Frenzal Rhomb: Caught in the mosh
Australian punk rockers Frenzal Rhomb are hitting the road once again, supporting friends the Descendents, along with the Bouncing Souls and Bodyjar, in a national tour kicking off in February.
Forming in Sydney in 1992, Frenzal have released eight studio albums, toured the world, courted controversy and even made enemies with Kyle Sandilands.
Phoning from home in Sydney, Jay Frenzal told Caught in the Mosh about the benefits of gambling, the Wiggles and influencing the youth of Australia.
You're about to head out on tour with the Descendents, the Bouncing Souls and Bodyjar. It'll be a great show. You must be looking forward to it?
Yes. Very much so. Mainly for the money, but also, ahh... nah, not really... they're great bands and a lot of friends, you know? A lot of chums. There'll be lots of catch-ups. We actually recorded with Bill from the Descendents in Colorado so it'll be nice to see him again.
How did having Bill produce Smoko at the Pet Food Factory come about?
They came out for the No Sleep Til festival a couple of years ago and we'd played a bunch of shows with his other band All in the past, so he was kind of aware of us at least. And we really wanted to do a record with him. So we just put it to him and he said "sure, give me heaps of cash". We said "Lindsaaaay! Give him money!" and Lindsay gave him money and he did it and it turned out pretty good. Now hopefully we get to do it again.
So you're hoping to have him produce the new Frenzal album?
I hope so yeah. We're just writing and demoing it at the moment. Usually it takes us about five years, so we're going to try to cut that down a little bit.
So you're back in the Pet Food Factory? How's that going?
Yeah, it's good. That's just my little demoing studio in Sydney. I've been doing a few other bands and stuff in there, but yeah this is the first time we've been demoing the new album in earnest. That was over the weekend. Hopefully it won't take as long as the last one.
As a band, you're kind of spread out around the country. Where is every one these days and how does that work for writing and recording?
Yeah, Tom's still in Adelaide and Gordy's in Melbourne. So it's a bit of an involved process getting us all together. But it seems to work. We all get together in Sydney once every six weeks or so and in that time we try to write as many songs as possible. We usually have a cull rate of about 8 to 1. I'll go in with about 8 songs that I think are going to change the world and then slowly have them cut down, one by one. Mainly by Gordy. He sits there and goes "That's fucked, let's not do that. That's fucked, let's not do that. That's fucked, let's not do that. Oh, that's not fucked, let's do that." That's usually the process.
Is Gordy the one running the Frenzal Rhomb Facebook page?
Ah, yes... and the Twitter account. You should be able to tell that from the over use of the word cunt.
Is it true you financed the Smoko... album from the proceeds of gambling?
Ah, no, that was actually the record before. Forever Malcolm Young was financed by the proceeds of my South African casino win. It was just some random fluky $40,000 win from $1 on a Blackjack table, playing like a promotional square they were having, where if you got three 7 of diamonds you got this jackpot. So yeah, I got this three 7 of diamonds at like 10 o'clock on the morning at some random casino in Durban or somewhere. I won something like 197,000 rand, which is like 40 grand Australian. And yeah, came back and went "ah, what'll I do with that?" So we did that record. The last record (Smoko), Lindsay paid for, because he's, you know, the CEO of the ABC these days.
Everybody's seen the Rudest Tourist on their travels abroad. You took time off to go travelling a while back. Do you have a particularly bad example that inspired that song?
That was actually one of Lindsay's songs. I'm thinking it's autobiographical. But I think in his mind he's looking at Gordy.
I think most songs, if you really dig down deep into them, have some element of autobiography in them. Even if it's very cryptic. I reckon any songwriter who says "this is completely fiction" will still have a tiny little grain of something. It may not be obvious, but there'll be something there that'll relate to their own existence.
So Mummy Doesn't know you're a Nazi and Knuckleheads? Anything particular inspire them?
Yes. I'm a Nazi. And I'm quit a dab hand at rugby league and sexual assaults, if you must know (laughs). Well, Mummy Doesn't Know You're a Nazi is a true story. That was when Propagandhi were touring a couple of years ago. They had quite a lot of interest from some neo-Nazi websites, with basically all these tools sitting online, writing all this hateful shit. And because Propagandhi are so openly kind of left wing and whatever, they cop a lot of shit from these weirdoes. So our manager was promoting the tour and he was telling us how the police were aware of some of the websites have some pretty genuine bad dudes involved in them, like guys who have been to prison, who are pretty violent guys. So they take the threats seriously. Anyway, they'd been following this one guy and they'd been tracking his computer use. And the police ended up going around to his house just before the Propagandhi tour and when they got there they realized he was this 16 year old kid and his mum had actually no idea that he was a Nazi. Can you imagine? The police turn up and mum's like (in an angry mother's voice) "Gerald! Get in here! These policemen are saying you're a Nazi! These police are saying you're guilty of hate crimes!" So yeah, I thought that was pretty good stuff for a song.
