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An Interview with ‘Frenzal Rhomb's Jay Whalley




When I wake up with my contact lenses still stuck to my eyeballs, I always think for some damn reason, for just a damned moment, that my vision has been healed by magic or prayer, which I s'pose are the same things. That'll just be the lingering alco-haze, and my vision doesn't stay that seemingly perfect since there's something about booze that clogs up my particular brand of contact lens with extra-viscous super-strength sleep goo. And with that mix of hazy yet finite vision, I looked around and woke up whatever her name was that I said was cute last night even though I had only the vaguest idea what it was and so just sounded out broad vowel sounds rapidly whenever I needed to say her name. I had to do the interview at about 1:15pm, so I figured I had a good half hour to make use of.

  

Turns out, Jay Whalley, of the more or less infamous Punk band Frenzal Rhomb, is a punctual prick, and goddamn if he doesn't call right on the damned dot. Thankfully, like a spy evacuating the damsel from a hot zone, I shuffled her out un-freshened up, and with some time to spare, but not more than a minute or two. I thought I could put some pants on before getting down to it, maybe even get a coffee and figure out where to take this thing. No such luck, but hell, preparation's over-rated.

  

Like right now, I guess I was a little too outright with him, and the man drew a little back. Precisely what I was trying to not only avoid, but do the damned opposite of as I'm sick and tired of prissy, kempt and measured rock "stars" giving me nothing but a satchel of useless euphemisms and dismissive comments on everything that isn't a beleaguered hype of their new project. What matters isn't the product, because this is music, and that's a damned art no matter who you are, just because it's a world infected with swine and taint lickers, doesn't mean we can give up on probing to the core of an artist; that's where the juicy faults and humanities lie.

  

He asks me how I've been so far and I tell him. "Good grief... ha ha" is the tip-toeing-away reply, and when I probe him, he gives the down-the-line, almost gun-in-the-back affidavit of having spent his time writing and recording songs, then launches into the bone blood of the gestating new FR album.

  

"We usually tend to write about 150 songs for each album, of which about 20 are good, and about 10 of which we all agree on, and ah, so far we've got about eight songs, that everyone agree on. Yeah, we've written about a hundred songs, and most of those will end up in the bin. Which is really where they belong."

  

I laugh and start to like the dude again.

  

"Shouldn't build it up too much really, because if people think they're shit, then they'll wonder how fucking bad the ones that didn't make it were..."

  

He's on the money and the honesty is like a barely believable gulp of sweet and clear, country air. I tell him what he doubted himself for knowing, or knew with trepidation; that it's the right attitude to have, for any damned band.

  

"Yea well, we definitely don't want to be one of those bands who claim to have made two albums' worth of songs at the same time, but they put out the first half, then they release the second half 6 months later, when really, if they were so great, then they would have gone on the first album."

  

That's not a worry for these guys, with a good five years since their last go round, and I don't think of his feelings on the matter, because I guess I'm tuned out of that bullshit wave of empathy or tact. Like loading half the chambers of a 6-shooter, I ask him if they'd noticed any anticipation for another album.

  

"There is some anticipation, among ourselves, and maybe about eighteen other people, ha haha... I guess it's been kind of quiet and there hasn't been anyone hounding us, so it's been good and relaxing, just to write songs and record at our own pace. But, we thought maybe it's time that we actually get out there again."

  

"So, was there anything you wanted to say this time around, coming off of 3 years in the stringent radio DJ system; was there another cause for the new album?"

  

"Money."

  

He laughs again and I can feel the detached honesty teetering above bitter waters, or more likely, I'm hung-over, tired, hungry and projecting bullshit to make things seem more than mundane.

  

"But then we look at the songs and go, ‘Well maybe not.' So, we have to be content with lots and lots of touring... We do enjoy playing shows, and, we pretty much enjoy each other's company, so to facilitate that we realised that we do actually have to occasionally release something, to, at least in our own minds, make it worth while... We did a run of early summer festivals, like the No Sleep Til fest, and that really enthused us..."

  

"Well, let's talk about the radio huh? You're good and well done with working on the radio now are you?"

  

"I think so. I've been renting a little studio for a while now, because I just want to write songs really, for as long as I can afford to, and I'll think about a job when, I HAVE to. So, when that time comes, maybe I'll start knocking on the door, come crawling back, with my tail firmly between my legs."

  

Lay the facts out, and that's no miserly dismissal as these guys have been doing this since they were about 20. When most of the young, egotistical and lazy kids that fall into music, they don't get to keep going for 20 years like FR have, at whatever height you can verbalise. They haven't given it up.

  

"No. Against all advice..."

  

"Well, I think that for most of your fans, they can't speak about you without having a cheeky smile or a good laugh..."

  

"I think most of our fans can't really speak in general..."

  

"Well, yea. I would say that it's because FR have such a laconic and flippantly mischievous attitude or ‘sound' to cut off that dawdling description... With that affectionate image, how do you consider yourself, as a ‘punk' band within the current context?"

