no, that’s not it mate.
What motivates you in 2018?
I think I have more fun now touring and making music. We do it a bit less, and we all live in different cities too so it’s a good old fashioned catch up. Everyone stays nice to each other because the catchups are shorter. And shows man, all these people turn up and they fuckin’ love it. And they go nuts. It’s great. It gives me energy and gives us as a group more enthusiasm, and because we’ve been going for a long time, different people have different bits attached to their lives...
We’ve been trying to make sure our new records are good, that the songs are good, so that’s why it takes a bit longer. We write a lot of songs, but then we’re like I dunno about that one, if anyone needs to hear it. And it’s almost the catchiness or the vibe of each song will dictate the thematic nature of the album by chance. We write a lot of songs and I feel like I write equal parts really fucking stupid and some with more subtext or whatever, but if the shit song has a political message it might not end up on there, but the song about shelving pills in a supermarket will [laughs]. It’s a bit of a gamble as to how it turns out.
You guys just got back from Europe, how was it?
Yeah it was mad, they don’t really have a nostalgia for the 90s, we basically just played our most recent two records and a couple of old ones. But they really wanna hear those Fat Wreck Chords releases. We played his skate punk festival in Austria with Millencolin, Anti-Flag and a bunch of those kinds of bands like Cancer Bats, and it was a great time. It’s a nice thing to just be a band of this era, playing newish songs. It was eight shows in eight days, and yeah not quite as rough as back in the old days. Very much doable on a mental health level.
Do you pay much attention to what's going on in Australian music?
I don’t listen to much radio, but I’ve got a recording studio in Sydney and spend a lot of time with young punk bands recording with me. It’s good. Again it gives me energy. These kids are aggressive, passionate, have great ideas. A lot of good players, a lot of shit players with great ideas, who are probably my favourite. People with great ideas but can’t quite execute it always end up making some kinda magic. So I guess my experience is narrowed to this little community around the studio, and DIY bands around Sydney and stuff. But yeah, I get the sense there’s lots of great music everywhere. Like this is just one little pocket around my studio in Sydney, and I’m sure that exists all over the country. Which is exciting.
And you've got Download Festival coming up with some sideshows around it.
It’s wild. When we were asked to do it they hadn’t announced the lineup, and I looked at last year’s lineup and I was like, 'Wow that’s heaps jugallo' [laughs]. But then this year’s lineup dropped and yeah we’re stoked.
Fri 15 Feb - HQ, Adelaide
Sun 17 Feb - Newport Hotel, Fremantle
Sat 23 Mar - Download Festival Melbourne
Sat 30 Mar - Download Festival Sydney
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