Frenzal Rhomb: Kings Of The Hill
“It’s basically ruining my life,” bemoaned Jason Whalley, vocalist and pioneer of all that is punk rock for Sydney protagonists Frenzal Rhomb.
As if he hasn’t got enough on his plate with the bands upcoming tour in celebration of 25 years of anarchy plus an accompanying best of album, Whalley has busied himself all year with helping Blackie from fellow Aussie band The Hard Ons complete his ambitious quest of releasing one song a day for the whole of 2016.
“It’s been pretty wild,” he confessed, “plus it’s a leap year so we have to do 366 songs!!”
Initially formed while Whalley was studying for his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy in the early 1990’s, Frenzal Rhomb was never intended to last a summer, let alone a quarter of a century.
“We initially thought we would be going as long as the band competition that we entered in 1991 went for,” he recalled. “I think our initial plans were to go for about four weeks. I was at Uni and Ben, our first guitarist, was at Uni, which is where the band started, and we ended up – because my Dad is an Academic – and I went up to him after I’d been in Uni for two years and I told him ‘Dad, I’m gonna drop out of Uni and I‘m going on the dole and I’ve started this band called Frenzal Rhomb and here’s our first E.P. It’s called Dick Sandwich.’ I handed it to him and it had a picture of all these severed penises on the front and you’ve never seen a more disappointed person in your whole life! My comeback to him was ‘as if I’m gonna still be doing this when I’m 40’….. so as it turns out on my 40th birthday Lindsay [McDougall], our guitarist made me a trophy that said ‘as if I’m gonna be doing this when I’m 40 [laughs].’”
Not only was the music contained on that infamous debut E.P fresh, confronting, and lacking any semblance of morality, the accompanying artwork featuring aforementioned severed penises covered with tomato sauce and layered between two pieces of bread was of a graphic nature seldom seen in public, let alone gracing the cover of a compact disk.
“I think the artwork was done first for that actually,” Whalley remembered. “We were trying to think of a name for it and it was actually the artist – this guy called Clint Curae – who said ‘you have to call it Dick Sandwich’ and I was, like, ‘I don’t know how that’s gonna fly’ and he said ‘but look at the artwork’ so I relented. On the original artwork for the CD there is actually an alternative cover on the inside with all of these bunny rabbits and teddy bears running around in a field so if the record shops didn’t want to stock it with that cover they could always display the side with the bunny rabbits instead of the penises.
“But it was funny because really it was just this cartoon drawing of dicks so you wouldn’t really think it would have caused that much of an uproar but at the time it seemed…. We got in to a bit of strife. There were some places that wouldn’t let us play and stuff. I remember going on tour and we’d turn up to venues and they would have our posters blacked out or they’d turn us down and say we weren’t playing there. Even taking in to account it was a different time back then, just on this very tour we got told that we weren’t allowed to play at a venue because we didn’t represent Australian values!”
When pressed to name and shame said venue, Whalley showed a surprising amount of restraint.
“When they told me it was only an exotic tapeworm egg from Central America buried
in my brain, I was overjoyed.”
“No, I’m gonna be nice,” he said after a pause. “I don’t wanna cause any further upsets. I just think it’s funny on a few levels because it depends on how you define Australian values. If you define them as being a fucken racist fuckwit then we probably don’t have those values but yeah, I think they considered themselves more of a family venue and maybe some of the language that we use can be upsetting to people sometimes. I can’t imagine why, but anyway.”
In 2013 potential tragedy struck when Whalley was hospitalized for an unknown ailment that was initially difficult to diagnose. It put Whalley’s life, as well as the bands future, in doubt, and was the only thing to that point that successfully challenged the future of a band known as much for their lack of respect for the system as for their love of a good time.
“As it turned out it was pretty harmless but at first I guess, because they thought it was a cancer, that was the terrifying bit,” Whalley explained. “When they told me it was only an exotic tapeworm egg from Central America buried in my brain, I was overjoyed. It must have happened when I was overseas travelling with my wife but it only became apparent when I was back at home some years later. It had been living in there for about four years.”
After undergoing surgery to remove the offending brain intruder, Whalley quickly returned to stage with his band with no noticeable side effects.
