“We played a show on the Sunshine coast and we had all the emergency services represented after the show. We had police, fire and ambulance all turn up for various incidents that happened. We tend to draw out these people out of the woodwork,” says enigmatic front man Jay Whalley, speaking down the line from Sydney. Infamous for their chaotic live shows and crazy fans, it seems time has not wearied legendary punk rock outfit Frenzal Rhomb, nor Whalley’s ever-cheeky disposition as we discuss the reincarnation of one of Australia’s most loved punk rock bands. Having just completed a run of regional shows, and on the eve of an upcoming national tour, it seems the band have already left a trail of destruction behind them.
“We played a show on the Gold Coast and I was sitting backstage before we went on watching a show on my laptop with my headphones on,” says Whalley, “And someone kicked the band room door in, ran in and tried to steal the shoes off my feet. I said ‘What are you fucking doing you idiot?’ He goes ‘Ah, my mate had a bet that like, I could take your shoes’. While we were playing they were serving glass, which was probably not smart, so there was broken glass everywhere and no crowd barrier or anything. It was just flying, there was broken glass everywhere. And people were stealing stuff from the stage, like pocketing tuners and stuff. The shows have been chaotic but yeah, entertaining.”
Despite the fact that Frenzal Rhomb are now well and truly considered veterans of the scene, it certainly doesn’t mean their live shows are any less hectic. And with literally hundreds of songs in the back-catalogue, the guys are always willing to dig up some of the old classic and long forgotten tunes. “Usually on the first day of the tour I’ll write the set list without consulting anyone and then I’ll take a photo of it and then that’s what we’ll use for the next 100 shows,” jokes Whalley. “Occasionally we have a little bit of a fireside jam towards the end of the set. We’ll all sit around and discuss what old songs we remember and whatnot and we’ll have a bash at a few rarities.”
A significant factor in Frenzal Rhomb’s longevity can be traced back to a couple of years ago and their decision to take some time off from the band to focus on other things. When they did reconvene, they headed off to Colorado to record with Descendants drummer Bill Stevenson. The result was Smoko at the Pet Food Factory, a record that marked a triumphant return for the band and saw the album debut at #14 on the ARIA charts. “It took us a long time to write the songs because if there’s one thing we always struggle with it’s music,” jokes Whalley. “So we wanted to make sure that all the songs were slightly above par. And I think also doing it overseas with Bill was a really good decision because it kind of took us all out of our environments and forced us into a place where we had to think about this thing that we’ve been doing for 20 years.”
It’s remarkable that any band can survive for two decades, let alone stay relevant. Frenzal Rhomb have not only managed this but remarkably, their fan base seems to be forever increasing, evident in the overwhelmingly positive reception their last record received. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” admits Whalley. “With a band like us that’s been around for a long time you do get that kind of nostalgia aspect to our shows. But it’s been really good, people actually give a shit about the songs and want to hear them as well.”
Having been a part of Australia’s punk rock scene for such a long period of time, Frenzal Rhomb have certainly seen their fair share of bands, venues and trends come and go. Yet Whalley is adamant that today’s scene is just as healthy and vibrant as it was all those years ago in the early ‘90s, when Frenzal first burst on to the stage. “I play in another band called the Chinese Burns Unit and we kind of do lots of shows in record shops and parties and stuff,” he says. “And there just seems to be stacks of bands at that level just having a great time and putting out 7” inches and yeah, it seems pretty healthy to me.”
It’s fair to say that there haven’t been many sections of the community that have escaped the frontman’s lyrical tirade over the years; with politicians, celebrities and junkies all copping a decent spray. Despite the ground already covered, when it comes to writing songs the singer is never short of material.
“One of those window washers came up and he was kind of homeless and looked like he had scabs on his face and stuff and he came over to the car,” he recalls. “And I was like ‘oh nah’ and sort of shook my hand but he started doing it anyway, washing the window. So I went ‘alright mate,’ wound the window down got out my two dollars and I was about to give it to him and he goes ‘No way mate. Your band changed my life.’”
BY JAMES W NICOLI
FRENZAL RHOMB play The Hi-Fi on Saturday August 3 with I Exist and The Hard Targets.