Frenzal Rhomb interview by Ilona Walace. Rip It Up 2013
Having survived brain surgery (and having come out of it with a particularly unique tale to tell), Jay Whalley of Frenzal Rhomb is glad to be back. “What a nightmare,” he says. But, hey, it turned out alright in the end.
“I woke up in hospital with this thing on my brain and they didn’t know what it was,” Whalley’s story begins. “They assumed it was cancer of some sort, but they wouldn’t know until they took it out. They took it out three weeks later – three weeks where I found out I was quite good at being very negative, took a lot of Valium and watched a lot of TV shows.”
After removing ‘the thing’, Whalley explains his doctors still didn’t know what it was, though they confirmed it wasn’t a tumour. Five days later, the results were in.
“It was a fucking egg from a fucking pig tapeworm that I’d picked up in Central America four or five years ago. It had been living there, quite happily, until it died and all the swelling caused me to freak out and end up in hospital.”
Although he discovered a fairly dark and negative part of himself, lying in his hospital bed up to his eyeballs in opiates and daytime television, Whalley appreciated the slightly twisted humour of those around him.
“Having a black sense of humour is very helpful,” he says. “My wife is a nurse. Nurses, man, they have the blackest sense of humour. They’re talking to people who are dying really soon and cracking jokes about it with those people. It helps so much; it’s part of the human condition.”
Those worrying about how the event has impacted the band’s sound can rest easy, Whalley assures.
“We played in Western Australia a couple of weeks ago and it was pretty good, to tell you the truth. I realised that my colleagues are actually worse than I was, except for Tom [Crease, bass], he’s good. The other guys? Not so good. And it made me feel better; it was encouraging.”
As a test to see how much damage has really been done, Rip It Up gives Whalley a quick quiz on some of the songs from the band’s last album. After a precautious “Tom actually knows the music and lyrics much better than I do and I’m always looking at him out of the corner of my eye to find out what’s coming up on certain songs” – he jumps right into it.
Cockroach Lightswitch: “No subtext, which is weird for Frenzal Rhomb; it doesn’t have 15 layers of irony. But you’ve got muscle memory. When you move into a rented house you turn the tap on but you turn the wrong tap on; you’re constantly hitting the wrong parts of light switches and that sort of thing. We’d been in this place for quite a while and the muscle memory was impeccable. So, one day, banged the lightswitch and cockroach. It was a rude awakening, let me tell ya. When we were recording it, Bill Stevenson [The Descendents] was like ‘Ohh, it’s about relationships.’ And, uh, yes. Yes, it is.”
Edward Sausagefangs: “I’ve always been a fan of gothic people in situations where they really can’t maintain their gothic façade: with a Fanta in their hands but with full death makeup. It’s about a guy who works at Dominos but he’s also the Angel Of Darkness.”
Metrognome: “Everyone else in the band reckoned it was great and I didn’t want it on the record, but they convinced me to do it under duress. But it’s fine; it’s about Gordy [Forman, drums]. I don’t know. He’s short and he keeps time in the group.”
For the rest, you’ll just have to see them live.
Experienced travellers like Frenzal Rhomb often come armed to the teeth with weird airport stories, but Whalley takes the opportunity to have a laugh at Lindsay [McDougall, lead guitar].
“There was one time I had to give a Valium to Lindsay because he was freaking out that there was no soy milk at the Qantas bar. I love telling that story because, you know, it’s a struggle for Lindsay sometimes.”