“I was hoping that the brain surgery would improve my golf swing, “he deadpanned, “or give me a new language or something like that but it didn’t seem to do anything. For a while – because I was trying to write songs – and all I could write was all these verses but I couldn’t write any choruses so it was like ‘oh no, they’ve taken out the chorus bit of my brain!’ But I seem to have overcome that thankfully.”
When a band plays with as little regard to personal safety as Frenzal Rhomb, as anyone who has witnessed the carnage live will attest, things are bound to go askew at some stage, and over the years Jason says the band members have suffered a multitude of injuries (usually self inflicted) in the name of showmanship.
“At the snowboarding festival in Canada in 1998 I made the rookie error of crowd surfing and singing at the same time so I didn’t have both of my hands because of the microphone. When I got thrown back on to the stage one of my arms went out and took my undersized body after it and snapped it so it was dislocated at the elbow which was pretty nasty but it definitely wasn’t as bad as our drummer Gordy’s more recent injury. He broke his arm terribly back about 18 months ago also being thrown back on stage, so he’s been out of action for about a year and a bit but he is now back on track and we’ve played some shows and we’re back in the studio writing songs and we’re ready to go back to America to record our new album in October.”
“Who am I kidding? I’m the fuckin’ boss [laughs].”
Frenzal Rhomb have never conformed to accepted standards and continually defy the established order of music with their antics and attitude, with humor playing a vital role in the sound and perception of the band and their music. With a host of strong personalities making up the band, Whalley says it is important to focus on what is important to each member and refine their weaknesses in to something resembling strength.
“It differs within the band,” he said of their roles. “For me, I attempt to write actual melodies and stuff but everyone else just wants to hear me cracking jokes so between us we all contribute. It’s a fine balance. In saying that, as I am the only surviving member – the only original member left, although the line up now has been solid for a good 15 years which is the longest line up we’ve ever had – it really is a collaborative effort…….”
“Who am I kidding? I’m the fuckin’ boss [laughs].”
The We Lived as Kings (We Did Anything We Wanted) tour kicks off in Melbourne on September 2, and while Frenzal Rhomb are well known for their live performances and sense of unpredictability, they have decided that this tour will be a little more structured and dedicated more to the people that have supported them on their journey. While stopping short of going in to specifics, Whalley says the band is giving their audience more power over their performance than ever before.
“There’s gonna be a facebook poll which will be very diplomatic,” he explained. “There’s going to be a voting system in place where you can go through all 786 of our songs and vote for your favorites and we’re gonna tally all of the votes and then we’re gonna attempt to play what the people want us to play for the first time in our entire career,” he enthused.
In a rare serious moment, Whalley reflected on the general lack of support for original Australian bands and says that rather than relying on mediums such as television or radio to promote a band, Frenzal Rhomb chose instead to focus on the things they could control and refused to let politics or public opinion have a bearing on their direction.
“I don’t know if we ever really think or thought about radio play,” he said. “There’s so many things being in a band that are out of your control that don’t really bear thinking about. You can’t force people to put you on a festival and you can’t force people to play your band on the radio so there’s not much point worrying about it. You’d may as well concentrate on what you do have control of which is writing songs and putting on shows and getting together with your mates and making a racket and recording and doing all that stuff and then if people like it they can do whatever with it but otherwise you are still just doing what you can do.”
When asked what he thinks is the key component to longevity in the cut throat and sometimes hostile world of music Whalley’s dry sense of humor returns.
“In our case money!” he said emphatically. “Just stacks of cash and to a lesser extent friendship I guess. We tend to get on quite well and it’s fun. It’s a good time. It is a good time band and wherever we go it’s a decent party. I think our use by date expired in 1996 so we’re actually starting to smell pretty bad about now…”
Friday September 9th – The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (18+)
Saturday September 10th – Manning Bar, Sydney (18+)
Saturday September 17th – Th Gov, Adelaide (18+)
Thursday September 22nd – Prince Of Wales, Bunbury (18+)
Friday September 23rd – Margaret River Football Club, Margaret River (18+)
Saturday September 24th – Amplifier, Perth (18+)
Thursday September 29th – Miami Tavern, Gold Coast (18+)
Saturday October 1st – Crowbar, Brisbane (18+)
Friday November 18th – Club 54, Launceston (18+)
Saturday November 19th – The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart (18+)