Frenzal Rhomb : Class act
After a slightly bumpy last few years, Frenzal Rhomb are gearing up for a national tour of their new album Hi Vis High Tea, appropriately kicking off this Friday in Perth. Lead singer, Jason Whalley had a chat with SIAN CHOYCE about finding inspiration, dealing with anticipation and possibly owing a writing credit to a worm. Frenzal Rhomb will be performing (with special guests) this Friday, June 16 at Capitol, doors open at 7:30pm.
Thanks so much for speaking to us today, very much appreciated. The new album Hi Vis High Tea, you guys describe it as "a concept album about a whole bunch of concepts". That's a fantastic way to describe it, is this a style you're just starting to try or is it how you've always written?
Well, we've always been pioneers, conceptually. We did try to focus this time on putting together a bunch of good songs. So, that was sort of the driving force behind there being no cohesive theme. We sort of ended up writing them over about 5 years, I think.
So, thats a long time for an album…
It was, you know. There was a couple of times when we thought, maybe we had the album ready to go and then something horrendous would happen.
You've had a bit of a run of strange occurrences…
Yes, yes… and just general mishaps. Then, in a way they were blessings because when we look back we probably had a bunch of alright songs and some really shit ones. So, at least we had a bit more time to get them all, you, know, sounding good and cutting out any extraneous third verses.
A lot of the songs are quite short. Was that due to that culling process?
Yeah, pretty much. And um, abject laziness. I generally write stuff by coming up with he hook line of the chorus and then sort of build the song around that. The first verse, I just sort of..blurt it out (laughs) and then I'm kind of going "oh god, I've got to write another verse" and sort of labour over the second verse. Do another chorus and then I'm like "F**k, third verse?! No, No!"
It's also that type of music that you want to get over with quickly.
The first single off the album is C**t Act, was there a reason behind you guys releasing that track first?
Very nice of you to call it a single. Adds a bit of weight to just throwing something on YouTube with the cheapest video clip we could find. It is good though. Fox Trotsky, who does a lot of our artwork, animated that clip and he really outdid himself. I think my favourite is Miranda Devine playing the warlock. I think I was forcing the issue because I really like that song, just the way it's put together. Lindsay wrote that and like the balance that he strikes lyrically between the political and the ridiculous. I feel it's been something Frenzal's been doing for a long time and it's nice to have it all in the one song.
It's definitely another great example of that from you guys. Now…the track Pig Worm is obviously inspired by having an actual parasitic worm living in your brain. I noticed it's one of the heavier and more metal sounding songs on the album, was that fuelled by the anger and emotion behind the whole situation?
Yeah, its art imitating life. I think it's all of that stuff. At the time, it was this horrendous experience. At the start of it I had this seizure out of the blue and when I went to hospital they assumed it was some kind of cancer. So, they basically told me I had this possible malignant melanoma in my brain, probably from skin cancer or something they hadn't sort of, seen. And, that they wouldn't really know what it was until they um, took it out. So, that was 3 weeks of just kind of assuming the worst. It was a pretty dark and bleak time. Then once I found out it was in fact this very strange parasite from a Central American pig, it was a surprisingly joyous occasion. Quite a positive in the end.
Then, when I was thinking about writing a song about it, I was thinking "what really can sum up the breadth of the emotional rollercoaster that I've been on the last few weeks?". All I really came up with was "Pig worm, pig worm, pig worm, pig worm, pig worm, pig worm, pig worm. What the fuck?!"
It's possibly not the whole thing, but its succinct.
Does the worm get a co-writer's credit anywhere?
Well, I was thinking that it probably should cause I wrote a few songs with old mate living in my brain. So, I was wondering how much of it was me and how much was the alien. You hear stories of people having brain surgery and they come out and the their golf swing is fixed or they know a new language, something like that. I remember, for a while after my surgery, I was trying to write songs and I couldn't write a decent chorus to save my life. I was like "oh no, they've taken the chorus bit!". Imagine Frenzal Rhomb with no choruses, it'd be terrible (laughs).
Just make sure the worm doesn't come back at some point, looking for royalties.
There's a few tracks on the album that have a bit of a mental health theme. Do you think music can play an important part in breaking down some of the stigma attached to mental health issues?
I hope so. I'm in my early forties now and I've found that some days I feel like I'm surrounded by, mainly men for some reason, they're my age and they're not coping very well for whatever reason. So yeah, I guess its just an expression of that? I don't, sort of, claim to have any answers. But, since the album came out we've had quite a few people message us telling us our music helps them through this time or stuff. So, thats always nice to hear when you're doing an endeavour that is quite, I don't want to say it seems worthless or trivial, but compared to some of the stuff going on in the world and some of the things people are going through…we get to travel around and swear at people. It doesn't seem like we're really helping things a lot of the time. So, it's nice when entertainment does have that effect on people. For that hour where you listen to a band or see a show or something you can kind of have this distraction from whatever's going on and I guess, that's a positive thing.
Definitely a positive. Finally, Punk can sometimes be associated more closely with youth culture and rebellious energy. Have you guys felt thats been harder to maintain as you've gotten older and ‘more responsible'?
Um, I don't know. I guess now we try to encapsulate an old rebellious energy? (laughs)
I don't know, all the issues we've had since we were kids are still issues. I don't feel any less angry now about the state of the planet, than I did when was 18. We try and provide some joy as well. I'm sure that humour is somewhat inbuilt in us to protects from horrendous situations. Some of the reasons for people cracking jokes can be quite dark. The reality of life can be quite bleak sometimes so it's a good antidote to that, I guess.