In your early days, at the end of your live shows, you'd invite punters to stay at your place if they were ever in Sydney. Did you ever have anyone take you up on your offer?
Oh yeah, that's right... Good question. I think... I seem to have a vague memory of someone turning up on our doorstep at some point. But I think... I think I had in the back of my mind that these people in the crowd would have no way of finding out where I lived. You know, this was pre Facebook, prior to a functioning internet at that point. So you know, I felt like I was pretty safe. Also, if someone did show up, it wouldn't be any different to usual. The house I was living in at the time, we'd have a lot of randoms sleeping on couch from time to time.
You had some altered Depeche Mode lyrics on Fuck the System from 1997's Sorry About the Ruse EP and there's When my Baby Smiles At Me I Go to Rehab on Smoko... Have you had any problems with record labels or artists over lyrics you've used in the past?
No, no... The silly thing about the Depeche Mode one was we thought that we... we just didn't know anything about the industry at that time, or our own place in the industry, so we sent a letter to Depeche Mode's publishing company saying "do you mind if we use this song and change the lyrics". So we actually asked permission and they sent back a very firm NO. No you cannot. You do not have permission. And that's when we realized "oh wow, we should just never have asked!" And then we went and did it anyway and printed the 'no letter' on the back of the EP. You only make 500 copies of the 7" and then it's gone. So ever since then we've had the "act first policy" and work it out later.
I remember with the Russell Crowe song, his lawyers contacted us and said they're aware of the song and if commercial radio picks it up then they're going to take it further. And we're like "you do realise it's called Russell Crowe's Band is a Fucking Pile of Shit? I don't know how quickly TodayFM's going to pick this up". But you know, you get that from time to time...
You have a young son now.
Yes, yes I do. And I'm about to take him to his first day of preschool today. A bit of a milestone
Has he affected your music in any way?
Not really. Well, I guess time wise. Having a child limits your time a bit. Or a lot! Ha! I remember I was doing interviews for the Smoko... album last year and this journalist asked me "so, where do you get more inspiration for your songs? Taking drugs and having heaps of sex?" And I was like "actually, I wrote most of this album while walking my kid in a pram around the suburbs". So yeah, I guess things do change a little bit.
Did having a little fella have any influence on Frenzal's participation in the Wiggles 20 year anniversary tribute album?
No. That was more to do with our own age and that we've been a band for the whole time they've been a band. The Wiggles were just before my time as a kid. I only really found out about them as an adult and I think most of the bands on that compilation were from our era as well. So the kids that grew up on the Wiggles, I guess, when they were teenagers, were probably going to Frenzal shows. Or the Living End. Or Jebediah or whatever.
You celebrated your 20 year anniversary yourself last year. Who do you have lined up for the Frenzal Rhomb 20 year anniversary album?
Ahh. That's a good question.
What about the Wiggles? A Wiggles album full of Frenzal covers.
Yeah, I'm sure they'd love to do a cover of... what do you think they should do? World's Fuckedest Cunt?
Ahh, how about You Can't Move into My House. Imagine the Wiggles singing "get fucked you fucking fuckwit, you can't move into my house"!
Ahh. Yeah... Yeah! That could work. They're all retiring and whatever soon. They'll have some spare time, be looking for new projects...
In your 20 years together, how do you think the band has influenced the youth of Australia? Have you met any people who have shown you what the band has done for their lives?
Funny you should mention that... I was actually driving a friend to the airport a couple of months ago. We were driving thorough Taylors Square (Darlinghurst) and this homeless guy, an ice addict, was washing car windows from the side of the road. He put his squeegee up in the air and looked in our direction. I said no thanks mate but he came across the road and started doing it anyway. So I thought, all right. I got my two bucks out and wound down the window. He goes "nah mate, this one's on me. Frenzal changed my life". I thought, what the fuck were you before you were a homeless, ice addict window washer??? Ha! He was probably a lawyer!
Who is the world's fuckedest cunt?
Ahh... well... I feel like it's the conglomeration of about a thousand people I've met at Frenzal Rhomb shows. All combined into one human being...
What's the most inappropriate nudity you've encountered at a Frenzal gig?
There's always a little bit. Mostly back stage. Getting changed and whatnot. I've seen Gordy's penis more than I've seen my own, which is pretty confronting. I remember in France we played a show once. We had a nude stage diver. That was pretty awkward because people were trying to hold him up, so there were hands going everywhere. They're not known for their hygiene, the French, so you know, not great.
Hey, umm... Look, I've got to get my kid off to preschool now.
Cool. No worries. Good to talk to you. Thanks for your time. Good luck with the Descendents shows and the new album.
Yeah man, you too. Thanks...