  

"I guess, we are and always have been a punk band, but after doing that punk & metal festival, I don't really understand a lot of the music... These 18 year old kids with neck tattoos, and Christian... ah, Christian... lyrics, and bullshit, and apparently THAT's punk music too. One guy tried to convert me or something because someone had told him I wanted to hear his spiel about Jesus, or whatever C.S Lewis, Narnia crap he was peddling. And he just wouldn't believe me when I told him they were having him on. I think he wanted to save me. He tried to follow me around and come with us to the studio when we wanted to record and I was just like, ‘You are completely barking up the wrong tree mate.'"

  

We start gelling on something here and I throw it together a bit more lucidly; Punk music takes itself way too damned seriously now, so where in the hell does that leave guys like FR? Guys who just like to piss about and give their songs/albums joke infused titles with the express intent of ruffling feathers just so they can laugh harder, regardless of the financial cost? Can they even relate to angst-y, 15-yr-old suburban, overweight girls trapped inside the bodies of these dudes with bad facial hair & a fetish for hair gel in their 20s?

  

"We try to really; we get on with most people I think. But the bands we're booked with tend to, back away slowly I guess... You get the odd situation like with that Christian/Narnia guy, but we do tend to get along with people regardless."

  

"Did working on the radio affect that at all, any claims of "Selling Out" (sort of)?"

  

"Uhm... Not to my face. If selling out is working for the ABC, then I guess. That'd be pretty low standards really."

  

I'm poking my eyes like a sadist to jack me up on that morning pain, but also trying to clear up or at least settle down the monstrously gunky contacts. My focus is waning and I'm trying not to think of coffee cups dancing gaily around me, especially because I could give a shit about their aesthetic, and I don't think I need one to feel better, I think I feel fine, but I want one. I can at least get up to slip on jeans while I ask Jay about song writing in a way I think he'll appreciate.

  

"How many of your songs would you say came to you whilst you were rubbing one out or getting laid, as opposed to while you were fucked up on booze, pot or something else?"

  

I hop around and jam them on, maybe muffling my words so I have to repeat it and simplify the question for him again. He lingers unapprovingly and it's now awkward. We're talking about sex, lord forbid.

  

"Probably none."

  

"No? What about taking a dump?"

  

"No, I get most of my song ideas walking my kid around the place. There's a stadium near my house, for the ah, what are they called, the Newtown Jets. So sometimes my partner and I will go down there with the kid, maybe with a long-neck or some wine, otherwise I'll just be by myself."

  

I feel like ending the interview right now. Lack of preparation was just the ‘Ignoratio elenchi'. It's still that damned old shyness of bands depending too much on this process, like little boys that have to be on ‘best-behaviour' to be allowed to go home early, or get extra candy and other child obsessions. FR just aren't the same band they used to be, I suppose.

  

Ironically (maybe), all I can hear from next door to me are birds chirping and rattling; how damned quaint. I almost don't want a coffee anymore, but a half dozen beers or some Scotch. No, the people have to know and I'm ready to gamble on winning Jay back.

  

"Let's talk about activism. You guys were involved with the Howard thing, and we all know about the Jackie-O comments, which were clearly justified, plus the glossed over conflict with JJJ before you were under their hammer. Is there any kind of activism in your day-to-day life?"

  

"Uhm, if there's a worthwhile cause I'll stay abreast of what's going on, and if there's any kind of relevant rally that I feel I should lend some support to, then I'll try and get along. As far as the albums go I guess this one has...a... couple of... political songs... I'm just trying to remember if those are among the hundred that are going down the toilet...But when it comes down to it, our fans know who we are and what we're about. I'm not going to get on stage and flail my arms, ‘hey everyone, I'm vegetarian and left-wing... blah blah'. People know."

  

"You're actually choosing not to push an agenda!"

  

"Well, it doesn't seem to work. It's more fun to just focus on finding common ground with people I think."

  

It's working well and I can't hide my damned cheeky smile, so I rattle of a selfish invective things have to be really bad for people en masse to really do anything. It's hard to care enough about the world or pressing issues when day to day life can be so easy going and nice.

  

"Yea, it's funny, I read an article that said a major reason why there's been no terrorist attack in Australia, is because the way of life just gets into them basically and they don't want to do it anymore."

  

I mark this down mentally, because it seems like a dull misinterpretation or complete fabrication because the majority of religiously incited terrorism occurs in the foreign country of those young men/women precisely because of the overbearing influence of the "modern/Western" way of life, which has offered them leisure time to reflect and education with which to fuel radical ideologies which are constantly in contrast and conflict. It could be the relaxed and superficially idyllic "way of life" in Australia, or maybe the education is too meek to enable intelligent, motivated terrorists. It's certainly not from a culture welcoming to racially and religiously marginalised people.

  

"Any last comments on the plans of FR?"

  

"Well, we'll be headed down to Tasmania and also to Melbourne, for a small tour in March/April I think, and we should come back from that with the last few songs for the album."

  

"And beyond that?"

  

"Then we will tour some more, as you do for a new album. Then we can finally break up, ha ha."

  

"Aww, don't say that, you've had such a good run. Can FR really even be killed?"

  

"I don't know, I always think it's dying. But then we seem to book shows, and it goes on."

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